Our ongoing work ranges from research infrastructure and software development to fundamental learning research to incorporation of our findings in design, implementation and improvement of exhibits and programs. Read more about some of our findings in our Publications section.

Exhibits and Tools for Visitor Observation and Adaptive Content Delivery

The project at the heart of all of our work these days is the integration of our new “cyberlab.” We’re deploying video cameras, microphones, and interactive kiosks for unobtrusive data collection.

Beyond that, we’re developing the infrastructure to automate much of the selective capture of interesting data that informs our research questions, instead of just recording anything and everything. That means a speech-to-text engine to flag keywords that visitors say, facial recognition software to recognize visitors as they interact with a series of exhibits, and video analysis tools that characterize visitor gestures and speed of motion.

The network-driven nature of all of these tools will allow researchers from almost any location to collect information on our visitors, all while improving the visitor experience by limiting the number of hovering researchers. Visitors will also benefit as we install new kiosks that can use visitor information such as interest in a previous exhibit to deliver customize content for that visitor at the subsequent exhibit interactions on that same visit and over multiple visits as well.

Marine Education for Underserved Audiences

Dr. Shawn Rowe is co-PI and Co-Director of the NSF-funded Center for Ocean Science Education Excellence, Pacific Partnerships (COSEE-PP). COSEE-Pacific Partnerships’ primary goal is to integrate marine research and education for audiences that historically have been underserved by the ocean sciences community by developing partnerships based at marine research labs between scientists, community college faculty, and informal science educators.

In addition to supporting the evaluation redesign of the Oregon Coast Aquarium volunteer training, COSEE – Pacific Partnerships also supported workshops at HMSC, OSU main campus, and California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo for ocean scientists, graduate students, and post-docs on communicating sciences through partnerships with outreach and education institutions.

COSEE-PP also piloted and evaluated curriculum modules and training for the new Coastal Master Naturalists Program, which aims to create volunteer marine outreach specialists similar to a Master Gardeners program. Some of this work was presented at the Ocean Sciences conference in Portland in 2010, and Salt Lake City in 2012.

Professional Development for Informal Educators

National Science Foundation funding is also supporting the development of face-to-face and distributed, asynchronous professional-development opportunities for educators in communicating current marine and aquatic sciences research in a wide range of informal science education sites.

Workshops and on-line courses help educators in museums, zoos, aquariums, state and national parks, and after school clubs develop partnerships with scientists while mastering science communication techniques.

Laura Dover-Good's dissertation will study volunteer training in more depth.

Engaging Scientists with Public Audiences

Through two National Science Foundation-funded efforts, we are creating multiple opportunities for ocean scientists at OSU and around the Pacific Northwest to connect with audiences in museums, zoos, aquariums, state and national parks, and afterschool clubs. Workshops and networking opportunities pair scientists with informal educators to reach new audiences with current science while equipping scientists with new communications skills.

Communicating Ocean Sciences to Informal Audiences

Two Oceanography students from Oregon State University try out an activity during the COSIA class.

Oregon Sea Grant has partnered with COSEE California in their NSF-funded project, Communicating Ocean Sciences to Informal Audiences (COSIA), an adaptation of COSEE-CA's successful Communicating Ocean Sciences (COS) curriculum. The Center for Ocean Science Education Excellence, California (COSEE CA) and the Lawrence Hall of Science developed the curriculum in line with other classes they had developed with faculty at the University of California, Berkeley.

COS/COSIA introduces current and future scientists to communication techniques by giving them the opportunity to use hands-on materials to teach basic science concepts to school children. The curriculum can be offered either as a college/graduate course or a multi-day workshop.

COS/COSIA is taught regularly at OSU as a special topics course in the Department of Science and Mathematics Education. We are working on a permanent course number as well as developing an online version of the class.

Visitors and Visualizations - How People Understand Scientific Images

The Magic Planet installed at the Hatfield Visitor Center

The Visitors and Visualizations research focuses on what and how people learn from scientific images, especially those created from near-real-time and other satellite data. These images are often displayed on large-scale spherical display systems like the NOAA-funded Magic Planet exhibit, a one-meter-diameter digital sphere located at the Visitor Center, or NOAA's related 6-foot diameter Science on a Sphere.

Celeste Barthel is working with the Bishop Museum of Hawaii and the Maryland Science Center to understand how people may learn differently from images projected on spheres versus flat-screen representations of the Earth. We also recently worked on exhibit development for Space Science Institute by presenting visitors with data visualizations on the globe without interpretive information to see what meaning they made from the images alone.


Alongside basic research on what and how people learn from the spherical displays and satellite imagery, the team created new interpretive programming for the sphere and embedded evaluation tools for understanding how visitors use the interpretive kiosk.

Some of our research uses Reed Stevens' Video Traces video recording and annotation software. We are also working with NOAA educators, scientists, and visualizers to create a set of Recommendations for Practice for visualization development for optimum layperson meaning-making, and have published our first article on the topic.

Katie Stofer's dissertation will add to this body of knowledge, integrating new tools such as eye tracking and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of the brain, with Amy Lobben of the University of Oregon.

Real-world satellite imagery also forms the backbone of a new interpretive kiosk in the Visitor Center about salmon fishery management. Scientists predict the size of salmon populations based on ocean temperatures and abundance of chlorophyll as a measure of salmon prey. Both of these measures are gathered from satellite images, and the exhibit shows representative images from the last several years with the resulting salmon populations.

Visitors are encouraged to try to predict the size of the salmon population based on the imagery provided and check their predictions against the actual population size that occurred. The design and evaluation of this outreach project is funded by the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Program.  This work was funded in part by the Cooperative Institute for Oceanographic Satellite Studies.

Exploratorium Scientists in Residence Program Evaluation

NOAA scientists Bill Chadwick (inner left) and Bob Dziak (far left) show visitors whale sounds on an exhibit where visitors can recreate the frequencies.

The Lab is performing the program evaluation for the Exploratorium's Scientists in Residence Program, which is funded by a NOAA Environmental Literacy grant. For the two-year program, NOAA scientists are embedded on the museum floor, where they work with Exploratorium staff for program development and delivery during a one- or two-week residency.

Collaboration and evaluation

Michelle Mileham has been traveling to San Francisco for each of the residencies (such hard work!), developing instruments to evaluate the goals of the project including what each group gets out of the scientist-in-residence program, and writing formative and summative evaluation reports. She works with the Exploratorium's project directors P.I. Mary Miller, Director, NOAA-Exploratorium Partnership, and Co-P.I. Robyn Higdon, Director of Mediated Experiences.

Michelle will conduct the last data collection during the final residency in spring 2012. You will be able to follow her experiences "real-time" on the Lab's blog.

Bringing Together Lincoln County Teachers and Scientists

Dr. Rowe is a co-PI on an Oregon Department of Education funded Title IIB Math Science Partnership. The Oregon Coastal and Aquatic Marine Science Project (OCAMP) partners 32 Lincoln County K-10 teachers with informal educators and ocean scientists from HMSC, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, and the Oregon Hatchery Research Center for professional development and the creation of high-quality, on-going marine science field experiences for Lincoln County students. Over 70 hours of professional development have been offered for the teachers since August of 2009.


Our primary idea is that in addition to regular, sustained content-based professional development, teachers will be more likely to implement change in their science teaching if they are part of a supportive Professional Learning Community (PLC). We have set up a quasi-experimental study to compare OCAMP teachers who do and do not participate in such a community.  For the evaluation,  we are looking for:

1. Changes in the way the teachers teach (observed through videos, RTOPS and Scoops – self reflection)

2. Changes in teacher’s knowledge (observed through pre and post tests and videos from PLC meetings and Colloquiums)

3. Development of professional learning communities.


We are analyzing the videos of teachers conducting their classes either in the classroom or during a field trip. Initial coding gives us a general idea about how the teachers are progressing within the PLC in terms of knowledge and how they are teaching their subjects.

Specifically, we are looking for types of activities performed, tools used and time spent, as well as teacher’s communication skills, student participation and science inquiry or lack thereof. This helps establish the baseline each year of how teachers are changing their practice as part of the project.

Research on Learning with Live Animals

The Examining Visitor Engagement at Touch Tanks (EVEnTT) project partners Oregon State University with California State University, Long Beach, in a two-year research project studying engagement and learning from interactions with live animals in touch tanks at the HMSC, Oregon Coast Aquarium, and both the Aquarium of the Pacific and Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in southern California.

We have also worked with Chinese speaking families to understand in what ways their experiences at touch tanks are similar to and different from those documented in the broader visiting publics.