Public Discussion

  • Icon for: Joni Falk

    Joni Falk

    Co-Director of CSR at TERC
    May 11, 2015 | 08:57 a.m.

    What a beautiful video. Made me want to change my summer plans to go back to the National Parks. Your video so clearly conveyed the important work that you are doing. How can we get more disadvantaged students to the National Parks?

  • Icon for: Martha Merson

    Martha Merson

    Presenter
    May 11, 2015 | 10:08 p.m.

    Hi Joni,
    A few things come to mind in answer to your question about increasing visitorship among disadvantaged youth. Recently Dept of Interior Secretary Jewell announced that for the National Park Service’s centennial year all fourth graders and their family members will have free admission to national parks. Yay! One obstacle fewer for some number of people. (http://www.timeforkids.com/node/231646/print)

    For some people, access has more to do with transit options. A Forest Service employee was telling me about how long it would take kids from an African-American neighborhood of San Francisco to reach Muir Woods, fewer than 25 miles away. By public transit, it would cost over $25 and take 4-5 hours each way. Prohibitive! I think it’s great that there is a push for more urban partner parks like Santa Monica Mountain Recreation Area and the Boston Harbor Islands. But we also need public transit initiatives to more remote, iconic parks because everyone who pays taxes that support our parklands deserves to be able to get to them and enjoy them. National parks, by their enabling legislation and mission are for the enjoyment of all (no exceptions for people without cars that I know of). There’s an education component to this and it’s educating decision makers, not educating the disenfranchised. Okay, apologies for preaching to the converted on this point.

    I’ve also heard some interesting research on perception. Among immigrants, some wonder if you have to show paper to enter “national” parks. Those endearing park ranger uniforms don’t look so endearing to everyone. Some people think the parks must not want visitors as they don’t advertise the way, say a water park does. If an expanded version of iSWOOP is funded, we’ll work with selected parks to support outreach. That could mean helping to support transit (buses or boat rides), it could mean outreach on Spanish language radio. We want to make sure that college-aged students whose families haven’t brought them to national parks get a taste of parks both as destinations for fun and as sites for research.

    NPS has other strategies in mind. Its mantra is something like: Learn, work, serve, play, which tells you a lot about the way youth-service staff are thinking. Parks aren’t for passive enjoyment as much as they’re for citizen science, active engagement in service projects, hands-on learning, etc.

    I support you in visiting one or more national parks in 2015. Know any 4th graders with whom you could tag along?
    Martha

  • Icon for: Nickolay Hristov

    Nickolay Hristov

    Co-Presenter
    May 12, 2015 | 10:54 p.m.

    Hi Joni and thank you for your kind words! Indeed iSWOOP provides a rather flexible framework where once the trust and mechanisms of communication are established at the park site, thinking and designing learning programs happens naturally. We have developed and are proposing for funding a sister initiative to iSWOOP where students from disadvantaged communities join the iSWOOP team or participating scientists and travel to select parks around the country. There they do research together, interact with the Park Rangers and learn about new career opportunities.

  • Icon for: Iliya Gutin

    Iliya Gutin

    Facilitator
    May 11, 2015 | 03:41 p.m.

    Yes, definitely a very well-made video! This actually made wonder if the program was designed, in part, in response to any kind of “demand” on the part of park visitors themselves. Has the lack of these more hands-on, scientific engagement opportunities been highlighted as something visitors would like to see more of?

  • Icon for: Martha Merson

    Martha Merson

    Presenter
    May 11, 2015 | 10:44 p.m.

    Hi Iliya,
    I like that you wrote “demand” in quotes. There are so many directions one could take your wonder question.

    Dr. Nick suspected that park visitors are hungry for this kind of interaction and programming because whenever he was on-site doing research, visitors were curious. They approached and asked questions about the equipment or the purpose of the research. Of course if he was too technical or long-winded in his response, their eyes glazed over, but that’s why we wanted to work with interpreters. In this sense iSWOOP was designed to respond to visitor interest if not demand.

    Maybe Nick or Louise wants to jump in. We have a proposal pending which was designed in part to the components of iSWOOP that were successful at Carlsbad Caverns. We feel strongly that to be successful iSWOOP program content has to be responsive to the types of questions park visitors articulate. It is not impossible, but it would be a tougher sell to do programs on insects at a historical park where most visitors come to hear talks about the Revolutionary War, for example.

    The visitor research I have seen is mostly the general type, about facilities and satisfaction with information provided. In an NPS-sponsored course I heard a statistic about how many visitors want to hear about climate change. Can’t recall the actual numbers or the “n,” but it was far higher than course participants expected. All that is to say I haven’t seen findings specific to documented demand for programs on scientific engagement.

    You asked about hands-on scientific engagement opportunities. Based on conference presentations, trainings on facilitated dialogue, and the NPS Call to Action document, NPS leaders are acutely aware that visitors nowadays are accustomed to interactive experiences. Visitors are used to commenting, generating video, and expect that technology and media will be part of their park experiences. The format and methods for programming and exhibits that worked so well for decades seem inadequate now. Many of us experienced interactive exhibits in science museums and children’s museums. We have high expectations for interactivity. And the Park Service wants to a player in informal learning. Science can provide opportunities for engagement and connection. I think we’ll see many many more such opportunities at parks. I’m curious to see how we can provide these to visitors even if they’re not coming as part of a special volunteer group or school group.

    Thanks for asking this multi-layered question!
    Martha

  • Icon for: Louise Allen

    Louise Allen

    Co-Presenter
    May 12, 2015 | 09:21 a.m.

    The idea for iSWOOP was planted over 4 years when Nick and I were conducting colony census research at Carlsbad Caverns. Because we had to set up right near the amphitheater we witnessed a lot of bat flight programs (we were also pulled into quite a number of them as well). We noticed that most visitors had no idea that the parks were used for science and that they were really interested in what we had to say. We formed relationships with a number of the interps and many of them confessed they felt unprepared to address the most current research methods and findings. One hurdle, the annual reports that researchers submit to the park are available (with some searching), but are dry and difficult for a lay audience (even the interps) to understand. It took lots of planning and tweaking, but that is how it all began.

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    Barbara Berns

    Guest
    May 11, 2015 | 05:57 p.m.

    Martha, the video was lovely and left me wanting to know a lot more about how TERC and the Park staff/interpreters collaborated to change the way they educate visitors.

  • Icon for: Martha Merson

    Martha Merson

    Presenter
    May 11, 2015 | 11:07 p.m.

    Hi Barbara,
    On the video you could hear from the interpreters how essential and beneficial it is for them to be with the scientists who are figuring out the answers to the questions they and the visitors have. We didn’t have to do much to motivate them.

    TERC along with the two bat biologists (Nick and Louise from Winston-Salem State University), planned professional development that modeled everything we believe is important: time for exploration of representations like spectrographs and gadgets like thermal cameras; time to do research together, time to sketch and try out new programs and get feedback from peers. Providing a library of visual media, like what you saw in the video, was key because the interpreters had something special to offer that visitors wouldn’t ordinarily see. Providing iPads and a 60" screen helped attract visitors and made it easy for interpreters to get conversations about park-based research started.

    There’s lots more to say about how, including about buy-in and support from administrators, the context for programming, how seasoned and newer interpreters have responded, what scientists contributed, but I’m going to stop here for now. iswoopcave.com offers more details (under About iSWOOP).

    Martha
    Martha

  • Icon for: David Jackson

    David Jackson

    Associate Professor
    May 12, 2015 | 08:33 a.m.

    Wow – fantastic video and a great project. Well done!

  • Icon for: Louise Allen

    Louise Allen

    Co-Presenter
    May 12, 2015 | 09:22 a.m.

    Thanks David, I’m glad you enjoyed it. You can’t beat working in some of these places. The resource speaks for itself!

  • Small default profile

    Teon Edwards

    Guest
    May 12, 2015 | 01:21 p.m.

    Beautiful video and exciting project. I see you hope to expand to other parks. Are there any particular ones in the mix, or any particular directions you want to go with either the scientists’ research to be shared or with expanding your model?

  • Icon for: Martha Merson

    Martha Merson

    Presenter
    May 12, 2015 | 05:34 p.m.

    Hi Teon,
    We did select a variety of parks if we get to expand. Some national parks have science coordinators, some don’t. Some are remote and some are in close proximity to urban areas. Some serve over a million visitors in a year, some closer to half a million. The ones on our list include Joshua Tree, Indiana Dunes, Acadia, Jean Lafitte, and Boston Harbor Islands. You might know some things about Indiana Dunes???

    The scientists are still to be recruited, but we have some ideas of working on amphibians in Indiana and on invasive plant species in Acadia. We love bats, but didn’t want to limit iSWOOP to wildlife. We want to pilot an approach that lends itself to whatever park-based science is happening and show that it has the potential to captivate visitors.

    Martha

  • Icon for: Kathryn Quigley

    Kathryn Quigley

    Producer and Media Lead
    May 12, 2015 | 04:58 p.m.

    This footage is so beautiful, such a well done piece!

  • Icon for: Martha Merson

    Martha Merson

    Presenter
    May 12, 2015 | 05:30 p.m.

    Thank you, Kathryn! The videos are so beautiful I keep wondering if the interpreters’ voices are completely upstaged. Hoping both the words and the images stay with you.

  • Icon for: Kathryn Quigley

    Kathryn Quigley

    Producer and Media Lead
    May 12, 2015 | 05:32 p.m.

    Not at all upstaged! It seems like a very well balanced presentation with the content unfolding naturally. A nice balance of showing and telling.

  • Icon for: Nickolay Hristov

    Nickolay Hristov

    Co-Presenter
    May 12, 2015 | 10:22 p.m.

    Thank you, Kathryn! Like iSWOOP itself, we wanted the video to tell some but not all that is to be told, then let the viewer peek a bit further and discover more on their own. Your kind words make us think we have come close.

  • Icon for: Tony Streit

    Tony Streit

    Facilitator
    May 12, 2015 | 11:46 p.m.

    Wonderful piece. Reading through the various questions and responses, I’m wondering what if anything you’re learning about the lasting impact of your intervention on park visitors. I suspect like a lot of informal science, there is a kind of on-the-spot learning going on, but are you doing any kind of follow-up with visitors and if so, what are you finding stays with them? And, is it just greater appreciation for the parks or some deeper STEM learning?

  • Icon for: Martha Merson

    Martha Merson

    Presenter
    May 13, 2015 | 11:35 a.m.

    Hi Tony,
    I’ll be like a chicken and scratch at this question a bit.
    During the pilot we haven’t done any follow up with visitors. We expect to do that if our pending proposal is funded. Scott Pattison of OMSI will take the lead on researching how iSWOOP programs fuel or spark interest pathways for 50 families. His team will conduct follow-up interviews with families recruited after iSWOOP programs at three different parks. We’ll be observing iSWOOP programs as we expect that some facilitation moves will be memorable or open more possibilities for learning beyond the iSWOOP program.

  • Icon for: Martha Merson

    Martha Merson

    Presenter
    May 13, 2015 | 11:39 a.m.

    I’m also curious about what you are thinking of in terms of deeper STEM learning. I’m thinking that factual information about bats is useful. For many visitors, learning bat facts, for example, that bat species are pollinators and insect eaters or that they echolocate means that they are less intent on ridding the environment of bats. They might even install a bat house. Deeper STEM learning suggests to me a way of looking or observing that can be applied to other phenomena. So thinking about the structure of bats’ wings and the fact that insect hunting bats fly faster and echolocate might make me think differently about bird flight. Seeing how thermal imaging creates a map of an area like the bat roost might help me imagine a heat map of other areas of the cave or even the visitor center. I might start to wonder about energy and temperature gradations in a different, visual way.

  • Icon for: Martha Merson

    Martha Merson

    Presenter
    May 13, 2015 | 11:45 a.m.

    Brian Forist (Indiana University) is conducting follow-up interviews with national park visitors 3+ months after participating in ranger programs. I don’t think he’s published anything yet—just getting preliminary findings together.

  • Icon for: Tony Streit

    Tony Streit

    Facilitator
    May 13, 2015 | 12:09 p.m.

    Thanks Martha. My question was motivated by conversations I’ve had with science centers about how they have impact on their audience despite the very informal relationship/interaction. It it actually cool to think of the parks in a same fashion, but I suspect your visitors are even less aware of the potential to learn something science related. My reference to “deeper STEM learning” was perhaps a stretch – I would think though that your intervention at least gets visitors to see their parks in a new light and maybe use some of the same inquiry skills in their own backyard.

  • Icon for: Martha Merson

    Martha Merson

    Presenter
    May 13, 2015 | 10:29 p.m.

    Hi Tony, You said it—adult museum goers are aware they are going to an institution that has an educational mission. Park visitors are a mix. Some are clearly there solely to boulder or fish or enjoy family time, while some are eager to soak up all the knowledge they can. Rangers we’ve worked with are keenly aware that adult visitors don’t expect to be quizzed or put on the spot with questions. When asked what they learned or what was new, some visitors seemed uncomfortable. Others did answer in ways you could probably characterize as “on the spot” learning. Here are some examples: bat facts, e.g., bats have only one pup a year; technology facts, e.g., thermal video detects and maps heat signatures like a butt print on a chair or the warm areas on a bat’s body against a cool sky; science process, e.g., how scientists might figure out how many bats are leaving the cavern; parks as a venue for science research, an infrequently thought of fact that adds to the value people ascribe to parks. These knowledge gains seem valuable, but I’m striving for something more, that elusive something that lets you know visitors see how the science research fits into larger decisions and policies about species protection and conservation, that fits into individuals’ responsibility and societal priorities. I’m still trying to figure out how professional development can foster and support these kinds of conversations. —Martha

  • Small default profile

    Laurie Brennan

    Guest
    May 13, 2015 | 08:28 a.m.

    The video is beautiful. This project is a wonderful collaboration of passionate people with a common mission and what better setting than these rich and beautiful national parks. Exciting work and such a huge potential impact.

  • Icon for: Martha Merson

    Martha Merson

    Presenter
    May 13, 2015 | 10:41 a.m.

    Sometimes observing the obvious is momentous—beautiful national parks are part of our common heritage, managed for the benefit of all of us. I hope we can keep it that way.

  • Icon for: Emily Stoeth

    Emily Stoeth

    Conservation Educator & Bridging the Gap Interim Project Coordinator
    May 13, 2015 | 03:26 p.m.

    As many have said already, this is really an amazing video! It’s great that you have informal educators, scientists, and park guides all collaborating to design engaging and informative programs. With such a diverse group of people working together, I’m curious whether you have run into any fundamental ideological differences on best practices for conveying science and how you go about bridging the divide if there is one?

  • Icon for: Martha Merson

    Martha Merson

    Presenter
    May 13, 2015 | 11:29 p.m.

    Hi Emily, I want to reply to this, but my little gray cells are not firing so well anymore tonight. We have these conversations about inquiry and facilitated dialogue, how much you can push visitors to do the heavy lifting, education vs. interpretation vs. edutainment, about how much to hold out, hold off on providing answers and whether that is disrespectful. How we handle these diverging opinions … Tomorrow …

  • Icon for: Nickolay Hristov

    Nickolay Hristov

    Co-Presenter
    May 15, 2015 | 10:47 p.m.

    Hi Emily, the differences exist, yes! Even outside of methods for conveying science to the public. There has been frank talk about what drives each constituent member in the iSWOOP model, how to merge the traditions of the ISE community with the busy schedules and legacy of park interpretation as well as the demands and expectations of tenure clocks and busy academic and research schedules. We have found that some of it is terminology. Some a question of practice. Trust and communication have been key for us both inside the core iSWOOP team and with our partners and collaborators. There truly is a lot of confidence at this point in the benefits from the model and how it was applied at Carlsbad Caverns but we are all eager to find out how much and what ports to other sties as well.

  • Small default profile

    Myriam Steinback

    TERC PD Project Director
    May 13, 2015 | 03:44 p.m.

    The video is beautiful – more so considering bats are not my favorite. Your mission, the education you are all providing and the natural beauty of the caverns make this incredibly special. I assume park visitors are learning and enjoying – what impact!

  • Icon for: Nickolay Hristov

    Nickolay Hristov

    Co-Presenter
    May 13, 2015 | 04:15 p.m.

    Thank you Myriam! Indeed, there is a lot of positive energy in the scientists<=>rangers<=> informal science educators dynamic! The rangers treasure the exposure, interactions, hands-on experience and visual material but the most important element in the model is their contribution via questions, suggestions, comments and requests (of their own and some passed from the visitors). As spectacularly visual creatures, humans respond to visual information unlike any other. iSWOOP capitalizes on that by framing learning opportunities into visualizations – augmented images, moving pictures, 3D models and dynamic visual expressions. These become anchors for opportunities to consider how much to tell and how much to invite and discover on your own, how best to frame an open-ended question that curates a conversation rather than an answer, and what is the story and point of return for this learning opportunity. Don’t like bats? You are on the right path. Send us an email and we will respond with images that will touch and intrigue you :-)

  • Icon for: Richard Hudson

    Richard Hudson

    Senior Executive Producer
    May 13, 2015 | 05:58 p.m.

    Lovely production! Who produced the video?

  • Icon for: Nickolay Hristov

    Nickolay Hristov

    Co-Presenter
    May 13, 2015 | 11:05 p.m.

    Thank you Richard! The video was produced by the iSWOOP Team – an organic collaboration of two scientists (myself and Louise Allen) an informal science educator (Martha Merson) and our many students and faculty in biology, filmmaking, design and production and music from five colleges and universities in our home bases in Winston-Salem NC and Cambridge, Massachusetts. We tried to capture this diversity and multitude of contributions in the credit slide at the end of the video.

    The striking footage that is featured in the video was collected over the past 5 years as our research teams worked on-site in central Texas and Southern New Mexico. In our research we employ advanced technologies like high-speed videography, image-based 3D motion-capture, thermal imaging and laser scanning. The images of data often serve as the raw footage for our films. This version of the iSWOOP video was edited by Chris Matthews, a first year film student at UNCSA with directorial and production support from the iSWOOP Team and critical feedback from many students and colleagues. As is the case for iSWOOP itself, we value the process as much as the end-result. We are thrilled that you are enjoying and recognizing both!

  • Icon for: Martha Merson

    Martha Merson

    Presenter
    May 13, 2015 | 10:34 p.m.

    Hi Richard, Your picture looks familiar. Dragonfly and an episode about swallows at Carlsbad Caverns?
    Nick had a vision for the style of the video. He’s probably most responsible for visual storytelling that happens in this project. Nick worked closely with Chris to craft the story. Louise and I made contributions to the sequence. You can see on the credits that several videographers like Isaac, Ryan, Jon, Ian and others collected footage from which we drew.

    That’s how I see it anyway!
    Martha

  • Icon for: David Carraher

    David Carraher

    Senior Scientist
    May 14, 2015 | 10:09 a.m.

    Hi Martha,
    Your project sounds very interesting. I’d love to learn more.
    Best,
    David

  • Icon for: Martha Merson

    Martha Merson

    Presenter
    May 14, 2015 | 01:51 p.m.

    Hi David, I’m planning to do a brown bag on June 10. Look for email. You can also see more and read more on iswoopcave.com

  • Icon for: Andee Rubin

    Andee Rubin

    Senior Scientist
    May 14, 2015 | 04:56 p.m.

    Such lovely images and clear wonder reflected in the faces of the visitors. I hope you get to expand your work – and if so, I’ll be very curious to see which experiences in other parks rival the awe-inspiration of the bats.

  • Icon for: Nickolay Hristov

    Nickolay Hristov

    Co-Presenter
    May 15, 2015 | 01:07 a.m.

    Hi Andee! Thank you for stopping by the iSWOOP corner! The question that you ask has been on our minds as we look to expand beyond Carlsbad Caverns. Yes, for most people, each park in the system has its iconic symbol – gigantic tress in Sequoia, alligators in the Everglades, snow-covered peaks at Glacier and indeed, bats and the cave at Carlsbad Caverns. Can we meaningfully connect the iSWOOP model to these perceptions and expand the conversations to other topics of public interest and scientific inquiry? We too are curious and hoping to find out!

  • Icon for: Sarah Rand

    Sarah Rand

    Facilitator
    May 14, 2015 | 08:19 p.m.

    This is a powerful and emotional video! What impact have you seen come out of the video? More interest in the program?

  • Icon for: Martha Merson

    Martha Merson

    Presenter
    May 14, 2015 | 10:02 p.m.

    Hi Sarah,
    I’ve been pleased by the response from our National Park Service contacts. Here’s a note we got this week from a supervisor at Carlsbad Caverns who was talking with an iSWOOP interpreter: “She said [the video] made here feel really proud that she has been part of iSWOOP. In fact, she wants to jazz up ‘iSWOOP Central,’ where the Macs [and project equipment] are stationed to reflect the awesomeness of being involved with this project!”

    The Park Service has been wonderfully supportive of iSWOOP, both at Carlsbad Caverns, our pilot site, and in national offices in Washington and Fort Collins. We appreciate suggestions and connections from Julia Washburn, Associate Director of Interpretation, Education, and Volunteers as well as Tim Watkins, head of the Research Learning Centers; Abe Miller-Rushing, a science coordinator and leader for citizen science; Kirsten Leong in Human Dimensions and Sara Melena, in the office of Education and Outreach.

    Not every park has a single charismatic species that lends itself to iSWOOP. It will be fun and challenging to see if we can make visuals of other science content as riveting—coastal erosion and sediment transport, any ideas???

  • Small default profile

    Marti Louw

    Guest
    May 15, 2015 | 10:20 a.m.

    I think sometimes the ISE field forgets the power of visual images and well crafted narrative to mediate, encourage deep looking, and engage a wide ranges of learners. I’m thrilled your project is seeking to situate, integrate and utilize high quality mediation techniques with purposeful activity to more richly engage learners our national parks, and develop a supporting model that can inform others.

  • Icon for: Louise Allen

    Louise Allen

    Co-Presenter
    May 15, 2015 | 08:59 p.m.

    Marti, I think visual storytelling is very much front and center with iSWOOP. It will be interesting to see how we make that work with other science topics. Bats are pretty photogenic!

  • Small default profile

    Myra Love

    Guest
    May 15, 2015 | 10:49 p.m.

    Though I am usually not a visual learner, I really enjoyed this video and am very interested to see what becomes of iSWOOP.

  • Further posting is closed as the showcase has ended.

  1. Martha Merson
  2. Project Director
  3. iSWOOP, Interpreters and Scientists Working on Our Parks
  4. http://iswoopcave.com
  5. TERC
  1. Louise Allen
  2. http://www.wssu.edu/profile/dept/bios/allenl/default.aspx
  3. Visiting Assistant Professor
  4. iSWOOP, Interpreters and Scientists Working on Our Parks
  5. http://iswoopcave.com
  6. Winston-Salem State University, Office of Science Initiatives
  1. Nickolay Hristov
  2. Assistant Professor
  3. iSWOOP, Interpreters and Scientists Working on Our Parks
  4. http://iswoopcave.com
  5. Winston-Salem State University, Center for Design Innovation
Presenters’
Choice
Public
Choice

iSWOOP - Interpreters and Scientists Working On Our Parks
NSF Award #: 1323030

iSWOOP, Interpreters and Scientists Working On Our Parks, is an NSF-funded, pilot initiative that seeks to create a model of professional development for national park interpreters to help advance STEM learning for the more than 275 million annual visitors of America’s National Parks. iSWOOP is based on a collaboration among scientists, informal science educators and park interpretive rangers. They all work together to conduct park-based research and to design engaging and informative interpretive programs on scientific topics of relevance and interest to the general public with a focus on the process of science. In this first phase of development, the project is discovering best practices that allow visitor engagement through visual storytelling, inquiry and facilitated dialog. Piloted at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, we anticipate extending the model to other national parks around the US.