“If you are not on a superhighway these days, it is going to be really hard for people to find you”
This session explored opportunities for expanding informal chemistry education. Robert Hone, Red Hill Studios, discussed advanced video gaming; Deborah Illman, University of Washington, spoke about a targeted writing program she has developed for chemists; and Andrea Twiss-Brooks, University of Chicago, talked about the traditional and changing roles of librarians and libraries in supporting informal learning.
Robert Hone said that Red Hill develops museum exhibits, documentary films, online games, and more. It also does work for a large publishing company. For example, his company did the latest run of chemistry tutorials for the Zumdahl (general chemistry) books.
Hone discussed the current grants of Red Hill Studios. One is from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to create BioArcade, currently on PBSkids.org. The other is a Reese Grant for the studio to look at how to make games adaptive for different needs. For example, Red Hill builds physical therapy games using current game platforms, such as for people with Parkinson’s disease using the Wii and the Wii Fit for kids with cerebral palsy. “It’s very rewarding work,” Hone said.
Red Hill calls the educational games it develops “games that matter.” The studio has focused on games because there is a lot of interest right now. “I think there is a lot of work, good foundation work to be done. I think the field really has been moving along pretty much on the level of ‘if it sells it’s good,’ and I think there is a research foundation that could be built,” Hone said. Hone explained that in the past education and gaming were thought of as two different and unrelated activities, but that is changing.
Red Hill is currently involved in seven different projects, including the physical therapy games, cognitive games for multiple sclerosis, and games for integrated pest management, which is an NSF grant for the University of Arizona. The studio is also working with CISCO on networking training, the California Science Center, college-level math games for Addison Wesley, and an informal biology-based game for PBS, which Hone mentioned earlier.
The basic way that games work is to match ability and difficulty: as the ability rises, the difficulty should increase. Hone recalled how the founder of Electronic Arts (EA) once described a computer game like a tennis match where the score is 7-6, 6-7, 7-6. The game needs to be difficult and challenging. He said, “If it is easy, it is boring.” However, if it is too hard the player will be frustrated and drop out. He said if that match of difficulty is achieved, the player gets into a flow state, which is a highly mindful focused state. Games are addictive, because they keep putting kids back into a flow state.
Another metaphor Hone said to consider, in terms of easy or matching difficulty, is skiing. “When you are learning, you want a very easy slope, but you can’t stop there. You have to build the slopes for the expert skier,” he said, “you are building a whole mountain for a game. You are building everything from getting started, all the way to the most difficult. Then you give them a progression, because if you get them hooked, you want to keep them hooked. You want to keep them going.”
One of the ways to do that is to build a series of individual levels, such as easy, medium, and hard, or it can be many levels. Hone gave an example of a game Red Hill released that had 60 levels, instead of 3. This is common for consumer video games, which often have 40, 50, 60 levels. He said consumer games “plan for that; they build the mountain, they don’t just build one slope.”
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7 Tools and Techniques “If you are not on a superhighway these days, it is going to be really hard for people to find you” —Robert Hone This session explored opportunities for expanding infor- Red Hill is currently involved in seven different projects, mal chemistry education. Robert Hone, Red Hill Stu- including the physical therapy games, cognitive games for dios, discussed advanced video gaming; Deborah Illman, multiple sclerosis, and games for integrated pest manage- University of Washington, spoke about a targeted writing ment, which is an NSF grant for the University of Arizona. program she has developed for chemists; and Andrea Twiss- The studio is also working with CISCO on networking train- Brooks, University of Chicago, talked about the traditional ing, the California Science Center, college-level math games and changing roles of librarians and libraries in supporting for Addison Wesley, and an informal biology-based game for informal learning. PBS, which Hone mentioned earlier. The basic way that games work is to match ability and difficulty: as the ability rises, the difficulty should increase. GAMES THAT MATTER Hone recalled how the founder of Electronic Arts (EA) once Robert Hone said that Red Hill develops museum exhib- described a computer game like a tennis match where the its, documentary films, online games, and more. It also does score is 7-6, 6-7, 7-6. The game needs to be difficult and work for a large publishing company. For example, his com- challenging. He said, “If it is easy, it is boring.” However, if pany did the latest run of chemistry tutorials for the Zumdahl it is too hard the player will be frustrated and drop out. He (general chemistry) books. said if that match of difficulty is achieved, the player gets Hone discussed the current grants of Red Hill Studios. into a flow state, which is a highly mindful focused state. One is from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to create Games are addictive, because they keep putting kids back BioArcade, currently on PBSkids.org. The other is a Reese into a flow state. Grant for the studio to look at how to make games adaptive Another metaphor Hone said to consider, in terms of easy for different needs. For example, Red Hill builds physical or matching difficulty, is skiing. “When you are learning, therapy games using current game platforms, such as for you want a very easy slope, but you can’t stop there. You people with Parkinson’s disease using the Wii and the Wii have to build the slopes for the expert skier,” he said, “you Fit for kids with cerebral palsy. “It’s very rewarding work,” are building a whole mountain for a game. You are building Hone said. everything from getting started, all the way to the most dif- Red Hill calls the educational games it develops “games ficult. Then you give them a progression, because if you get that matter.” The studio has focused on games because there them hooked, you want to keep them hooked. You want to is a lot of interest right now. “I think there is a lot of work, keep them going.” good foundation work to be done. I think the field really has One of the ways to do that is to build a series of individual been moving along pretty much on the level of ‘if it sells it’s levels, such as easy, medium, and hard, or it can be many good,’ and I think there is a research foundation that could be levels. Hone gave an example of a game Red Hill released built,” Hone said. Hone explained that in the past education that had 60 levels, instead of 3. This is common for consumer and gaming were thought of as two different and unrelated video games, which often have 40, 50, 60 levels. He said activities, but that is changing. consumer games “plan for that; they build the mountain, they don’t just build one slope.” 55
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56 CHEMISTRY IN PRIMETIME AND ONLINE In the Lifeboat to Mars game, Red Hill created two • Develop or adopt learning progression (e.g., American simulations. One is about microbial function; the other is Association for the Advancement of Science [AAAS] Atlas), about ecosystem dynamics. There are a series of levels for • Build sets of levels that cover the learning progression, each game in which the player must complete the levels in and order. In the microbial system, the player has to understand • Create tools for players to build their own levels that he or she is going to need mitochondria to process food; (modding). otherwise there is no movement to the next level. He said this is called a forced progression. Since the game was launched Hone also emphasized that after going through the trouble in early January, Hone said more than 100,000 game levels to make a game to access on the Internet, it is important to put have been played. In addition, players are provided the tools the game on a well-trafficked site. For example, Red Hill has to build their own levels and upload to PBS for other kids to a strong relationship with PBSKids.org, a popular website play. Hone said that more than 1,200 levels have been built. for children. “If you are not on a superhighway these days, it Another model that Red Hill is considering is something is going to be really hard for people to find you,” he added. called concept maps. For example, Hone said, “You would The high school or college level can also be targeted. have to learn about mass, and then you have to learn about Hone mentioned work Red Hill is doing with Benjamin speed before you can learn about momentum. You combine Cummings Houghton and games for Addison Wesley. For the concepts—and not just in a linear path.” this age group, he suggested to Hone then presented some things to consider when trying to make games interesting. One of the challenges is there • Align with educational publishers, are many different ways to deliver feedback to the player. • Tie into existing textbook as additional practice, He said that “the worst thing you can do is give the answer • Assign the game as homework, away. They want the thing to be tough. They are struggling at • Design games as formative assessments of conceptual it; you give them the answers, is like telling them ‘who done understanding (with reporting back to the teacher), and it.’ You want to hold that back, you want to create that chal- • Create tools for players to build their own levels lenge.” Hone said people who want to design games often (modding). worry that they will be too hard. It’s important to give the players a chance, so they will try again. At the same time, he Hone cautioned that games are not yet appropriate for explained, “if they fail, they are not just going to walk away. teaching content. He said, “I think it is not as time efficient It is a game. There is an expectation that sometimes you are as other instructional technologies . . . if you play Civilization going to fail and you got to try again.” you will not learn history as well as reading it in a history It is also not necessary for the player to always master or book.” While games augment other forms of education, they are not going to replace anything just yet, he added.1 focus on the intended educational goal, said Hone. Some- times, neutral gaming elements can be included that simply “We are doing the assessment inside games very care- keep the player engaged. For example, Red Hill created a fully under the hood so we don’t wreck the designer-player game for Dragonfly TV, in collaboration with Twin Cities contract,” Hone said. In a formal instructional environment, Public Television and funded by NSF. The goal of the pro- students are being assessed all the time with quizzes and gram is to move around a space station and try to fix things, tests. They can be given a couple of questions right after with only a limited amount of fuel. To make it more challeng- being delivered some content to make sure they are paying ing, a timer was added in the face of the oxygen tank. The attention, but this cannot be done the same way in a game. player then has to balance doing the task quickly, without The approach has to be different. using up all the fuel. Hone said, “We created a situation Hone warned, “Please don’t shoehorn things into a game.” where you can’t optimize for one or the other, you have to Games have their purpose, they’re good for either practice look at the combined optimization. That makes it a game.” problems or forms of assessment. He said, “Don’t try and He explained that the timer is a noneducational component, pick your hardest topic that you can’t teach any other way, but it makes the game. and think just because it is a game that will make it easier. If Hone mentioned some ideas for possible chemistry it is hard in the other environments, it is probably hard as a games, especially targeted at middle school age, because game.” Games that provide supplemental learning opportuni- kids at this age are not cynical and are more open; they ties can increase student engagement. He added that games will play games over and over again. They are also still at a place where it is possible to cover enough science to make it worthwhile. For middle schoolers, he suggested to 1For the recent report on this topic, see National Research Council. 2010. • Tie games to climate change or energy use, The Rise of Games and High Performance Computing for Modeling and Simulation. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. Available online at • Use age-appropriate graphics and content, www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12816 (accessed January 27, 2011).
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57 TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES in general should be simulation based, because then the has combined these in an “intensive, hands-on, week-long marginal cost of creating an additional level is low. sort of boot camp, with the goal of not only giving students Hone noted that people are just beginning to understand a grounding in some communication techniques, but then that the Internet is a great distribution system as well as a equipping them with some resources and curriculum mate- great listening system. He said, “That is why Google is so rials to bring back to their institutions to share with others powerful; they are listening, they are not talking.” By listen- during the following year and beyond.” ing, examples can be put out there; then the responses can The idea for the institute was motivated by the Interna- be monitored. He added, “Put a challenge and see how they tional Year of Chemistry in 2011, and also by the fact that react to it.” over the years she has noticed that chemistry lags behind the For example, Hone said that his studio plans to put out two bio- and health sciences in enrollment in the University of different versions of a game to PBSKids. They arranged to Washington writing program. Over a recent 10-year period, run trials where one-half of the kids using the site are going Illman analyzed the disciplines from which the students in to see version A and the other half are going to see version B. her three courses on science news and on fiction writing There will be about 5,000 kids per version. He noted, “When were coming. She found that students in bio-related sciences you go into a classroom and you get 5,000 [participants] you were the largest subscribers, at 25 percent of the 465 students would be doing this for a decade, but online you are able to enrolled. At the same time, she found that chemistry students get those kinds of numbers fairly easily.” were only about 4 percent of the class enrollment, or about 20 students over a 10-year period. She note that that number “is actually double what it would have been if I had not gone Questions and Answers over to the chemistry department and talked to the advisers Paul Barbara, University of Texas at Austin, asked Hone and tried to rustle up some chemistry students to take these if he considered whether there could be effective video game courses.” or cyber models that would have some of the advantage of Yet one thing that surprised her is that most of the stu- things like the FIRST® Robotics2 and the FIRST® Lego dents who come to these courses to learn about writing for Leagues, where there is a competition to build something to general audiences were from the sciences and engineering. solve a specific practical problem, such as moving people in They was a slight majority there, whereas other units such cities or building a prosthetic. as communication, journalism, English, creative writing, Hone replied that he is a big fan of FIRST® Robotics and economics, history, et cetera, comprised about 42 percent of that he thinks it could work. He mentioned a collaboration the participants over the years on average. Red Hill has with PBSKids.org to build an “ecocity” that is Illman then extracted some of the approaches used in her sustainable. classes, combined them into a week-long experience, tar- Barbara then asked Hone whether there are actual prob- geted a group of postdoctoral researchers in chemistry from lems to solve where many people are needed to help solve across the country, and held the first Chemistry Communica- them that could be part of a video game. tion Leadership Institute, sponsored by NSF, the American Hone responded that he is familiar with the concept, but Chemical Society (ACS), and UW, in September 2009. that to ask kids to cure cancer is probably setting the bar a An informal survey of the institute participants showed little too high. “I would say that what you are doing with that 20 percent of them had heard a little about the structure games for kids should be something that gets them excited of news writing before, but none of them had ever heard of about the field so they pay attention in class,” Hone said. a public information officer or knew anything about the pro- cess of communicating through journalists, such as using a press release. By the time they finished the course, they had CULTIVATING CHEMISTRY COMMUNICATION written and revised an actual press release, and also had a LEADERS chance to learn and practice a range of other communication Deborah Illman talked about the Chemistry Communica- techniques. tion Leadership Institute she created at the University of The topics Illman and other presenters covered in the Washington. The project is funded by the NSF Chemistry week-long experience included the following: Division, with the goal to cultivate a new generation of chem- istry communication leaders. The approach builds on what • The science communication process she has found to be the most effective strategies from her • Challenges of communicating chemistry experience teaching science news and fiction writing at the • Understanding the journalist’s world University of Washington (UW), for the past 10 years. Illman • Public information officers and press releases • Newsworthiness and the structure of news writing • Interviews 2For more information about FIRST® Robotics, see www.usfirst.org/ • Using digital media to reach broader audiences (accessed December 3, 2010).
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58 CHEMISTRY IN PRIMETIME AND ONLINE • Writing for radio and podcasts source, and the “deriving everything from first principles” • Freelancing and writing the query letter source. The actors depicted these personalities in relating the • Writing and editing processes: structure and clarity content for their scenario and rotated through small groups of postdocs; the postdocs played the journalists, interviewed For the classes, Illman was joined by Ivan Amato; Robert these sources, and then did a debriefing. Service from Science; Alan Boyle, who is the science editor The interview simulations were the most highly rated of from MSNBC.com; Jim Gates, a reporter from KUOW (the all their activities. They said it helped a lot to walk a bit in local National Public Radio [NPR] station); and two public the shoes of the journalists. Overall, the institute received information officers from the University of Washington. high ratings from all the participants. They all said they One of the techniques and activities used in the program would recommend the institute to others and would be more was for students to create a press release. Authors of two likely to engage in communication in their careers as a result papers originated at UW were brought in to answer questions of the program. Illman provided quotes from a few institute from the students, who then wrote a press release based on participants: the interviews. The class critiqued the press releases along with the headline. The headline is a critical part, because it • “The guest speakers introduced me into a world which makes the students focus on why anyone should care about it. is completely in the dark for most researchers; knowing Students also had to write a freelance proposal, which the process of publication and how it works was extremely they did with the help of a radio reporter. They also worked valuable.” on a 90-second elevator talk, which was recorded and played • “The most important aspect for chemists is the lifting back and critiqued. One unique activity students did was of the veil on how science news is published, what are the participate in interview simulations, which Illman said was steps and motivations, who are cleared in the process.” probably the most successful part of the whole program. • “I feel like I have a writing network now.” Illman explained to workshop participants about the rationale for the activities she selected and the rationale for After the institute, the postdocs created many freelance her approach to teaching science news and nonfiction writ- products, which Illman showed. For example, an article by ing more generally. She has worked with a lot of science postdoc Adam Tenderhold titled “Scientists Develop Method graduate students over the years, and has noticed that the to Identify Tissue During Surgery in Real Time” appeared most frequent problems encountered in the writings of sci- in the Vernal Express in October 2009. Illman gathered ence researchers have to do with issues of audience. They updates from the participants as part of a midyear review of tend to use a lot of jargon, familiar terms used in unfamiliar the program where she interviewed all the participants to see ways, too much technical detail, inadequate explanations what they had been doing. There were a number of freelance and metaphors, and inappropriate selection and ordering of pieces, some of them for Illman’s magazine, Northwest Sci- information. The activities she put together for the chemis- ence and Technology; one for the Scripps Publication; and try communication institute are exercises that address all of another for a Utah newspaper. those issues. Illman also attempted to quantify the kinds and numbers Illman has also found that most science graduate students of activities, and the number of people directly and indirectly (based on informal polling in her writing classes) have either affected by the postdocs’ sharing the institute content with very little or no contact with nonscientists on a daily basis. people at their institutions. She found that about 225 people As a result, there is very little opportunity for students to by midyear had directly received the institute content from develop mental models of what general audiences know or do the postdocs. Then there were a number of indirect effects not know and what is appropriate information to share with where the postdocs undertook activities that delivered sci- them. “In fact, they come to me and they ask me, ‘How do ence and chemistry content to broader audiences—2,800 for I know what my audience knows?’ That kind of got the ball example in the outreach projects and events, the freelance rolling and thinking about it,” Illman added. writing, and so on. In terms of reaching more general audi- Illman talked about the interview simulations. The stu- ences, she noted that the University of Washington website dents served as journalists and prepared an interview guide got about 10,000 visits in April. There was also coverage they could use with some real scenarios and real content that of the program in the media on blogs, television stations, Illman selected in advance. They were to interview sources, and TV websites—but she said it was hard to estimate the played by experienced actors from a consulting firm special- impact of that. izing in high-stakes communication training. She said she Participants were also asked about the challenges they supplied the actors with real scenarios based on actual press faced in applying the institute content during the year. One releases, which they researched and rehearsed. The scenarios of the major challenges, which they expected for postdocs, chosen depicted commonly encountered source personality was the time constraints of their jobs and job changes. At the types—the reluctant source, the tangential talker, the wary same time, she said they noted that the institute preparation
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59 TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES really enhanced their job-hunting skills. Some participants I am seeing this as a tapestry of informal learning. There are encountered resistance in their departments. Others found it lots of threads; there are lots of different types of informal hard to get started in freelancing. There was also the expected learning that take place.” loss of momentum once they got back to daily life. Twiss-Brooks noted that librarians in the university envi- In terms of improvements to the program, a lot of them ronment have a mission to support teaching, learning, and said they would like periodic reminders. Some of them said research for all users. Science libraries try to do that across they would like help in brokering freelancing opportunities a broad range of scientific disciplines, including chemistry. and more guidance on how to share or how to teach com- In considering the special role of libraries and librarians in munication in the context of chemistry and to show how it informal education, she said three themes emerge: is relevant. Illman said she has a Phase II proposal pending that 1. Providing spaces for learners and learning and for would offer five more institute sessions over the next 2 years, programs and activities, with the goal of reaching about a hundred chemists. She 2. Providing and organizing authoritative information would also like to transition the institute to a self-sustaining resources (from print to electronic sources, as well as web- operation, broaden participation to include faculty mem- based resources and any other kinds of information resources bers who can help institutionalize this information in their that may be available), and departments, and study the effects for a broader group of 3. Providing other skills that librarians have developed participants. for their own use that they can then turn into collaborative The last thing Illman mentioned was another project she efforts with their communities. is working on that is somewhat synergistic with her writing institute. It is an ongoing NSF project to use mental models’ For example, spaces include library exhibits, meeting research methodology to study perceptions of the audience in rooms, or other learning spaces, with areas for both indi- decision making in science and technology communications. viduals and groups and for formal lectures, as well as less It is meant to prepare experts and novices to figure out how formal activities. The information librarians provide includes their mental models affect their decision making when they organizing guides, lists, and various other tools to help are crafting messages for general audiences. inform learners about how to find good-quality information, as well as the types of resources available. Librarians also often provide organizational skills and insights on assessing Questions & Answers programs, activities, and services. Sharon Haynie was struck by the small number of chem- Twiss-Brooks gave a specific example of an activity done istry and engineering students that participate in Illman’s in collaboration between a faculty member at the Univer- writing classes. She asked, “Are there curriculum barriers sity of Texas-Dallas and local public libraries in the Dallas region, called “Contact Science.”3 The way it works is that or things that don’t allow them to access—make it hard for them to participate in your course?” there is a stand-alone (self-explanatory) kiosk on a particular Illman replied, “For the engineers, the answer is a science topic, about the size of a tabletop, designed to fit into resounding yes. For the chemists, I think it is just not on the a public library space. Along with the kiosk, there are associ- radar screen.” She said she hasn’t studied that, but thinks ated activities, projects, and mentoring for the libraries that it would be a good thing to try to find out. Every time she install this in their environments (including any specialized went to talk to advisers about it, it would yield about four or or unusual consumables that might be used as part of the five students. She recalled one quarter in which she had five activities). The program also contributes selected books to chemistry graduate students in a class of twenty. However, the library that is hosting the kiosk. She encouraged work- she found that when she did not do the outreach to chemistry shop participants to check out the Contact Science website departments, the numbers would drop again. In contrast, for more details. “This is a fairly new program, but it is a every quarter without fail she gets biology students. Her good example of the way that libraries can serve as neutral hypothesis is that biology students are more attuned to see- spaces for activities,” Twiss-Brooks added. Kiosk locations ing science in a broader context, because they study living are listed on the website. systems. She thinks this is an area that needs more research. Because universities can sometimes be political or terri- torial, the library often represents a kind of neutral ground, said Twiss-Brooks. It is a great place to have activities LIBRARIES AND LIBRARIANS where multiple departments may be trying to collaborate to Andrea Twiss-Brooks provided some insights on how provide a program or service, and rather than having one of libraries and librarians contribute to communicating chem- istry and supporting informal education. She said that “after 3For more information, see//www.utdallas.edu/seec/contact_science. listening to all the presentations over the last day and a half, html.
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60 CHEMISTRY IN PRIMETIME AND ONLINE Acquiring and Organizing Information Resources the departments be the home for where the activity actually takes place, it can happen in the library which everyone kind The second topic, acquiring and organizing information of sees as their friend. resources, is something that librarians consider their core Libraries can also serve as a space for museum exhib- principles and core values, Twiss-Brooks said. She quoted its. “Public libraries are distributed around regions and in Linton Weeks, who said in the January 13, 2001, Washing- communities. So this is an excellent way for the folks that ton Post: “In the non-stop tsunami of global information, might not necessarily have easy access to a science museum librarians provide us with floaties and teach us to swim.” to get this kind of high-quality informal learning content,” For example, in another example from Emily Wixson at Twiss-Brooks added. An example she provided was from the University of Wisconsin, Madison (Figure 7-1), Wixson her colleague Emily Wixson at the University of Wisconsin, was involved in an information technology academy at the Madison. Wixson does a lot of outreach work, where some University of Wisconsin, where she offered a workshop of the outreach is programmatic and some is one-time events. for first-year students. The original workshop she designed She is especially interested in chemical information literacy, was called Jellybean Chemistry, and it looked at chemical teaching people how to use the tools to discover good chemi- visualization on the Internet. Twiss-Brooks said that many cal information, for her own chemistry students as well as examples like these can also be found in public libraries. for nonchemists and nonspecialists. Wixson says she tries Another example Twiss-Brooks gave was the Sci-Tech to make chemical information and the chemical literature Library Newsletter at Stanford University, which has dif- accessible to nonscience colleagues. She does that by teach - ferent themes throughout the year. It does holiday themes, ing chemical structure building with gumdrops and with such as the one she showed about Halloween and science, marshmallows. She also took place in an edible book contest developed by Stephanie Bianci. Based on the comments and recently, where she chose to make a chemistry book Crime feedback received on the site where it is hosted at Stanford’s Scene Chemistry for the Armchair Sleuth,4 which she did to Swain Library, they know that this site is being used by gen- make people aware that there are popular books on science eral users, home schoolers, and others who are interested in and chemistry for the layperson in the library. both formal and informal education. In addition, libraries also put on their own exhibits, high- Some other examples of guides that libraries produce lighting permanent collections, research on the university involve science, with a speaker providing information on campus, research of the local community, and other special correct citation, how to use bibliographic management tools, features. Some examples of science-based library exhibits and other such resources. Twiss-Brooks said that these topics include one that the Nobel Library at Arizona State Univer- are sometimes taught in science writing or the writing centers sity (ASU) did on It’s a Dry Heat: Biological Adaptations on campus, but they are also often handled by the library. for Life in the Arizona Desert; another one ASU did was Libraries provide resources—purchased, licensed, and Remote Sensing, an exhibit highlighting current applications free—that they collect and organize. One example are books and research at ASU; and another one involved social insect in the “Saturday Science Series,” by Neil Downie5 which is research, which was complete with ants. something that Twiss-Brooks purchased for the collection Twiss-Brooks said that she and her librarian colleagues at her school and that is the library catalogue. For example, also try to highlight resources in their libraries. For example, these types of resources are available to members of the the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, had an exhibit university campus community, who may have children of From Alchemy to Chemistry, 500 Years of Rare and Interest- their own whose science learning experience they are trying ing Books. Another example was something she did in her to enrich, as well as visitors from outside the university com- own library, called Something Brewing: The Art, Science, munity who use the library. and Technology of Beer Brewing. Often with these exhibits they also bring in lecturers for the opening or for a special Sharing Librarian Skills evening, and they also try to bring in scientists. For the exhibit on beer brewing, they had a historian of breweries in Twiss-Brooks then discussed how librarians share their Chicago that came and talked. She emphasized that they try skills. However, she warned, there are limitations to what a to feature the science and technology aspect of the materials library can do. As Lily Tomlin said, “If truth is beauty, how and the materials from their collection. come no one has their hair done in a library?” She added, “I don’t think I am going to be offering cosmetology or haircut- ting services in the library.” 5For example, see N.A. Downie. 2001. Vacuum Bazookas, Electric 4For more information, see http://www.library.wisc.edu/edible-book/ R ainbow Jelly, and 27 Other Saturday Science Projects. P rinceton: pictures10.html (accessed June 6, 2011). Princeton University Press.
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61 TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES FIGURE 7-1 Acquiring and organizing resources. SOURCE: Andrea Twiss-Brooks screen shot, chemistry.library.wise.edu/for-your-class/jelly-bean-chemistry.hml (accessed June 6, 2011). Several years ago, Twiss-Brooks was asked to be involved do we really look at these outcomes for these kind of one- with the American Chemical Society Committee on Com- shot events? That was what I took back to my work on the munity Activities. Her colleague Grace Bassinger started Committee on Community Activities.” with the committee creating lists of resources and helping to To assess the impacts of NCW outreach efforts in 2009, tie the library into their outreach activities, such as National Twiss-Brooks and the Committee on Community Activities Chemistry Week (NCW) and Earth Day (Figure 7-2). came up with a survey for outreach participants. They tried to Twiss-Brooks explained that being part of the ACS, the include some core questions that would at least try to capture members of the Committee on Community Activities are whether there was an impact on attitudes toward chemistry interested in trying to meet the organizational goals. One is to as a result of these events, with the target audiences being communicate with the public, especially the general public, elementary and middle school and some high school stu- “the nature and value of chemistry and related sciences.” In dents. They were given a 20-question survey, to reflect on the ACS strategic plan, it also states that progress toward the their experiences after they just spent the afternoon making communication goal involves instilling a positive perception “flubber” or other chemistry activities. of the nature and value of chemistry by participants in ACS One of the core questions of the survey was, “Before activities. coming to this event today, I thought that chemistry was: Librarians can also be very helpful in assessing outcomes (choose one) bad, boring, okay, interesting, awesome.” The and impacts of outreach. Twiss-Brooks described her experi- second core question was, “After attending this event, I now ence with reporting requirements for the Institute of Museum think that chemistry is: (choose one) bad, boring, okay, and Library Studies grants program. She said librarians “are interesting, awesome.” They also collected demographic very good at counting, we can count how many people went information, such as male or female, age range, whether to an event, we can count how much money we spent on the they learned something new, and whether they would come event, we can count how many volunteers we had. But how to another event. The survey was initially piloted with five
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62 CHEMISTRY IN PRIMETIME AND ONLINE FIGURE 7-2 American Chemical Society Committee on Community Activities Programs. SOURCE: Andrea Twiss-Brooks, web screen shot. local sections. The survey seemed to work, and the kids seem of the best we could get since we couldn’t really pre-test to understand what was being asked, so the committee then and post-test these folks. But they did at least seem to have a expanded for the next NCW Celebration to 17 local sections, positive experience and take something positive away about with 1,369 completed surveys. chemistry from these events.” From the survey, they found that most of the responses The committee is continuing to look for other types of were from children who were attending the event, although technology that may be suitable for assessing the impacts Twiss-Brooks said they did get a significant number of of these very informal learning activities. One of the things responses from adults as well. However, what they found it is just beginning to experiment with are electronic com - most interesting was doing a cross-tabulation of the two ment boards. Twiss-Brooks showed an example of what core questions. They looked to see if there were significant s he called “American Idol Meets National Chemistry changes in the answers for before and after attending the Week,” where they set up a text message board through event. She said, “We did see that of the 16 responses that a free source called “Text the Mob” that was advertised said they were bad, they thought chemistry was bad before through the Pittsburgh local section. They did not get very they came to this event, all but 3 changed their answers to many messages, but it was interesting to see what they did something somewhat better. In fact, the majority of them, 12 get, such as “I liked La Roche College’s table,” “I loved of the 16, said it was either interesting or awesome.” There the gummi worms from Duquesne,” or “I liked AIChE’s were similar results with the boring and okay responses, table).” They are now looking to expand this technique, and but there were also some who responded that they were not possible others like Twitter, at the next NCW celebration, changed by the event. Twiss-Brooks added, “We do realize for each of the local section events to see if they can get that reflective questions are not perfect, but they were kind feedback, she added.
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63 TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES Besides doing assessments, the kind of commentary they Twiss-Brooks said that besides the licensed databases have collected has also proved helpful for local sections to (those that you pay for), there are some very good free show corporate sponsors or museums that host their events sources out there. Some of her colleagues have put together that the outreach is having an impact. It helps them to con- guides to those free or low-cost resources that are available. tinue to secure both locations and funding for these events, There are resources such as ChemSpider, which “is a col- Twiss-Brooks added. laboration of a developer with the Royal Society of Chem- istry that has a great deal of free chemical information in it.” In general, anyone can physically go into the library to OPEN DISCUSSION 6 access the databases at her library; that is, they can use the Mark Griep, University of Nebraska, asked Bob Hone resources while they are in the library, they just cannot go about collecting demographic data on the students who play home and access them remotely. She said, “We help people Red Hill games, “How do you know what student is playing all the time trying to find resources that are accessible to what game, and how can you track them?” them, or pointing them to their local public libraries to see Hone replied that they collect basic information on play- what they have got available as well.” ers in terms of their age and gender from PBSKids. They also Steve Lyons asked Hone about the Wii board he held up do parallel testing in classrooms, “so we don’t rely just on at the end of his talk. He said, “I think you made a sort of online.” They use something called PROS (parallel remote fleeting reference to 3D structure. I just wonder if you could online system) that is like remote sensing, such as data being fantasize about how Wii might be used to help people in a collected simultaneously by a satellite system and ground game situation understand 3D chemical structures.” troops—there are evaluators who go out into classrooms and Hone imagined a game where the player is outside of a see if the classroom data and online data match. cell and has some kind of chemical that has to get rotated into Mike Rogers, National Institutes of Health (NIH), com- a particular orientation to fit into the receptor of the cell to mented that Hone might be on to something with the games. open the channel and let a partner’s ship go through the chan- He said, “I have a 14-year-old in middle school, and I would nel, for example. He said there are many things you could say the vast majority of his screen time now and that of his imagine learning. Lyons encouraged Hone to make such a friends, is on his laptop, not on television. And most of the game. Hone replied, “Ask a creative director and don’t give time they are playing computer games, a lot of different me a budget, and I can give you anything.” computer games. Some of their favorite ones are role-playing Bill Carroll commented to Twiss-Brooks that in listening games where they have avatars and they take on challenges to her presentation, it seemed that there is a coming conver- and earn points, and they can buy things on the game with gence between libraries and museums in terms of content those activities. He can actually chat with his friends while he and presentation. Another example of this is the Chemical is playing the game, so it is very engaging for him.” Rogers Heritage Foundation, starting as a library and morphing into asked, “What does it cost to make games like that? If some- a museum. He asked, “First of all, is that a correct observa- one wanted to make a computer game where your avatar was tion? And second, can you play that out 5 years for us?” a chemist, for example, are we talking millions of dollars?” Twiss-Brooks replied, “There are certainly collaborations Hone replied, “Let us do a couple of definitions. It is a between libraries and museums already. Many museums multiplayer online game, right? You want to make sure you have their own libraries; in other cases libraries are working have enough people. Building a great game is kind of like with museums, providing materials from their collections building a great restaurant: if nobody goes in it doesn’t mat- that complement the museum’s collections.” One other thing ter how good your food is. You have to promote it, you have she mentioned is that museums also are producing traveling to get it out there. I think I would say somewhere around exhibits that are very easy for libraries to mount in their a quarter of your budget is going to be on the promotional own spaces and connect with their own communities. Her side. I will be honest, we have not done a lot of multiplayer library posted one from the National Library of Medicine games. I am not going to try and give you a number. Could recently on changing the face of medicine, which happened you spend millions? Sure. Could you do something for a to feature a University of Chicago researcher, Janet Rowley, couple of hundred thousand? Probably.” and then she was able to do a talk at the library based around Jeannette Brown commented that “librarians are good that exhibit. with databases.” She said there is a database called “The Another thing libraries are delving into is the idea of Faces of Chemistry,” about African Americans in science putting their exhibits online, much the same way museums that was started by a librarian who was in New Orleans at are. Twiss-Brooks said, “I think we probably have expertise the time. Brown highlighted the value of these databases, but to learn from one another. I think museums will still have a remarked that some databases are not accessible; in some different role perhaps than libraries and sort of packaging and cases you have to be a member of a library community to presenting experiences to interested visitors. Whereas librar- access them. She asked Twiss-Brooks if that can be changed. ies at least in my field and in academic libraries are places
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64 CHEMISTRY IN PRIMETIME AND ONLINE where the researchers go to explore the raw material, so to interesting, and how you build that mountain of challenges. speak, of their interest and then synthesize that for their own So I think the tools are there. I think what is probably lacking use. I think that there is rich potential for collaborations. I are people who are skilled in the aspects of game design.” think we will both still have our own roles, but maybe there Brown suggested to Twiss-Brooks that for the next year are ways that we can bring those skills together.” (2011), which is the International Year of Chemistry, the Uni- A participant asked Hone how accessible video game versity of Chicago should do an exhibit on African-American creation is at this point, “Presumably there are some tools chemists. For example, the library could pull their theses out out there for people like amateurs to make, and is that a pos- to display and highlight the work of the pioneering students. sible avenue to make like little applets for a classroom? How She offered to help Twiss-Brooks find material. accessible and how much time would be involved?” F inally, Mike Rogers commented on how easy and Hone responded that the tools are available. A lot of the effective it is to go to various websites and blogs and pose material for PBSKids was built in Flash. He said, “I think questions, for example, when planning a vacation. He asked the harder challenge is the craft of game design. Having Twiss-Brooks if there are such sites for people who might done television, having done instructional activities, I think have questions about science or chemistry? She replied game design is probably the toughest, because you are jug- that there probably are, but she wasn’t aware of any. Hone gling not only the technical challenges of the programming, mentioned one site called “Ask An Astronomer” and thought the art challenges, but also this contract of how you keep it there might be a comparable “Ask A Chemist.”