Seeing Scientifically: Scaffolding Observation of Complex Visual Phenomena

October 1st, 2015 - September 30th, 2017 | PROJECT

The Seeing Scientifically project will research a new way of supporting museum visitor experiences so they can have authentic scientific observation of live microscopic specimens. By adapting existing computational imaging techniques from current biological research, the project aims to encourage and support visitors in observing scientifically, that is, in asking productive questions, interpreting image-rich information, and making inferences from visual evidence that increasingly characterizes current biological research. The scaffolding (e.g., visual cues or information supporting learning) will consist of a system of virtual guides and prompts that are responsive to what visitors see. The scaffolding prompts will be overlaid on a real time, high-density image of a live sample that the visitor is investigating with a research grade microscope. Project research will contribute early knowledge on ways to scaffold informal learners in the practice of authentic scientific observation with the complex, dynamic visual evidence that scientists themselves see using the equipment and techniques they use. Project research and resources will be widely disseminated to learning science researchers, informal science practitioners, and other interested audiences through publications, conference presentations and sharing of resources via the NSF-supported website and other relevant websites. As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program funds innovative resources for use in a variety of settings. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants. The project will prototype an innovative microscope exhibit that scaffolds visitors in scientific observation of live specimens and their biological processes. The overarching hypothesis is that scientific observation of real-time visual phenomena can deeply engage learners with the content, tools and practices of modern science, which increasingly rely on image-based data. Through three rounds of iterative prototype development and evaluation, the project will generate early findings for the following related questions: (1) what are promising ways of scaffolding observation of live specimens at an unmediated exhibit; (2) How can computational imaging techniques be integrated into a microscope exhibit to engage and scaffold learners to ask productive questions, interpret what they see, and make evidence-based inferences from complex, dynamic images. Data will be collected and analyzed by coding think-aloud interviews with visitors concerning their interest in and description of the biological phenomenon observed; coding of think aloud transcripts of visitor questions types and answers, relevant features noted, inferences and scaffold use; and statistical comparison of holding time, questions asked, answers, inferences, and scaffold use. Project findings will seed more rigorous research on the combination of scaffolding and computational imaging techniques effective for supporting scientific observation in image-rich areas of science.

Project Website(s)

(no project website provided)

Project Products

Developing Interactive Exhibits with Scientists: Three Example Collaborations from the Life Sciences Collection at the Exploratorium
Video – Seeing Scientifically: Scaffolding Scientific Observation

Team Members

Kristina Yu, Principal Investigator, Exploratorium
Kevin Eliceiri, Co-Principal Investigator, Exploratorium
Joyce Ma, Co-Principal Investigator, Exploratorium


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: ISE/AISL
Award Number: 1514612
Funding Amount: 299981


Audience: General Public | Museum | ISE Professionals
Discipline: Education and learning science | General STEM | Life science
Resource Type: Project Descriptions
Environment Type: Exhibitions | Museum and Science Center Exhibits | Museum and Science Center Programs | Public Programs