- Ocean observing groups are currently making efforts to work with well-defined end-user groups, like boaters and fishermen, to provide meaningful and effective real-time data (RTD) products and visualizations. However, providing meaningful data products for undefined groups such as the general public is not straightforward. In Oregon, several industry, science, and education organizations have formed a unique collaborative partnership to understand how to present and interpret water quality RTD to accomplish this goal. The project outlined here is the development of an interactive, computer-based exhibit, which interprets near-real time (NRT) data from Yaquina Bay as collected by a Land/Ocean Biogeochemical Observatory (LOBO), to facilitate the general public's understanding and analytical thinking about natural variability within an estuary and provide them with information that allows them to make more informed decisions about their environment.
Housed as a permanent exhibit at the Hatfield Marine Science Center Visitors Center, a free-choice learning facility, a prototype exhibit module composed of several levels of increasing complexity was developed to interpret salinity patterns using an iterative, formative evaluation process of unobtrusive observations and interviews to guide exhibit modifications and to increase engagement by the audience. Two versions of the exhibit were evaluated and visitor use was measured in three ways: 1) where they visited within the exhibit; 2) how much time they spent at the exhibit; and 3) types of talking that occurred during the use of the exhibit.
Findings reveal that visitors of all ages enjoy and understand the information presented in the exhibit, and that use of the exhibit and engagement in learning-indicative behaviors differs between social group types. Visitor use also changed in the direction that we were hoping from the first version to the second version; however, visitors did not engage with the NRT dataset online, which was one of the main goals of the exhibit. Because of this, we conclude that, whereas the easier levels of the exhibit are appropriate as an interactive educational tool to support visitor understanding of NRT data, the expectation that visitors at a free-choice learning facility will interact with the actual dataset, which is central in the harder levels of the exhibit, may be unrealistic. Recommendations for ocean observing entities interested in developing educational products for an informal, general public audience are outlined.