informal education

Friday, May 13th, 2011

Twigster: find a tree, find a friend

Twigster is an concept design and prototype for an iPhone app and associated website to help urban users discover and explore the often-overlooked natural world in the city, and connect with others doing the same. The project plays on the basic human impulse to collect and categorize— whether a collection of specimens in a herbarium, or a catalog of friends on a social networking site. This project is a collaboration with Rodrigo de Benito.

While moving about the city as usual, Twigster users are on the look-out for trees on the street and in parks. They use Twigster’s interactive, step-by-step visual key on their iPhone to identify an unfamiliar tree. The key calls out certain features– leaf shape, twig arrangement, etc– in helping users make an identification. The result, along with GPS data marking the tree’s location, can be sent from the iPhone to the user’s personal Twigster account, and to a collective interactive map. Users may choose to add a photo or notes about the tree they’ve found.

Some users may chose to interact with Twigster like a game, trying to identify the most trees, or seeking out the rarest, most unusual, or farthest flung trees in the city. Since identification can be tricky, users can mark a tree as a “mystery tree,” add it to the map, and ask other Twigster users for help in identifying that tree. Some users may be interested in monitoring the health of particular local trees, tracking seasonal changes in foliage, or observing bird and animal life associated with the trees, and sharing this information with other users: they can add tags and notes to the map for all users to see.

Twigster’s streamlined, online social networking component makes sharing information, experiences, and stories with other users easy and satisfying. Twigster aims to create a community of users fully engaged in exploring, understanding, and sharing nature with each other.

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Building Communities: Interactive Augumented Reality Activity

Building Communities is an augmented reality activity developed for the exhibit “Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination.” In “Building Communities” visitors create and manipulate a virtual, 3-D environment (visible in the virtual mirror of the screen) by moving objects (“glyph” cards) in the real world. The challenge is to create sustainable, livable communities in the harsh environments of the Star Wars universe. Visitors are encouraged to think about the community as a system, to evaluate the costs and benefits of resource use and growth–what are the potential technological and environmental limiting factors on a population?

This exhibit was developed  at the Museum of Science, Boston in collaboration with programmers from the  Human Interface Technology Lab at the University of Washington. I did all content research and worked with Ed Rodley on the concept design of the project. Case Design: Mike Horvath.

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Human Or Machine: Multi-User Activity

Human or Machine is a a multi-user role-playing and decision-making activity developed for the traveling Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination exhibition. In the activity, visitors learn about potential technologies that might someday be used to augment the human body and increase or alter natural abilities. Within the narrative of the activity, users can choose to alter their character with these technologies, and see how the results play out in various scenarios. The activity allows for simultaneous interaction and includes prompts for discussion among users who are working together at the console. The activity was designed to encourage dialog on ethics and decision-making among a multigenerational audience. Human or Machine was developed developed in collaboration with contractor Paula Sincero of Inquiry Learn.

I worked on the concept design and research, collaborated with Paula on the content development, and was primary liaison to Inquiry Learn during the project management process. “Human or Machine” received a 2005 Muse Awards Honorable Mention.

Friday, January 21st, 2011

Seeing the Unseen: Prototype Echo Sounding Activity

This activity was under development for the refurbishment of the permanent Seeing the Unseen exhibit at the Museum of Science Boston. The exhibit encourages visitors to use all their senses in making observations about the world, and to explore the limits of those senses. This activity, shown here in stage 1 prototyping, models single beam echo sounding, or sonar.

Visitors are challenged to map the model seafloor (hidden in the box). When visitors place the boat in a square on the ocean grid, they trigger an audible sonar “ping” and, seconds later, an echo. By counting the seconds between the ping and its echo and choosing the corresponding block for that grid, visitors create a map of the seafloor. It was important that visitors make the connection between a shorter time between echos and a shorter distance to the seafloor, but also higher undersea terrain. By selecting blocks and arranging them in the work area next to the activity, users create a map of seafloor contours. They then can compare their work to the contours of model.

I completed content research, concept design, and evaluation with visitors for this activity; technical design and build by was by Kevin McEleney.

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