Latest (last) Episode of Object Oriented

This episode of Object Oriented is about what new digital learning initiatives we’ve been working on at our respective institutions.

This podcast is hosted by Rik Panganiban (Senior Manager of Digital Learning at the California Academy of Sciences), Barry Joseph (Associate Director of Digital Learning at the American Museum of Natural History), and Eve Gaus, (Digital Learning Manager at The Field Museum), .

—x—x— segments —x—x—

00:00-00:40- Teaser – What’s new?
01:00-02:00 – Introduction
02:00-07:53 – Eve’s update
07:54-17:36 – Barry’s update
17:37-22:35 – Rik’s update
22:38-23:30 – Postscript: Last Object Oriented
21:31-24:06 – Follow us online

  • —x—x— show notes —x—x
    Resources mentioned:
  • Cornucopia (link)
  • Field Museum High School Digital Internship (link)



Blog: Twitter: @ooriented

Follow the hosts individually at @gauseve, @mmmooshme, and @riktheranger.

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Video from “Co-Designing Museums of the Future” Presentation at Games For Change Festival

Last month, I had the opportunity at the 13th annual Games For Change Festival to work with two youth from our educational programs to explore how the Museum understands games as a form of public engagement and, more specifically, how we worked together to create MicroRangers. You can learn more about the event at my earlier post here and watch our 18 minute long presentation below:

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The Secret Sauce in Pokémon Go: Big Data

My recent post for my DMLcentral column was inspired by my amazement at the emergence of Pokemon Go in the past week (has it REALLY not been a full week yet?). Go check it out on DMLcentral or take a look below.

The Secret Sauce in Pokémon Go: Big Data

Unless you’ve been holed-up in a cave playing Minecraft, you’ve heard about (and possibly even played) the new augmented reality (AR) mobile game sweeping the globe, Pokémon Go. For sure, AR can be exciting and compelling, when properly designed, offering us an experience of co-presence with a virtual character or object. And, it’d be understandable if you attributed Nintendo’s success to its use of the AR camera. But, you’d be wrong. The game’s AR succeeds, in fact, because it turned big data into a game.Pokemon Go fish at the beach

With Pokémon Go, we are offered the opportunity to pretend our world is filled with cuddly (or fierce) little creatures just waiting for us to capture and train for battle. When discussed in the press or social media, credit tends to lean toward the AR camera — the experience of viewing a cartoonish animation of a Pokémon layered through live video (through the Smartphone’s camera) of the world around us. We have the option, however, to turn off that AR camera (and preserve our precious battery power). If you try this, and capture your creatures in front of a cartoon background, my bet is your sense of co-presence will barely be affected. How can that be?

It turns out the AR camera is not at the heart of Pokémon Go’s ability to generate a sense of co-presence. In fact, its success lies in Pokémon’s gamification of big data. As way of illustration, let me share with you some highlights from my first 24 hours playing Pokémon Go.

Pokemon Go at fountain in New YorkThe main entrance to my apartment building features a semi-circular driveway surrounding a lovely water fountain. Down the block, the neighbor’s have an ugly lawn jockey. Between the two, our local park offers both a playground and a grassy overlook. All of these are featured in Pokémon Go, as Pokéstops, locations to visit to collect tools for playing the game, along with photos of each with descriptive text. This playground, in fact, also features a Pokémon Gym, a location for sending my Pokémon into battle. And, as I walk around from one location to another, hidden Pokémon are revealed, not just any Pokémon but ones which tend to relate to my location and its environment. They are only outdoors, for example, as why would I find a wild animal in my house? So, I find water-type Pokémon by water: traveling south on the East River by ferry, every other dock contained a duck-like Pokémon while at the beach, I found a carp-like Pokémon.

The levels of specificity, of personalization, of seamless integration with the real world around me… all combine to make me feel that the game designers at Niantic, hired by Nintendo to develop the game, MUST have sent someone to my town to select each of these locations, finding the most interesting landmarks (or, as in the case of that damn lawn jockey, notorious) to place in the game, scouting locations to custom-place each Pokémon. But, when we consider the game can be played all over the world, it becomes clear there’s only one way to generate such a massive level of personalized and localized information: big data. And, who wants to have the best data set about the world and what’s in it (spoiler: it’s Google) and what could they possibly have to do with a 20-year-old Japanese card game?

mapIn 2012, a division of Google launched a mobile game called Ingress. Ingress pitted teams of players in a challenge to dominate the world or, more specifically, the map of the world. It leveraged the power of Google and the geolocative datasets we have come to take for granted: street photographs, knowledge of terrain, text descriptions of local landmarks, the ability to add crowdsourced data, and more. Before long, Ingress left Google to become the focus of a new company, Niantic. And, according to the New York Times, Niantic reports about 15 million users have downloaded Ingress with a little more than a million active players a month.

I played with Ingress a few years back. And, guess what? It also directed me to the fountain at the entrance to my building (and to that infernal lawn jockey from down the street). And, this is no coincidence. Niantic built Pokémon Go.

In 2013, Nintendo teamed with Google to launch an April Fools joke. A YouTube video explained that a new position was opening at Google Maps — Pokémon Master — and to apply, all you had to do was… (drum roll please)… use Google Maps to capture hidden Pokémon around the world. Jump forward three years and what began as a joke turned into reality. The engine behind Ingress was re-skinned with Nintendo’s star brand and turned into Pokémon Go.

In other words, when you play Pokémon Go, you are playing Google Maps. And, the augmented reality that makes the gameplay so compelling, the tool behind the experience of co-presence, is big data.

So, what can we interested in digital learning take from this latest development in augmented reality, big data, and social gameplay? A few jump out to me:

  1. AR is awesome, but with so much reliance on AR cameras (and the accompanying toll taken on both battery power and project budgets) big data can compete in its ability to create co-presence. So, what datasets do we have that we can leverage to engage learners through a localized game mechanic?
  1. Datasets are just numbers until they are translated for the non-expert. Beautiful, interactive visualizations are one way to present data. But as Pokémon Go demonstrates, so can games. What ways can we play datasets, rather than just present them? (The American Museum of Natural History, where I work, recently launched The Tree of Life, demonstrating how data sets about cladistic relationships can be turned into a light, family-friendly game).
  1. Last winter, we launched at the American Museum of Natural History an augmented reality mobile game that shares some technical similarities with Pokémon Go. With MicroRangers, rather than capture augmented creatures and fight others in battle, museum visitors collaborate with augmented scientists and fight threats to global biodiversity. After playing Pokémon Go for less than an hour, and losing all of my phone’s power in the process, I felt a sense of satisfaction that Nintendo did no better solving the AR-camera power-sucking dilemma than we. It felt good knowing we, working in museums, had pushed existing technology as far as possible.
  1. Blaire Moskowitz published a lovely blog post about how museums are already taking advantage of the game to connect with their visitors. For example, someone posted a Facebook event to get people to walk together through the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens (near the Opera House), attracting 1,000 people. What could other civic and cultural institutions do to leverage the fact that our important locations are often central to the game experience? And, what can museums do when they DON’T want players in their spaces? “Playing Pokémon Go in a memorial dedicated to the victims of Nazism is extremely inappropriate,” a spokesman for the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. told the New York Times. “Technology can be an important learning tool, but this game falls far outside of our educational and memorial mission.

These are just my initial thoughts. I want to hear from you, about your own thoughts on the topic: what is Pokémon Go teaching YOU about digital learning?


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Working with Youth To Design Museums of the Future – presentation at 13th Games For Change Festival

“As a parent, I hope this project is expanded. Our family looked at the museum in a different way and they now have interest in learning more about microorganisms!”

This Thursday I and two youth from our educational programs will present at the 13th annual Games For Change Festival.

Our 15-minute talk – Co-Designing Museums of the Future– asks the question: Can games and play create the motivation and mind-set for informal science learning?

G4CMicroRangers.001I will open with a quick overview contextualizing games as a form of museum visitor engagement, and then interview Alejandro and Brielle about their experience participating over two years in the creation of the game.


We’ll also showed a clip from the MicroRangers trailer:

I’d like to use the remainder of this post to highlight what we won’t have time for from the stage: What have we learned since launching MicroRangers?

After nearly two-years in development, MicroRangers received a soft launch on December 14, 2015. The following are some highlights of preliminary findings from our first 20 weeks of MicroRangers being live: Continue reading

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Skin in the Game: evaluating augmented reality in the Smithsonian Bone Hall

Last month at the annual AAM conference, this year in D.C., I had the pleasure to present on the use of augmented reality in museums with Diana Marques, who spoke about her research developing an app for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of National History, which put skins and movement on static bones exhibited in the halls, and explored the theoretical underpinnings of her research and app design. Afterwards, I grabbed her for a few minutes so she could share it as well with all of you.

Hi Diana. Welcome to Mooshme. Please introduce yourself.

My name is Diana Marques. My background is in biology. I did a graduate degree in Scientific Illustration, so I combined science with art, which is truly my passion, communicating the messages of science through animation and through illustration.

And you’re working towards a new degree?

I’m getting a PhD now, in Digital Media. The program is a collaboration between the University of Porto, in Portugal, and the University of Texas in Austin.  So, it’s a part Portuguese, part American program, and the research takes place at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, here in D.C.

Is there a particular hall that you focused on for your research at NMNH?

I worked on The Bone Hall which is a skeleton exhibition at the museum.  It has close to 300 mounted skeletons, it’s the oldest exhibition at the Smithsonian.  Actually, of some of the skeletons that are there on display, we have pictures in the 19th century, even before the Natural History Museum building was constructed.

So, this exhibit has had different iterations and the current design is from the ’60s.  The trigger to create this mobile app that is part of my PhD was to bring a new life to the exhibit, because we knew that it wasn’t meeting modern audiences’ expectations anymore.  You read the labels, they’re very specific; they are full of scientific terminology that’s just obscure.  So people were definitely having a great aesthetic experience – you see very large skeletons, very small skeletons, you take great pictures –  but the concepts of the exhibit were not carrying across. Continue reading

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Spider Goats, Sea Monkeys, and GMO Corn: a Museum of Modified Things – an interview


Photo credit to Stephanie Stasburg

In March, 2015, I read in National Geographic about a new small museum in Pennsylvania. Working at the American Museum of Natural History, I couldn’t help but jump up and take notice of their name: the Center for PostNatural History. Huh? What is PostNatural History? A few months later I found myself in their hometown of Pittsburgh for a gaming conference, and worked with the couple who run it, Richard Pell and Lauren Allen, to both give a public talk (on the Science of Seltzer) and interview them for Mooshme. We talked about Sea Monkeys, genetically engineered goats, and whether we think dogs were a good idea. I asked: what IS PostNatural History anyway, why does it need a museum, and how did they end up becoming the ones to launch the first?

Hi Richard and Lauren.

Lauren:  Hi.

Richard:  Hi Barry.

So where are we sitting right now?

Richard:  Well you’re in our kitchen, here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Which happens to be located directly above this museum, that we run here in town, called the Center for PostNatural History.

All right, hold on a second. That is a really interesting name for a museum.  So let’s break that down.  Why is it a “center”?

Richard:  Well, it’s a center because I felt like the bar was a little bit lower than a museum and we are just getting started here.

Fair enough.  And obviously there is a reference to natural history museums.  So what makes it a PostNatural museum?

Richard:  Basically we pick up where natural history museums leave off.

One of the things that I noticed in just traveling and looking at natural history museums, which I love, is that they almost all exclude life forms that have been shaped by human culture.  So domesticated life forms, for certain, but laboratory organisms, genetically modified organisms.  Pretty much really anything from domestication of dogs through agriculture rarely appear in natural history museums.

So we just decided to shine a light just on that, by picking up where they leave off, and create the PostNatural History Museum.

When did this all begin?

Richard:  I got started with this maybe nine years ago.  I learnt about a field that was just getting started called synthetic biology, which is kind of just a form of genetic engineering. It really surprised me because Continue reading

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Visualizing Climate Change, Take Two! Teens Use SciViz Techniques to Explore Threats of Sea-level Rise in New York City

Our youth program, Visualizing Climate Change, offered in the fall of 2014, was such a success that we decided to offer the data visualization program again, but under a new name—Mapping Disasters. This time around it was important to expand the focus of the course from disaster preparedness in New York City to the threats of sea-level rise. Because the temporary exhibit, Nature’s Fury, is no longer at AMNH, the course focused on the permanent Climate Change exhibit in our Hall of Planet Earth, artifacts from The Hall of Pacific Peoples, and the work taking place the Marshall Islands by Jenny Newell, curator of Pacific Ethnography. CartoDB, a powerful online data visualization tool, was once again a major component of the program. The youth used CartoDB and coastal flood zone datasets to explore their own questions related to the impacts of Climate Change and sea-level rise on New York City.

They explored how warming oceans, melting ice sheets and rising seas affect daily life around the world and in New York City while learning about different types of data, how to read data tables, and how data tables are translated into visualizations. Working in CartoDB allowed the youth to explore datasets that were of particular interest to them, stylize their own maps, and gain hands-on experience in what goes into making a useful data visualization versus one that is confusing or misleading.

For their final projects the youth worked in groups with 100-year flood zone and future flood zone data, to create stylized maps illustrating the effect of rising seas on major local infrastructure. In their final projects each of the groups focused on the infrastructures at risk and the challenges facing one of these six vulnerable neighborhoods in New York City: Coney Island, Rockaway Park, Red Hook, DUMBO, and the Lower East Side. Below are excerpts from each of their reports and the visualizations created using CartoDB.

According to the current and future 100 year flood zones, Coney Island is Continue reading

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