Perspectives from Multiple Participants – A lesson from family vacation

I’ve been looking at the role of participation and co-creation in science and education. A recent presentation provided a glimpse of how John Porter, Steve Hadcock, and I are seeing the expectations and potential of social media and new technologies really changing the way we see educational professionals interact and participate with the interested public and partners.

In this presentation, I shared two resources I continue to look to when thinking about how we may involve people in research, education or perhaps better put – how we can involve ourselves in learning and working with the public or non educational professionals to accomplish community goals and outcomes (local or global):

Lessons taken from capturing views of our family vacation

A recent family vacation to the Grand Canyon was great a reminder about the value of engaging people to contribute to gain multiple perspectives, and also how I see the younger generation expecting to contribute, interact and move from more of a mindset of passive learning to active learning.

Grand Canyon

Capturing the ‘big picture’ views at the Grand Canyon

Returning from our family trip,  I uploaded photos from several devices (family camera, ipod, iPad, Mom’s smartphone, Dad’s smartphone).

I realized that for the first time ever, all of us could participate to capturing the family memories.

Capturing photos on the family trip

Everyone captured photos on the family trip

During the trip, I discounted the potential of just about everyone else’s photo contributions (but mine). Mostly because I had “a plan” in mind.  I figured their shots would be blurry or too close up, or not tell much of a story.   I was wrong.

While I had been busy making sure not to miss the chronological details of the trip, and major sites, my kids captured the details, the little things that probably will evoke the most memories.  I first noticed this when I uploaded my youngest son’s pictures.

Pottery from Hopi House

Pottery from Hopi House

I opened the iPad he was using, fully intending to delete or edit a lot of what he captured (largely because I saw him take such quick shots and random pictures), but instead what I saw a rich set of photos.  He captured his experiences, where, I, the self-appointed person in charge of the family camera concentrated on getting the picturesque scenes.

He captured photos of the art from gift shops, the rugs and loom exhibit at the Hopi House, and even how we saw things through his toy compass-magnifying glass-thermometer 3-in-1 kit.


This compass-magnifying glass-thermometer 3-in-1 kit was part of the Grand Canyon adventure

These things are all details that I would have forgotten over time, but they meant something to him, and now we’ll have these pictures to reinforce these memories.

Applying lessons from family vacation back to work

As I bring this back to my work world, it was a great reminder of …

a)how far technology has come to enable someone in grade school to capture a great shot

b)due to an abundance of digital storage space (Terrabytes+) and the low cost of taking a lot of digital pictures, we often have a new opportunity to capture more of the little details than we did, say, 15 years ago when developing photos was the only option.

c)both big picture and little details help us put together the pieces we need to capture value. (Had I had let my youngest take all the pictures, we would not have gotten a sense of the big picture overview of the trip.  Had he not captured details,  we would not have had a sense of the fullness and richness of the trip.)

d)digital participation can help us understand what questions to ask. (Seeing details from my son’s perspective made it possible to follow up and ask him more detailed questions. I found that what he saw, learned, and observed is really quite fascinating and that he internalized the experience more deeply than I had understood originally.)

Questions and ideas for gathering participation in science and education in new(er) ways

As I translate this experience back to my work, and the articles I mentioned above, it prompts me to ask these questions:

  • How are people seeing, wanting, and able to participate in the world in a way that was not possible 5, 10, 15 or years ago?
  • How might seeing what other people are seeing or valuing through social media help scientists and educators gain new insights or do their jobs better?
  • As mentioned in New Report: Engaging Citizens in Co-Creation of Public Services, what new role(s) (e.g. explorer, ideator, designer, influencer) might people like to play in a project, opportunity, community, or collective effort that might not have been possible before social or digital media existed?

Last but not least, on a practical level, I’d like to point to a recent presentation done by my colleague Amy Hays:  Instagram for Instaprogramming (see also part of her presentation on YouTube). Amy is great at demonstrating how visual social media tools like Instagram can involve both new and existing audiences, while simultaneously expanding or deepening our (the researcher’s or educator’s) understanding of what may be learned or achieved through digital and collective participation.

Grand Canyon Sunset

Sunset captured by our youngest picture taker during an evening walk at the Grand Canyon – South Rim.





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