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Monday, February 23, 2015

Data Collection is Killing Me

News from the trenches: the war on indifference continues...

I'm neck deep in data collection for my project right now. Getting school teachers to respond and agree to let me use their class as guinea pigs is harder than I thought it would be. I've got some preliminary numbers I could crunch, but I'm trying to get the full amount before I do that step.

My project doesn't look like much: a one-page survey for school kids to fill out after a field trip. Thirteen questions. But there's a ton of work that goes into those things. And even then, I'm not sure it's going to work.

I'm trying to measure changes in curiosity about astronomy due to a planetarium field trip. It's harder than you'd think. First off, no one agrees on a definition of curiosity, what it is, why we have it, or what we could do to generate it in ourselves or others. Second, surveys are harder than they look. I'm finding the physical layout matters as much as the wording of the questions. How the questions are arranged on the page, what fonts I use, everything affects the outcome.

So why do this at all? I run a planetarium for my day job. Our stated mission is to increase curiosity. We want kids to go home with more questions than they came with. I haven't found anything out there that can measure it without asking for an hour or more to fill it out. That's why the extremely short and simple survey is essential to my project.

We're currently running on a gut feeling about how we're doing. I'd like to have something more substantial. If we don't know how we're doing, how can we figure out how to improve?

Now back to the data collection...