Last updated: 21 August 2014

15-16 June 2011, New Orleans, LA

The sixth annual meeting of the Education and Outreach Council (EOC) of the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System Regional Association (GCOOS-RA) was held at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans, LA, June 15-16, 2011.This document constitutes the report of the EOC.

Special thanks to Tricia LeBlanc and the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas for hosting the meeting and for their generous contributions of time and resources, and to Johnette Bosarge, Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, MS, for providing administrative support. The GCOOS-RA could not develop its Education and Outreach (E/O) program without the continued commitment of the EOC to build ocean literacy programs in the Gulf of Mexico region, and the GCOOS-wide support the EOC receives. Ann Jochens, GCOOS Regional Coordinator, Shin Kobara, GCOOS web developer, and Lei Hu, GCOOS Data Management and Communications Committee (DMACC) liaison to the EOC, were valuable participants at our council meeting. The EOC thanks Sarah Mikulak, Education Specialist, Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems (NANOOS), and Coastal Ecosystem Learning Center representatives Brian Jones, Dauphin Island Estuarium, Adriana Reza, Texas State Aquarium, Kevin Van Dien, Florida Aquarium, and Tricia LeBlanc, Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, for sharing their expertise developing programs for informal learning centers.

1.0 Opening of Meeting

1.1 Welcome, Introductions

The meeting began with a welcome by John O’Connell, Chair, GCOOS EOC. O’Connell provided an overview of the agenda, and asked that each participant give a brief introduction to the group. Chris Simoniello, GCOOS Education and Outreach Coordinator, introduced the invited participants. The list of attendees with affiliations is provided in Appendix A.The meeting agenda is provided in Appendix B.

1.2 Purpose of the Meeting


  1. Develop content for the interactive display component of the joint GCOOS-Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Gulf of Mexico Program Coastal Ecosystem Learning Center (CELC) exhibits focused on the Gulf of Mexico Alliance (GOMA) priority issues.
  2. Evaluate the GCOOS web pages for recreational boaters and fishermen.
    *Note: Objectives one and two required pre-workshop homework

2.0 Coastal Ecosystem Learning Center (CELC) Interactive Exhibit Development

2.1 Presentation

Chris Simoniello provided an overview of the joint GCOOS-EPA Gulf of Mexico Program CELC exhibits focused on the GOMA Priority Issues (see clarified the roles, responsibilities and expectations for the GCOOS portion of the project. Following Simoniello’s presentation, participants discussed how the approximately $20 K per exhibit might be better leveraged if the institutions shared one product that addressed all five priority issues, recognizing that the sixth priority issue, environmental education, would be incorporated into all.

2.2 Exhibit Considerations and CELC Staff Perspectives

Representatives from the five CELC institutions that are receiving GCOOS funds gave introductions about their functions and displays. Sharon Walker (Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, MS), Tricia LeBlanc (Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, LA), Adriana Reza (Texas State Aquarium), Kevin Van Dien (Florida Aquarium), and Brian Jones (Dauphin Island Estuarium, AL) each gave a 15 minute overview of their programs and discussed with the group their expectations and requirements for exhibit design. Sharon Walker, GCOOS EOC and Board of Directors member, is a co-PI on the project and also provided an historical perspective, including development of a similar project at Acuario de Veracruz in Veracruz, Mexico.

Invited speaker Sarah Mikulak, NANOOS Education Specialist, presented an interactive computer exhibit she developed to feature real time data from NANOOS (see The modular exhibit focuses on the seasonal trends in temperature, salinity, chlorophyll, and dissolved oxygen within Puget Sound. Throughout the presentation, there was discussion about elements of the project that might be exportable to the Gulf of Mexico region, and recognition that Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center likely has a different audience composition than that of the Gulf Coast learning centers. Tricia LeBlanc explained that many of the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas visitors are seeking “edutainment” and that their attention span is significantly less than that required to fully explore an exhibit as detailed as the Rhythms of Our Coastal Waters–Yaquina Bay presented by Sarah. The discussion was an excellent segue to the group activity observing how aquarium visitors interact with different exhibits.

3.0 Group Exercise: Observe Aquarium Visitors

3.1 Observing Aquarium Visitors

Attendees spent one hour in small groups of three to five people observing how aquarium visitors engage with different exhibits. Appendix C provides the questions observers completed while keeping in mind the six components that drive exhibit design models: curiosity, confidence, challenge, control, play, and communication. The attendees were asked to evaluate where the visitors focused their attention, how their hands were used, how they interacted with others, what they were talking about, and if any evidence of emotion was displayed. Meeting participants stated that this assignment was the most informative and engaging activity of this year’s GCOOS EOC meeting.

Following the activity, participants were asked to summarize in two to four sentences the elements of the exhibits that seemed most captivating to visitors (e.g. computer-based kiosk, button/dial-type actions, physical/mental challenge of completing a task or playing a game) and to be prepared to share this with the group.

3.2. Lessons Learned Observing Aquarium Visitors

Attendees collected valuable inputs. The lessons learned will guide development of the Conceptual Plan for the CELC exhibits. Examples of the lessons learned include:

  • Kiosks and videos have to compete for attention with live animals. One key to exhibit success is to make the material both interesting and educational, and to achieve this without making heavy demands on the attention span of the audience. Few visitors spent more than two to three minutes at a kiosk.
  • Avoid setting kiosks next to popular photo opportunities. At the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, a shark-related kiosk rarely caught the visitor’s attention because of its proximity to a large shark jaw which people enjoyed standing inside to take souvenir photos.
  • Avoid setting two exhibits with loud audio components together.
  • For displays with computer keyboards and video screens, make sure the height of the question panel is close to that of the video screen displaying answers. Another design consideration is having two screens–one for the person controlling the keyboard and another for observers to view.
  • Whenever possible, provide seats for people interacting with computers. Adults were more willing to let children stay longer and more often participated when they were seated comfortably.
  • Never underestimate the importance of human interactions, especially with staff or volunteers.

4.0 Developing a Conceptual Design for the Interactive CELC Exhibit

4.1 Pre-workshop Homework

Prior to the workshop, two groups were established (Appendix D). One had Water Quality as its priority, and the other had Ecosystem Integration and Assessment (EIA). Members of each group were asked to identify a minimum of three data sources that can be used in the CELC exhibits to support their team’s priority issue. A presentation describing the homework and providing examples was sent in advance of the EOC meeting.

4.2 Break-out Session

Attendees were separated into the two previously established groups to start developing a conceptual design for the interactive component of the exhibits. O’Connell facilitated the Water Quality discussion and Joe Swaykos facilitated the EIA discussion. Participants were asked to accomplish the following:

  • Reach consensus on the example(s) that should be used to demonstrate how the data are applied.
  • Try to link examples with specific goals of the aquarium host to reinforce existing exhibits or overarching mission.
  • Identify key messages (“the Big Picture” or Take Home messages) of the EIA/ Water Quality interactive exhibit(s).

Simoniello provided guiding questions to help the process. These were obtained from a webinar, titled “Exhibit Design for IOOS,” hosted by Tanya Bredehoft and Nancy Owens Renner (see proposed for prototyping the exhibit include 1) What will users be able to see, do, learn, and feel; 2) What do you want the ideal user to say the exhibit is about; and 3) How might you test the accessibility of the content.

Each group spent time deciding who the target audiences should be and the level of material to be presented. We discussed the types of interactive components that might be used, and the physical, chemical, and biological parameters that should be displayed. One attendee suggested keeping the level of material to that of the understanding of a sixth grader because this is the level appropriate to most adults viewing a public exhibit.

4.3 Report-Out and Discussion of Conceptual Design Options

Each team reported to the larger group. The focus was on the “big picture” and the “take-home” messages to be conveyed. Message ideas included: 1) Sea grass is important. Sea grass is a nursery. If sea grass fails, we fail; and 2) I can make a difference. The Water Quality group made plans to create a computer-based training program focused on water temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen and proposed the idea of “Environmental Hero.” The EIA group developed a concept that included virtually building a sea grass habitat and allowing visitors to manipulate conditions (e.g. salinity, dissolved oxygen, nutrients) to show how human and natural factors affect the health of sea grass communities. Following the meeting, Simoniello, with the help of several EOC members, combined the ideas into a comprehensive Conceptual Design.

5.0 Update on the GCOOS-RA

Ann Jochens provided an update on the GCOOS data portal. She pointed out that all local nodes provide real-time data to the portal, and archived data are available for download. She also explained the GCOOS plan to add new data collection points in the Gulf of Mexico. This update reinforced the concept that the GCOOS data portal would always support activities and products for the Education and Outreach mission. The data layers, whether real time or archived, when presented in a meaningful and interesting way, are key elements to enhance the public’s understanding about our changing environment. She also shared with the group that the GCOOS Data Portal project was recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency and will be receiving a 2011 Gulf Guardian Award at the August Gulf of Mexico Alliance All Hands Meeting in New Orleans, LA.

6.0 Overview of the GCOOS Web-pages for Recreational Boaters and Results of Website Evaluation

Shin Kobara demonstrated the GCOOS web pages designed for recreational boaters and fishermen. Prior to the workshop, attendees participated in either a guided online survey, developed by O’Connell and Simoniello, or completed an electronic version of the survey provided in Appendix E.

Following Kobara’s demonstration, O’Connell shared results of the pre-workshop evaluation and led a group discussion Great interest was shown and valuable feedback was received. Examples of the type of feedback include:

  • Website customization for laptop computers and iPads
  • Standardization of wind symbols using wind vectors rather than wind barbs
  • Relocating the position of the on-screen tool bar
  • Providing a tool to measure marker-to-marker distances
  • Providing a tool to create depth profiles from marker-to-marker
  • Offering a link to nautical charts

The group gave a warm applause to Kobara, the web designer and programmer for the web pages, recognizing the tremendous effort he put forth to make the concept designed by the EOC with input from stakeholders a reality. Feedback from the EOC is being used to guide the next iteration of the site before publicly launching.



Appendix A: Attendees

Name Affiliation State
John Dindo* Dauphin Island Sea Lab AL
Brent Gaskill Summer Vacation Charters FL
Lei Hu Dauphin Island Sea Lab AL
Ann Jochens Texas A&M University TX
Brian Jones Dauphin Island Estuarium AL
Shin Kobara Texas A&M University TX
Tricia LeBlanc Audubon Aquarium of the Americas LA
Dianne Lindstedt Louisiana State University LA
Rusty Low At large CO
Carol Lutken University of Mississippi MS
Charlene Mauro Navarre High School FL
Sarah Mikulak NANOOS WA
John O’Connell Texas Sea Grant, EOC Chair TX
Adrian Reza Texas State Aquarium TX
Angela Sallis NOAA NCDDC MS
Lloyd Scott Mobile Bay School District, Retired AL
Margaret Sedlecky Weeks Bay NERR AL
Chris Simoniello GCOOS E/O FL
Mike Spranger* Florida Sea Grant FL
Joe Swaykos* University of Southern Mississippi MS
Pamela Terasaki TX Education TX
Kevin Van Dien Florida Aquarium FL
Chris Verlinde FL Sea Grant FL
Sharon Walker* USM, GCOOS MS
Ann Weaver NOAA CSC GoM MS

* GCOOS Board of Directors member



Appendix B: Agenda


  • Develop content for the interactive display component of the joint GCOOS-EPA Gulf of Mexico Program CELC exhibits focused on the GOMA priority issues.
  • Evaluate the GCOOS web pages for recreational boaters and fishermen.

*Note: Objectives one and two will require pre-workshop homework

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

9:00 – 9:15 Check-in at Audubon Aquarium of the Americas
9:15 – 9:45 Welcome, meeting objectives, and introductions (John O’Connell)
9:45 – 10:00 CELC kiosk project and GCOOS contributions (Chris Simoniello)
Exhibit Considerations and CELC Staff Perspectives (15 min each)
10:00 – 10:15 Sharon Walker, Institute for Marine Mammal Studies
10:15 – 10:30 Tricia LeBlanc, Audubon Aquarium of the Americas
10:30 – 10:45 Adriana Reza, Texas State Aquarium
10:45 – 11:00 Kevin Van Dien, Florida Aquarium
11:00 – 11:15 Break
11:15 – 11:30 Brian Jones, Dauphin Island Estuarium
11:30 – 12:00 Lessons Learned from NANOOS (Sarah Mikulak)
12:00 – 1:00 Lunch (provided by GCOOS)
1:00 – 1:10 Guidelines for group exercise — observe aquarium visitors (Chris Simoniello, Tricia LeBlanc)
1:10 – 2:10 Activity: EOC members will observe aquarium visitors
2:10 – 2:30 Group shares results of observing activity (Chris Simoniello, Ann Weaver)
2:30 – 3:30 Breakout session — groups established prior to the workshop: Ecosystem Integration and Assessment (EIA; “Putting the Pieces Together”, Joe Swaykos leader) and Water Quality (John O’Connell leader)

  • Reach consensus on the example(s) that should be used to demonstrate how the data are applied (e.g., FLAQ-WQ – would like to link with phosphate mining in Tampa Bay, HABs on the West Florida Shelf, fisheries, and/or corals); EIA-TX State Aquarium would like to link with sea grass health, oysters, fisheries and/or coral reefs).
  • Try to link examples with specific goals of the aquarium host to reinforce existing exhibits or overarching mission.
  • Identify key messages for EIA or Water Quality interactive exhibit. What are the “big picture” and “take-home messages” we want to communicate?
3:30 – 3:45 Break
3:45 – 4:30 Continue breakout group activities

  • Generate ideas for how the interactive component might look (e.g., game format; touch-screen trivia; match sampling technology to parameters measured/mapped; ‘Did You Know’ board where visitors are given data and have to select places on a GOM map where these conditions might exist (e.g. hypoxic regions, HAB intensification areas, areas with high frequencies of rip currents, whale shark migrations, oil and gas exploration, areas prone to flooding, etc.)
  • Use the pre-workshop homework results to match the appropriate data sets/information sources to the specific issue(s) selected.
  • If appropriate, sketch ideas/provide schematics to clarify the interactive component.
4:30 – 4:45 Update on GCOOS, NFRA, and IOOS (Ann Jochens)
4:45 – 5:00 Opportunity to share information and provide suggestions for day two.

Thursday, June 16, 2010

8:30 – 8:40 Reconvene, review goals for the day (Chris Simoniello)
8:40 – 10:00 Resume breakout groups. Continue refining exhibit details. Work on layout, language and specific data sets that demonstrate key messages.
10:00 – 10:40 EIA and Water Quality teams report out on their "product" (5 min overview and 15 min discussion for each)
10:40 – 11:00 Break
11:00 – 11:30 Overview of GCOOS web pages for recreational boaters and results of website evaluation (Shin Kobara and John O’Connell)
11:30 – 11:45 Summarize EOC Action Items for 2011 – 2012 (John O’Connell, group)
11:45 Meeting Adjourned



Appendix C: Group Activity – Observe Aquarium Visitors

Work in teams of three to five to observe how aquarium visitors engage with different exhibits. The goal is to learn about indicators of exhibit success: How do you evaluate if what your visitors are seeing, doing, learning and feeling are what you expect? Try to identify elements that might be incorporated into our exhibits. Keep in mind there are six components that drive exhibit design models: curiosity, confidence, challenge, control, play, and communication.

There are four phases of exhibit design. We will be considering two of these for GCOOS purposes: 1) Conceptual Planning (EOC/Aquarium staff); 2) Design (EOC/Aquarium Staff); 3) Fabrication (contractor); and 4) Installation (contractor/aquarium staff).


  1. What exhibit are you evaluating?
  2. Where is attention of the aquarium visitor focused?
  3. How are their hands used?
  4. How are exhibit visitors interacting with others?
  5. What are they saying?
  6. What, if any, evidence of emotion is displayed? (e.g., enjoyment, confusion, frustration)
  7. Talk to users to learn about their learning experience.

Summarize in two to four sentences the elements of the exhibit(s) that seemed most captivating to visitors (e.g. physical or mental challenge of completing a task or playing a game, etc.).Be prepared to share this with the group.



Appendix D: Pre-Workshop Teams

Team One: Water Quality Team Two: EIA
John Dindo Lei Hu
Gwen Emick Jessica Kastler
Brent Gaskill Shin Kobara
Lorena Gaskill Dianne Lindstedt
Ann Jochens Rusty Low
Brian Jones Carol Lutken
Barb Kirkpatrick Adriana Reza
Tricia LeBlanc Angela Sallis
Charlene Mauro Chris Simoniello
Jean May-Brett Rob Smith
Dinah Maygarden Joe Swaykos
Sarah Mikulak Pamala Terasaki
John O’Connell Chris Verlinde
Lloyd Scott Sharon Walker
Margaret Sedlecky Ann Weaver
Mike Spranger  
Debbi Stone  
Kevin Van Dien  
Lee Yokel  

Bold = team leader
Italics = unable to attend meeting



Appendix E: Evaluation of GCOOS Web pages for Recreational Boaters


Please visit the GCOOS-EOC website prior to our June meeting. The website is located at Spend as much time as you need to thoroughly explore the website. Multiple visits are encouraged. After visiting the website, please complete the survey no later than June 13. Your feedback will provide us with valuable information. Thank you for your time!

Part I: Website design and appearance

1. Did the link to the website work?
a. Yes
b. No
2. Did the website load quickly?
a. Yes
b. No
3. What was your first impression of the website design?
a. I was impressed
b. I was somewhat impressed
c. I was somewhat unimpressed

Part II: Buoy Location and Data Format

1. Were you able to locate buoys with the weather and sea conditions you were searching for in your area?
a. Yes
b. No
c. I randomly selected buoys from across the Gulf of Mexico
2. Did you find the data as presented easy to understand?
a. Yes
b. No (please explain)
3. Did you take time to explore the Tabs?
a. Yes
b. No
4. Which Tabs did you explore? (Mark all that apply)
a. Observation
b. Model
c. Forecasts
d. Warnings
5. Did you take time to turn-on the layers under each tab?
a. Yes
b. No
c. I did not see the layers
6. Did you find these layers to be useful?
a. Yes
b. No
c. N/A

Part III: Website Use by the public

1. Overall, rank the usefulness of this website for accessing weather and sea conditions.
a. Very Useful
b. Useful
c. Somewhat Useful
d. Not useful
e. N/A
2. Would you use this website to seek weather and sea conditions for planning a boating excursion?
a. Yes
b. No (please explain)
c. Not sure
3. Would you recommend this website to others?
a. Yes
b. No (please explain)
c. Not sure

Part IV: Website customization for you

1. Do you have a laptop/iPad on your boat?
a. Yes
b. No
c. N/A
2. If you answered yes to the previous question, how do you connect to the internet?
a. Dial-up
b. Cable
c. Public WiFi
d. Others?
3. What is your PC screen size (when you plan for boat trip)?
a. Less than 10 inch (including iPad)
b. 13 inch
c. 14 inch
d. Bigger than 14 inch
4. When you open the site, what information do you want to see first?
a. Wave height
b. Wind
c. Ocean current
d. Weather
e. Tide
5. Which wind symbol do you prefer?
a. Wind vector (arrow style)
b. Wind barb
6. Where do you like to see items (checkboxes) on your screen?
a. Left side
b. Right side
c. Bottom panel
7. Please select the items of interest from the list below. Check all that apply.
a. Marker-to-Marker Distance measurement
b. Detailed nautical chart
c. Depth profile (from marker A to B)
d. Phytoplankton concentration
e. Moon phase
f. Other (please specify)
8. Approximately how long did you spend at the website for this assignment?
a. Less than 30 minutes
b. 1 hour
c. More than one hour