For a recent round of data collection with a new prototype exhibit at the Florida Museum of Natural History, Lisa Anthony, Annie Luc, and I made our plans. We decided we needed a phillips-head screwdriver to dissassemble the touch-table we needed to transport, a cart from the department to carry the table to the freight elevator and loading dock, and consent documents approved by the IRB. So we decided I’d bring the screwdriver and print the consent documents, and Lisa arranged for the cart. Annie finalized the coding of the prototype software. We all took a look at the freight elevator to understand how it worked. We arranged the dates and times with FLMNH. The night before data collection, we felt confident we had it all set.
The morning of, almost all of those elements went wrong in ways we didn’t anticipate. The screwdriver I had had a neck that was too fat to fit into the deep socketed holes where half the screws were. The department person who had control of the cart was out sick. The freight elevator was out of order (but there were no signs), and the printer was out of paper! So we spent about four times longer than the 15 minutes we’d planned to disassemble the table and get it to the loading dock. So long that FLMNH emailed us and wondered if we were still coming. We assured them yes, we were just running late. We located paper, borrowed a screwdriver, found someone else to bring us the cart, and used the personnel elevator. Of course, our troubles weren’t quite over – the table fit in the back of Lisa’s car but not without putting down both of the back seats, meaning only two of the three of us could ride in the car. Backup plan: Annie rode the campus bus and met us at the museum.
Once there, the borrowed screwdriver was great, but some of the screws kept falling out at the beginning. We had also made the decision not to take the calibration materials for the touch table with us to the museum. Bad choice. We ended up sending Annie back on the bus to central campus and back to the museum to get those, as the table was having trouble operating the touch interactions correctly, perhaps due to the change in climate from the lab to the car (it was a “warm, dry, humid” Florida day – more on that oxymoron elsewhere) and into the museum.
Ultimately, things worked out and we collected data, great data, with real people, over the three days we were there. However, we will plan even better next time: a magnetic Phillips head screwdriver of the correct size (we got lucky that our screws were not a strange phillips size – we had just eyeballed it), at the very least, and taking the calibration materials with us for sure. I’ll also print the consent forms further in advance … maybe.
Read more about adventures in data collection and museum research at my alma mater: The Free-Choice Learning Lab at Oregon State University – also lots of great stuff about life as a grad student!