Accessible Oceans: Exploring Ocean Data through Sound

Wednesday, September 1, 2021 to Thursday, August 31, 2023
Resource Type:
Project Descriptions | Projects
Environment Type: 
Media and Technology, Games, Simulations, and Interactives, Exhibitions, Museum and Science Center Exhibits, Aquarium and Zoo Exhibits
Elementary School Children (6-10) | Middle School Children (11-13) | Youth/Teen (up to 17) | Undergraduate/Graduate Students | Adults | General Public | Educators/Teachers | Museum/ISE Professionals
Computing and information science | General STEM
Access and Inclusion: 
People with Disabilities
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

This award is funded in whole or in part under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (Public Law 117-2).

The Accessible Oceans study will design auditory displays that support learning and understanding of ocean data in informal learning environments like museums, science centers, and aquariums. Most data presentations in these spaces use visual display techniques such as graphs, charts, and computer-generated visualizations, resulting in inequitable access for learners with vision impairment or other print-related disabilities. While music, sound effects, and environmental sounds are sometimes used, these audio methods are inadequate for conveying quantitative information. The project will use sonification (turning data into sound) to convey meaningful aspects of ocean science data to increase access to ocean data and ocean literacy. The project will advance knowledge on the design of auditory displays for all learners, with and without disabilities, as well as advance the use of technology for STEM formal and informal education. The study will include 425 participants but will reach tens of thousands through the development of education materials, public reporting, and social media. The study will partner with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Ocean Discovery Center, the Georgia Aquarium, the Eugene Science Center, the Atlanta Center for the Visually Impaired, and Perkins School for the Blind.

The project will leverage existing educational ocean datasets from the NSF-funded Ocean Observatories Initiative to produce and evaluate the feasibility of using integrated auditory displays to communicate tiered learning objectives of oceanographic principles. Integrated auditory displays will each be comprised of a data sonification and a context-setting audio introduction that will help to make sure all users start with the same basic information about the phenomenon. The displays will be developed through a user-centered design process that will engage ocean science experts, visually impaired students and adults (and their teachers), and design-oriented undergraduate and graduate students. The project will support advocacy skills for inclusive design and will provide valuable training opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students in human-centered design and accessibility. The project will have foundational utility in auditory display, STEM education, human-computer interaction, and other disciplines, contributing new strategies for representing quantitative information that can be applied across STEM disciplines that use similar visual data displays. The project will generate publicly accessible resources to advance studies of inclusive approaches on motivating learners with and without disabilities to learn more about and consider careers in STEM.

This Pilots and Feasibility Studies project is supported by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning program, which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants.

Funding Program: 
Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 
Funding Amount: 

Team Members

Amy BowerAmy BowerPrincipal Investigator
Carrie BruceCarrie BruceCo-Principal Investigator
Jon BellonaJon BellonaCo-Principal Investigator

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