Adam Tobin: “Exploratorium Global Studios – Transforming How the World Learns!” | Talks at Google

Adam Tobin: “Exploratorium Global Studios – Transforming How the World Learns!” | Talks at Google


FEMALE SPEAKER: Hi, everyone. Welcome I’m so grateful that
I get to host to Adam today at Google. And I just wanted to give
a little bit of intro. Adam has over 20 years
of combined experience in informal education. First, building successful
creative business ventures, and then applying the same
entrepreneurial spirit within the nonprofit sector. As the Director of Global
Studios at the Exploratorium, Adam is responsible for
furthering the museum’s mission of transformative education
by building partnerships with and then providing creative
services to institutions around the world. For five years prior
to his current role, Adam was the Director
of Exhibit Development at the Exploratorium. Prior to that, Adam was an
award winning toy inventor and founder of two successful
educational toy development and manufacturing companies. Adam also moonlights as a
mechanical artist creating large kinetic
contraptions that attempt to capture the whimsy of
his earlier toy creations. Adam holds a BA from Brandeis
University with concentrations in music and physics. So welcome Adam to Google. [APPLAUSE] ADAM TOBIN: So
thank you so much. It’s really good to be here. As I was preparing
for this talk, the first thought I
had is this is easy. I have so much to talk about
with the Exploratorium. I can’t wait to get
up there and share. And then I got afraid,
because I realized I have so much to share
and so much to talk about. There’s no way I’m going to fit
this in in the time allotted. And I kind of found
a happy medium. I realized, OK,
I’m going to find a focus for how we talk
about the Exploratorium and the breadth of our work. There are several members
of my team here today. So if they all jump up and
start waving their hands, that means that I’m
taking too long. And I’ll try and
find a way to start moving through all the
material we have to share. Before we talk about
the work that we do all around the
world, I think it’s important to be grounded first
in what the Exploratorium is, who we are, and a little
bit of our history. Many of you, particularly
those of you in the Bay Area, will know the
Exploratorium and as a place that has interactive
and hands-on exhibits. That’s just the
tip of the iceberg. What many people don’t know is,
indeed, the breadth and impact of the Exploratorium as an
institution over a 45 year history. Some facts, we’ve created over
1,000 interactive exhibits. They are used in 80%
of the science centers all around the world. We estimate around 200
million visitors a year are using these
exhibits and programs. And that’s probably a
conservative estimate. We have a website that has
11 million hits per year with 50,000 pages of content. We were named as one of the
most influential nonprofits, one of the 12 most
influential non-profits, of the last half century. So there is so much going on at
the Exploratorium that puts us in a position to work with
the wider world in the way that we do. So starting with a
little bit of history, the Exploratorium
was founded in 1969 by Frank Oppenheimer, a
brother of Robert Oppenheimer. And they worked side by side
on the Manhattan Project. Frank was a lifelong educator
with a passion for education and had notions about
creating a way of learning that was hands-on,
interactive, learner-driven and felt there was a need
to transform education as we knew it. Before the Exploratorium, if you
were to go to a science center, it was largely artifact-based. It was a place that you would
see the artifacts of science or the history of science. So the way we think of
science centers right now is a place where you put
your hands on experiments and authentic phenomena
by and large didn’t exist. And the Exploratorium
played a critical role in creating what we now know
as the informal science center movement. Our original home was at
the Palace of Fine Arts. The famous story is in 1969, one
day they just opened the doors. People came in, and the
museum was declared open. About two years ago, we moved
to our new location, the San Francisco waterfront
on the Embarcadero. It was an incredibly
transformative time for the institution and
in many ways directly relates to the ways in
which we started interfacing with the wider world. We’re more centrally located. We started thinking more
broadly about the way in which we partner with people,
the way in which we approach content, and even
the types of content sets that we are
able to explore, not to mention the fact
that is significantly more accessible for those
of you who know where the Palace of Fine Art is. It’s out in the edge
of San Francisco by the Golden Gate Bridge. I strongly suspect that a
strong portion of visitors who tried to get to
the Exploratorium ended up on the
Golden Gate Bridge. And now, we’re on
public transportation. We’re more accessible to a
wider variety of communities, including the South
Bay and East Bay. What makes the Exploratorium so
special and one of the reasons it’s had the impact it
has is its approach. And I’d actually like to take
a moment to talk about some of the core elements
of our approach. And the first and perhaps
the most important is that we have a deep
pedagogical underpinning that is about inquiry-based learning. And simply put, that means
that it’s learner-driven. You form your own questions. You create your own experience. You create your own pathways. You create your own interest, as
opposed to somebody telling you this is the thing
that you’re studying. This is the thing you’re
supposed to be learning. These are the questions that
we expect you to answer. This is one of our
most famous exhibits. It’s a turntable exhibit. And basically, it’s a rotating
table with a bunch of objects that you place on it and spin
and observe what happens. There is no sign. There is no explicit content. And yet, it’s about engagement. It’s about play. It’s about hands-on an
understanding of the universe. Should you choose, then,
to explore content, obviously there’s an
awful lot of physics that’s going on
below the surface, enough to keep a
classroom or even a university student occupied
should you go that direction. We believe in
authentic phenomena. So the exhibits on the
Exploratorium floor, they’re not models. They’re not simulations. They are the real phenomena. And that dates all the
way back to our founding, where exhibits started off as
props, as experiments that you actually get your hands on. And this is an exhibit called
water drop photography, where you can time how long it
takes for a water drop to fall into a cup of water. Then you take a picture. And you can time where the
water droplet is in its journey when you take the picture. There’s also
unexpected phenomena. If you were to look inside
the droplet of water, you see the lens. And you see the
upside down image. Again, you start with play and
interactivity, not the lesson about optics and lenses. Art and science is
another fundamental part of the Exploratorium
core approach, that we believe that the
processes of discovery of art and science are very similar. And the beauty of
natural phenomena and an artistic approach
provides a rather profound toe-hold for learners. So this is a picture inside
the new Exploratorium. And the last fundamental
aspect I would touch on right now is that of accessibility and
the power of creative engines and a sense of perpetual,
constant prototyping. This is our shop, which is
very unusual for museums, is right next to our floor. There’s only a short pony wall
in between visitors and machine shop tools. And that was how it was
in the old building. And that is how it is
in the new building. It didn’t have to be that way. But we insisted that
it be so in large part to demonstrate the fact
that there is no magic. Here is where the Exploratorium
and is being created. And those who are creating
it have direct access to the floor and our constantly
testing out their ideas on our floor. We don’t presume to get an
exhibit right or an experience right until we have
prototyped it significantly. I’ll quickly show a
few of our galleries. This is our central gallery. It’s probably the most similar
to the old Exploratorium, where you’ll find classic
exhibits on light, optics, perception, listening. And if you look, it’s actually
a rather understated building. It’s a beautiful building. But the focus is on the
exhibits and the experiences, not so much the design
and the space around it. The new building
also gave us a chance to explore new content
areas, including sociology as a content set. This is an exhibition on
the science of sharing. We have an east gallery
that’s about biology and natural systems. And because of our new
location, if right now you were to zoom into this
picture and look to the west, you would see the
skyline of San Francisco. And if you were to
look to the east, you would see the bay and
all the natural surroundings. So we created an
observatory, which is a place where you can,
well, observe what’s going on and try and make sense of what
a rather complex system is the intersections perhaps
of natural and human made phenomenon. We also have a large
outdoor campus. Outdoor exhibits
are not new to us. But to have space
on our own campus where we can be exploring
outdoor surroundings was a wonderful opportunity
of the new building. So we began creating
experiences outside. This is an anamorphic bench. Anamorphosis is the
way in which an image is adapted, mutated if you
looked in a curved surface. So we reversed it and
put the mutated image in the real world. And if you look on the cylinder,
you see a rectangular bench. We created a mobile
camera obscura. There are rickshaws going
up and down the Embarcadero in San Francisco. So again, authentic
phenomena, there’s a periscope that
comes out the top. And this is indeed a
mobile camera obscura out on the Embarcadero. Now I’ve been talking
a lot about exhibits. But as I said
before, that is just part of what the Exploratorium
is, an important part. But we are also
learning designers. We also teach professional
educators all around the world. We have trained
thousands of teachers in the fundaments of
inquiry-based learning. And we take the same
approach to exhibits, and we apply it
using found objects for classroom exercises. We’re also a cultural center. So the Exploratorium benefits
from being in San Francisco immensely. In large part, it is
who we are, the fact that we were born here. This is an example of an after
dark event in the evenings. It’s just adults. And it’s scientists, and
lectures, and artists. And it’s actually
quite an event. You can have as many
as 5,000, 6,000, 7,000 people in an evening. It’s all adults. And it’s a much different
kind of experience. But it shows the
power of community and the type of convening
space the Exploratorium can be. We also try to be
fearless whenever we can. Some of you who have
been to Burning Man will recognize El
Pulpo Mecanico. This was actually its final
performance, if you will, and part of our on the
move from the Palace of Fine Arts to the piers. And this was a group
called the Obscura Digital at our opening that projected on
the facade of the Exploratorium these wonderful images in
a project called Emergence. And it was something you can
see up and down the Embarcadero. Now, I’m here to talk
about our global impact. All of this has
been San Francisco. So how do you take
this and apply it? How do you take this
and make it extensible for the rest of the world? This Exploratorium
has a long history of working with partners
all around the world. And it started out
by and large with us reproducing our exhibits
that we were so famous for. In 1985, IBM approached
the Exploratorium about reproducing our exhibits
for a new gallery that was opening in New York. It’s not something we had done. It’s not something
we thought about. And we said, of
course, we’ll do that. And that was the
beginning, the genesis, of a way in which
not only were we an inspiration to
institutions around the world and copied by institutions
around the world, we started formalizing
partnerships with them. That is the genesis of what
has become Global Studios. Global Studios is a new name. It’s an outgrowth
of that work we’ve done over the years in exhibit
fabrication and replication. And there are a few
key aspects that make our relationship successful
and have allowed us to grow. The first is we’d
like to be as far upstream in the creative
process as possible. We don’t like to just
reproduce what we’ve done. We like to have an understanding
of the unique and individual needs and circumstances of
anybody that we work with. We like to bring our
intellectual capital to bear and draw from as many
people within the Exploratorium as possible and make it a
two-way learning street. We don’t presume, again,
to have the answers. So for us, one of the great
benefits of the work we do is not only are we
disseminating or sharing, we’re learning and bringing in. And let me continue on and
talk about three projects that I think are exemplars of
our core approach for the wider world. The first is a partnership that
we have with Tubitak in Turkey. Tubitak is an analog to our
National Science Foundation in the United States. A number of years ago, they
decided in a rather bold move that they were going to
create science centers in every province in Turkey. So that would be
81 science centers. The government earmarked a
substantial amount of money. And one of the
first Science Center was in a province
called Kocaeli. Kocaeli, if you see Turkey
up here, is east by southeast from Istanbul. And the center, the capital of
Kocaeli is a town called Izmit. So the museum was going to be
created in an old paper mill factory. It’s a really cool building. And the way we
partnered with them was not necessarily
just to create a museum. We actually expanded
our partnership to include professional
development capacity building, design, master
planning, and of course exhibit fabrication. So there’s going to be a series
of these pictures, you know, where somebody’s
looking at a drawing. And they’re pointing,
and it looks like they’re having important thoughts. This is the first. But around the table
is members of Tubitak, members of the municipality
from Kocaeli, and our own team. And we started off by
taking a 20,000 foot view of what they were trying
to accomplish from a science objective perspective. And we began laying out
what kinds of experiences would fit naturally
within their museum. Now, I include this
picture, because part of the work we do
all around the world means we have to
respond to the rhythms and tempo of our partners. We were just having
a conversation earlier about how we
tend to move slowly at the Exploratorium. Well, other projects tend
to move a lot more quickly. We had to design this entire
museum in three months right at the time that we were moving. So we created because
Kocaeli sweatshop. And in this room were
about 10 engineers, designers, education
professionals, all working pretty much around
the clock to try and meet what was a government deadline
in order to open their museum. That led, of course, to lay out
and plan for the museum broken out by content set,
creating 3D models of what the experience would look like. And I think it’s also
important to point out that, as I said before, it wasn’t just
about creating an experience and transplanting it. It was about the intersection
of cultures and human capital. So we created a professional
development program that would accompany
the exhibits and designs we created,
the experiences we created. And we did trainings
both at the Exploratorium and over in Kocaeli Turkey. There were trainings about
how you might facilitate the exhibits, how you
might scaffold them and do broader
learning experiences, and even workshops on the
nature of the organization and how you might create a
viable sustainable institution both here and in Turkey. And you can see
here these are some of the classic
Exploratorium activities. This is the cow eye dissection. And I always liked this
picture, because it shows a sense of play and wonder. It’s very easy to turn this
into a mechanical process. And it’s very easy to get
into layouts and designs. But the truth in the end
is it’s about affect. And it’s about the
wonder and the joy that comes with these
kinds of experiences. And if the staff
doesn’t have that, if the culture
doesn’t have that, then it’s awfully hard to
translate that to visitors. So a big part of our
intersection of cultures and the professional
development we do is providing the opportunities
for that level of inspiration. We also sent a team over to
Turkey to build out a shop. It was our hope from
the very beginning when we were doing the master
planning that we would help them build the capacity
to develop and create and maintain their own exhibits. So we sent over a
team that started refurbishing a number
of exhibits on site in Turkey working
side by side with their Turkish counterparts. This was the opening of the
museum a couple months ago. And as you can tell
by the picture, it’s a deeply political event. The government got
a chance to crow about the investment
that they made and the impact of
what they created. It’s a very different culture
than ours in many ways. And the approach to
it is very different. And I’ll touch on that
a little bit later that that had been a profound
learning experience for us. And we have so
much more to learn about the assumptions we
would make about our culture and the situation we have and
the benefits we have about how we create these kinds
of experiences, where another culture might have
an entirely different suite of obstacles and benefits. This is the President
of Turkey on the walk through with the
cohort around him. I think you can see myself
in the background, trying to keep a safe and respectful
distance and act casual. And this is some of
the final exhibition. It’s actually still
being opened as we speak. But this was the optics
gallery, dark on purpose because of the phenomenon. And already you’re starting
to see the kind of engagement that we hope to see and
ultimately the reason why we do what we do. All right. So that was Kocaeli, Turkey. Tinkering. We created a tinkering
studio in Saudi Arabia. Now I left out before one of
the most important aspects of the new direction
of Global Studios is we are looking to
create experiences beyond just museums and
informal centers of learning. This is not something
that we’ve created. We firmly believe
that there’s learning happening in more and
more and more places. That’s a good thing. There’s a greater access to
tools, learning materials. There’s a
democratization of ideas. So how do we do what we do
beyond the settings in which we are, in theory, so comfortable? So we created a
Tinkering program in Al Khobar,
Saudi Arabia, which is on the Gulf side
of Saudi Arabia. This is an audacious
project for us. This was not, on the surface,
an easy place to work. And our goals were huge. Once again, we did not want to
just create a Tinkering studio, lift it from the Exploratorium. This is a picture of our
Tinkering studio, which is hands on making an
exploration of materials on our floor. Already in a museum
setting, this is an innovative
approach to learning. And many museums
around the country are working to
figure out just how you might do this in a
museum environment, nevermind in a foreign country
without all of the amenities that you would have in a museum. And not only
creating a museum, we wanted to create the
capacity for people to facilitate and train and
lead the activities that are associated with Tinkering
on their own after we had left. Once again, in SketchUp
we created a model of what it might look like. The great challenge here
was, you’ll see in a second, this is happening in a
tent in a big open area. And the activities
in Tinkering require a certain focus
and contemplation and a well-defined space. So we did our best to
try and create that. Right up here you can see
this big open patch of sand is where the event
was going to happen. It was sponsored
by Saudi Aramco. And their headquarters
are here in Al Khobar. And in a matter of
weeks what sprung up from this patch of sand was
nothing short of remarkable. First, the tents are erected. And this is our truck showing
up with a Tinkering studio in boxes. And our tinkering
studio sat outside in 120 degree heat and sand. So we had to do a serious amount
of remediation in the field, particularly for
the group that is very particular about the
nature of their experience, and the comfort level,
the accessibility, the invitation that exists by
creating a space like this. We found that just as a
side note that it was so hot that– are you familiar with
butcher block like yea thick? It was cracking
that in half, which is not supposed to happen. So we needed a lot
of work in the field. Now I don’t know if anybody
here can read Arabic, but I’ll bet you know
that branding scheme. It’s the same in Saudi
Arabia as it is here. There were a lot
of trips to Ikea in trying to turn
what we had created and what we hoped
would transplant nicely to a tent in Saudi Arabia
into a rather warm environment. Now as I mentioned before,
creating the physical space was just part of the program. We began immediately even as
we were setting up the space, training 16 Saudi
educators that were chosen to work alongside of
the educators there we sent. So we sent around 8 to 12
educators in pairs of two over the course of
this five week festival to work alongside their
counterparts for Saudi Arabia, thereby training them
hands-on in the facilitation of the Tinkering activities. This is what the tent looked
like on opening night. And remember how I said
we’re trying to focus on contemplative activities? Very quickly the space
turned into this. And it was a zoo. There were over 5,000 people
that came on average every day. And yet, at the same
time if we zoom in, we actually were able to create
these intimate experiences, these moments of learning,
of inquiry, of joy. And some of the best
pictures I’ve ever seen came from this project
in Saudi Arabia. This is actually one of
my favorite pictures. If the eyes can
telegraph anything, you can see the joy, the wonder,
the sense of accomplishment, of agency. And these are things we
worked so hard to achieve. On the note of culture, maybe
even preempting some questions, working in a place
like Saudi Arabia that has such a profoundly
different culture from ours raised all kinds of
interesting considerations as you can imagine. It is not our place to
judge other cultures. And it’s not our place to
say what is right or wrong. And at the same time, there
was one very specific question and that was gender. So working in Saudi Arabia,
it’s a much different society. And from our perspective,
we had conversation about how we might
approach that, indeed, even if we would approach it. And in the end,
from what we figured is the impact of
doing what we do, which should be culture
agnostic, learning, inquiry, agency, all of these things,
we felt have their own merit and are important. There was one thing
that we wanted was that both the participants
in the booth and those that we trained would
be of mixed gender. It was the one stipulation
that we presumed to make. And it was OK. So in the end, we had both
men and women in the booth. And we had both men and women
being trained as facilitators. One of my favorite
pictures also. Now the professional
development didn’t end just at the beginning of the project. We made it a point on a
daily and weekly basis to continue discussion
and dialogue about what we were doing and how
we were doing it with the goal by the end of the
five week festival transferring facilitation
of the booth 100% to the Saudi facilitators. And that’s exactly what we did. They’re wearing some of
the Exploratorium vests. And as you can see, by
the end of the festival, our facilitators had
receded into the background. And not only were they working
on facilitating the booth. They were maintaining,
as you can imagine in that kind of heat
and that kind of usage, it was a constant battle, if you
will, just to keep everything in working order. And then on an ongoing basis. This is just a picture
of a social media page. We had hoped, and it
turned out to be so, we would leave the
Tinkering studio behind. And we would leave
behind communities that were inspired to continue
these kinds of activities. And the Tinkering studio
is still in Saudi Arabia. And it’s traveling
from cultural program to cultural program with a
permanent home in a museum in the capital of Riyadh. And the connections that
were made between us at the Exploratorium and our
counterparts in Saudi Arabia continue to this day. So the third project
I’d like to share is right here at home at UTSF
Benioff Children’s Hospital. This was closer to home, but
also a radically new project for us with, as you
can imagine, it’s own considerations
and constraints. The genesis of the project
was through a group called Child Life that
operates a learning center within the hospital. And they have San Francisco
unified accredited school as well. They had already worked
with the Exploratorium in outreach programs and
activities for years. So there was already
relationship. And they were moving themselves
from their Parnassus campus to their new campus
in Mission Bay. We had to step back and think
about visitorship, obviously, in a whole new way. And we had so much to
learn about what happens in that kind of environment. And so many of the assumptions
that we would have going in we were challenged with
right out of the gate. One example is, and this may
be obvious on the surface, but the people who use those
exhibits are not only patients. They’re siblings of patients,
they’re family members, they’re people who come
to vision patients. And there’s a wide variety,
as wide as you can imagine, of ability and presence
and state of being. And we couldn’t
cater to just one. And in fact, that
would be a shame. How do you make it so
different levels of ability can experience what we create? The other aspect of the building
is– the obligatory design picture. That hospital is immense. And there’s way more opportunity
than we could possibly do in one project
or could possibly do before we learn
enough to do it. So we had to look at
the entire environment and choose where we would
start off with our experiences. This is our high
tech database system that’s showing
exactly how we would approach the different exhibits
and different experiences. And then, of course,
we began sketching. And we were looking at hallways. We were looking at alcoves at
the edge of the museum, pieces in the lobby, and of
course in patients’ rooms. Again, as you can imagine,
much different levels of activity and engagement
in each of these places. We began prototyping
with our counterparts at UCSF, who were just
a pleasure to work with. There was so much simpatico
about our approach to learning. Prototyping colored
shadows exhibit. And of course, we
got into the building and prototyped in
the room itself. This is an animation
station, where you’re able to move different
pieces and materials and create your own animations. And in the end it led
to a piece in the lobby, which is a polarized
lenses going over scotch tape and glass or acrylic. And if you look at each
of these works of art, they’re participatory. We didn’t create them. They’re actually being created
by patients up in their rooms or wherever they’re
able to be working. So it can be done
in a classroom. It could be done in their
room if they can’t move. Even some of the more ill
and long term patients can still be doing this
in their own spaces and have a way of
sharing what you do with the rest of the hospital. And I haven’t talked
a lot about the goals. But in a setting
like this, it was really important to
the child life experts that it was indeed about that. It was about life and the
fact that learning is still continuing, and you are
able to explore and do whatever you are able to do. It was an incredibly
moving project to work on. We created exhibits
and experiences in a surgical waiting area. A lot of classical
Exploratorium exhibits chosen to be
contemplative in a space that you do not want to be
incredibly active in, because of the nature of the space. We created a time lapse exhibit
looking out over the bay. So there’s a beautiful view
from the new Mission Bay campus looking out over the bay. And you can scrub through
a day at different speeds. And it’s actually
quite fascinating. Ships are coming and going. Weather patterns are changing. And again, this is a way
of getting something out of what might feel like
the alternate reality of their confined
hospital environment, exploring phenomena
in the real world. We created images on the wall. Again, something
very simple, doesn’t require a lot of
interactivity or hands-on, but still a
content-rich experience. We programmed the garage. Very simple here, we created
animals and pixelated dots for each floor of the garage. A scope in a patient’s room. The animation station
that I just mentioned. And the final embodiment
of the colored shadows, which is just a wonderful
exhibit a very playful exhibit where really the only
goal is exploring the phenomenon of
light and optics and transforming an
environment into a work of art. So if you step back and
look at this body of work, you can tell that
from our perspective we’re just scratching
the surface. Each of these areas
we chose because we hope that it’s extensible. We worked in one hospital. Our hope and the hope of
the folks at Mission Bay is that we have
created a model for how you might work with hospitals. In Tinkering, we
created a model for how you might take something that
is in one sense something so particular to
the Exploratorium and relies on such
particular constraints and put it out into
the world in places where you do not have
controls on those constraints and create broader experiences. And our approach
to museum making, even though they might seem
conventional on the surface, that if you were to
create new science centers around the world,
can we take an approach that is as focused on
culture and learning and affect as it is on
design and exhibits? Over the last three years,
Global Studios breadth has grown. We are four times in
scope what we were before. I know that might be another
day in the office in the valley. But where we are,
that’s profound growth. And we see that as just
the tip of the iceberg. So with that, I guess
I’ll pause and see if there are any questions. FEMALE SPEAKER: Have you
ever worked with kids to come up with ideas
for your exhibit? ADAM TOBIN: That’s
a good question. I mean, there’s two
answers to that. The first is the way
that we prototype, the ideas are out
on the floor and so constantly refined, that it’s
hard to say that they’re not. Right? They’re a part of
the team that allows us to create what we create. I didn’t mention
this on the outset, but we see our floor as
a learning laboratory, as a research crucible. And the visitors are
a huge part of that. The other answer is one
of our great interests as part of the move
was finding a way of engaging more and more people
into our creative process. So you could say that
x% of the Exploratorium wasn’t even created here. We still have a ways to go. But it’s something that we’re
very much interested in. AUDIENCE: What’s the minimal
level of infrastructure required for you to do one of
these mobile Exploratoriums, electric power,
water, et cetera? ADAM TOBIN: That’s
a great question. My knee jerk answer is I
want to say zero, right? If you look at the
Teacher Institute and you look at the
snacks that they’ve created that are very
lightweight versions of the phenomena rich
exhibits that we’ve created over the years, that
you could do it just with found objects and
a table, right? So really I think it’s about the
scale and depth of engagement. For Global Studios, for
my particular group, we tend to be at a larger scale,
where our partners are often institutions or
countries or governments, educational groups that
have the resources to try and manifest something
at a larger scale. But we always try
and think small when it comes to the actual
experiences themselves. So I would hate to answer with
a threshold that would eliminate the kind of experiences
we would want to create in any given setting. AUDIENCE: Do you
ever have a mandate? So for example, perhaps
the museum in Turkey, you must cover– I noticed
the solar system was on there. And that one struck me. Because I thought how do you
tinker about the solar system? You can’t send people to Mars. And I guess my question was
did that come organically? Or was that kind of
part of the agreement was that that was something
they wanted to cover, and you had to figure out how
to approach that subject matter? ADAM TOBIN: That’s
a great question. I mean, interestingly enough
the Exploratorium approach tends to be content agnostic. It’s more important to
us to learning pathway than a particular
learning outcome. That said, that
isn’t necessarily the point of departure
for our would-be partners and colleagues all
around the world. And it’s a question that we
have to answer constantly. The further upstream we are
in the creative process, the easier it is for us
to have conversations about how important it is
to think about the learning culture you want to create,
the pedagogical approach to learning, as
opposed to saying that this is about
nuclear power, or it’s about solar power. Power comes up a lot,
particularly as you can imagine, in the Middle East. Some projects it’s already so
woven into their expectations that it’s not something
that we could change. And then there’s a question
of how literal we have to be. You can imagine that
if it’s about power, there are a bunch of
exhibits at the Exploratorium that would work. Because of the fundamental
science below it as opposed to a didactic
demonstration of this is solar power. And here’s a model
that shows solar power, so you can get excited
about solar power and care about maybe this company
that’s behind the exhibition. We’re very careful about
how we choose our partners. We don’t think there’s anything
wrong about having a content outcome. But we find that
are partnerships work best when we are not
restricted to a predetermined content set or at least the
embodiment of how you approach that content set from an
experiential standpoint if that makes sense. AUDIENCE: I saw, as you were
going through the galleries, you had the science of sharing. And then I was at
the Exploratorium and I saw a lot of the more
classic experiments that were from like the ’70s let’s say. I guess, when you’re
looking forward, what do you think the
experiments of the future are going to look like? Because they do kind
of feel different, those Science of Sharing
exhibits from the earlier ones. I mean, where do you
kind of see things going? ADAM TOBIN: Yeah,
I mean, it’s funny. As I was joking early on
about how hard it would be to try to get everything I
would want to say into a talk, the Science of
Sharing areas is one of the most interesting
areas we’re working on. And I would start by saying that
even within the Exploratorium, when there was first dialogue
about approaching sociology as a content set in
Science and Sharing, there internal dialogue about
whether it could be done. And more specifically, whether
it could be done the way we like to do it. More specifically,
authentic phenomena. Right? So how do you translate
people and sharing into something
that would be other than a model or a simulation
of that or a computer screen that says here’s how people
share and here’s what it is? That was our great challenge. We’ve done it. And I think we’ve done it well. But we have a lot to learn. If you were to look
at that gallery, it has less of
that frenetic feel that you might see in our
central gallery, where people are bouncing from exhibit
and there’s a lot of stimuli. In the West gallery,
the Science of Sharing, there’s a little
more stepping back. It’s a little more
contemplative. And interestingly
enough, our answer to how you make it authentic
phenomena is the visitors. are the exhibit. So a great example would
be our trust fountain, which is what we call
sip or squirt, which is a play on the
prisoner’s dilemma, the classic sociological
phenomenon where if two people are arrested,
they’re in cahoots. They’re put in separate rooms. And basically you say, you rat
out your friend, you go free. You rat out your
friend, you go free. And if they both rat each other
out, they both go to jail. If neither one rats each
other, they both go free. And if one rats one out,
then one goes to jail and one doesn’t, and vice versa. So we created a
water fountain, which is called sip or squirt, where
you can choose whether you give a sip of
water to the person across from you or a squirt. And it follows those same rules,
a squirt of water in the face. And so the nature of the
phenomena isn’t so much– or I should say, isn’t only the
two people playing the game. It’s the people who are
standing around observing. And you get into game theory. And you get into the
actual phenomena itself in an observational way. So it is different for us. I think we have so
much more to learn. But it’s also part of
our own growth in that for it to be an
authentic Exploratorium experience and a deep
learning experience, does it have to look
the way it always has? And one of the great promises,
again, of the move for us was perhaps getting us out
of our own comfort zone. It’s one of the
reasons we presume to be able to work
with the world in ways that we do now,
where they don’t have the same expectations that
we would for our experience. So I don’t know where
that goes in time. But I think the fact that we’re
pushing on those parameters and playing in that
way is actually us being true to ourselves in
some new and interesting ways. AUDIENCE: I’m curious
if you could talk more about what you said
about culture being sort of a hard road block when
you’re going to a new country. How do you figure
out what you need to change about the exhibits
for different cultures? And how do you figure
out what’s going to work? ADAM TOBIN: Yeah. We don’t have an
answer for that one. Yeah. I mean, it has to start off
with an awful lot of humility. It has to start off with
an awful lot of listening. And it has to start off
with the presumption that doing it our way, which
we’re a very thick culture. And we have very firm
understandings about the ways we like to do things. It requires a certain
flexibility in our approach. And knowing where
we think how we do something is very
important, and knowing how it’s going to have to
adapt or change if it’s going to be in a new place. It’s been a lesson for
us to basically say if you can meet a certain
situation or culture part way and find an intersection of
expectations on their side and expectations on our
side, that’s a toehold. And that toehold is
a wonderful thing. It may not be all
the way towards what we would hope and want. But you cannot recreate
San Francisco everywhere. A great concrete example is
we’re doing work in China right now. And China has created some
of the largest and most magnificent museums and
Science Centers in the world. It’s staggering
the scale and speed with which they built them. And now there is
dialogue about how you would create cultures
of innovation and cultures of learning and a sustainable
R&D culture in China writ large. And as part of the Science
Center movement there, what would a second generation
of science centers look like? And the instinct will
be to go very quickly. How fast can you
build something? How can you have an immediate
transfer of knowledge such that were there? Done marvelous things
with that approach. But that’s not our approach. We come in, and we
say, you realize this is going to take
a really long time. It’s going to be messy. There will not be
immediately visible results. It’s very longitudinal. So that can’t be a reason
not to work together. And we can’t come in thinking
the way we do it is right. And if you try and introduce
speed in the absolute or you try and introduce
scale on the absolutely, it can’t work. We have to find a
way to say there’s merit in working together. How do we find a
way at some scale to introduce what we do in a
way that can demonstrate impact faster? Just one example. But in the end, the truth is we
are just scratching the surface really of understanding
how, as an institution, we approach such questions. FEMALE SPEAKER: Cool. Any last message for tinkers and
makers and educators out there? ADAM TOBIN: Wow. I would just say that I think
it’s an incredible time. I mean, anybody who’s been a
participant the Maker Movement or education, whether
it’s formal or informal, the resources that are out
there, the accessibility that exists, the ways
in which you can think in associative and
interesting ways, the fact that there are standards
changing from a government perspective, there’s
ways in which countries can work together as
never before, it’s just an extraordinary time. It’s going to be fun to learn
over the next 10, 15, 20 years. FEMALE SPEAKER:
Thank you so much. This was so inspirational. ADAM TOBIN: Thanks so much. FEMALE SPEAKER:
Thank you, everyone. [APPLAUSE]