ResearchStuck: The Oberlin Summer Adventure Game
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Your name is TESS. You are a SUMMER RESEARCH ASSISTANT at OBERLIN COLLEGE. You are also a LIFEGUARD and a BLOGGER. Currently you are contemplating writing your next blog in the style of a TEXT-BASED GAME, which also happens to be the style of your FAVORITE WEBCOMIC. You currently live in a SUPER SINGLE in an old building that has NO AIR CONDITIONING. You have two BEDS, two DESKS, a FRIDGE, and a variety of INTERESTS.
==> Tess: Retrieve arms from under bed.
Um, they're attached to your shoulders already.
==> Fine. Tess: Retrieve *weapons* from under bed.
Oh, you mean that kind of arms! These are your trusty FOAM FIREARMS. You actually have more, but they are PACKED AWAY for the summer. You've kept these ones out to stay sharp--you never know when a hall battle might commence. Besides, you're going home in August, and then you'll have to defend yourself against your LITTLE BROTHER.
But you're not going to go around shooting anything up right now. This isn't that kind of adventure game. It's more about PUZZLE-SOLVING, PLOT, and CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT. This is a liberal arts school, after all.
==>Tess: Examine liberal-arts interests.
You like to READ. Boy do you like to read. You are also fond of ARTSY THINGS, although remembering to do them instead of read in your SPARE TIME is something of a challenge. And you like CATS, but you are not allowed to have one in COLLEGE HOUSING. You volunteer at the GINKO GALLERY instead.
==>Tess: Combine interests.
This is a cat you drew outside the Ginko Gallery during Oberlin's Chalk Walk, a townwide chalk art festival.
You've come into a lot of FREE YARN recently, which you are using to knit SMALL PROJECTS to DONATE to the Ginko Gallery, the place that fosters kittens in the back. When (if) they sell, all the profits go to CATSS. You are rather pleased with yourself for having come up with this arrangement, as it lets you feel virtuous about fidgeting (knitting) while listening to NPR.
==>Tess: Aside from the cat stuff, most of your interests seem to have to do with paper . . .
You love NICE PAPER, especially when it is in the form of NOTEBOOKS. You adore notebooks. You would marry them if you could. You write in them in BLACK GEL PEN because you think it's old-fashioned. You like to believe that it looks like ink from old pens, the ones that needed to be blotted. In actuality, you probably would have been a huge slob in the pre-ballpoint era (or just written in PENCIL) but you like to think you would have had either fine, elegant, flowing script (the Jane Austen romanticization) or brilliant, spiky handwriting (the 50s genius romanticization). Although you don't know if inkwell pens were still around in the fifties. Were ballpoints a WWII invention?
. . . Sometimes even you realize that you are a bit WEIRD.
==>Tess: Examine rest of room.
You continue to ignore the title of the game and scurry around examining everything in your room first. Talking about research will require walls of text, and you have photos to use!
==>Tess: Examine bookshelf.
(Actually, you forgot to take a photo of this!)
Your books are arranged more or less by theme. There are graphic novels on one side of the shelf, fiction in alphabetical order by author, and nonfiction coming in a hierarchy after that, with Dickens' Child's History of England, Keats' poems, and an anthology of Irish folk tales coming in the muddy zone between fiction and nonfiction. The books on American foreign policy are from a class you ended up dropping but still want to know about. They go rather well with the book on the psychology of war, and perhaps with Machiavelli's The Prince, but The Women Troubadours and Science Fiction Audiences: Doctor Who and Star Trek are not in keeping with this theme. Such is the diversity of your taste.
==>Tess: Examine other interests.
You are growing BASIL and TOMATO plants on your windowsill (or rather, your friend's windowsill, which has better light) to supplement your FOOD for the summer. The BASIL is delicious. You had hoped the TOMATO PLANT would be producing TOMATOES by now, but oh well. It's growing ridiculously fast and has a few flowers on it, so maybe soon.
You have played the VIOLIN since fourth grade. Last semester you took an IRISH MUSIC EXCO in which you learned to play FIDDLE. The difference between a VIOLIN and a FIDDLE, of course, is that NO ONE CRIES if you spill BEER on a fiddle.
==>Tess: Play a rousing jig.
==>Tess: Examine contents of fridge.
(you could swear you also took a picture of the inside of your fridge, but you can't seem to find it now, so here's an equally-appetizing picture of yarn creations Emma made guarding a giant heap of muffins you made.)
Your MINIFRIDGE is full of GOODIES. Right now the exciting part is the FRESH RED AND BLACK RASPBERRIES from the FARMERS' MARKET. You have YOGURT (from a regular store) to put them in if you so desire. You also got PEAS, PEACHES, CHEESE, EGGS, and ZUCCHINI from the market. Other weeks you've gotten BREAD there, too, but right now you're going to BAKE your own.
From various stores you have gathered ARTICHOKE HEARTS, MILK, NAAN, more CHEESE, BUTTER, tiny cans of TOMATO JUICE, and a TOMATO. (You really like tomatoes.) A friend gave you the CHOCOLATE SYRUP. You and your friend Connor found a bunch of tiny WILD ONIONS and dug some up.
You like your GOOD FOOD.
==>Tess: Examine other food and food prep caches.
You don't have as much FOOD as you thought you'd need because ResEd kindly puts random batches of DINING HALL/CATERED EVENTS LEFTOVERS in the fridge of Keep, where you're living. (At least, they were . . . the magic fridge has been empty for the last few weeks.) You got most of the food from your MOM when she came to visit. Many of your PLATES/SPOONS/MUGS, along with all your SPICES, your one pair of CHOPSTICKS, and your CUTTING BOARDS, come from some FRIENDS who had to ditch their stuff when they moved. They also gave you a tiny Coca-Cola glass that, when filled with Arizona Iced Tea, looks like a miniature glass of beer. You liked this, so you took ARTSY PHOTOS of it.
==>Tess: Admire artsy photos.
It's so cute.
==>Tess: Check on oatmeal stash.
You sure do love your OATMEAL. It's currently holding up your FAN, a necessity in a room on the top floor of a non-air-conditioned building in Ohio in the summer. The whole box is dedicated to oatmeal. It's still mostly full, but it was a lot fuller a month ago, when you crammed it to almost the bursting point. Your PARENTS send you some throughout the year, of course, but you got a lot extra at the end of the semester. One of your FRIENDS never uses his meal plan's FLEX POINTS, so you dragged him shopping at DECAFE at the end of the year, trying to burn through his $200 worth of meal-plan money. He got you at least $30 worth of OATMEAL. You got even more through the BIG SWAP.
==>Tess: Enough about food. Think about research.
Your thoughts skitter away like playful kittens. Oh, you're always thinking about your research on some level, but you're doing so much besides research this summer! You love your research, sure, but you're juggling a whole lot else with it: volunteering with the kittens, lifeguarding, knitting things for kittens, reading . . . Kittens in particular are very distracting.
==>Tess: Corral the kittens. Examine research-related interests AT LENGTH!
The LAPTOP and ENVIRONMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY book are here as part of your RESEARCH PROJECT. You're working with two professors: Cindy Frantz of the Psychology department and John Petersen from Environmental Studies. The BOOK is background reading, one of three your professor asked you to look through. The LAPTOP is necessary because your work involves a lot of STATISTICS, and for some reason the school can't put the fancy, pricey STATISTICS SOFTWARE you need to use on your own laptop; they need to issue you a department laptop instead. You feel kind of SPECIAL having a WORK COMPUTER.
Basically, you are a data wrangler for the summer. This is more of the research you've been doing all throughout the school year, only now you're doing it forty hours a week instead of four. You've spent most of the summer so far working with multiple data sources, merging them into a single large dataset. You are finally at the point where you can begin running analyses to find out what's going on in the data, a far more exciting and satisfying phase of research, and you're excited to see what you'll find.
The data is from Conservation Nationals, a nation-wide energy- and water-use reduction competition for colleges across the country. It was kickstarted by Oberlin-affiliated people, including some alumni. Each participating school took baseline resource-use readings from each participating dorm (not all dorms of all schools were participating) a few weeks before the competition began. Then the schools took readings during the competition, and even--in some cases--after it ended. Some of these dorms had real-time energy and/or water use data that students could look at online. Part of what you're looking at is whether students in these dorms, who had real-time feedback, reduced their resource use more than students in dorms that did not have real-time feedback. You were a dorm coordinator for North during the competition this past spring, and you remember checking the page for North frequently. Dorms that didn't have real-time feedback still had a Dashboard page, but it was manually updated by someone in the school's administration whenever they took a reading. For some dorms, this was every day; for others, only once, at the end of the competition. Presumably, people in manual-entry dorms weren't checking the Dashboard very often.
The energy and water use data for all dorms comes from Lucid Design, the business responsible for designing and running the Dashboard sites (founded by an Oberlin alum, incidentally). The Lucid people have been great about helping you get your data together. They've also told you how to get access to what you call the "webhit" data: information about how many people visited each dorm's Dashboard site when and how long they stayed on average. All of this goes into the dataset. So do over 2,000 responses to a survey e-mailed out to everyone living in a participating dorm.
You also have this information from 2010, the first year of the competition. There are differences between the years. Some of the questions on the survey were quite different that time around, and there were fewer colleges participating, including some that did not participate in the 2012 competition. However, the data from 2010 has been at least partially analyzed already. You're trying to clean it up a bit more, re-run the analyses to make sure they're still valid, and then move on to the 2012 data. Hopefully most of the tests will reveal the same results in both years. In effect, this means an experiment was successfully replicated, making the findings stronger. People are willing to listen to your conclusions about what was happening during a study if it happened more than once.
So what exactly are you looking at? Many things, but the big ones are these:
-Did the competition work? If energy use and/or water use decrease from the baseline readings to the competition readings, it worked. If it stayed below baseline after the competition, it really worked!
-Why did it work? You will look at what correlates with resource-use decreases.
-Who did it work for? How did different people think about the competition? Thanks to the surveys, you have a lot of information about what some of the competing students were thinking and their demographic information. You already know that political conservatives tend to be more motivated by concern for the college's financial well-being than more liberal students, for instance, and that women tend to score higher on the Connectedness to Nature scale. You also know that people tended to be more excited about the dorm-to-dorm competitions within their schools than the school-to-school competition in 2010, part of the reason that school-to-school competitions had to be set up specially (say, between traditional or athletic rivals) in 2012. If you can understand what makes people care about reducing resource use, the designers of this competition--and other environmental interventions--can tweak their messaging to reach more people and motivate them more.
A pattern that your professor has observed before in smaller, Oberlin-only competitions is that dorms that seem to be less connected to nature actually improve more during the competition. This is probably in part because they are operating further away from baseline--there's more room for improvement--and in part because people who are already motivated to care about the environment might not get too jazzed up about a competition. If you can find evidence that this is happening in these larger datasets, you know that the competition is reaching the people it needs to: it has gone beyond preaching to the choir.
And there are other areas of your own, particular interest, ones that the professors don't seem as intrigued by thus far. Many of the questions on the surveys are parts of a scale or lists of things the respondent could have done (Did I turn off lights in lounges to reduce electricity use? Did I set my computer to go to standby after five minutes? Did I use a power strip? How about laundry--did I air dry my clothes?). Factor analysis is a way of seeing which responses seem to cluster together. You ran factor analyses for both years on what new actions people took, what they said motivated them, what they said made reducing electricity difficult, what made reducing water difficult, and what they saw as the benefits of cutting down on resource use. You are intrigued by how some of them grouped together (among the "new actions," for instance, riding a bike was grouped with taking fewer showers) and you'd like to see what correlates with certain demographic variables. Did conservatives mention different benefits from liberals? Did first-years mention different barriers from older students? Did women and men take different new actions? Once you finish doing the analyses your professors have asked for, you're going to check some of these out.
==>Tess: Go home.
You are so BUSY that TIME PASSES QUICKLY! At the end of July, you go HOME, bringing your WORK LAPTOP with you to keep working while in the bosom of your FAMILY. Eventually, you know, you will write up your SUMMER ADVENTURES, possibly in some UNUSUAL AND CHARMING FORMAT.
All photographs in RESEARCHSTUCK were taken by Tess, except the ones with her in them, which were taken by her friend Connor.