by Jessica Roberts, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Carnegie Mellon University
In June I traveled to London for the International Conference of the Learning Sciences, this year presented as part of the London Festival of Learning, to present our work on the cognitive task analysis (CTA) studies conducted with eight entomology experts in Phase 1 of this project.
Our subjects ranged in expertise from early career scientists to experienced citizen science trainers to professional entomologists with over 20 years of experience doing macroinvertebrate ID. We asked each expert to identify three specimens to the lowest taxonomic level they felt comfortable (typically genus), using whatever resources they had.
Our analysis focused on strategy shifts: how did experts combine multiple kinds of knowing and observing in order to complete this task? While all the experts used at least one dichotomous key at some point, they rarely went step-by-step through all the couplets associated with a specimen in a single key. Instead, they used prior knowledge, informed colleagues, multiple keys, and even Internet searches to find the information they needed to move the identification forward in the most efficient and strategic way possible. They also knew how to look at the specimen -- whether at a particular angle, in a certain light, or with appropriate magnification -- to quickly see the features they needed to confirm an identification.
Newcomers to taxonomic ID don't have access to the same variety of resources, nor do they necessarily know when a different resource or way of looking at a specimen will help them find the necessary information faster. Understanding experts' strategy shifts in identification can help us know what kinds of supports we need to build into our expanded version of our website as well as inform us when and where such supports need to be accessible to novice users.
To convey this knowledge to our design team and various stakeholders, we created multiple representations of the expert task processes. The most fruitful representation is a diagram we call Shared Externalization of Expertise, or SEE, which maps moves toward an ID as steps down and strategic shifts as moves to the right. This spatial layout of the ID process helps us see where a particular tool or strategy is limited and identify the break points where a novice (without additional resources) might flounder. These SEE diagrams have helped us understand the design space and convey information challenges to our co-design partners.
The poster presenting this work generated great discussions about how we can make sense of expert practices to design for learners who are not seeking to become full disciplinary experts but rather to develop "vernacular expertise" in order to be proficient citizen scientists.
Roberts, J., Crowley, K., & Louw, M. (2018) Creating a Visual Representation of Expert Strategies to Inform the Design of Digital Tools for Citizen Science. In Proc. of the 13th International Conference of the Learning Sciences. London, UK.
By Jessy Ma, NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates intern, Brown University
Hi! My name is Jessy, and I am a rising sophomore at Brown University double majoring in Computer Science and Environmental Studies. I am currently 4 weeks into my REU here at CMU HCII with the Learning to See project. During my time here, I am responsible for an assortment of tasks, mainly focusing on usability testing for the alpha version of macroinvertebrates.org and designing a mobile companion app for the site. Throughout the summer, I will be collecting data from usability tests to figure out the features of the site that are most important to users and that might be most helpful to include in an offline mobile app. At this point, the primary function of the app is still to be determined, but it will likely be a reference app that includes all the images and important information from the website. It could also be a game that allows users to practice and test their identification skills. The direction I end up taking with my design will depend on what I learn from conducting usability tests and attending VBMO trainings. Here is a link to a presentation with all the ideas and notes I have compiled for the app: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1m3b-JdWdh3U_n0aKe0G-GA4dNG6qkBVsNiKYRP7nMeQ/edit?usp=sharing.
So far, I have reviewed other research that has addressed similar problems, such as projects that use digital technology to teach tree thinking in informal learning environments. I have researched existing games that aim to teach taxonomic ID or similar topics and brainstormed design ideas for the app. I have prepared materials for demoing the new site to trainers and conducting usability tests. I have also learned how to use Photoshop to edit the gigapixel images for the site. The site has been introduced to many of our co-design partners, and we will soon observe how the trainers use the site. Currently, I am learning mobile app development with React Native and will continue tweaking my design ideas as I conduct usability tests.
I am excited to see how trainers use macroinvertebrates.org in their trainings and how users respond to the site. I will post more updates on my work as the summer goes on. Thanks for reading!
An interdisciplinary team