By Lauren Allen
One of the major research studies laid out by the original grant proposal for our first year on this project is the analysis of expert practices in entomological taxonomy (specifically with taxonomists who are specialized in freshwater benthic macroinvertebrates.
The working title for the academic paper to be published on these data and analyses is Entomological Expertise in Taxonomy:Harnessing Expert Practices in Observation and Classification to Inform Digital Identification Tools for Volunteer Biomonitors. In its introduction, I address the notion of the taxonomic impediment, the challenge of teaching volunteers the rigorous methods of entomological taxonomy and identification, and the benefits of studying expert practices in situ for informing the development of teaching and learning technologies.
Methodologically, this study is interesting for learning science because we created a protocol that merges methods from the field of design and cognitive psychology to come up with a set of tasks for our very helpful entomologist subjects to perform for us "under the microscope". This included contextual inquiry, which is an observation-based design methodology for understanding the "how" of an expert's practice, as well as cognitive task analysis, a cognitive psychology and curriculum development methodology for understanding the "why" of expert practices.
Briefly, we asked eight entomologists--all of whom had experience and expertise in identifying benthic macroinvertebrates, and four of whom identify benthic macroinvertebrates as the bulk of their daily work (and have been doing so for the past 2 to 30+ years). Each subject identified at least 1 (usually 3) unknown preserved specimen to genus level (with the exception of one subject who chose to only ID to family level), and 2 "simulation" specimens which were high resolution images on a computer screen with a restricted but very zoomed-in view of the specimens.
For today's update, though, I am simply focusing on the massive amount of data that have been collected for this study, which I have begun to analyze using qualitative analysis methods to be explained more thoroughly in a future post. In the table below you'll see each subject's unique ID number (we never associate data with people's real names), the specimens they identified, the number of pages of their transcript, and the number of still photographs taken during their data collection event. The design researchers and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know these entomologists and learning about their process--and I'm proud to report that through doing this I learned a great deal about entomological taxonomy, as well!
An interdisciplinary team