By Lauren Allen, LMDC
A few months ago, I posted an update outlining the data that have been collected for our cognitive task analysis study: http://seetolearn.weebly.com/blog/data-collection-update-taxonomic-experts-cognitive-task-analyses
Today, I wanted to briefly share some themes from that work that will be talked about by the full team at future meetings and workshops. These themes are emergent, meaning that they surfaced from the massive qualitative dataset that we created by asking eight entomologists, taxonomists, and volunteer trainers to identify up to four unknown preserved specimens and two simulated specimens for our study.
What’s hard: many folks mention that terminology is hard, and understanding what is meant by the terms in the key and how to figure out where to look on an insect if you’re trying to find the body part represented by that term. Other parts of this task mentioned to be difficult are if specimens are immature, not all the identifying characteristics can be seen, even by an expert. This means that in terms of designing tools for novices, they need ways to recognize when they might be looking at an immature insect and how to get past that challenge or knowing when to stop trying to take an identification deeper than might be possible with an immature larvae or nymph.
What’s motivating: The most common answer to what’s motivating about this work is the potential of seeing something new or rare. Some folks mention the broader motivation of understanding ecology or helping the environment, but that seemed less important than the personal satisfaction of curiosity about this tiny sliver of the world’s natural diversity.
Photos v. Illustrations: There are some good quotes in the table from folks talking about the value of illustrations and the value of photographs, and why both are necessary to help learn and understand what to look for when doing insect ID.
Matching written/verbal description to a visualizable image: This ties to the terminology being to help visualize a structure is one of the harder parts of this task, explained above.
Mentors and Feedback: More than one person mentioned having a mentor as an essential part of what helped them become proficient and confident in doing identification work. Having just-in-time feedback and confirmation / disconfirmation when practicing identification is essential to building accuracy and confidence.
Practice: Again, almost all the experts at one point or another talk about the importance and value of simply having lots of practice. After you’ve looked at enough of the aquatic insects, you start to see how they’re different. This seems simple, but is something that could be broken down into a few different ways of understanding the practices and also explained in a way that maybe gives folks permission to take their time and explore our site as a way of getting started just observing the bugs and looking for how they’re similar and how they’re different.
Seeing the Habitus of the Insect (simulation challenge) One assumption we had when designing this study was that there would be some kind of pattern in how experts look at an insect if they aren’t able to see the whole thing all at once. Since the important features of insects that allow someone to identify them are all parts of the insect, rather than the whole body or shape of the insect, we figured that not seeing the “habitus” view of the insect wouldn’t be a problem. Boy, we were wrong! Every single person in the study exclaimed and complained about not being able to see the whole thing at once, and said that they really desperately wanted to see the whole thing to get a sense of the insect. This helped us to understand that even though the parts of the insects that are the diagnostic characters are tiny parts of a whole, seeing the whole thing is still important for learning and for doing identification work.
An interdisciplinary team