ZooTools: Going Deeper With Zooniverse Project Data

One of the best things about being an educator on the Zooniverse development team is the opportunity to interact with teachers who are using Zooniverse projects in their classroom and teachers who are interested in using Zooniverse projects in the classroom. Teachers cite several reasons about why they use these projects – Authentic data?  Check. Contributing to cutting-edge research across a variety of scientific fields?  Check.  Free?  Check. Classifying a few galaxies in Galaxy Zoo or identifying and measuring some plankton in Plankton Portal can be an exciting introduction to participating in scientific investigations with “the professionals.”  This isn’t enough though; teachers and other educators are hungry for ways to facilitate deeper student engagement with scientific data. Zooniverse educators and developers are consistently asked “How can my students dig deeper into the data on Zooniverse?”

This is where ZooTools comes into play. The Zooniverse development team has recently created ZooTools as a place where volunteers can observe, collect, and analyze data from Zooniverse citizen science projects. These tools were initially conceived as a toolkit for adult volunteers to use to make discoveries within Zooniverse data but it is becoming apparent that these would also have useful applications in formal education settings. It’s worth pointing out that these tools are currently in beta. In the world of web development beta basically means “it ain’t perfect yet.”  ZooTools is not polished and perfect; in fact it’s possible you may encounter some bugs.

Projects like Galaxy Zoo and Planet Hunters have an impressive history of “extra credit” discoveries made by volunteers.  Galaxy Zoo volunteers have made major contributions to the astronomy literature through the discovery of the green peas galaxies and Hanny’s Voorwerp .  In Planet Hunters volunteers use Talk to share methods of exploring and results from the project’s light curves.  ZooTools lowers the barrier of entry by equipping volunteers with some simple tools to look for interesting relationships and results contained within the data.  No specialist knowledge required.

We’ve only begun thinking about how ZooTools could be used in the classroom.  I started my own investigation with a question that came from a Zooniverse classroom visit from last spring.  While making observations as a class about some of the amazing animals in Snapshot Serengeti one young man asked about civets. He wanted to know If they were nocturnal. We had an interesting discussion about how you could find out this information.  The general consensus was to Google it or look it up on Wikipedia.  I wondered if you could use the data contained within Snapshot Serengeti to come up with a reasonable answer.  I was excited to roll-up my sleeves and figure out how to use these tools to find a likely answer.  Here are the steps I took…

Step 1: Log-in to Zooniverse and go to ZooTools.

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Step 2: Select a project. Currently only have a few projects have data available to explore using ZooTools.

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Step 3: Create a dashboard.

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Step 4: Name your dashboard something awesome. I called mine Civets! for obvious reasons.

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Step 5: This is your blank dashboard.

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Step 6: It’s time to select a data source. I selected Snapshot Serengeti.

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Step 7: This is the data source.

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Step 8: I wanted to be able to filter my data so I selected Filter under search type. The name of this dataset in Snapshot Serengeti 1.

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Step 9: Since I wanted to look at civets, I selected that on the species dropdown menu and then clicked Load Data. My dataset will only contain images that Snapshot Serengeti volunteers identified as civets.

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Step 10: I had my data; next it was time to select a Tool.  I selected Tools at the top of the page.

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Step 11: I selected Subject Viewer because this tool allows my to flip through different images.

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Step 12: Next I had to connect my data source to my tool. From the Data Source drop down menu I selected Snapshot Serengeti 1.

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Step 13: In order to get a good luck at the images in my dataset I clicked the icon shaped like a fork to close the pane.  I then used the arrows to advance through the images.

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I flipped through the images and kept track of the night versus day. Of the 37 images in my dataset, I observed that 34 were taken at night and 3 were taken during the day.  This led me to the conclusion that civets are likely nocturnal.  This was so much more satisfying than just going to Google or Wikipedia. A couple of other questions that I explored…

What is the distribution of animals identified at one camera trap site?

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How many honeybadgers have been observed by Snapshot Serengeti volunteers across different camera traps?

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Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Currently you can explore Galaxy Zoo, Space Warps, and Snapshot Serengeti data using ZooTools. Currently you can use ZooTools to explore data from Galaxy Zoo, Space Warps, and Snapshot Serengeti.  The specific tools and datasets available vary from project to project.  In Galaxy Zoo for example you can look at data from Galaxy Zoo classifications or from SDSS Skyserver. Hopefully you’ll be inspired to have a play with these tools!  What questions would you or your students like to explore?

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Feedback from Maine Professional Development Workshops – Things to Think About for Classroom Teachers

Today’s post comer from Phil Brookhouse, a participant in last summer’s Zooniverse Teacher Ambassadors Workshop.  Phil is a Professional Development specialist with the Maine Learning Technology Initiative where all middle schools have 1;1 and half the high schools do. He taught middle school science for 30 years and is adjunct faculty for University of Southern Maine. He is the proud grandparent of 6 month old twins, Jaxon and Annabella.

I’ve been lucky to deliver workshops about Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Zooniverse all over the state of Maine to teachers of many grade levels and specific disciplines. Invariably, they have recognized the value and authenticity of citizen science, and the Zooniverse projects in particular. In addition, they see the links between the 8 Practices of Science and Engineering from Appendix F of NGSS, and participation in the projects.

Of course, teachers are interested in the practicality of including these projects in their curriculum. With that in mind, folks in my workshops had a number of questions and suggestions.  With all the competition for time in class, teachers are concerned with the return on time investment directly related to student accountability. Understandably, this is due to the pressures of evaluation and assessments. In other words, what lesson time do I trade away to include taking part in Zooniverse projects? This concern with use of time was expressed in every one of the 8 workshops I conducted.

For a number of teachers, the Galaxy Zoo Navigator provided a good example of where learning could go with a project. Sure, taking part in any of the projects would help students to practice analysis of data, but how could they interact with those data collected? How accessible is the data set? As it stands now, Galaxy Zoo Navigator is the model that allows any group to “play” with data collected. The other entries to interacting with data in the projects are the blogs and discussions, but some teachers are wary of students out on the wild, wild web. So, teachers wanted a Navigator type activity to be developed for other projects.

Teachers felt that Zooteach was a good beginning to collecting lessons and units related to Zooniverse projects, but more lessons are needed, and some of the lessons needed more quality control. In today’s classroom, lessons need to have learning targets identified, as well as standards addressed. With that said, there are several high quality lessons that serve as good examples. Here’s hoping that ZooTeach continues to grow, and contributors include goals and objectives as part of their units. Teachers in the workshops have been encouraged to contribute their own lessons to ZooTeach.

Finally, teachers liked the idea that there were measurement scales included in Seafloor Explorer, but thought it would be good if the measurement tools included a readout of the values for each “specimen.”  With this, students could keep a log of their measurements and do some comparisons and analysis of their own, in addition to contributing to the database. Again, this relates to the model  that Galaxy Zoo Navigator exemplifies of working with your own data to do some inquiry.

Almost all of the teachers were positive in their evaluations of the workshops, and were either going to take more time to explore Zooniverse projects, or share the site with other teachers and their students within a month. They were impressed with the engagement factor, and the authenticity of participating in citizen science. One teacher even brought her 10 year old son to the workshop , and he was all smiles as he took part in a few projects – therefore showing the group how powerful Zooniverse is as a learning tool.

Announcing the Citizen Science in Astronomy Workshop

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As astronomical surveys and observations have continued to grow towards the petabyte scale, online citizen science projects have proven quite successful in enlisting the general public to mine these rich datasets from searching for exoplanets to identifying gravitational lenses. With new instruments and observatories currently being planned and built such as the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) and the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), the next decade will see astronomy officially enter the petabyte age. When complete in 2022, LSST, an 8.4-meter optical telescope, will generate 15 terabytes worth of images each night, creating the largest public dataset in the world. LSST will provide images of billions (yes billions!) of new galaxies. The SKA will be the largest radio telescope ever built when it is scheduled to come online in 2024, generating roughly 11 terabytes of raw data per second. In a single day, the SKA will  produce more information than all of the present day Internet combined! Citizen science will need to evolve to be able to handle the coming data deluge.

The Zooniverse and the Institute of Astronomy & Astrophysics at Academia Sinica (ASIAA) are organizing a workshop on Citizen Science in Astronomy. The goal of this workshop is to take the first steps towards addressing the critical questions and issues that citizen science will need to solve in order to cope with these never-before-seen data volumes in the age of LSST and SKA. We aim to bring together machine learning experts, computer scientists, astronomers, and scientists from astronomy-based citizen science projects to test current techniques used to assess the capabilities of individual classifiers and combine their results, create techniques for better directing volunteer efforts to improve efficiency of current and future citizen science projects, and develop new methods for analyzing citizen science data combined with machine learning algorithms.

This 5-day workshop from March 3-7, 2014 will be held at the Institute of Astronomy & Astrophysics, Academia Sinica (ASIAA) located in Taipei, Taiwan. For more information you can check out the workshop website. Pre-registration is now available until December 1st.  If you have any questions about the signup process, please get in touch. We’ll be sending out acceptances around December 15th.

See you in Taipei!

P-Project Updates and New Translations

The Zooniverse has passed a few notable milestones recently. Planet Four passed 4 million classifications, Planet Hunters passed 20 million, and Plankton Portal passed 250,000. All represent a lot of work done by all of you and we thank you for the effort you put in to these and all our projects. Should we be worried that they all begin with ‘P’?
Polish Plankton
To help more people access our projects we’ve been stepping up our efforts to translate the websites. You can now participate in Plankton Portal in both French and Polish (as well as English), and there are more languages on the way for this and other projects. We’re excited about this chance to spread word of the Zooniverse around the world.
Finally, don’t forget that you can follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Google+. (or all three!) to keep up with news and updates from the Zooniverse.
Happy November!

Want to work with the Zooniverse?

As part of a large expansion of the Oxford Zooniverse team, I’m delighted to announce that there are four new jobs available at Zooniverse HQ in Oxford. We’re looking for developers who are excited at the prospect of helping us find more planets, keep an eye on more animals and generally make the Zooniverse more awesome.

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We’re looking for the following kinds of people:

Infrastructure Engineer
Senior Front-End Developer
Data Scientist/Hadoopist
Senior Application Developer

These jobs mark the start of the next stage in the Zooniverse’s evolution, and we’re really excited about expanding the team in Oxford. If you’d like to know more, you can contact me on cjl AT astro.ox.ac.uk or 07808 167288.

Chris