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.

Step 1

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

Step 2

Step 3: Create a dashboard.

Step 3

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

Step 4

Step 5: This is your blank dashboard.

Step 5

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

Step 6

Step 7: This is the data source.

Step 7

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.

Step 8

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.

Step 9

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

Step 10

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

Step 11

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.

Step 12

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.

Step 13

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?



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

Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 3.17.28 PM

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?


5 thoughts on “ZooTools: Going Deeper With Zooniverse Project Data”

  1. Very nice blog post, Kelly; well done!

    I’d *really* like to have an in-depth discussion on this topic (the use of ZooTools), especially in light of what’s happened in the Quench project (http://quench.galaxyzoo.org/#/).

    However, comments on a blog post are so far from a useful way to have such a discussion that I’m not even going to try.

    May I ask, when do you expect to have a Zooniverse Education forum up and running? One in which we can have just that sort of discussion?

    I vaguely remember reading you – or was it Laura? – saying that you hoped to have such a thing up ‘by summer’ (it’s now winter).

    And I sincerely hope/wish/pray that it will not be based on Talk, which is – IMHO – a complete disaster in terms of fostering open and focused discussion.

    1. A Zooniverse education forum (or Talk) has been discussed in our group but does not have a current implementation plan or timeline. It is definitely on an ever-growing wish list of educational resources. Unfortunately time and resources makes it impossible to implement everything on this wish list. In the land of Zooniverse one very dear resource is developer time. We have amazing talented developers, but most of their time (and funding to pay for their time) is tied to building projects. The education team is also in the same boat. For example I spend about half of my time working on programs for teens at the Adler Planetarium where a large portion of the Zooniverse education team is based.

      Educators on both sides of the pond have been making a more concerted effort to work together during the hours of the day we can devote to Zooniverse education. The Zooniverse Teacher Ambassadors Workshop from this past summer is an example of this collaboration. We had funds specifically earmarked for teacher professional development and worked together to implement the program

      So, where can Zooniverse education centered discussions take place? Unfortunately at this time there isn’t one central place. Several projects have education discussions happening on the Talk discussion boards centered on education’s role. ZooTools is not finalized and perfectly polished. As mentioned it is still in beta. Currently ZooTools only supports Galaxy Zoo, Galaxy Zoo Quench, Snapshot Serengeti, and SpaceWarps data. I would suggest centering discussions about the tools on the Talk discussion board of the project being investigated.

      1. Thanks for the reply Kelly.

        As an active zooite in Quench, I am all too aware of ZooTools’ shortcomings. And I had hoped to be able to share my experiences, make suggestions for what could – and likely could not – work using ZooTools in a variety of other settings, and so on. But – as I have said more than once before – comments to a blog post are not a suitable venue for doing this. Neither is Talk (at least in its current form).

        I will continue to read blog posts here with interest; however, I will likely not write any more comments.

        All the best.

        Yours astrozoologically,
        Jean Tate

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