This week, meet the Syracuse University Zooniverse User Research Group – a team that works across multiple Zooniverse projects to study many aspects of citizen science, including what volunteers learn through participation and what motivates them to contribute.
Research Team: Syracuse University’s Zooniverse User Research Group
Location: School of Information Studies, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York USA
What are your main research interests?
Our group studies user behaviors in Zooniverse. Our research is centered on (1) understanding the complex and emergent motivations of volunteers who contribute to Zooniverse projects and (2) investigating how amateurs learn via participation in projects. Our research covers users in Planet Hunters, Higgs Hunters, Asteroid Zoo, Seafloor Explorer, and Gravity Spy.
Who is in your project team? What are their roles?
Kevin Crowston, Professor
Carsten Osterlund, Associate Professor
Corey Jackson, Ph.D. Candidate
Mabi Harandi, Ph.D. Student
Amruta Bhat, Masters Student
Dhruv Kharwar, Masters Student
Isabella Valentine, Undergraduate Student (REU)
Tell us more about the data used in your research
Our data comes from system logs, Talk posts, surveys, focus groups, and interviews.
How do Zooniverse volunteers contribute to your research?
Zooniverse volunteers are extremely valuable to our research and in turn, enhance our ability to suggest features that encourage motivation and support learning.
What are the biggest challenges in your research?
One of the biggest challenges is learning more about newcomers and dropouts in the projects. These volunteers are valuable contributors to many citizen science projects. However, because they do not stay with the project for very long, there’s not much opportunity to interact with them. Understanding why they leave and how we can encourage them to stay can help increase contribution to Zooniverse projects.
What discoveries, and other outputs, has your project led to so far?
We’ve published more than twenty full papers, posters, and other publications based on user research in Zooniverse. You can see the list here (https://citsci.syr.edu/papers).
Once you’ve finished collecting data, what research questions do you hope to be able to answer?
Our questions center on motivation and learning. For instance, when newcomers join a project, informative resources such as volunteer-created discussion threads might be hidden across the discussion forums. We’re trying to find methods to apply machine learning techniques to bring these to the fore.
What’s in store for your project in the future?
Currently, we’re collaborating with the Gravity Spy project to design more complex citizen science tasks. For example, in Gravity Spy volunteers come up with their own labels to name phenomenon in the spectrograms they classify.
What are your favourite other citizen research projects and why?
We’re most actively involved with Gravity Spy. We’re currently working with LIGO scientists to design advanced citizen science work. We hope this research leads to the inclusion of citizen science tasks covering more phases of the scientific research process.
What guidance would you give to other researchers considering creating a citizen research project?
One of the most crucial aspects of a successful citizen science projects is engagement by the science team. Answering volunteer question on the discussion boards, organizing Skype meetings, providing feedback and keeping volunteers abreast of progress has been shown to encourage volunteers to remain active.
If you’d like to learn more about Syracuse University’s Zooniverse User Research Group check out their publications here (https://citsci.syr.edu/papers).