All posts by Sam Blickhan

IMLS Postdoctoral Fellow for the Zooniverse

project completed: The American Soldier in wwII

This is a guest post from the research team behind The American Soldier in WWII.

As challenges press upon all of us in the midst of the pandemic, the team behind The American Soldier in World War II has some good news to share. 

When we initially launched our project on Zooniverse on VE Day 2018, our goal was to have all 65,000 pages of commentaries on war and military service written by soldiers in their own hands transcribed and annotated within a 2-year window – in triplicate, for quality-control purposes. We not only hit that milestone in May 2020, but last week we completed an additional 4th round. 

Attracting 3,000-plus new contributors, this extension of the transcription drive took only six months. Beyond allowing more people to engage with these unique and revealing wartime documents, the added round is improving our final project output. Within the next week or so, our top Zooniverse transcribers will begin final, manual verification of these transcriptions and annotations, which have been cleaned algorithmically. If you are a consistent project contributor and interested in helping with final validation, please do let us know by signing up here.

As we move forward with the project, we have created a Farewell Talk board. Since we have had so many incredible contributors to The American Soldier, we would love to hear any parting words our volunteers would like to share with the team and with fellow contributors about your experiences or most memorable transcriptions. 

We are so incredibly grateful for the international team of researchers, data and computer scientists, designers, educators, and volunteers who have gotten the project to where it is and in spite of the great upheaval. Thanks to their hard work and dedication, the project’s open-access website remains on track for a spring 2021 launch. 

We look forward to sharing more news with you soon. Until then, be well and safe. 

The American Soldier in WWII Team

The Zooniverse: A Quick starter guide for research teams

Over the past several months, we’ve welcomed thousands of new volunteers and dozens of new teams into our community.

This is wonderful.

Because there are new people arriving every day, we want to take this opportunity to (re)introduce ourselves, provide an overview of how Zooniverse works, and give you some insight on the folks who maintain the platform and help guide research teams through the process of building and running projects.

Who are we?

The core Zooniverse team is based across three institutions:

  • Oxford University, Oxford UK
  • The Adler Planetarium, Chicago IL
  • The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Minneapolis MN

We also have collaborators at many other institutions worldwide. Our team is made up of web developers, research leads, data scientists, and a designer.

How we build projects

Research teams can build Zooniverse projects in two ways.

First, teams can use the Project Builder to create their very own Zooniverse project from scratch, for free. In order to launch publicly and be featured on zooniverse.org/projects, teams must go through beta review, wherein a team of Zooniverse volunteer beta testers give feedback on the project and answer a series of questions that tell us whether the project is 1) appropriate for the platform; and 2) ready to be launched. Anyone can be a beta tester! To sign up, visit https://www.zooniverse.org/settings/email. Note: the timeline from requesting beta review to getting scheduled in the queue to receiving beta feedback is a few weeks. It can then take a few weeks to a few months (depending on the level of changes needed) to improve your project based on beta feedback and be ready to apply for full launch. For more details and best practices around using the Project Builder, see https://help.zooniverse.org/getting-started/.

The second option is for cases where the tools available in the Project Builder aren’t quite right for the research goals of a particular team. In these cases, they can work with us to create new, custom tools. We (the Zooniverse team) work with these external teams to apply for funding to support design, development, project management, and research.

Those of you who have applied for grant funding before will know that this process can take a long time. Once we’ve applied for a grant, it can take 6 months or more to hear back about whether or not our efforts were successful. Funded projects usually require at least 6 months to design, build, and test, depending on the complexity of the features being created. Once new features are created, we then need additional time to generalize (and often revise) them for inclusion in the Project Builder toolkit.

To summarize:

Option 1: Project Builder

  • Free!
  • Quick!
  • Have to work with what’s available (no customization of tools or interface design)

Option 2: Custom Project

  • Funding required
  • Can take a longer time
  • Get the features you need!
  • Supports future teams who may also benefit from the creation of these new tools!

We hope this helps you to decide which path is best for you and your research goals.

Celebrating Citizen Science Day 2019, pt. 1

To celebrate Citizen Science Day 2019, this coming Saturday 13th April, a different member of the Zooniverse team will be posting each day this week to share with you some of our all-time favourite Zooniverse projects. First off in the series is our Digital Humanities Lead, Dr. Samantha Blickhan.

From CitizenScience.org: “Citizen Science Day is an annual event to celebrate and promote all things citizen science: amazing discoveries, incredible volunteers, hardworking practitioners, inspiring projects, and anything else citizen science-related!”

Here at Zooniverse, we’re excited to participate by highlighting a series of projects that we enjoy. I want to kick things off by showing off a current project that does a great job illustrating one of my favorite things about this type of research: its ability to cross typical academic or discipline-specific boundaries.

Screen Shot 2019-04-08 at 1.56.53 PM
Reading Nature’s Library is a transcription project, launched in February 2018, that was created by a team at Manchester Museum. The project invites volunteers to help transcribe labels for the museum’s collections, which include everything from Archery to Numismatics to Zoology, so this project has something for everyone! In the 13 months since their project launched, a community of 2,669 registered Zooniverse volunteers have completed over 9,283(!) subjects.

Beyond the wide-ranging contents of their dataset, this project is a great way to show how projects can affect a range of disciplines. The results of this project could be used for research in a range of disciplines within the sciences (as varied as their collections), not to mention studies of history, archives, and collections management. Furthermore, large amounts of transcribed text can be a useful tool for helping to train machine learning models for Handwritten Text Recognition.

Today’s project selection also raises a good point about terminology and models for participatory research. Although this week we are celebrating ‘Citizen Science Day’, not all projects fit into the same ‘Citizen Science’ model, and the use of ‘citizen’ is not intended in a narrow, geographic sense. As we celebrate the efforts by project teams and their communities of volunteers, we also want to acknowledge the work being done to illuminate these differences and work to develop models for inclusivity and sustainability. The following article great place to start if you’re interested in learning more:

Eitzel, MV et al. (2017) Citizen Science Terminology Matters: Exploring Key Terms: https://theoryandpractice.citizenscienceassociation.org/articles/10.5334/cstp.96/