Getting my Feet Wet

The Fall semester got off to a quick start with the TIDESS project! New to the project, it was exciting getting up to speed. To introduce myself, I am a junior undergraduate student majoring in Political Science and Sociology. Just like Carrie, I might seem like an unusual fit for the TIDESS project, but with my studies in sociology, I am excited to apply my knowledge of how people engage and interact with their environments. I am interested to see how users learn and make meaning of the world around them by using data visualizations, and how they make connections to our planet by referring to their own experiences.

I entered the project in the heat of the team finishing a peer-reviewed conference paper submission. For the paper, I had the opportunity to work on the background section on embodied cognition, a theory we are using to ground some of our interpretations, which was a bit of a challenge. The education team and I spent a lot of time discussing what embodied cognition means to us and how users used embodied cognition while interacting with the tabletop. To find evidence of embodied cognition in the tabletop study, I had my first attempt at coding qualitative data. In a past research project I worked on, I practiced the fundamentals of coding, but it was an informal practice. With the TIDESS project, I put this idea to work formally. To find examples of embodied cognition, the education team studied transcripts from the study in order to pull examples of conceptual metaphors—a crucial part to identifying embodied cognition. It was a challenge at first to agree on what we thought were strong examples of embodied cognition, but once we narrowed it down to the two most apparent metaphors, we were able to define embodied cognition more clearly. Once we came to agreement, our second round of coding was much easier, and our team pulled strong examples for the paper.

It was a great learning experience to see how the conference paper was formed. Even though I have read various research papers before working on this project, I never knew how research papers were structured. I was also surprised at how much editing goes into formal research papers. After the first conference proposal, I have shifted my attention to writing a research paper for the NARST conference. The NARST conference is specifically for work on science education research. So far, I have had the opportunity to expand on our approved abstract and take my first couple attempts at writing the paper.

Looking forward to this spring semester, I am eager to get involved with the focus groups for our sphere study and possibly start a project of my own. With the upcoming focus group results, we will continue our research on museum exhibits while incorporating a physical model, the sphere, into our study. Since this study is focused on what people know or want to know about museum exhibits and oceans, I want to see how people conceptualize our global ocean systems without the use of an exhibit. Some brainstorming ideas include having participants draw a map of our oceans or color a map to portray their perceptions of ocean temperature. Clearly, a lot of research and planning still needs to be done to this study. Overall, I believe having an understanding about how people view our ocean systems can help us learn what would be effective in an interactive ocean museum exhibit.

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One Way We Learn: Embodied Cognition

In a previous post, we mentioned that the TIDESS project had begun data analysis on our study to describe how people learn from interactive data visualizations. One of the underlying theories that we draw on to inform this work is the theory of embodied cognition. Embodied cognition is the idea that our body shapes our mind, or even performs some of the same meaning-making processes as our brain does. In other words, our body interacts with the environment, and we learn from that experience. Well, what does that mean exactly? In his paper, Embodiment and embodied design, Dr. Dor Abrahamson gives a great example:

File:A dog plays on a seesaw with children in Scotland,.jpg

Credit: William Reid, National Geographic

Imagine a child standing, as in the picture above, at the center of a seesaw. When this child shifts his weight from one side to another, the seesaw tips toward the side with more weight. Through embodied cognition, the child is learning about an idea of balance. He is physically experiencing that adding more weight to one side of the seesaw causes that side to be heavier than the other and thus move downward.

Although the example above involves learning from a physical activity, embodied cognition can also be involved for learning in other modalities, such as language. One key figure in the development of embodied cognition was George Lakoff, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He discusses in his book, Metaphors We Live By, that language is shaped from our body as well as shaped from our mind. For example, when we think of being “happy” or “sad”, we can associate those two emotions with the words “up” and “down”, respectively. That’s why we hear some people say, “Cheer up, mate” or “I’m feeling a little down today”. This association of up with happy and down with sadness is known as a conceptual metaphor. These metaphors shape our perception of our feelings, and thus we learn to use certain words associated with physical, bodily experiences to describe our emotions and experiences.

Within the context of learning, there are numerous studies that demonstrate the power of embodied cognition. By engaging learners through physical demonstrations and exercises, rather than stating information as in a lecture or text, learners are able to learn the concepts better. Embodied cognition also goes hand in hand with learning through visualizations. For instance, in our recent study, our interface displayed visualizations of Earth’s ocean temperatures. We then had our pilot participants engage with this interface. Our pilot participants used their perceptions from their senses and acted through their gestures in ways that could aid learning. It is these tasks that we hope to understand in our study.

Both our tabletop and sphere provide us the interactive technology for our participants to engage with and learn about the Earth’s oceans. As a senior in Biology at the University of Florida who joined the project this past summer, I’m fascinated to see if participants learn more about geoscience through embodied cognition by using their senses and performing actions on our tabletop and sphere.

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Preparing for Prototyping on the PufferSphere

After successfully assembling the Pufferfish spherical display (PufferSphere) and getting the software up and running, we started to work towards our goal of transitioning our existing tabletop prototype onto the PufferSphere. Our main goal is to build a touch and gesture-interactive prototype to promote science learning through data visualization. We will be exploring how users interact with the prototype on the PufferSphere to understand what gestures feel more natural to them in order to design better interactive exhibits.

To start the development process, the TIDESS development team had a meeting with our collaborators at Pufferfish Ltd . During the meeting we shared a demonstration of our current (tabletop) prototype. Following the demonstration, Pufferfish gave an overview of the PufferSphere system including what gestures it currently supports and how to create interactive applications for the PufferSphere, using PufferPrime software development kit. To begin prototyping, we built our first PufferSphere application that displayed just a video capture of our existing tabletop  prototype visuals on the PufferSphere in the right aspect ratio (2:1) (Figure 1). This application helped us to understand better how well our existing prototype (which was designed originally for a flat-screen tabletop display) fits on the PufferSphere and what modifications are required in our existing OpenExhibits prototype to get it to work on the PufferSphere. We also discussed tweaking the interface aesthetics such as color, font style, and font size, to suit better the spherical form factor.


Figure 1: Tabletop prototype video capture on the PufferSphere

The over-arching goal of our project is to investigate new types of touch interactions (gestures) that support exploration of the content displayed on the sphere. To facilitate our investigation, we need the sphere software to recognize and log users’ gestures. Currently, the default behavior of the PufferSphere is only to interpret the tap gesture and it does not log every single touch that is detected. Also, any kind of dragging or swiping gestures on the sphere are interpreted only as rotation of the whole sphere, and for our purposes, we need the sphere to recognize and respond to more complex gestures (such as long-tap, drag of a finger, drag of two fingers and so on). To support these gestures, Pufferfish built a Touch Forwarding application programming interface (API) for us. This API level access gives us access to touch events such as touch position in terms of latitude and longitude (location on the sphere) and touch velocity and will eventually help us define our own gesture library and try different gestures in the prototype to better understand what feels natural to users. We are in the process of trying out this new API feature. 

I am a 2nd year Ph.D. student in the Human-Centered Computing Ph.D. program at the University of Florida. I am thoroughly enjoying working on the PufferSphere and developing new applications for the interface. I am excited to continue learning about the nuances of designing applications for spherical displays and looking forward to using the sphere for my dissertation research.

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Learning The Ropes

As our blog readers know, the TIDESS team has been hard at work on our data analysis, writing, and development! However, I’m taking a step back from our posts detailing parts of the research process instead to write from the perspective of what it’s like to join a scientific project as a new team member.

First, an introduction. I am currently an Interdisciplinary Ecology PhD candidate at the University of Florida. The focus for my own research is the concept of oyster-provided ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are the benefits we derive from natural resources that can be tied to human wellbeing. Oysters contribute many invaluable environmental functions including protecting shorelines from erosion and storm battering, providing habitat for many small macroinverterbrates and fish, and filtering water, leading to positive impacts on water quality. You can read more about the details of my work on my personal blog at

While I might seem like an unusual fit for the TIDESS project, I also have a background and interest in science education and outreach. Another aspect of TIDESS that I find interesting is some of the methods are similar to the ones I’ll be employing in my current study of how oystermen and fishermen use and think about oyster reefs. I am conducting one-on-one interviews that I will ultimately use qualitative content analysis to understand. As Jeremy and Alice talked about in their previous TIDESS posts, this method of assessment involves categorizing what people say during a study based on themes that either derive from previous literature or are developed during the research process.

However, when joining a project partway through its progression, there’s a certain amount of catching up one has to do. The team has recently been working through data analysis for the tabletop study. We concurrently submitted abstracts and papers to two different upcoming conferences. One has been accepted to the 2018 NARST (National Association for Research in Science Teaching) conference , while the other is in review for a computer science conference. Publishing and presenting at these conferences will allow us to discuss the results of the current study through slightly different lenses.

I have so far assisted with the writing and editing process for the conference papers/proposals. One of the challenges is the style of writing and the submission process for both venues we submitted to are somewhat different from the type of ecology-based conferences I typically attend and at which I present. I also have to learn about new concepts and ideas that form the foundation for our current TIDESS research. This includes learning about the fundamental research that has set the stage for this work. An interesting aspect of the entire process is seeing the way two disciplines – science education and human computer interaction – are being tapped into through this project to create more effective solutions for designing and presenting data visualizations for learning in informal settings.

Luckily, as a graduate student I’ve cultivated many of the skills needed to diminish the learning curve. I look forward to writing about new developments as I become further integrated into the research team.

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Continuing User Study Data Analysis

The TIDESS team has been coding the audio data from our spring lab study using the codebook we developed. Each transcript was fully coded by two students on the research team and, to investigate inter-rater reliability, 10% of each transcript was coded by our co-principal investigators. As is standard in qualitative research, we have had several team meetings to help us get on the same page about each code and their definitions as coding progresses.
Currently, we are coding participant’s utterances, that is, what they say. In our study, we had asked participants to use the “think aloud” procedure. This means that as participants interacted with the prototype, they verbalized their thought process. Our participants spoke a lot during the session, so we have a lot of utterances to code as a team. It has been very exciting to code the transcripts. Developing the codebook was a lengthy process, but the codes we have created seem to really encompass what happened during each session. We have also created an “other” code which we are using whenever a code does not seem to fully apply to a certain utterance. We will analyze these “other” utterances, along with our other codes, to see if there are any trends in these “other” codes for unanticipated behaviors.
As I have coded, I have noticed a lot of excitement from our participants as they interacted with the prototype. Participants seemed very interested in exploring and learning from the prototype which is something we aimed for in the design. Participants also seemed to collaborate a lot to try and complete the tasks. We have done our initial analysis where we dug into if and how participants were able to learn from our prototype, and it’s incredibly rewarding to see users so excited to interact with something our team built.
This is my junior year as a computer science student, and Fall is my third semester in the lab. Working on the TIDESS project has taught me a lot about the broad impact technology can make on learning. I am excited to continue on this project in the fall, and can’t wait to see what our findings are.

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Starting User Study Data Analysis

The TIDESS team has begun qualitative analysis on the data we collected from the tabletop user study to try to characterize the processes of how people learn from data visualizations on interactive tabletop displays. We collected both audio and video recordings, as well as logs of all the touch interactions (gestures) participants did with the prototype, during the study sessions of the user study.

To start, the team transcribed the user study session videos so that the transcriptions can be coded, or labeled with interesting behaviors and spoken utterances that occurred. We then timestamped the transcripts so that the participants’ words could be matched up with the gesture data that came from the application on the display. The team constructed a code book for the utterances by reviewing prior literature in learning sciences and collaboration learning, as well as some insights from our own past work and the goals of this study itself. The codes in the code book allow the team to characterize the group dynamics, collaborative work, and group meaning making. To refine the codebook, all of the team members coded sample transcripts, and we discussed any disagreements during our team meetings until we agreed on an initial coding procedure.

We are using MaxQDA, a qualitative data analysis program, to facilitate the coding. MaxQDA allows us to take all of the codes from the code book and use those codes to classify the speech and actions in the transcripts. We’ve already begun coding the transcripts, and then next we will analyze the coded transcripts to see where the interactions with the prototype helped or hindered group learning.

I am a 3rd year Computer Science student at Brooklyn College, in the INIT lab for the summer. It has been really interesting to see how people interacted with the interactive touchscreen tabletop display. Working on this team helping to analyze the data has been fun, and I look forward to continuing the analysis of the data.

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TIDESS Open House

The Spring semester is complete here at the University of Florida and so is the setup of our interactive spherical display from Pufferfish Ltd. To celebrate the completion, the TIDESS team hosted an open house for members of the University of Florida to come and interact with both the spherical display demos and the tabletop prototype we have been working on.

The open house was a success and was attended by both students and faculty from The Department of Agricultural Education and Communication (AEC) as well as the College of Engineering. Some of the attendees were also people who helped us bring the sphere to the University through the logistical challenges (e.g., customs, importing, and heavy lifting).

The TIDESS team was excited to see people interacting with the spherical display’s onboard demos, as well as to thank those who worked so hard to help bring the sphere to the lab. The attendees’ enthusiasm to interact with this novel technology was interesting to see, and we look forward to tapping into that for our own research on the sphere.

The end of the Spring semester also marked the end of our data collection for the tabletop user study. As we move towards the summer, we will begin analyzing the data from the study, as well as exploring what will transfer from our tabletop prototype to the sphere platform.

I am a rising junior working in the INIT lab. This was my first semester working on the TIDESS project and my first time seeing a lab study. It has been incredibly exciting to watch the prototype develop and see each stage of research for the first time. I look forward to our continued partnership with Pufferfish as we move forward with the development of our first application on the sphere, and am very excited for the day that we have an open house with our own prototype displayed on the sphere.

Photos from our open house:

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