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Will Woods Design Narrative: Evolution Megalab "snail hunt" a site for children to record biodiversity.
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Will Woods (student)
26 March 2017
This is about the challenges faced in creating the Evolution Megalab site.
Designing a site to teach children how rto record biodiversity
I was the chief architect of the website (or head of the development team to be more exact). I, and my team, worked with a team from the Science faculty at the Open University, and a programmer who worked for me, together we were the 'team'
I want to acknowledge some people from the 'team' in particular Richard Greenwood who was in my development team and the developer of the Megalab, he poured his heart and soul into this and without him it simply wouldn't exist. Similarly Jonathan Silverton from the Science Faculty (now a Professor at Edinburgh) who was the thought leader of the project.
This was creating a new type of website to record and track 'cepea snails' which are the small snails with brown shells which have distinct bands. The website used Google Mapping tools (this was very early in the days of Google maps) and the intention was to create a site that children would understand intuitively and add their recordings of snails onto. They were encouraged to record snails within a small redius and add their finding to the site. It was very important for us that the site supported multilingual translation to allow people to press a button with their national "flag" and receive content in their own language. To make the site appealing to children the maps were presented showing the results of previous recordings. This map allowed users to zoom in and find out more details of recordings in their area of interest before they started adding their own recordings. The strong focus behind the site is that understanding the health of the cepea snail within an environment helps us to understand the overarching biodiversity within that area. i.e. snails are a good indicator of healthy biosphere.
Our belief was that kids would enjoy searching for snails outside the classroom and that through learning about their findings and how they differed to other groups of children across the world, they would learn more about their local environment and about biodiversity. We also hoped it would stimulate them to learn more about science and nature.
Our first big issue was that on similar environment existed at the time so we had to build this from scratch. Our second problem was that although we had plenty of scientific expertise we didn't have groups of people available to test with. Initially the site was constructed as a scientific project but as we worked with different ages groups it became aparent that we could create a simple recording mechanism to allow children to work with the site. We spoke to local schools and conscripted several groups of children to go out and use the site to record their findings.
One powerful benefit of the site, that we didn't realise the full impact of until the third year, was that the changes in patterns and numbers of snails were clear as new groups came along and found that there were changes to the samples in their area compared to previous years. The other two unintended consequences of the site are that people often mis-record data which is an important learning point for anyone involved in actual scientific recording and secondly that some sites (environments) change function of use, for example become housing developments, and that has a dramatic effect. This is something that you don't realise until you see it presented on a map or on data. This helped people using the site to realise the real world challenges of scientific recording. Finally the site has now been running for many years and is now a vital piece of evidence around the health of the environment across Europe.
I gained insight from talking to teachers who had used the site with their classes. They spoke about the things the children enjoyed. We created a tool to help children to identify the different types of cepea snail and eventually we created an improved tools to help identify other types of creatures, which eventually led to the birth of iSpot.
Will Woods (student)
19:30 on 26 March 2017 (Edited 20:00 on 28 March 2017)