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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.

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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)

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James Fanning
4:05pm 27 March 2017

Hello William, I had some initial questions around this.

1) Were teachers or learners involved in the early stages of the design, or did the functionality of the site develop as you either saw it in action or got feedback from teachers?

2) Apart from tracking the cepea snails, was their a wider skills set that you wanted learners to develop?

3) Where did the idea for the site come from? Was it a university project? Or was there a curriculum need that you identified?

Stephanie Gordon
5:10pm 27 March 2017

Hi there,

This is a really interesting example and I’m so impressed that it led to the design of iSpot! What age group were the students?

A couple of questions for the development of the design:

  1. Why did you choose to start the project specifically with snails? Was the project in response to a particular topic or gap in school curriculum?

  2. Did you intend for this to be an activity that teachers would integrate into lessons or was it for use in after school clubs? 

Nicole Capon
2:28pm 28 March 2017

Hi William, congrats on the development of your team's design to iSpot :) Its a great example of marrying natural childhood curiosity with interactive learning.

You mentioned the original task was to help children learn more about their local environment, did you see a development in their understanding of their local and other environments and was there a boost in their interest in science?

Will Woods (student)
6:58pm 28 March 2017 (Edited 6:58pm 28 March 2017)

Hi All,

James - great questions

1. We had academics involved from the start but we used a design based research model where we iterated based on feedback from both teachers and students. This can take a while but the results are normally much better (basically we sought input ahead of every large phase of development).

2. Yes, it's around scietific recording. There's a whole set of skills involved in this, you critically reflect on recording data submitted by others and you learn about sctific data sets, logging, reporting, adding GPS/co-ordinate information etc.

3.We saw a societal need for this and so we achieved funding through the National Lottery. We wanted to make this an open education environment. 


Thanks for those kind words.

The students are all ages but typically primary/K-12 although we also have a lot of adults using it for scientific recording too. It's (a small) part of the OU Science undergraduate degree.

1. According to my friends in the science faculty cepea snails are a very good indicator of biodiversity.

2. Either but generally it's part of the curriculum and teachers take students out of class to take part in a hunt.



Great question. I can say that the teachers I spoke to said the field trips with students did inspire them to learn more about the places around them. I know that in Holland where some schools use this, that students continue to record findings after they finish their course. In summary I cannot say for certain but I believe it to be the case.

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