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Making Progress Clear on Notes from Nature

Notes from Nature is something of a departure for a Zooniverse project.  Rather than a single organization asking for help with the exact same tasks, Notes from Nature is, like its subject matter, diverse.   So we have labels of bugs, sheets of plants, fungal specimen labels, and ledgers of birds.  And we have a lot – and I mean A LOT— of images that need transcription.   Not only that, but each of those images are transcribed more than once—as mentioned in previous posts, right now each image gets 4 separate transcriptions.

All of this is preface to the main topic of this post – how do we measure “progress” with the tasks of transcribing all of this data.  The science team on Notes from Nature has talked a lot about this, and a number of complexities related to making sure that the numbers are transparent to you, our volunteers.  This post covers a fair amount about how to measure overall progress.  We also know that there have been issues with transcription counts for individual volunteers. We believe that we have solved those issues, but we’ll cover those separately in another blog post.

So, here are two of the main issues we have been dealing with and some recent solutions that have been implemented across Notes from Nature:

Issue 1: Do we measure total number of transcriptions or total number of images that are “finished” (e.g. transcribed four times)?

Solution:  We have decided to measure total transcriptions completed across all projects and within projects.  This is a change from our previous strategy which had mixed and matched these different counts on different pages.  We think the most obvious measure is overall effort put in, even if this means it is harder to know how many images have been done.

Issue 2:  Should we even measure “completeness” within a project (e.g., Calbugs)?  The reason this is an issue is that most projects on Notes From Nature have only posted a small subset of available images and there are many more “waiting in the wings”.  We don’t want to say “hey, only a 1000 more images to transcribe” and then just a little later go “Oh!  Just kidding, there are now 50000 more!” Our ultimate goal is to stage the many remaining images as smaller batches with compelling themes derived from their research or other societal values (e.g., all specimens from a particular national park or collected by an important historical figure).   This will give us a chance to celebrate the success of completion more regularly.  At the moment, we are seeking funding to do this.

Solution:  We do want to show that progress is being made on the current batch of images on Notes from Nature, but we want to avoid any confusion if more images are made available once the current sets are close to be done.  So we are showing a percentage that represents total number of transcriptions completed over the total number needed for a batch, but we link to this very blog post to explain why those may change.  We are also providing some information on progress with the images themselves, and here we provide counts of “total images”, “active images”, “complete images”.  Below is a definition of each of those terms:

total images – The number of source images currently available.
active images – The number of images that are either in progress with being transcribed or waiting for transcription.
complete images –  The number of images that have been independently transcribed four times

We hope the new changes lead to greater transparency!  We are also so awestruck and appreciative of all the participation as we pass the 5000 registered participants and 400,000 transcriptions mark- we can’t thank you enough or tell you how important the public participation has been for this endeavor.  Finally, we love comments and suggestions. Please feel free to provide some, and we’ll get right back to you.
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Macrofungi Added to Notes from Nature!

The Notes from Nature team is excited to announce the addition of content from the Macrofungi Collection Consortium!  This collection is a partnership of 35 institutions across the U.S that collectively will digitize about 1.5 million specimens that have been collected the past 150 years.  Macrofungi are important to humans in many ways – many people like to eat them, but some species are also deadly poisonous.  Macrofungi are also key to the health of our forests – indeed, most forest trees could not survive if their roots did not form a relationship with a macrofungus (called mycorrhizae) that helps tree roots absorb water and minerals from the soil.  Macrofungi are also an important source of food for forest animals and they serve as homes for many soil insects and other small organisms that are also part of a healthy forest ecosystem. Many macrofungi are very beautiful, and are the subject of nature photographers.  Their pigments may be used for dyeing wool or cotton, and for paper-making. Macrofungi are important religious symbols in some cultures.  Recently it has been discovered that macrofungi can play a role in the cleanup of environmental disasters.  Through a process called “mycoremediation” macrofungi are able to break down or remove contaminants such as pesticides and fuel oils.

The Macrofungi Collection comprises mushrooms and related fungi.  After collection, specimens of macrofungi are dried on a vegetable dehydrator or similar type of dryer, and then are placed in a box or packet with a specimen label that gives the name of the fungus, when, where, and and by whom the specimen was collected.  Because macrofungi are often very short-lived, documenting their occurrence with specimens is critically important for knowing which macrofungi grow where.

To help scientists answer the many remaining questions about these foundational organisms, they need access to data from collections.  Our project is to digitize these specimens and make the data available in a standardized, searchable form through the MycoPortal.

Although macrofungi (mushrooms and mushroom-like organisms) are not plants, they are still stored as dried specimens in herbaria.  The dried mushroom (which often looks nothing like the fresh mushroom!) is stored in a box or paper packet and is accompanied by a label that that gives the name of mushroom, where it was collected, when, and by whom.

You can contribute to a better understanding about these environmentally critical organisms by helping to transcribe data from the specimen labels into a structured format.   The folks who are capturing the images of these specimens have already recorded the name of the fungus,  so what we need your help with is transcribing the collection locality and date, as well as the collector’s name and number.

If you want to learn more about macrofungi, there are many sources of information.  Online, Encyclopedia of Life, which is also linked to the macrofungi collections in Notes from Nature, is a reference for images and descriptions of many of these fungi.  Mushroom Observer is a site where citizen scientists and professional mycologists meet to discuss macrofungi of interest.  There are also many clubs around the country where participants go on mushroom collecting trips, host lectures for members and teach the general public about these organisms.  You can learn about clubs in your area through the North American Mycological Association website.

Seeking participants for December hackathon!

iDigBio and Zooniverse’s Notes from Nature Project are pleased to invite you to participate in a hackathon to further enable public participation in online transcription of biodiversity specimen labels.  The event will occur from December 16-20, 2013, at iDigBio in Gainesville, FL, though you may choose to participate in a subset of the days based upon the schedule.   We are especially looking for participation from the most enthusiastic and committed citizen science transcribers!  This is a great opportunity to have a direct influence on expanding this tool in the directions you would like to see it go.

The hackathon will produce new functionality and interoperability for Zooniverse’s Notes from Nature  and similar transcription tools.  There are four areas of development that will be progressively addressed throughout the week.

  1. Linking images registered to the iDigBio Cloud with transcription tools in order to alleviate storage issues.  (Monday)
  2. Transcription QA/QC and the reconciliation of replicate transcriptions.  (Remainder of week)
  3. Integration of OCR into the transcription workflow.  (Remainder of week)
  4. New UI features and novel incentive approaches for public engagement.  (Remainder of week)

There will be opportunities to narrow the focus in each category of activity in a teleconference tentatively scheduled for early in the week of November 25 (and also at the TDWG meeting and the iDigBio Summit, if you are attending either of those events).

If you are interested, please get in touch with Austin Mast (amast@bio.fsu.edu) by Wednesday, Nov 1.  iDigBio has budgeted some funds to support travel costs.

With best regards,

Austin and Rob Guralnick (UC-Boulder), co-organizers

On television!

Check-out a recent feature on Notes from Nature on the local NBC29 news station in Charlottesville, Virginia.  Two billion specimens!

http://www.nbc29.com/story/23757819/uva-researchers-seek-publics-help-classifying-species

A new milestone!

The Notes from Nature team is proud to report reaching the new milestone of 300,000 transcriptions completed!  This has been made possible by the generous and committed efforts of nearly 4,000 citizen scientists from around the globe.  We look forward to continuing the project and sharing more biological collections with you in the near future.  Thank you citizen scientists!

To continue growing and expanding, we are interested in your feedback.  What excites you the most from Notes from Nature so far?  How would you like to see it evolve?  Leave a comment and let us know!

On the radio!

This morning I had the opportunity to join WTJU’s Robert Packard on the Soundboard program to talk about Notes from Nature.  Click here to listen to the clip! 

Are you a teacher?

One thing the Notes from Nature team has been interested in doing from the start, but hasn’t yet found the time to squeeze in, is to develop educational materials utilizing the Notes from Nature content and release it via the Zooniverse ZooTeach site.  For those who have never heard of ZooTeach, it is described as a place “where educators can share high quality lesson plans & resources that compliment the Zooniverse citizen science projects.”

Screen Shot 2013-10-02 at 10.12.28 AMAre you a teacher?  Do you love Notes from Nature?  Would you like to integrate it into your curriculum?  If yes, please reply to this post with a comment to begin a conversation about how to do this.  We’re eager to reach a broader audience and partner with you!

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