Because this was a very preliminary study, I only had 9 participants, mainly fellow students in the T&T program (and a last-minute addition of some family members). My main goal was to see if this would actually work, and I wasn’t really expecting dramatic results. Which is what happened- generally, there weren’t significant differences in the maps that the interactive and non-interactive viewers drew. This probably happened because the description of how to read a phylogenetic tree was too thorough (which, unfortunately, I realized after the fact…). If I do something like this again, I’ll definitely make this orientation info less detailed.
Overall, there were big differences in how well people remembered the two big groups on the tree- land birds and shorebirds- shorebird families were apparently much more challenging to remember. This result was correlated with how well people reported that they know birds in general: more general bird knowledge was related to doing better at remembering the shorebird part of the tree. One thing I might do differently would be to give people a list of family names- that way, at least terminology wouldn’t be an issue.
Some open-ended questions that I asked gave me more useful ideas for designing a future study. For example, several people said that they learned that specific families were related, but wanted to see more information on either the names of the branch groupings, or the common ancestor of related species. This raises a few interesting points, because higher-order taxonomy is often different than genetic differences (so there aren’t necessarily names for branches), and ancestral species are really hypothetical last common ancestors, not known species. It would be interesting to think of ways to communicate this to people in a diagram like this.
So, the upshot is that this project gave me some new ideas about how to design a study like this, even though it didn’t give me very conclusive results. Obviously, just adding interactivity to a phylogenetic tree won’t magically make people learn it better- it would be surprising if it did.
I probably won’t be working in interactive phylogenetic trees for my dissertation- there are a number of people working on that at the moment, but I’m think of working on something related. I’m sure I’ll be talking more about that here as my ideas come into shape.
For those interested: here’s the list of references I used in this project:
- Baum, David A., Stacey D. Smith, and Samuel S. S. Donovan. “The Tree-Thinking Challenge.” Science 301 (2005): 979-980. Web.
- Baum, David A., and Susan Offner. “Phylogenies and Tree-Thinking.” The American Biology Teacher 70.4 (2008): 222-229. Web.
- Carrizo, Savrina F. “Phylogenetic Trees: An Information Visualisation Perspective.” Yi-Ping Phoebe Chen, ed. Conferences in Research and Practice in Information Technology 29 (2004): 315-320. Web.
- Cranfill, Ray, and Dick Moe. Deep Green-Hyperbolic Trees. Web. 20 September 2010.
- Liu, Zhicheng, Nancy J. Nersessian, and John T. Stasko. “Distributed Cognition as a Theoretical Framework for Information Visualization.” IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics. 14.6 (2008): 1173-1180. Web.
- Maddison, David A, Katja-Sabine Schulz, and Wayne P. Maddison. “The Tree of Life Web Project.” Linnaeus Tercentenary: Progress in Invertebrate Taxonomy. Ed. Z.-Q. Zhang and W. A. Shear. Zootaxa 1668 (2007): 1-766. Web.
- Rogers, Yvonne, and Mike Scaife. “How Can Interactive Multimedia Facilitate Learning?” In J. Lee, ed. Intelligence and Multimodality in Multimedia Interfaces: Research and Applications. Menlo Park, CA: AAAI Press, 1998. Web.
- Scaife, Mike, and Yvonne Rogers. “External cognition: how do graphical representations work?” International Journal of Human-Computer Studies 45 (1996): 185-213. Print.
- Stenning, Keith, and Jon Oberlander. “A Cognitive Theory of Graphical and Linguistic Reasoning: Logic and Implementation.” Cognitive Science 19.1 (1995): 97-140. Web.
- Tree of Life Web Project. Web. 19 September 2010.
- Tversky, Barbara. “Cognitive Maps, Cognitive Collages, and Spatial Mental Models.” A. U. Frank and I. Campari, eds. Spatial Information Theory: A Theoretical Basis for GIS, Proceedings COSIT ’93. Berlin: Springer, 1993. Print.
- Yi, Ji Soo, Youn ah Kang, John T. Stasko, and Julie A. Jacko. “Toward a Deeper Understanding of the Role of Interaction in Information Visualization.” IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics 13.6 (2007): 1224-1231. Print.
- Zhang, Jiajie, and Donald. A. Norman. “Representations in Distributed Cognitive Tasks.” Cognitive Science 18.1 (1994): 87-122.