ED11B-0731: What Do Geoscience Experts and Novices Look At and What Do They See When Viewing and Interpreting Data Visualizations? (Invited)

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Authors: Kim A Kastens1, Thomas F Shipley2, Alex Boone2

Author Institutions: 1. Lamont-Doherty Earth Obs., Columbia University, Palisades, NY, USA; 2. Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, USA

When geoscience experts look at data visualizations, they can “see”ù structures, and processes and traces of Earth history. When students look at those same visualizations, they may see only blotches of color, dots or squiggles. What are those experts doing, and how can students learn to do the same? We report on a study in which experts (>10 years of geoscience research experience) and novices (undergrad psychology students) examine shaded-relief/color-coded images of topography/bathymetry, while answering questions aloud and being eye-tracked. Images were a global map, two high-res images of continental terrain and two of oceanic terrain, with hi-res localities chosen to display distinctive traces of important earth processes. The differences in what they look at as recorded by eye-tracking are relatively subtle. On the global image, novices tend to focus on continents, whereas experts distribute their attention more evenly across continents and oceans. Experts universally access the available scale information (distance scale, lat/long axes), whereas most students do not. Novices do attend substantially and spontaneously to the salient geomorphological features in the high-res images: seamounts, mid-ocean ridge/transform intersection, erosional river channels, and compressional ridges and valley system. The more marked differences come in what respondents see, as captured in video recordings of their words and gestures in response to experimenter’s questions. When their attention is directed to a small and distinctive part of a high-res image and they are asked to “”_.describe what you see”_”ù, experts typically produce richly detailed descriptions that may include the regional depth/altitude, local relief, shape and spatial distribution of major features, symmetry or lack thereof, cross-cutting relationships, presence of lineations and their orientations, and similar geomorphological details. Following or interwoven with these rich descriptions, some experts also offer interpretations of causal Earth processes. We identified four types of novice answers: (a) “flat”ù answers, in which the student describes the patches of color on the screen with no mention of shape or relief; (b) “thing”ù answers, in which the student mentions an inappropriate object, such as “the Great Wall of China,”ù (c) geomorphology answers, in which the student talks about depth/altitude, relief, or shapes of landforms, and (d) process answers, in which student talks about earth processes, such as earthquakes, erosion, or plate tectonics. Novice “geomorphology”ù (c) answers resemble expert responses, but lack the rich descriptive detail. The “process”ù (d) category includes many interpretations that lack any grounding in the evidentiary base available in the viewed data. These findings suggest that instruction around earth data should include an emphasis on thoroughly and accurately describing the features that are present in the data–a skill that our experts display and our novices mostly lack. It is unclear, though, how best to sequence the teaching of descriptive and interpretive skills, since the experts’ attention to empirical features in the data is steered by their knowledge of which features have causal significance.

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