The Digital Entomology Lab Project

By IGI Global on Sep 30, 2011
IGI Global would like to thank Shalin Hai-Jew for contributing this article regarding an interesting experiment in "virtual participatory design which leverages both crowd-sourcing and Web 2.0 technologies." Dr. Hai-Jew's newest publication, Constructing Self-Discovery Learning Spaces Online: Scaffolding and Decision Making Technologies, will become available this Winter. An excellent resource for any library, her edited research volume, Virtual Immersive and 3D Learning Spaces: Emerging Technologies and Trends, is currently available in the IGI Global Bookstore. The most recent issue of Educause Quarterly has an experiment in virtual participatory design, which leverages both crowd-sourcing and Web 2.0 technologies. This experiment brings in people with backgrounds in IT and entomology and other mixed backgrounds to contribute to the continuing design of a digital entomology lab at Kansas State University. (For the article, which will run for three months in the current featured issue, please go to " The Participatory Design of a (Today and) Future Digital Entomology Lab."

A Brief History of the Project

Dr. C. Michael Smith applied for and received a small grant to remake ENTOM 312 "General Entomology." One version of the face-to-face version of this online course requires the experience of a physical entomology lab where students may experience and view pinned insect samples kept in trays in the physical lab.

There are trays of insects of different types available for student analysis.

The physical lab contains various artifacts for insect capture, including insect nets and Berlese funnels (in the background). Microscopes are used to highlight the specific details of each of the insects.

A second grant funded the creation of a digital entomology lab, to complement the online course. This grant enabled the purchase of a specialized camera and lenses for the capturing of the insect images. A photographer was hired on for the project, and he set up a photo box. The macro images captured exquisite details of the insects. However, the lack of a Web developer to actually build the structure around the images to add value to them meant that the project would have to be iterated over time. Given the lag between funding cycles, it seemed like a good idea to solicit insights from a mainline audience about what features the new site could entail. Those innovations could be included in future grant applications.

An interactive automated article and presentation was created, and it passed muster with peer reviewers even though it had a very unusual structure.

Priming Participatory Designers

The basic structure of the interactive "article" involved an introduction of the project and its current state of achievement. This then offered some activities (photo albums, word find, digital jigsaw puzzles, a sequencing activity, and multiple answer questions) to "prime" the virtual participatory designers into the project, and then some directed questions for them to consider. This experience was designed to work in developmental staging but also to hide the fact that more than a half-dozen technologies were used to create the various objects.

The questions were set up in two ranges—a basic one involving branding, potential use cases, and strategies for replenishing digital contents. More advanced questions involved iterating the site or its features for more than formal use—to nonformal and informal uses; designing for K-12 and Pre-K; and designing for integration with other digital repositories or libraries. There was an open-ended elicitation for non-directed feedback and ideas as well. The feedback will be captured on a MediaWiki page, which will be kept on the site for perpetuity, and some of those ideas will be gleaned for actual usage in future iterations of the digital entomology lab. The MediaWiki technology enables the uploading of multimedia for a fuller rich-media-expressive response, assuming the users are familiar with mark-up syntax.

The purpose of this was several-fold: (1) to extend the discussion of the design of digital labs for empirical science courses; (2) to garner actual feedback that would enhance the next phases of the digital entomology lab site's evolution, and (3) to raise awareness of this particular project in the hopes of positioning it for further funding.

Designing Engagement with the Work

The stakeholders for this virtual participatory design conceptualized as those with ties to e-learning, those with ties to entomology, and the development team. For insights on what has been posted so far, please go to

Dr. Shalin Hai-Jew works as an instructional designer at Kansas State University (K-State); she teaches for WashingtonOnline (WAOL).

An excellent addition to any university library, the International Journal of Virtual and Personal Learning Environments (IJVPLE) provides readers with comprehensive coverage of developments in learning technologies for an international readership of educators, technologists and trainers. The journal is a primary source for academics, professionals, corporate trainers and policy makers in information and communication technologies. The journal publishes high quality contributions (papers, book reviews) on a range of fields associated with Course Management Systems (CMS), Learning Management Systems (LMS), Virtual Learning Environments (VLE), Social Networking Sites (SNS), Personalized Learning Environments (PLE), and 3D virtual worlds, including for example Second Life (SL).

Articles published in the journal cover education and training, concentrating on the theory, application, and development of learning technologies. There is a particular interest in the application of new and emerging information and communication technologies in education and training.

Also, readers interested in scholarship regarding online learning might want check out several of our journals covering online and distance education:

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