In the summer of 2008 Image Works began working with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) on an 18 month long project to take an ambitious proposal from paper to reality. The goal of the Vital Signs project was to build a community around an online learning platform that links Maine middle school classes with research professionals and citizen scientists. A major activity of this community would be to collect, map, analyze and make accessible environmental data on invasive species in Maine in a social, highly interactive online learning space.
We created a user-experience discovery research plan and a detailed task continuum for all primary audiences that took into account key actions, motivations, and support needs. We then undertook many weeks of field observations and video ethnography of each participant group: students, teachers, citizen scientists and professional scientists. This discovery research gave us essential insights into what worked and what didn’t in designing field-based research activities. In classrooms around Maine, we tested paper and online prototypes of key interactions, revising and improving the design through multiple iterations.
The site was developed using a complex suite of core, contributed, and IW-developed Drupal modules. It launched in December 2009, and underwent second and third rounds of design and functionality enhancements through 2012 in response to user feedback and community evolution.
Since that time more than 6,000 field observations have been documented and entered into the VS database system for review by species experts. In addition, hundreds of projects, blog posts, videos and thousands of conversations have been contributed to the site by students, teachers, parents and scientists.