Paper No. 13
Presentation Time: 11:15 AM


TURNER, Sheldon P., Institute for the Study of Environment, Sustainability, and Energy, Northern Illinois University, 321 Health Services Building, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL 48824,

Scientific communication, especially within the realm of earth systems, can be greatly improved through the use of visuals. Visuals allow a wide array of spatial and temporal data to be communicated at once through the function and structure of the image or diagram. Understanding how viewers perceive the individual features of a visual is essential to understanding the effectiveness of the image in promoting learning or usability within different populations. Cognitive scientists have used eye-tracking and other methods to understand the top-down and bottom-up processes needed to perceive and use an image. This body of work shows that display design can have a large impact on the basic tasks of encoding or interpreting an image. Presented herein are examples of studies showing efficient and effective ways for scientists to discern how populations, such as students or the public, may interpret the visual outputs from their research. The methods within include interviews, surveys, and eye-tracking. One highlighted study used crowd sourcing methods through Amazon's Mechanical TURK in order to quickly and cost effectively demonstrate the differences slight alterations to a visual can make on the user's interpretation. The simple removal or addition of arrows to the standard water cycle diagram, vastly changes how viewers explain the image. By incorporating and reproducing these experiments, geoscientists will be able to better construct the numerous and varied visuals used to communicate the intricate earth and environmental systems impacting target audiences.