2015 GSA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, USA (1-4 November 2015)

Paper No. 183-9
Presentation Time: 10:05 AM


ATKINS, Rachel, Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, North Carolina State University, 2800 Faucette Drive, Raleigh, NC 27607, MCNEAL, Karen S., Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695 and LUGINBUHL, Sarah, Raleigh, NC 27607, ratkins@ncsu.edu

Climate change has been a hot topic of discussion in recent news. Much of the debate about climate change is rooted in lack of knowledge or understanding of the scientific research. Part of this issue can be attributed to the methods in which science is communicated to novices. Much of the information scientists present as evidence of climate change is communicated through graphs. In order to present this information more effectively, it is important to understand how novices navigate this data differently than experts.

Students participating in a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at CU Boulder viewed graphs displaying climate change information to determine their gaze patterns. These were compared to gaze patterns of scientific experts. According to gaze and fixation data, experts fixate more on task-relevant areas of a graph (legend, axes, data trends, etc.) more often than novices who fixate less on task-relevant information such as graph title. Overall, expert eye-movements displayed a more organized, systematic pattern of viewing than novices. However, when novices were trained in how to read the graphs during a 6 week REU intervention, results towards greater expertise was observed, indicating that the graph reading skills needed to correctly interpret the climate figures can be developed during training activities.

The results of our study suggest that in order to close the communication gap between experts and novices while viewing climate change information educators should: 1) alter graphs to allow for the most important elements to be viewed quickly by novices and/or provide text describing the graph or figure 2) provide specific training during courses that scaffold graph reading skills, or 3) spend more time more thoroughly explaining graphs and figures shown in courses.