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Teaching students how to design and evaluate technology user experiences should be centered around understanding real-world user needs. In this project, students focus on a particular domain, Citizen Science, to motivate their learning of user research, prototyping, and usability testing. Citizen Science projects study phenomena in nature and the environment, such as monitoring the spread of invasive plant species or water quality. Citizen Science projects depend on volunteers to collect and submit data from local environments. Citizen Science is a compelling context for user-centered design because it involves multiple stakeholder groups, various front-end technologies (e.g., web and mobile), and information architecture. This project is scoped for a user-centered design and usability testing course for undergraduate computer science students. The course learning objectives are to (1) use research and design methods to develop an understanding of technology stakeholders and (2) apply that knowledge to create and refine design artifacts. This project takes the students through the design process of understanding users in real-world scenarios, building personas, then conducting two user research studies to inform and evaluate technology prototypes. This paper will familiarize readers with the structure of theme-based user-centered design instruction, the nature of Citizen Science projects, popular front-end Citizen Science technologies, and public Citizen Science resources.


Computer science students may be heavily oriented towards programming
courses and back-end software engineering. However, user-centered design
requires a shift to thinking about front-end development and centering user
needs. This project composes multiple steps over the course. Instructors
should give ample time for introducing the domain of Citizen Science,
followed by individual and group domain immersion, since while students
have personal experiences with nature and the environment, students may
not be familiar with Citizen Science initiatives or considering environmental-oriented HCI. Researching and designing for an unfamiliar domain is aligned
with user-centered design goals of students developing empathy for users
and design with others in mind.
When evaluating potential Citizen Science initiative for UCD, two important criteria are (1) the opportunity to design end-user interfaces and (2)
access to the Citizen Science initiative resources. First, the Citizen Science
project must include processes for lay people—members of the public who are not official members of the organization—to learn about the project,
collect data, and examine a synthesized view of the data, which can take the
form of maps, aggregated data from the community, community forums,
etc.. These processes are the basis for students to define UCD scenarios,
user stories, personas, and journey maps. Subsequently, students build upon
those artifacts and their growing knowledge of the Citizen Science domain
to envision and design novel end-user interfaces. Students can design for
mobile, desktop, or web platforms. They can design for specific aspects of
Citizen Science processes, such as data collecting which may require the
user to capture and upload images, annotations, and location details of a
particular environmental phenomenon. Another example of UCD design
for a Citizen Science process is viewing relevant data on a map based on the
user’s location and interest, such as conditions of a hiking trails impacted
by weather conditions. Second, students with guidance from the instructor, should select a Citizen Science initiative is currently active and will
remain active for the course duration. Access to the initiative helps ensure
that students can access necessary technology, such as the website or data
collection application, since these technologies serve as a starting point for
student design work.

Engagement Highlights

This Open Educational Resource provides a project structure for teaching
user-centered design (UCD) in human-computer interaction (HCI) using
Citizen Science as a context. This project engages students in the UCD
process to iteratively empathize with technology users and conduct research
to inform and validate design directions. Through hands-on learning of
user-centered design, students make decisions about research methods and
interaction design and build creativity skills. The focus of this OER is to
demonstrate applying Citizen Science projects to a UCD course.
Students choose a Citizen Science project that interests them and their
group, which requires researching and synthesizing meaningful and relevant content from publicly available information about Citizen Science
projects and technologies. The projects are culturally relevant to the students because they chose from a diverse range of Citizen Science topics,
including conservation of environmental resources, protecting endangered
species, cultivating local plant life, and identifying environmental impacts
of automobile traffic patterns. Students work on translating real-world
STEM scientific endeavors into human-computer interaction user scenarios,
personas, design wire-frames, and technology prototypes. Students gain
experience making conceptual and practical interdisciplinary connections
to CS with Citizen Science phenomenon and scientific research approaches.
This project builds practical team-based skills required of human-computer
interaction specialists since the project is heavily dependent on teamwork
with clear roles and responsibilities. Instructors should scaffold team formation and high-performing teams that are comprised of students with diverse
in life experiences and skills.

Specific engagement practices are:
• Use Meaningful and Relevant Content
• Make Interdisciplinary Connections to CS
• Incorporate Student Choice
• Encourage Student Interaction
• Culturally Relevant Pedagogy

Computer Science Details

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Material Format and Licensing Information

Creative Commons License