The Participatory Design of a (Today and) Future Digital Entomology Lab

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Key Takeaways

  • Digital laboratories complement empirical science–based courses while providing flexibility in when and where students conduct lab study.
  • Virtual collaborative design using the social web may enhance the (directed) design process of a digital laboratory by providing a wide range of crowd-sourced viewpoints and feedback.
  • Complex instructional design projects, such as the Digital Entomology Lab designed and created at Kansas State University, require phasing in over time because of the limitations of funding, resources, time, and expertise.

Insect Graphic

This article showcases a virtual interactive participatory design activity for building a digital entomology lab. Conceptualized as a virtual complement to a general entomology course at Kansas State University, the lab would allow learners to explore morphological aspects of insects — their various forms and functions — in order to understand various insect types. The initial instructional design required exploration of the equipment necessary for lighting and macro image capture. It also involved creating work processes that would protect the photographic images.

When the web developer promised for the project did not have the skill set needed to design a whole new site, the focus shifted to first accurately capturing the digital images of insects for the substantive contents of a future, more complex digital entomology site. In terms of accuracy, the images had to be focused with proper depth-of-field, right-sized, and captured with the correct color balance. The images needed naming protocols and storage for easy access, both on a work site and on a public holding site. Some innovations here included the focus on capturing insects from five main angles and using a two-dimensional black-and-white grid as a backdrop to give viewers a rough sense of the sizes of the insects.

The first phase of the digital lab focused mostly on the image captures. To explore the site in its current implementation, go to and click on the Digital Entomology Lab link at the top right of the Insect Gallery categories menu. This is a static site which contains some of the image captures from Phase 1 of the project.

To set the stage for the virtual participatory design for future phases of this digital entomology lab, please go to the following interactive microsite (just click on the screenshot), which highlights the design achievements thus far and then elaborates on the further questions and needs of the development team. (After the context is defined, participants will be sent to a wiki site to share their ideas.)

Soft Chalk Connect Screen Shot

Contribute to a Community Discussion

According to Dietmar Kennepohl and Lawton Shaw's Accessible Elements: Teaching Science Online and at a Distance (Athabasca University Press, 2010), slowness has marked the creation of virtual laboratories to complement the learning in online science courses. To encourage further discussions about how to support online science learning through digital laboratories, I created a crowdsourcing virtual exercise.

The two main objectives of the participatory design are to:

  • Gather ideas for Phase 2 of the Digital Entomology Lab at K-State, and to
  • Have a public discussion about strategies for promoting and building digital labs to enhance online learning in the sciences.

Your help will be critical in these endeavors.

The feedback from participants will be collected on a wiki page hosted on the ELATEwiki site (Figure 1) to benefit the development team and even the larger instructional design community. [Registration and membership are not required to post to the wiki, but the wiki will capture Internet Protocol (IP) data.]

Hai-Jew Figure 1

Figure 1. ELATEwiki Page to Contribute Design Ideas for the Digital Entomology Lab