As part of my Digital Humanities course, I looked into a website called Zooniverse. What it does is allow people from all over the world to collaborate on projects from a wide variety of topics. I was immediately interested in the Archaeology projects since that is my “minor” subject I took with my course. After a bit of checking around I found one in particular to be intriguing.
It was named Fossil Finder and focused on Lake Turkana in Kenya. What they did here was take photographs of sections of areas which they wished to excavate. They allowed members to interact with these photos in order to find points of interest to excavate in, I’ll explain this a little more in detail a little later.
Lake Turkana is a heritage site in Kenya and one of the world’s largest desert lakes, the idea that I had a chance to be part of such a large excavation while still in the warmth of my living room behind a screen instead of in the baking sun, sweating like a pig and looking like an Indiana Jones rip-off was an opportunity I jumped at. Each photo was taken by genuine archaeologists or remote drone working hard to find shards of bones which would help identify where they should start their excavation. Each Image was high resolution and represented a nominal on the ground of 34x23cms each. As you can imagine, an entire excavation with photos of this size lead to a lot of photos for one person to look through and by a lot I mean over 9,700. This would take weeks even for a large team to sort through so the group came to Zooniverse instead.
With Zooniverse, about 6,400 collaborators including myself were able to sort through this plethora of pictures for the archaeologists at Lake Turkana’s site. Using forums to communicated (which had about 5000 unique topics by the end of the endeavor) were able to find 109,000 potential artifacts for those at the site, many of these would likely have gone undiscovered if not for the collaboration of the group. The system was very simple, you would be presented a simple page with a picture in the center and had users drag over different “Bull’s Eye” Markers for different types of artifacts onto the pictures. Green for Stone Tools, Blue for Fish Bones, Yellow for Fossil Shells, White for Root-Cast / Rhizolith and Red for “Interesting” and “Rare” discoveries such as skulls / bone fragments. Below is an example of how it all works.
As previously mentioned a forum and chatroom were provided in case anyone was unable to understand the goal of the project or the interface or explain away any other problem that they may encounter. Their was also a small tutorial in the beginning when you first joined the project in order to get everyone with grips with the project. After someone completes a photo, adding what they believe to be appropriate markers it would be submitted to a large repository of images. The major goal of this project was of course to identify as many potential artifacts as possible – in particular they were interested in fossilized bone and stone tools. Each image would often have a few potential examples but they were rare and not always obvious. As well, there are all sorts of odd things in the images that are not significant such as animal dung. As you gained experience I felt my skills with identifying finds improved the longer I played around with this project.
Comparison & Cataloguing : Classification page a “Need more help” button will open a help file. As well, the Field Guide tab on the right will open pictorial catalogues of previously discovered items for comparison.Will an expert check my tags? Primarily the data will be used in mapping and statistically to identify hot spots for “boots on the ground” to check. Significant finds will be collected, though most images will NOT be revisited.
The classification page also had a “Need more help” button that would open a help field as well as a Field Guide tab on the right which would open pictorial catalogues of previously discovered items for comparison, it was super new use friendly to say the least. With that being said – with it being so open for use by newer members I had to ask myself two questions. They were: “Am I doing this right?” and “Will someone with more experience think my work is affecting the project negatively?”. Well, after a little digging I found others had asked similar questions to the developers and had already received these answers. “Don’t worry! Each image is seen by at least ten people – the wisdom of crowds saves the day.” So even if I was making mistakes their was other users there at my back in case I caused a disaster in miscataloguing a potential find. Also with so many other viewers, while there are no do-overs, you can bring missed items to the finds forum (The Finds Forum alone has over 5,000 posts in it as well!) so nothing important will be missed. So anything I missed but saw later I could tell someone else about and they would fill it in for me. Finally, more advanced users seemed more than willing to help others as long as they did not appear to be jeopardizing pre-existant work and were very appreciative to all work submitted by new users. This friendly atmosphere really drew me deeply into this project and I found myself adding bull’s eyes to picture after picture for several days even though I was slightly late to the party.
The project really encouraged learning from mistakes & working together in this project with many others from around the globe. If a problem was ever encountered there was always a user with an exact answer. A few questions I asked that were answered within a day were:
How Can I see better? (I had been having issues with one picture I was given of lower than average quality) – See the Help Index for suggestions how to zoom, colour shift or otherwise manipulate the images.
What If I see a skull or jaw? (I thought I had hit the motherlode! Turns out I was just over-excited but the team still put up with me) The chances are very low so you should first consider every other more mundane explanation of what you see, but like a lottery, someone may win so tag it!
I can compare this part of Zooniverse in a way to Open Street Maps which I worked with last year in that, a collaborative group creates something that others can benefit from. While OSM helps day to day users with a map of the world, Zooniverse is a little more specific but can also greatly help a team with a high level of work. “Many hands make light work” is a saying that rings in my mind here.
Getting down into the Nitty-Gritty of the project, it had a great user interface and left me with a great impression of the website. It made sure that I was ok with each image it presented to me before I began scanning them for artifacts hidden amongst them and just the general friendly user atmosphere was more than amiable.
Some of the more interesting finds got put into Collections such as this one
which is potentially an example of bone being found. This was a way to reward users who found rare objects and incentivizes other users to continue examining pictures for rare objects, it was inspirational and while I wasn’t able to add much to contribute to the Research forums, as I am not an osteologist, (a bone archaeologist specialist) it was fascinating to read about the potential implications of discovering different animal bones could mean for the surrounding area such as the dietary habits of the people who resided at Lake Turkana millennia ago.
This project also had an adjacent blog I stumbled on whilst working on the project that kept up to speed with the research and discoveries that the community found in real time can be found here. It in itself provides an interesting incite into the minds of those behind the project and makes for an interesting read.
There were a few shortcomings and drawbacks to the site. Mainly, it doesn’t give context for where the photo was taken. I know all the photos came from Lake Turkana but was this one I’m now examining in the Northern part of the lake? Southern? Is it close to that last one I just did? This might help me determine what I’m looking at and also give myself some context if I can link a couple of the pictures I’ve examined to one another. Also, it doesn’t give context to the time period of these fragments so while I can find a rock that looks shaped to be used like an axe, I can not distinctly say if it is a Mesolithic, Neolithic or any other variation of an axe. Furthermore, It makes it trickier to identify an object as a distinct artifact or just a coincidence like this.
Despite this, I had a very pleasant time using Zooniverse and exploring this project. I hope you enjoyed reading my article as much as I enjoyed playing around and examining the artifacts above! Until next time! Thanks for reading.
So, recently my Digital Humanities class did a Twessay (a Twitter essay) on the evolution of storytelling in digital media. The results of our responses can be found here.
And what did I have to say on the topic? Well I said “Storytelling is changing in our digital revolution, everything is online and it opens new avenues of creativity to us all.” (a) Even after all my research has been done, I mostly stand by what I said here. Mostly I now disagree on that “everything is online” that is very much untrue, storytelling is still very much alive offline too. However, I stand that the digital medium has creative new ways for us to share our stories and expand the types of stories we can experience.
Just look at the very successful web comic, Homestuck (by Andrew Hussie) can help more readers finish your story (currently Homestuck is 6,000 pages long and unfinished). This web comic truly is a success when you look at it’s massive fan following and the kickstarter for a Homestuck Game reaching over $2 million in funding. It’s safe to say that the inclusion of digital media (such as videos, interactive games, changeable music) brought a new edge to the web comic style and was the main attraction that spear headed it’s popularity compared to the regular web comics which do not allow fans to so directly interact with the characters.
From Sean Hegarty’s Twessay “Storytelling has evolved in a certain way that it still holds the old meanings, but has evolved mostly in accessibility”. (b) This is something I agree with fully, I mean what is storytelling? Storytelling is the interactive art of using words and actions to reveal the elements and images of a story while encouraging the listener’s imagination .
This fact will never change about storytelling, the goal, to put vivid imagery and interesting characters into a listener or reader’s mind will always be the primary goal of storytelling but the mediums we can achieve this goal have now changed and we have more opportunities than ever. Even when we look at more recent novels, we see ways of interactivity being introduced such as in S  a book which split by both a section in the book which is a novel called “The Ship of Theseus” written by an unknown author and another part of the book are the hand-written notes capturing the conversations of two college students attempting to discover who the true author is, it is up to the reader how to get through S and no two people will reach the conclusion the same way. While it is a very unique concept as of right now, I would not be shocked to find more clones of this idea in the not so distant future!
Finally, we have this little gem from Luke Crowley, “People interact with stories & change them through new types of games;this interactive medium is the evolution of storytelling” (c) In video games in particular, we can be our own character (or another protagonist) and the actions we take shape the world around us. A recent example of this being executed beautifully is Until Dawn  where any little decision you make can literally be the difference between life and death for some characters. This is known as the Butterfly Effect system and is exclusively used in video game medium as it is irreplicable with other medium. (it even comes with an autosave function so if you want to undo your choice later, well too bad!).
Thank you all for reading my article, perhaps I was able to introduce you to a new way that digital medium is changing storytelling around you? If so, leave a comment below! Until next time, this stream is going offline.
Twessays Referenced :
Andrew Douglas (a), Sean Hegarty (b), Luke Crowley (c)
 What is Storytelling? – http://www.storynet.org/resources/whatisstorytelling.html
 S (2013) – Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams
 Until Dawn (2015) – Supermassive Games
While we were discussing topics in class last week we came onto the topic of Gaming in Education and in general the gamification of the world. Now, I’ve been a gamer since as far back as I can remember but even I was skeptic of the idea that gaming could be part of education and seeping slowly into our everyday lives. That is, until I did research on the topic.
Video games are shown (with substantial research found backing it up)  to enhance the learning experience but by providing another media to experience while also making the process less dull and boring. (I mean, who would choose to sit down and study in a library if they could also choose to learn while winning a game of CounterStrike?).
Video games offer an incentive, a reward for players to pursue, a goal that comes at the end of an arduous task. As someone with years of gaming behind me, I equate this to the same feeling after researching for hours on one of these blogs and finally complying everything I found until I’m happy to hit the “Publish” button. It’s a exhilarating feeling of completion that stems from my gaming roots.
This brings us to the idea of Gamification – our world is adapting to putting minigames everywhere. Don’t believe me? Look at your subway “free sandwich” card or your Tesco “points” cards, each one incentivizes you to collect points for the reward at the end.
This has even become a part of our school systems. Achievements are much like merits  some schools are introducing where you receive a stamp or some kind of token for each merit (such as good behavior). Video games are playing an increasing role in school curriculum as teachers seek to deliver core lessons such as math and reading and it is very much a tool that allows students to take a more active role in learning as they develop the technology skills they need to succeed throughout their academic and professional careers. 
Examples of video games being actively introduced to education are MinecraftEdu, a version of the game that teachers created for educational purposes, teaches students mathematical concepts including perimeter, area and probabilities as well as foreign languages while SimCityEDU, a version of the popular city-building game, is likewise a learning and assessment tool for middle school students that covers the English, math and other lessons.
But is it limited to just Video games which are transforming our world? I would argue Card and Board games such as Magic the Gathering and Yu-gi-Oh! have had a hand in this transmogrification of the modern world. Both are highly social games (with dedicated communities keen to meet much like study groups working on a project) and involve a lot of decision making. It forces players to use both there critical and creative thinking to outwit there opponents and defeat them in a duel.  Of course, one can not forget how it exercises our mathematical and long term thinking skills trying to see what our opponent is likely to do and how to react.
Overall, video games lead us to having better reactions and fore planning abilities. Our cognitive abilities are naturally enhanced as one plays video games, we learn from our mistakes and are able to apply past experiences we faced to situations presented in front of us. Video games could provide a potent training regimen for speeding up reactions in many types of real-life situations. 
All in all, it is evident that some video games such as “Call of Duty”, “Dead Space”, “Bioshock” greatly enhance our reaction ability while other games such as “Yu-Gi-Oh!”, “Heathstone”, “Minecraft” improve our spatial awareness and mathematical skills. It is obvious gamers have picked up a lot of relevant skills to apply to today’s world through the experiences we’ve faced in virtual worlds.
Gamers have already experienced so much that in a way, we are becoming ready to adapt to almost any situation.These experiences, we will carry them with us forever and that is without mentioning the emotional impact video games can have on us (such as “Journey”) but that is treading on the territory of video games as an art form, a topic best left to another day. I believe I have shown how games can be used in education and the advantages they can give us in this blog, and like always, until next time, this stream is going offline.
Picture: Credit to Riot Games. (Professor Ryze)
 – Nick Tannahill, Patrick Tissington, Carl Senior, “Video Games and Higher Education: What Can ‘Call of Duty’ Teach our Students?”, 2012 – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3382412/
 – Elliott Bristow, “Gaming in Education: Gamification?” – http://www.theedublogger.com/2015/01/20/gaming-in-education-gamification/
 – Elena Malykhina,“Fact or Fiction?: Video Games Are the Future of Education “ http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-or-fiction-video-games-are-the-future-of-education/
 – March Gallagher, “In Praise of Yu Gi Oh” http://sudburyschool.com/content/praise-yu-gi-oh
 – “Video Games Lead to Faster Decisions that are No Less Accurate” http://rochester.edu/news/show.php?id=3679
We all start somewhere, even Neil Armstrong took his first steps here on Earth rather than his most famous steps on the moon. Not surprisingly, as this is my first post I’d like to think this will be my “baby-steps” into blogging. My name is Andrew Douglas, and I am a Digital Humanities student in University College Cork – So expect to hear a wide range of posts and topics on this blog in the near future! Until then, this Stream is going offline.