Inquiry based Learning – investigations
Of the twenty four participants, half (twelve) published an investigation on rocks. The published investigations were created by beginner (seven) and intermediate (five) Rock Hunters while experts did not publish an investigation – it is also known that four out of six experts have not created an investigation. The themes of the investiga-tions were focused on a) general geology issues such as mountains and earthquakes, b) specific rock-related topics such as Rock shape/colour/hardness or c) more special-ised investigations for instance fossils and minerals. Almost all of the investigations were location-based. In the list of the published investigations, there are seven com-pleted (including conclusions) and five incomplete. However, only five of them have all the inquiry phases completed, as the Analyse my Data phase was skipped for most investigations. Finally, there was some feedback given under three investigations but the investigation publishers did not answer back so there was not any follow-up dis-cussion.
Apart from the communication via the Inquiry Results, the Rock Hunters had the opportunity to collaborate with the other participants through the forum topics and the online chat. As shown from the results, the forum topics and especially the “question to expert” were the most preferred way of communication. Lack of time and flexibil-ity were the main reasons for preferring the forum over the online chat as well as the chance the forum provides of writing down more precise questions and answers. However, survey findings show that Rock Hunters of intermediate expertise preferred to communicate via “question to expert” more than beginners while the latter chose the online chat as first preference. Despite the overall questionnaire results on the communication aspect, the nQuire platform logs reveal that intermediate users were socially inactive (with one exception) while beginners along with experts were active all over the forum. For example there are many follow-up discussions on the forum, mainly between experts and beginners, after a question is posted. Thus, the level of expertise affects not only the communication preferences but also the communication level.
The level of Rock Hunters’ expertise appears also to affect the role they take within the project. Taking a look at the interactions on the nQuire platform it is noticeable that the dominant interactions are those between experts and beginners. The beginners tended to ask questions and the experts were the ones to answer. Thus, it can be said that the experts assigned to themselves the “mentor” role as they are willing to give feedback to the participants of lower expertise and also they have not published any investigations. This outcome is not that surprising as they had been sent invitations to join the project as experts. Alongside, beginners exploited experts’ guidance and kept posting questions on the forums. Beyond the two different roles of mentors and aided, there was also one more role, not that active, adopted by the intermediate Rock Hunt-ers who were quite discreet regarding their collaboration with other participants. Therefore, although more than half of that group had published investigations, only one had posted on the forums something related to technical issues. Consequently, it may be assumed that intermediate Rock Hunters count on their own knowledge to conduct their investigation or they are reluctant to share results that may be incorrect or incomplete. The use of external (non-nQuire platform) sources was mostly focused on supporting the Collect my Data phase which was chosen by the beginners the phase which needed the most help. Moreover, as expected, beginners needed more help than advanced Rock Hunters to plan their investigation methods. On the other hand, intermediate users needed the most help in choosing their theme; this may im-ply that intermediate Rock Hunters, in contrast with beginners, did not have a theme in mind before entering the project, while beginners had specific questions that needed answers and the nQuire platform was the place to find them.
nQuire platform and tools
The nQuire platform provided the social network where the project took place and it consists of a web-based inquiry environment to scaffold the participants’ engagement in their scientific investigations. In a nutshell, the nQuire platform accommodates tools that support aspects of Citizen Inquiry (i.e. forum, chat, inquiry framework, inquiry results, and scientific tools). Based on the SUS score, the Rock Hunters did not find nQuire platform very usable, as the result (60.8%) was below the SUS aver-age (68%). Although there were some complaints on how to use some aspects of the platform, the interview data show that after they combined surfing on nQuire platform with the tutorial, they found it easy to use. However, regarding the tutorial, almost all of the interviewees suggested it would be easier for them if it was integrated into the platform and they could learn how to use each tool. According to the survey results and based on nQuire platform observations, the most used tools were the image up-load tool, the maps and the notebook. There were not many suggestions on what other tools could be added on the platform or how to improve the existing tools. Some of the suggestions included microscope, integrated rock identification key, a guide for beginners, a list with all the tools and also the option to add PDFs, videos or your own tools. Because of the lack of those and other tools, the participants, based on the ques-tionnaire results, appeared to use software not included in nQuire platform. However, the lack of tools was not given as a reason for not completing an investigation by the participants.
One of the interesting aspects of this study was what stimulated the participants to take part and for this reason a survey question was used to shed light on it. The results reveal the reasons why the Rock Hunters participated as volunteers in this study, as their contribution to the project did not include any reward. The outcomes match with , in which egoism is the main factor for the participants to get involved with the project; Rock Hunters got involved in this project for mainly personal reasons such as their interest to learn some more geology or in general because of their interest in learning new things. However, the result in this study is contrary to the recent Galaxy Zoo motivation research conducted by , in which “contribution” was the most significant motivation category with nearly 40%. The difference may be justified either by the different project type or by the fact that in Galaxy Zoo research, the mo-tivation categories were given to the respondents in advance for consideration.
One Rock Hunter felt they did not gain anything and one other considered there was not enough time for them to gain something from the activity. However, most of the responses described the geological and scientific knowledge they had gained through the project (regarding methods, tools, websites, etc.) and also with familiarising them-selves with the local and daily geology. Finally, a couple of responses described lik-ing being in the nQuire community and meeting people.