Using Strand Maps to Engage Digital Library Users with Science Content
Kirsten Butcher and Sonal Bhushan
Our research examined whether using strand maps as an interface for digital library search tasks would change learners' cognitive processes when seeking educational resources. Results demonstrated that strand maps can help learners engage with science content and that semantic-spatial interfaces can support meaningful search processes.
Digital libraries face a significant challenge in connecting users to relevant content. Especially in science, users often lack the varied and specialized vocabulary necessary to find relevant resources using textual search . Learners lacking adequate domain knowledge tend to engage in superficial Search behaviors by focusing on creation and revision of queries during information seeking .
This research explored whether strand maps search interfaces that include semantic and spatial information would better support student engagement with science content during digital library search for educational materials when compared to an existing textual search interface.
The Existing DLESE Interface
The existing DLESE search interface (http://www.dlese.org) is a good example of a successful textual interface onto a digital library discovery system. DLESE supports textual search in two ways:
Strand Maps for Conceptual Browsing
Strand maps  are node-link diagrams for science, math, and technology, where nodes represent learning goals and links represent conceptual relationships between learning goals. The links illustrate the ways that students' knowledge should progress as their education advances.
Strand maps are based on the educational benchmarks developed by the AAAS ; they describe what learners should know or be able to do at key stages in their education across the sciences, etc.
The Strand Maps Interface
Users can explore learning goals by navigating through different topics and grade levels within a map.
When users identify a relevant learning goal, they can click it to retrieve related digital library resources.
Because the stand map interface provides a visual representation of rich semantic content, its interface should promote increased use of content-based (science-focused) processes when searching for information.
Jack is a 10th grade science teacher who has volunteered to fill in for Jan, a 7th grade science teacher. Jan was supposed to teach about changes in the Earth's surface. She suggests Jack come up with a classroom activity based on changes in the Earth's surface.
Jack teaches his 10th graders about earthquakes, and wants to teach the 7th graders about them too. He often uses DLESE to find activities and text, so he decides see what it has for 7th graders. He wants to find out which concepts he needs to teach and find classroom activities to support them.
Results of User Study
 Vakkari, P. A theory of the task-based information retrieval process: A summary and generalization of a longitudinal study. Journal of Documentation 57, 2001, 44-60.
 Marchionini, G. Information seeking in electronic environments. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1995.
 AAAS Project 2061. Atlas of Science Literacy. Washington DC: American Assoc. for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and National Science Teachers Association, 2001.
Based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Grant #0215640 to the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), and Grant #0226286 to the University of Colorado. Opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF.
© Copyright 2005 Kirsten Butcher and Sonal Bhushan