Exploring Differences Among Student Populations During Climate Graph Reading Tasks: An Eye Tracking Study

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Rachel M. Atkins
Karen S. McNeal


Geoscience Education Research; Geocognition; Eye-Tracking; Graph Reading


Communicating climate information is challenging due to the interdisciplinary nature of the topic along with compounding cognitive and affective learning challenges. Graphs are a common representation used by scientists to communicate evidence of climate change. However, it is important to identify how and why individuals on the continuum of expertise navigate graphical data differently as this has implications for effective communication of this information. We collected and analyzed eye-tracking metrics of geoscience graduate students and novice undergraduate students while viewing graphs displaying climate information. Our findings indicate that during fact-extraction tasks, novice undergraduates focus proportionally more attention on the question, title and axes graph elements, whereas geoscience graduate students spend proportionally more time viewing and interpreting data. This same finding was enhanced during extrapolation tasks. Undergraduate novices were also more likely to describe general trends, while graduate students identified more specific patterns. Undergraduates who performed high on the pre-test measuring graphing skill, viewed graphs more similar to graduate students than their peers who performed lower on the pre-test.


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