Exploring the impact of Planet Hunters: key findings

Dr. Annaleise Depper (Evaluation Officer, Public Engagement with Research) at the University of Oxford shares the results and findings from an evaluation of Planet Hunters conducted in 2019.

Read the full report here: http://bit.ly/Planet-Hunters-evaluation


Exploring the Impact of Planet Hunters TESS

by Dr. Annaleise Depper

 

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To date, over 15,000 citizen scientist volunteers from over 98 different countries worldwide have contributed their time to classify millions of light curves through Planet Hunters TESS.

Still, questions remain as to why people engage in project like Planet Hunters; what, if anything, do people learn; what factors limit people’s participation; and what can researchers at the University of Oxford learn from people’s experiences in order to enhance the project?

In 2019, I carried out an evaluation of Planet Hunters TESS, which allowed me to explore these questions by engaging with the volunteers through an online survey. A total of 577 volunteers completed this survey, thereby sharing their views and experiences. While the findings are not necessarily representative of all of the volunteers, the results have provided important information about the value and barriers to taking part in Planet Hunters, and the ways in which the project could be enhanced.

Thank you to all the 577 citizen scientist volunteers who took the time to complete this survey, and shared their open and honest reflections, thoughts and recommendations.

Here’s a brief summary of what we found out:

Planet Hunters has resulted the following outcomes and impacts on volunteers:

  • 74% learned about Astronomy
  • 66% enjoyed learning about Astronomy through Planet Hunters
  • 21% felt inspired to learn more about Astronomy beyond the project
  • 19% experienced a feeling of pride and satisfaction in being a citizen scientist
  • 8% experienced positive benefits to their individual wellbeing

Hearing from the volunteers:

 “I learned about the actual research medium taking place and how it really works instead of viewing a graphic or reading an article.”

“I am making 3 beginners telescopes and planning to start a small Astronomy club to inspire more people in Astronomy. Planet Hunters opened my mind in many ways””

“I love what I’ve done and knowing that I am participating in a project that search for new planets makes me feel excited”

“My student really got into the project. They thought it was really neat that they would get an acknowledgement if they helped find a planet, and were excited by the fact it was really data. I asked them to do a minimum of 20 classifications and no student did less than twice that (and some completed as many as 150 classifications)”

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Benefits and challenges of Planet Hunters

A key strength of Planet Hunters is its ability to bring together groups of people, including those without a background in science, to become citizen scientists and actively engaged in the exoplanet search.

At the same time, 49% of Planet Hunters volunteers highlighted a reason that limited their participation in the project, including:

  • Personal circumstances
  • Issues with the platform, interface and accessibility
  • Limited understanding
  • Tedious, fatigue and repetition
  • Lack of individual feedback and recognition
  • Classification anxieties
  • Commitment to other Zooniverse projects

How can Planet Hunters become more inclusive of its growing, diverse community?

There is still work to be done to ensure that Planet Hunters remains rewarding, motivating and inclusive of all volunteers. Around 50% of volunteers provided a recommendation that could support the development of Planet Hunters; including:

  • Providing additional information and support to volunteers
  • Improving accessibility and interface usability
  • Providing more feedback

Next steps for the PHT team

The Planet Hunters TESS team are currently thinking of ways to implement some of the recommended changes – here’s some of the areas they are exploring:

  • Translating the project into multiple languages
  • Launching a mobile app
  • Offering more training and support e.g. video tutorials
  • A ‘meet the researcher’ or ‘meet the volunteer’ blog
  • Improving and supporting use of Planet Hunters in the classroom for educational purposes
  • More regular updates e.g. to the results page; Twitter

Read the full evaluation report here: http://bit.ly/Planet-Hunters-evaluation

You can contact Annaleise via publicengagement@admin.ox.ac.uk or Twitter @AnnaleiseD

About Nora Eisner

Project leader of the Zooniverse citizen science project Planet Hunters TESS and PhD Student at the University of Oxford.

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