The extensive data set of evolutionary relationships between organisms is often referred to as the Tree of Life. Providing an effective visual interface for teachers and students to interact with this data set requires bringing together work from many disciplines: computer science, information visualization, human-computer interaction, information classification and retrieval, systematic biology, and evolution education. Through interviews and a survey with teachers and professionals in the field of biology we have developed key recommendations for designing and evaluating the efficacy of existing and future tree-structured data browsers.
The Tree of Life can be seen in many different contexts: as an index to a biological information space, as a taxonomy, and as a map showing relationships between organisms. Our project falls within the realm of larger efforts to uncover and visualize the branching relationships between organisms. The goals of our project include
- Understanding how teachers currently teach about the evolutionary relationships between organisms
- Identifying common teaching tasks involving the Tree of Life
- Determining how the future software might facilitate those tasks
Our work was conducted as part of the outreach efforts of the NSF CIPRES project, and culminated in a set of recommendations for a future Tree of Life web application.