Field Research Project: WeBird

In Fall 2013, twelve Animal Science students at UW–Madison took iPhones into the forest to see who could identify the most birds. A dynamic mobile game, WeBird, let them document sightings, record bird calls, take photos and videos and share all this their instructor and teammates. The purpose of the project was to test a number of social and gaming design elements for use in a design that will be used with over 100 students in a Spring version of the course.

Mobile-Enhanced Field Research: Increasing bird observation using game mechanics from UW Mobile Learning Incubator on Vimeo.

The App

Iteration 1: The students were given an App containing an electronic “Notebook” feature that allowed them to record audio, video and images of birds they saw



Iteration 2: A number of “Quests” were introduced. When the student made an observation at a specific location or of a specific species, they would complete each quest



Iteration 3: A leaderboard was introduced that counted the number of bird sightings each student recorded. A map was unlocked so each student could see each of the other’s sightings. More quests were introduced, audio samples of each bird species’ call as well as identifying text was included.



Iteration 4: The students were broken into 2 teams and their total scores were shown on the leaderboard



In Class Visualization

For class, a rough map-based visualization tool was used to look over and discuss the data collected by the players. We call it the “Web Notebook.” Click in the screenshot to link to the live site.

AS375 Web Notebook

The Study

During the 4 week pilot, a number of iterations of the game were released to students to play for one week. All of their activity was logged back to a central server and their experiences were recorded in personal journals as well as in-class debriefing sessions. Using these records, we are looking to answer a number of questions:

  • How did each social or gaming feature effect player behavior?
  • Did students perform the activity beyond the requirements of the course?
  • Which features of the activity correlate with increased curiosity or excitement about Ornithology?