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  1. Saira Mortier
  2. Research Coordinator
  3. Presenter’s NSFRESOURCECENTERS
  4. University of Washington, Center for Game Science
  1. Zoran Popovic
  2. Researcher
  3. Presenter’s NSFRESOURCECENTERS
  4. Center for Game Science, University of Washington
  1. Jane Roskams
  2. https://www.janeroskams.com
  3. Professor
  4. Presenter’s NSFRESOURCECENTERS
  5. University of British Columbia, University of Washington
Facilitators’
Choice

Mozak

NSF Awards: 1551063, R01MH116247

2021 (see original presentation & discussion)

All Age Groups

The world has been forced to adjust severely since the pandemic began. Closure of businesses, schools, and laboratories has sent millions into their homes and plopped them right in front of their computers. For many neuroscientists, this meant lacking access to their specialized neuronal tracing software. Luckily, citizen science game Mozak gave them a platform to continue their work.

 

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Discussion from the 2021 STEM For All Video Showcase (18 posts)
  • Icon for: Saira Mortier

    Saira Mortier

    Lead Presenter
    Research Coordinator
    May 10, 2021 | 09:55 p.m.

    Thank you for checking out our project!!! Citizen science is such a powerful tool. It makes science and scientific contribution accessible to anyone.

    Some questions for all of you:

    1. How can citizen science and crowdsourcing more effectively do its job?
    2. Have you ever participated in a citizen science project before? If so, what was it like?
    3. How can science communication do better at being approachable to everyone?
  • Icon for: Pati Ruiz

    Pati Ruiz

    Facilitator
    Learning Sciences Researcher
    May 11, 2021 | 09:21 a.m.

    Thank you for sharing how citizen science has helped neuroscientists during closures related to the COVID pandemic. I have so many questions! Can you please share more about how players learn about the neurons by tracing them in the game? Who are you seeing play the game - are students playing it in classes? Also, what does a community member need to do to earn points as shared in the video? And finally - Where is all of this data stored and processed and is that different from the neuronal tracing software that is typically used by neuroscientists? 

     
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    Kimberly Elliott
    Saira Mortier
  • Icon for: Saira Mortier

    Saira Mortier

    Lead Presenter
    Research Coordinator
    May 11, 2021 | 12:27 p.m.

    Thanks for stopping by!

    HOW PLAYERS LEARN

    There are a few ways in which players learn about neurons. First, we have scaffolded tutorials that come up occasionally as players progress. They teach about new tools and neuronal anatomy, etc. The biggest feature for teaching however are neuroscientist-guided comments that are put down on a neuron. As players play, experts can look at the results and add guidance in the form of text or (pre-recorded) video. These comments teach about neuroanatomy (how to tell an axon from a dendrite, etc.) as well as handy tracing techniques. 

    WHO IS PLAYING

    What we're seeing is most of our regular players are either retired, or semi-retired. Mozak isn't a face-paced, high stimulation game. It's actually more like a puzzle game. Most of our players report that they "play to relax" and I can attest to the kind of meditative state it brings about as you glide along the dendrites placing nodes.

    HOW TO EARN POINTS

    Community players earn points by tracing, however only the traces that make it into consensus gain points. Basically, it behooves players to be super accurate! There are also bonus points earned based on different in-game quests, as well as connecting disconnected traces.

    DATA STORED

    We're lucky to live in the time of cloud storage, that's for sure! Datasets are placed into AWS S3 buckets by different labs. We then pull that info down from the cloud, process it on our lab computers, and upload it to our servers. As players play, their browser pulls small "bricks" of data in as they are needed (as not to overload the browser or player's computer). It's a bit different than typical tracing software, since typically that pulls datasets off of the computer that is being used to trace.

     
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    Kimberly Elliott
    Dalila Dragnic-Cindric
  • May 11, 2021 | 03:53 p.m.

    This is super-interesting!  I'm curious about how the neuroscientists are thinking about this project and how they see the role of the public in their research.  Is it primarily just as awesome crowd-sourced labor and/or pandemic problem-solving?  Are they thinking about the potential role of the public in other meaningful ways?

    You know, the perennial question of citizen/community science projects and the role of the public in the process.

     
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    Saira Mortier
  • Icon for: Saira Mortier

    Saira Mortier

    Lead Presenter
    Research Coordinator
    May 11, 2021 | 05:54 p.m.

    Ha, yes that IS the question, isn't it? The neuroscientists we work with are constantly coming up with new ideas as to how this collaboration can grow. I'll also say that when the Allen Institute for Brain Science was hiring a new professional tracer, they had us post the job announcement to our community as playing Mozak provided sufficient background for the job! Which is just... super cool.

    Also, if you want to check out the TED Talk from our co-PI and resident neuroscientist to directly hear what she has to say on the subject you can check that out here!

  • May 11, 2021 | 06:32 p.m.

    Very interesting. I'm intrigued! How do people find out about Mozak? Do you recruit people to participate or do they find out in some fashion? Also, have you done any evaluation to find out what people are taking away from the experience?

     

    (I really enjoyed the video too - well done!)

     
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    Saira Mortier
  • Icon for: Saira Mortier

    Saira Mortier

    Lead Presenter
    Research Coordinator
    May 11, 2021 | 07:18 p.m.

    Thank you!

     

    Honestly, this is tough to answer because it's been really hit and miss. We've tried a lot of social media outreach but social media algorithms being what they are, it's been a rough road. Unless you're able to pay for posts to reach people, it's hard to get eyes on content (even if it is super cool!).

     

    We had two fairly good sized media publications feature us (New York Times and AARP) and that's where we've gotten most of our players. It's an ongoing struggle, to be honest. If you have any outreach secret weapons, please do share!

     

    We've done some player surveys and the biggest thing players report getting from Mozak is a relaxing activity to calm their mind after a hectic day. Playing can be quite meditative for me as well!

    Thanks for stopping by to check us out!

  • Icon for: Dalila Dragnic-Cindric

    Dalila Dragnic-Cindric

    Facilitator
    Postdoctoral Researcher
    May 12, 2021 | 09:57 a.m.

    I found this project very fascinating. It made me think of how projects like this contribute to opening up lifelong learning pathways. Although the participants might be emphasizing relaxation as the outcome and goal of their engagement in self-report measures (i.e., surveys), they are also learning a lot as they play. Have you thought of embedding some measures of learning into the game and providing positive feedback about learning to the players, in addition to points earned?

    Also, as a possible way of recruiting new players, you might want to consider recruiting through programs dedicated to lifelong learning. Such programs often exist at the county level and work through the county community centers. In pre-COVID days, a community center across from where I live was a bustling hub for people of all ages. Just an idea...

    Thank you for sharing your work and for the great discussion on this board!

     
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    Saira Mortier
  • Icon for: Saira Mortier

    Saira Mortier

    Lead Presenter
    Research Coordinator
    May 12, 2021 | 06:21 p.m.

    I love the idea of looking at lifelong learning programs! We'll absolutely have to pursue that! Thank you!!

    As a former educator, I've thought a lot about measures of learning when it comes to Mozak. And while the technical aspects of the game are currently prioritized this is certainly something we're playing with. We recently ran an experiment to give approximately half of players automatically generated lessons based on their previous gameplay to see improvements. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful at gathering enough meaningful data to analyze. But we're going to keep at it!

  • Icon for: Suzanne Otto

    Suzanne Otto

    Facilitator
    Teacher / Fellow
    May 12, 2021 | 06:06 p.m.

    This is a very interesting application of citizen science - basically a crowd sourced neuron study!  I can see where engaging a large number of unofficial researchers would pay dividends in the efficiency of the work that's being done.

    As a high school classroom teacher, I could see using these images with biology or A&P students and having them contribute as citizen scientists to the outcomes you seek.  What sorts of background information have you developed to help classroom teachers like me introduce this process?  It would be great to have basic introductory neurobiology lessons and also some highlights of the problems that are being investigated with this sort of data analysis.  Information on careers is also great for sharing with HS students.

     
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    Saira Mortier
  • Icon for: Saira Mortier

    Saira Mortier

    Lead Presenter
    Research Coordinator
    May 12, 2021 | 06:28 p.m.

    Laying out some lessons for educators is a wonderful idea! In the very early days of Mozak, we'd playtest the game with classes of 5/6th graders and I'd begin with a brief intro into the science of neurons. The response was always one of excitement and curiosity.

     

    I'll most certainly consult with our neuroscientists to see what we can offer in the way of career info for high schoolers as this could be a fantastic gateway into many STEM fields. Thank you so much for the ideas!!!

  • Icon for: Mark Heckman

    Mark Heckman

    Informal Educator
    May 13, 2021 | 06:33 p.m.

    Fascinating, I will be trying this out  - actually started, and now am back tracking to bother to read the guide :) My question, you mentioned folks doing it for relaxation and how many retired folks are doing this. If there is a meditative aspect - could you quantify this? Or calming. So many retired or older folks I know are struggling to study meditation, etc to learn how to relax and keep the mind active. Seems like this might be a go. Maybe an AARP article on this and then more volunteers. For me - right now not relaxing until I take the time to figure out how to do the tracing and use all the controls! But looking forward to it.

     
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    Saira Mortier
  • Icon for: Saira Mortier

    Saira Mortier

    Lead Presenter
    Research Coordinator
    May 14, 2021 | 01:39 p.m.

    Wonderful! Welcome to the Mozak community! The learning curve can be a bit steep but once you get the hang of it things so smoothly. You can always pop into chat and ask questions on any points of confusion. I'm always there. :)

    We haven't attempted to quantify the meditative aspects of the game thus far. It's just very common feedback we received (that I can certainly backup with my anecdotal experience). 

    Looking forward to seeing you around the neurons!

  • Icon for: Candice Woods

    Candice Woods

    Manager, Development and Partnerships
    May 14, 2021 | 09:51 a.m.

    Do you see neuroscientists continuing to use Mozak and collecting data from citizen scientists post COVID-19? 

  • Icon for: Saira Mortier

    Saira Mortier

    Lead Presenter
    Research Coordinator
    May 14, 2021 | 01:34 p.m.

    We do, yes! Many are still active on Mozak to this day!

  • May 15, 2021 | 06:10 a.m.

    What fascinating work! It powerfully illustrates the potential of citizen science.

     
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    Saira Mortier
  • Icon for: Suzanne Dikker

    Suzanne Dikker

    Researcher
    May 18, 2021 | 04:41 p.m.

    this is great! I love how citizen scientists are receiving an outcome measure of their performance. 
    do they also getting any updates about any scientific findings that they may have contributed to?

     
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    Saira Mortier
  • Icon for: Saira Mortier

    Saira Mortier

    Lead Presenter
    Research Coordinator
    May 18, 2021 | 04:44 p.m.

    We always try and keep the community posted about papers their work has contributed to and the like. A few months ago, they were acknowledged in a paper in Nature!

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