Initial Publication Date: January 11, 2021

About Compass

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Project Description

SERC currently hosts materials from over 120 geoscience education projects, and the majority of geoscience faculty report using these sites to support their teaching (Manduca et al., 2017). But the project-focused nature of these sites means the information is siloed. As a result educators have difficulty navigating the full breadth of the collections.

This challenge -- to improve resource discoverability -- was explicitly identified as the top priority in the synthesis report from the November 2019 Geoscience Education Infrastructure planning meeting. That report identified several additional priority recommendations, including a #2 priority to improve partnerships across geoscience education projects. A project was envisioned that would directly address these top priorities as well as support progress on the full set of recommendations.

In September of 2020, with funding from NSF, SERC embarked on the Compass project to address these recommendations. This project will:

  1. Improve our understanding of how Earth educators explore the wide array of resources currently hosted by SERC.
  2. Use that understanding to drive improvements in SERC discovery infrastructure and the organization of SERC-hosted materials to more effectively connect educators with the materials and information they need.
  3. Expand the scope of materials discoverable through SERC to include high-quality Earth education materials hosted by partner sites.

This project involves not only understanding how SERC visitors explore and discover our materials and improving that experience, but connecting our audience with the wide-range of Earth education materials hosted by other projects and organizations. We will work with partners to identify and catalog resources that they host that may be of interest to SERC visitors. This may include materials such as teaching activities and event information. These cataloged resources will then be integrated into the SERC discovery systems so that they can be discovered by SERC visitors in the course of their normal exploration.

Design Cycle Approach

This project uses a design process grounded in the ISO 9241 principles for user-centered design. The process is based upon an explicit understanding of the community of users, an evidence-informed evaluation, and repeated refinement through reflection and iteration. In this iterative cycle a User Needs Assessment captures the current state of discovery drawing on user and community input, site data, and formal metrics. Building on this information User-Informed Action Planning incorporates evaluation, research, past experience and ideation with community input to generate a prioritized action plan. During the Design and Implementation stage this action plan is implemented: new improvements developed and piloted, existing tools refined, new materials brought to the fore, and new collection partnerships formed. After a suitable run-time the results of these changes are assessed through User Evaluation Metrics, which are analyzed during the Reflection and Design Refinement stage, and the cycle starts again. We will use this design process on two different time scales: as an annual cycle with an emphasis on community engagement during the Reflection through Action Planning stages, as well as on shorter timescales to support rapid iterative improvements to the discovery tools.

The annual design cycle will be anchored by a pair of virtual meetings, represented in the top section of the diagram. The first meeting will focus on reflection and refinement from the previous implementation phase and lead to a second meeting where plans for upcoming implementation process are finalized. These meetings will engage a group of Community Discovery Advisors, as one mechanism to bring a wide range of community perspectives to the planning process.

Community Discovery Advisors (CDA)

The Community Discovery Advisors is a group of approximately 20 individuals including geoscience education community stakeholders, members of the larger interdisciplinary SERC user community, and experts in technical aspects of search and discovery. The CDA acts as both a general advisory group for the overall work of the project as well as providing targeted guidance in areas of individuals' particular expertise. The CDA meets virtually twice a year, provides asynchronous feedback as appropriate throughout the year, and provides input for the project evaluation annually. Different members of the committee are engaged more fully at different times in the project's evolution and in different aspects of the work with all members attending at least one synchronous meeting per year.

Principal Investigators and Collaborators

Sean Fox, Technical Director at SERC

Sean Fox Sean Fox is the lead PI for the Compass project. He is responsible for coordinating the overall execution of the design process and he leads activities focused on developing sustainable funding models. He will lead SERC technical staff in the execution of modifications to Serckit including development of the tools to support new discovery modalities and the expansion of the SERC's metadata collections to encompass external partner resources. Fox is the designer and lead developer of Serckit including all of its current discovery features and analytics systems.

Ellen Iverson, Evaluation Director at SERC

Ellen Ellen Iverson leads the design and implementation of the user-oriented evaluation methods. She is responsible for synthesizing data collected from the full set of metrics into an annual report and she ensures the collection of verbatim observations and feedback from the community discovery advisors in their external evaluation role. Iverson has nearly thirty years of experience in implementing user-oriented evaluations, including evaluations of dozens of individual project websites hosted through Serckit.

Cailin Huyck Orr, Associate Director at SERC

Cailin Huyck Orr Cailin Huyck Orr leads the implementation of discovery supports in response to the action planning process and the evolution of the underlying technical infrastructure. She will also lead activities related to communication and building use of improvements.

Cathy Manduca, SERC Director

Cathy Manduca Cathy Manduca will coordinate the work of the community advisors and NAGT Teach the Earth committee and will lead the engagement of partners to broaden the collection of discoverable resources.

Kristin O'Connell, Evaluation/Education Specialist at SERC

Kristin O Kristin O'Connell collaborates on the design and implementation of research and evaluation methods. She is co-leading the development of project logic and research hypotheses, as well as synthesizing data collected. O'Connell has a decade of experience with SERC user-center website design and evaluation.


Manduca, C. A., Iverson, E. R., Luxenberg, M., Macdonald, R. H., McConnell, D. A., Mogk, D. W., & Tewksbury, B. J. (2017). Improving undergraduate STEM education: The efficacy of discipline-based professional development. Science Advances, 3(2), e1600193.


Compass is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation (ICER-2034189). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.