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Ocean Data Visualization on a Touchtable Demonstrates Group Content Learning, Science Practices Use, and Potential Embodied Cognition


Conceptualizing and understanding global, physical systems like Earth’s ocean is challenging. Data visualizations on touch-based technology allow learners to explore systems and facilitate embodied experiences, promoting deeper understanding. We investigated how direct manipulation of data visualizations on a touchscreen table affords meaningful learning of science concepts and practices. Using a conceptual framework informed by embodied cognition and sociocultural theory, we analyzed the use of an application displaying global ocean temperature visualizations. Eleven adult-child groups of two to four participants used a think-aloud procedure during four tasks in a lab setting. We recorded, transcribed, and qualitatively coded resulting utterances, looking for evidence of concepts and practices, group meaning-making, and language that could point to embodied cognition. Participants discussed science content and engaged in scientific practices such as describing patterns and refining ideas. Participants used ontological, orientational, and metonymic conceptual metaphors. We discuss implications and provide suggestions for data visualizations on touch platforms.

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We thank Gina Hillsberry and Jessica Childers for manuscript review and formatting, and our anonymous reviewers and editors for their feedback on the manuscript. We also thank all of our participants for their contributions and our advisory board for their continued insight.

Data, Code, and Materials Availability

Data, code, and study materials will be available on Open Science Framework or by request as ethics board review requires.


This work was supported by the National Science Foundation under grant number 1612485.

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Authors and Affiliations



Carrie Schuman coordinated embodied cognition data analysis and led writing. Kathryn Stofer is the project principal investigator, led overall project design, supervised education researchers, and supervised writing. Lisa Anthony is the project co-principal investigator, led the overall project design with Kathryn Stofer, and supervised the prototype design and the computer science researchers.. Hannah Neff contributed to the study’s design, execution, data analysis and writing. Peter Chang contributed to the design of the embodied cognition analysis and the data analysis itself. Nikita Soni contributed to the design and development of the prototype application, designing and conducting the research study, and data analysis for the study. Alice Darrow contributed to the design and development of the prototype application, the design and conduct of the research study, and data analysis. Annie Luc contributed to prototype design and development and research study design and conduct. Amanda Morales contributed to the design and implementation of the research study. Jeremy Alexandreparticipated in data analysis of the science content and practices. Brittani Kirkland led the original development of the codebook for science content and practices.

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Correspondence to Kathryn A. Stofer.

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Schuman, C., Stofer, K.A., Anthony, L. et al. Ocean Data Visualization on a Touchtable Demonstrates Group Content Learning, Science Practices Use, and Potential Embodied Cognition. Res Sci Educ 52, 445–457 (2022).

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  • Embodied cognition
  • Conceptual metaphors
  • Public engagement with science
  • Informal science learning settings
  • Touch-interactive tabletop
  • Data visualization