Citizen Science 2017 – workshops day and opening panel

The Citizen Science Association conference is held at the River Center in St Paul, Minnesota on 17th to 20th May. This post and the following ones are notes that were taken during the meeting in the sessions that I’ve attended.

Wednesday was dedicated to workshops, and I joined the Citizen Science at College level workshop. Organised by Thomas Tisue (Muskegon Community College); John R. Jungck (University of Delaware); Aerin W. Benavides (University of North Carolina); Julie Feldt (Adler Planetarium); Colleen Hitchcock (Brandeis University); Leslie Ries (Georgetown University); and Terry A. Gates (North Carolina State University). The workshop aim was to bring together academics who work with undergraduate students to discuss best practices for developing citizen science research within their university classes.

Some ideas about citizen science at undergraduate level – it can be about enculturating students with the concepts of democratisation of science, the value of open science and education. It also brings up issues of data quality, and understand connections beyond their discipline. There is plenty of opportunities for experiential learning. The issue is that move from a closed process that it is evaluated by the instructor to one that they are evaluated by peer and even participants.  The students, of course, have different motivation to participate in citizen science.

John Jungck – philosophically, citizen science can be thought differently including different levels of engagement and about how it fit with societal goals. Think that each assignment is for a social good. Learning skills for the 21st century require developing citizenship skills, and investigation in the field is assisting in the development of issues in physics, biology, and mathematics.

Colleen Hitchcock is seeing the view of citizen science as an integral to much of the studies, and doing things like phenology on campus can increase bio-literacy and understand changes. In every class that she teaches there is an element of citizen science. The way to allow students to engage in research is to join an existing project as a way to save resources. The assignments include – what is citizen science – reflect on the experience, explore SciStarter, learn through a contributory project. Citizen Science can assist in enhancing classes such as about Climate Change. It also provides an opportunity for professional development.

Leslie Ries – she looks at research in the classroom, and instead of running a programme, joining an existing one. Looking at butterfly at continental scale as her research area, and this allows for well-curated data sets – butterfly informatics that provides data. She integrated the module into existing course to introduce students to this is to teach informatics in ecology and where the data come from. She now got a module that starts in a lecture that explains history, needs for large scale data and then citizen science as a source for that. The question development about being able to develop a question and focusing on butterfly ecology and develop question and acquire data

Aerin W. Benavides talked about the value of citizen science for project-based learning – it provides an opportunity for exploration that is missing in the previous schooling. This leads to teaching teachers about the potential of citizen science.

Thomas Tisue – in community colleges there is a need to help STEM students who are looking for research opportunity and linking that to citizen science group that want to learn to education and outreach, and considering the limited resources of the college open up an opportunity. In community colleges, students are many time first generations and lack context of study, and sometime need financial support to allow them to participate in an internship programme with local environmental monitoring. The faculty need to be involved and assure integrity. College can offer credit through independent study time.

Julie Feldt – at Adler and work on zooniverse. Different opportunities – educators are sharing material to use projects in teaching, with examples from middle school, high school, and college introduction. They have done access to Galaxy Data on Google Drive to allow students to use these data to examine information with Google spreadsheet

Bucky Gates – the students go on SciStarter, doing a project, and then fill in a review form that was designed with SciStarter, and got over 500 forms completed, and that helps in assessing which projects work and how people who are volunteered to a project react to different projects. Projects need to be simple – and creative. Can make data collection simple so it is malleable to different areas and allow an opening for creativity.

In different breakup sessions, participants explored 6 teams: analysing citizen science data; supporting pre-service and in-service educators (teachers training); independent research – supporting students; learning within the semester; using citizen science project in the classroom; and an open one.

The using citizen science in the classroom group highlighted the need to simplify and focus on what possible to get. Challenges of teaching in one semester – reaching out to mailing lists, creating more collaborative/co-created than just contributory and who to partner around college on a specific citizen science. Supporting educators – citizen science is not visible in museums, science centres etc. Analysing data – issues of developing different ways. Independent learning – learning from UK, Chile, USA. Social engagement is an important part of citizen science and is it suitable to expect students to come up with a question or join someone’s question.

There is a growing recognition of the need to have introductory material on where to start and which system, project, and platform to use. There are resources such as that provide information for teacher to get into citizen science – mostly to middle school

The first plenary event of the conference was “Meet the Authors with Darlene Cavalier (ASU): The Rightful Place of Science: Citizen Science; Caren Cooper (NCSU): Citizen Science: Changing the Face of Discovery; and Mary Ellen Hannibal: Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction. The moderator was Heather McElhatton, MN Public Radio.

Darlene Cavalier talked about her “The Rightful Place of Science: Citizen Science”. Darlene defined citizen science as a way to advance science without a formal degree, or simply science. Darlene described her journey into citizen science: from journalism to science communication, and technology assessment. Darlene also explains the link to Science Cheerleaders and the way it works together and allows to promote citizen science project. The name if the book came from a series by ASU. The selection of chapters that were included in this book was done in order to keep the book cheap and to ensure that the process is manageable while being written by passionate experts. The different chapters are exploring the link to policy; definitions of citizen science by Booney and Irwin and the tension in them; How citizen science can be linked to teaching in class situations; media aspects of citizen science – but there are situations where citizen science and citizen journalism is getting close. Darlene also explained the role of SciStarter – different ways for getting involved in citizen science and giving multiple routes that will allow people to join in. The chapter on citizen science in community citizen science – and how it is linked to concerns of the community. The final chapter is demonstrating how citizen science can engage with people in exploring microbiome in the international space station, with people also analysing the data, and the story of how the project came about.  The book ends with “now it’s time for you to explore citizen science”. The challenge of the book is to open citizen science to many audiences – truly everybody that is curious can participate in a project about their concerns.

Caren Cooper combined her curiosity, and the need to become scientist in order to engage with nature in a serious way. Once she had kids, doing field work wa less possible, so she started collaborating with volunteers. It’s important to acknowledge citizen science, as it contributed to science but also pointing to the limitation of main science – of things that scientists just cannot achieve alone. Covering the history of science. Caren identify the smartphone as very handy tool in influencing ability to collect and share the data. The purpose of her book is to demistify science and make it accessible to people – it’s collective activity where everyone is giving a little bit, and collectively, it’s a feast. Caren was surprised of the range of disciplines and fields that involving people and the different ways in which it is happening. There are some great stories of community transformation in the book about community action of plastic bags following turtle monitoring, to engagement of prison inmates in dealing with entomology research. The take away – citizen science should become the new norm in science and life.

Mary Ellen Hanibal, brought a new concept to audiences. Her journey began 10 years ago from a book about evolution. In the California Academy she explored  with taxonomies, and she understood the concept of sixth extinction that is happening and she started to look at conservation biology, and that led to understand big data, and citizen science within this. The word “hope” in the title is not what she wanted, and want to see action and having a heroe’s journey. She also explored the need to act, to think about concepts like half earth and be aware of the emergency of saving species. Citizen science is a platform to bring people together and make people come togehter. She want people to reconsider the plae of humans in the circle of lifes – it’s part of a journay of life and we need to support other life form and find a way to do it all together.

More on Darlene book here and Mary Ellen book here. I’m in the middle of Caren’s book and hope to write about it soon!


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Professor of GIScience, University College London

One thought on “Citizen Science 2017 – workshops day and opening panel”

  1. Combining Citizen Science into the educational systems seems to be a new way to connect students to their multi-faces environments aspects such as bringing new models of theory and practical thinking, giving best tools to “think out of the box”, developing standards to perform research and contribution to better understading what integration of ordinary citizen in conducting sceince research means to society. In my opinion, citizen science studies should be part of the curriculum in each level of education starting from kindergarten on up to university and beyond.

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