Workshop notes: Exploring the potential of citizen science approaches for the development of undergraduate research skills

Notes from a Joint workshop of the Teaching and Learning and Citizen Science Special Interest Groups of the British Ecological Society, which was held on 12th October 2018 at the University of Reading. The workshop was organised by Alice Mauchline, who also opened the day.

I’ve followed that with a keynote: “The role of learning in community science and citizen science“. As a basis for this, I have used my talk from Citizen Inquiry which is exploring the role of learning in different types of citizen science projects. I start by covering three main typologies of citizen science (Wiggins & Crowston 2011, Shirk et al. 2012, and mine) and compared between them, pointing that they don’t include learning explicitly. I then mentioned different models of learnings from Laure Kloetzer’s work in Citizen Cyberlab, which is mostly based on contributory projects. This is followed by several examples of such projects, and the learning from them. For Collegial projects, I have used a model from Cindy Regalado’s PhD.  I end with demonstrating the learning from 3 projects of the extreme citizen science group (air quality monitoring, noise monitoring in Heathrow, and preparedness to earthquakes in Seattle). I end with the DITOs escalator which represents both personal and potential journeys which can help in conceiving future projects.

Project Splatter, Sarah Perkins, University of Cardiff – the SPLATTER project is a Social media PLATform for Estimating Roadkill and started in 2013, and the media got interested in the project. The fact that it got media attention helped, with a double spread in the Independent. The website and app are developed by volunteers and reports on Facebook, Twitter, and email are translate it into reporting by undergraduate students – it provides an opportunity for engaging in a professional way in social media. Undergraduate students are engaged through wildlife and conservation groups and offer dissertations, placements, volunteers. Students can also get a stipend to get involved in research projects over the summer. The dataset for 50,000 data points provides data management handling skills. Students compose the annual report, participate in general events and festivals, carry out dissertation projects and even to generate data – e.g. public engagement and running a survey with the Splatter project participants. In the summer placement project photo sharing websites images with geocodes used to assess the distribution of species. The students learn about network creation, organisational skills, understanding the scientific community, and how to manage social media professionally.

Challenges of running a citizen science project as an undergraduate
Arron Watson, University of Reading – as an undergraduate, had an interest in citizen science and wanted to run such a project. Interest in people’s interaction with the environment, and with a background in mental health he could see the potential health benefits. The idea was to understand, through citizen science how people interact with urban spaces, and see why people go to such spaces. The idea was to analyze photographs of green spaces by clicking on features (Zooniverse style) and explain why the participants are attracted to space and then it can be used to understand what are the patterns of data and preferences. The idea is to get preferences of people towards green spaces and think of the benefits for the participants. The Challenges include: “this more like a PhD, and need to be simplified”. The concern was that there wasn’t enough time, but not suitable for an undergrad project. However, he didn’t want to give it up – if there was a structure in place maybe that would help. The project became a set of fixed photos or green spaces based on the same background image – trees, flowers, and done a simple survey of preferences during a conference. Found a way to run it through YouTube. After this project, in an MRes project now focusing on a project around children identifying freshwater macroinvertebrates, through activity pack. Challenges of running a project-time: there is set time for an activity, so that is challenging. The compromise was to use photographs to identify macroinvertebrates, so that idea was put on hold. It is challenging as a student to run these projects!

Citizen Science education from the undergraduate perspective Mo Langmuir, The University of Nottingham/Ignite Futures! – Working on science education for children in Nottingham. Rick Hall was promoting the Lab_13 initiative in which the pupils become architects of their learning, with resident scientists – e.g. that Manuka Honey didn’t have observable health benefits. From the work of Ignite! develop ideas about the issue of Air Quality using the BSA to explore the local environment with students. They collaborated with LSx and FoE on a Diffusion Tubes project in schools and they aim to get comprehensive data across the city. She hasn’t heard about citizen science in undergraduate education. Her informal survey among acquaintances who completed their undergraduate studies in science shows that about 75% haven’t heard about citizen science, and only a few knew about it. However, the potential was positive, with people from different areas, so people who recently finished undergrad studies, were positive about it. It can also help, according to people’s opinions, to be serious about the scientific process. Citizen science needs to have practical skills in science, confidence in

Taking Note: Citizen Science to Science Learning, Colleen Hitchcock, Brandeis University, USA  (Slides here) – primary duties are teaching, and part of environmental studies group. Before graduate school, worked in the Audubon society so was familiar with it before her PhD. Citizen science was natural to engage students with environmental issues. Integrating citizen science into the curriculum can be a shift from a closed education perspective to open science perspective. An outside research lab is very locked in terms of the time of engagement (only when they are with the teacher) and what they are expected to do. In citizen science students can engage more openly – they can also work with other groups and communities. Bringing citizen science to the classroom is making the democratisation of science as the norm, open science happens alongside open education, and the science and is reaching out beyond the university – an open education way. By embedding citizen science we can create a culture where students are questions about the science. By doing citizen science it is possible to support students regardless of the specific topic of their studies. For example, in an iNaturalist ID-a-thon in the campus library. Other people were allowed to join and that opened up the process. Started including citizen science in every course she teaches, and that allow students to do research, increase awareness of scientific contribution and understand that outputs extend beyond the university – it’s experiential and service learning. Focus on biology and ecology. While a lot of the students won’t have a degree in science, it’s valuable to introduce them to the idea that they have a place in it regardless. Through the assignments, the students are both learning about citizen science and about doing citizen science, and also facilitate citizen science -bioblitz or city nature challenge. Classes can be big – 100 students and they start with the question – understand what is citizen science, and participate in a project, usually online in a contributory project. They provide evidence for this (screenshot) and that forms the basis for class discussion. Citizen science can complement course content – eg. biology and climate change is done through a campus phenology project that is linked to NPN, as well as explicitly using citizen science literature as the text for the course (instead of other literature). Students are exposed to citizen science in multiple pathways and won’t question data quality as a barrier. Old pictures of the campus can be compared and people can see the changes in seasonal cycles that already happened. Students learn about data and evidence and complete with a big climate change puzzle of putting all the information together. Finally, citizen science is used for professional development and mentorship and used to increase skills: research, science communication, education, and outreach. Interdisciplinary students are learning about linking issues of communication, environmental justice. Linking to outside organisations can be challenging. There are issues of problems of data that is evaluated by peers, by external citizen scientists – that is changing over the semester. Students are asked to reflect on their progress an see their own evolution. There is an opportunity to collaborate with other students, and understanding the value of the contribution to external communities. So an event “‘Deis does Citizen Science” provided a link to a virtual citizen science project on the basis of camera traps, and the students organised an event of “data sprint” where it was in the library, and then people moved to help in the project – 50 people attended the event, of which 25 participated in class and they were inventive in creating motivation – e.g. registering the activity as community contribution time. A survey of students after the course – beyond the course (3 and 5 years later): they have an understanding of citizen science, but there were also concerns about inclusivity and democratisation, but feel that it is a valuable tool. Some students seeing the value of engaging children, and someone thinks about it and their future family within their work. Relationships with the library are important, and in other areas, people are adopting it – e.g. using Galaxy Zoo in physics class. Librarians also organise digital humanities digitising with regular lunchtime meetings.

Student Environment Research Teams (SERTs); adopting the ethos of Citizen Science to develop future Citizen Science leaders in ecology – Anita Diaz, Bournemouth University and Michelle Brown, National Trust – work with the national trust and undergraduate students. Leading a programme on wildlife conservation – about harnessing the vitality of citizen science to encourage students on how much they do. The SERT collaboration is about volunteer placement. Citizen science as a mirror for the students: carrying data that matter, showing students that what they do is a step towards leadership in wildlife conservation. Empowering students that they can make a difference. Thinking about what it is that they are learning and gained through the project? The Purbeck Wildlife SERT is an area with rich biodiversity, and there are a citizen science projects that involve experts in wildlife that are retired and live in the area. The work with volunteers connects a range of landscapes. It includes 2 weeks of field ecology project. Move students toward co-creation, and students can find their own level – mixed levels of students from undergrads to masters. There are opportunities for the students to work on planning and outputs from the field work. The students get out of this extensive fieldwork – experience in the learning process; achievement of learning goals in Bloom’s taxonomy; and gain employability skills that students can use in future employment: from CIEEM framework. Experience wise, students said: educational, fun, rewarding, challenging, inspiring, tiring. Despite these challenges, students want a leadership role despite the notion that it is stretching. In employability, there are significant skills that are especially coming through of team leaders, then to sub-leaders, and finally to participants with team leaders that are covering the full taxonomy in factual and conceptual knowledge (see image). Also in procedural knowledge and metacognitive knowledge, the leaders are showing better abilities. In technical and transferable skills, the leaders gain most. The Purbeck SERT ethos and link to citizen science is an effective tool and provide training but in a challenging way.

iSpot and distance learning Janice Ansine, Open University – The OU is focused on distance learning and focus on innovative learning technology. Citizen science is now integrated into STEM pedagogy – using it in research in geographic scale. Also for teaching – collaborative and informal learning, student projects, and infrastructure for collecting data. Also used in knowledge exchange and in outreach. In 1972 OU done work with Sulphur Dioxide (by Prof Steven Rose). Projects over the years: from Evolution Megalab to iSpot, nQuire and an open science lab. iSpot developed from OPAL in 2007, with a budget of about £2m, with an aim to create a species ID and biological recording and it combines a social interaction and a careful motivation framework. Learning is embedded in iSpot process – not only valid observation but to get into the identification and learn from it. They developed an iSpot learning wheel (which is included in the Citizen Inquiry book) which explore, identify, contribute, personalise, and recognition. Explore – you to learn by engagement with the site – 10 minutes of looking through observations. Identify – by doing that and discussing the identification, people learn. Contribute – help in the badges. Next, there is the personalisation where people integrate more and filter to the specific areas or taxa or project. Finally, recognition – it’s integrated into a range of OU teaching and course and modules or quizzes that are integrated into the site. As part of the course S295 – the biology of survival – which requires students to share information on iSpot and this was valued by an external examiner. It was also increased into a free open 8 weeks course – citizen science & global biodiversity as part of open learning which will include the application of iSpot. When the looked at observations – by the 50 observation, we can see successful observations.

Developing a research partnership between students and the community – Reflections on the Whitley Researchers Sally Lloyd-Evans, The University of Reading – Sally is doing research partnerships with communities in work that is done with Whitley researchers. Linked to justice issues. Working with a local community in Reading that explore co-production, with issues of mobility, social exclusion. Students working with a disadvantaged community and focus on families and place and using participatory research. Residents ask for help on the use of £1M from the Big Local to support their research. Students are trying to co-produce everything –  from ideas to reporting. Employing local residents on living wage to do research and it is working in teams of 15-20 and with 20 internships to students to engage. Methods that are used include photography, working with local schools, and working with young people and thinking about hopes, dreams, ambitions; belonging; and wellbeing. This includes the development of games and play. Students provide funding for 6 weeks for students to be involved in research – 2 or 3 students per year, also dissertation projects that are linked to community organisations (e.g. community gardens and wellbeing) and have included in as part of a research training module. The opportunities for students is to break down barriers between the university and the local community. Students get life skills, confidence and voice, getting higher quality research and undergrad are doing excellent efforts. There is a growing two-way mentoring and relationships and local residents. With 2-3 students, there is knowing each other more deeply and there is also trust and seeing linkage that supports better research. This is possible by working through internships but almost impossible in bigger groups of students. There are also barriers – it is difficult and challenging to organise and dealing with different agendas and universities are not set up to do it in terms of payment. There are issues about terminology and language to build relationships. IT is slow scholarship and sometimes can be labour intensive. Relationships can be easily damaged through wrong communication. Positionality of each actor. There is a danger of exploitation and changing subjectivities of participants, researchers. Involving local people in unpacking their own difficulties – and might criticise themselves. Researchers role are also complicated – researcher? activist? The more in-depth participatory work is better than the cohort in a module, as this doesn’t align well. From the student perspective – opening up the opportunity to encounter a different community that was not exposed to in the past. Because of the research work in Whitley is done with people who don’t have scope for volunteering, there was a decision to pay participants. Sometimes people volunteer due to issues with the benefits system. There is also a challenge with the definition of the research in the area participatory social science and the boundary with citizen science, and what the area of citizen social science encompasses.

The workshop ended with break out discussion groups to develop:
• Skills map on a ‘ladder of participation’, which contrasted the 4 classification from my levels of participation, with the current Bloom taxonomy to consider where are the learning opportunity at each type.

• Benefits/challenges of citizen science in UG education

• ‘Top tips’ for educators thinking of using this approach

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Published by

mukih

Professor of GIScience, University College London

One thought on “Workshop notes: Exploring the potential of citizen science approaches for the development of undergraduate research skills”

  1. Reblogged this on BES TEACHING AND LEARNING and commented:
    Prof. Muki Haklay, UCL, has written a great summary of the workshop “Exploring the potential of citizen science approaches for development of undergraduate research skills”. This workshop was run jointly by the BES Teaching and Learning and Citizen Science Special Interest Groups.

    Like

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