Citizen Science Inquiry event and book launch at the Open University

Citizen Inquiry is a new book, edited by Christothea (Thea) Herodotou,‎ Mike Sharples,  and Eileen Scanlon – all are education technology experts at the Open University. To celebrate the book, the Institute of Education Technology organised a citizen science impact symposium.  These are my notes from the day.

The day opened with Eileen Scanlon covered Citizen Science at the Open University. Eileen provided context about the role of the Open University in providing an alternative way of learning science. Concepts about teaching science and how to understand the experience of the learner. There is a series of innovating pedagogy reports – the 2017 report will come out soon. Eileen examined how the introduction of technology change science learning and teaching. Technology should be understood more widely: development of experimental kits that were created to allow students to explore science at home, with thousands of students joining in the 1970s. The OU has used television as a way of linking learning to the courses that they lead, and today they link to other popular programmes, with a lot of interactions on the web and using online technology. They’ve done the SO2 pollution national experiment from 1971-1979 with acknowledgement to the contribution of the volunteers in a paper by Rose and Peare 1972 (p378). The work involves teaching science in a social experiment and carried out with first-year students. Further work was carried out by Peggy Varley – drosophila that were captured in matchboxes with insects. Later versions of the introductory course included moths traps. The aim was to engage students with science. In 2007-2009 another activity at the OU is iSpot that focused on geographical aspects of species distribution and developed by Jonathan Silvertown. The OpenScienceLab is to open science to people across the spectrum of learning. There is a journey between informal and formal learning and can travel in both directions (e.g. iSpot evolved into supporting a MOOC in ecology). There are massive challenges for new learning – informal to formal, passive to active, solitary to sharing and from learner to teachers.

I was asked to provide a keynote, and provided a talk about learning in contributory, collegial and co-created citizen science, drawing especially on the experience of the ExCiteS group.

The next presentation was by Thea Herodotou about the LEARN Citsci: a project that involved UCDavis, OU, Oxford, NHM, CalAdacmey and LA County. The project is looking at citizen science and focuses on youth participants (5-19) and the learning outcomes – what they learn through participation. There are multiple overlapping settings – how the goals help and hinder their learning. The project looks specifically at NHMs and the citsci projects that they’re doing. They look at Basu and Barton Citizen Science Agency which was adapted by Heidi Ballard. The objective of the project, in particular, the OU, trying to describe the learning settings where citizen science takes place – describe the physical or digital space where it’s happening, what are the roles of young people in projects, and also social interaction, family communication, staff, scientists etc. Looking at relevant activities – one day. They examine iNaturalist application in a bioblitz and the way it is used. They also examine Zooniverse and looking at NHM project – miniature fossils that are being used in the project. In year 1 the focus is on describing settings, and then move to capture learning, then redesign new citizen science programmes and then data analysis. The intended impacts include how to design online and offline citizen science programmes to scaffold learning and participation for young people.

The final morning talk was by Liz FitzGerald – about Situ8 – a tool to let annotate physical places with digital information, it is now a web platform. A hub for Geolocated media, originally created as a generic platform. Situ8 was with limited resources and initial prototype as a smartphone app and became a web portal. Allow people to register and by anyone. Used it in an OU field course, and in S288 module for Practical science – with measures of water quality. The platforms support data, images, text, video. They also allow exploring the data that was collected. Supports both qualitative data collection (poems or recording of information) and scientific data. They are addressing the copyright of the data and control over the downloading permissions. They use MO – Media Objects – and the platform is very generic.

Mike Sharples –  talked about nQuire – the original version, which provided a tool for schools to developed and get involved in inquiry-based learning in schools. Open learning allow for sophisticated exploration, including the virtual microscope at the OU that allows the exploration of moon rocks. The system doesn’t work due to changes in technology. The OU approach is starting from mobile and inquiry-based learning, and how to engage citizens and a wider range of participants. The successes include “citizen inquiry” as a proposal which became a reality (originally mention in an ERC synergy proposal that wasn’t successful). Citizen inquiry is becoming a framework that is recognised that combines with citizen science and inquiry-based ideas. They also developed tools – the nQuire platform, supported by Nominet Trust. The nQuire0t platform is a more open activity which includes spot-it, sense-it and win-it missions. They have 1106 users and 187 projects. The nQuire-it platform is supported by an app that unlocks the sensors on the mobile phone that the system opens to a user. Challenge – how to get to the mass scale that is beyond surveying. There are issues of recruitment, think of engagement – such as a low barrier to entry and intimidating to newcomers. The introductory screen of many websites assumes existing interest. Also how to gain value from contributing positive feedback, join a community of practice (in future learn). The next issue is sustainability – how to keep a community going: identity (we’re rock hunters/cloud spotters), development – is there a sequence of forming, storming, norming, performing relevant to cit sci, and what guidance, curation and mentoring. Finally Maturity, including considering the maturity of a community and its mitosis (breaking up to new group). Need to thing of places for people to interact with each other, support each other.

The third challenge is how to do good science with valuable outcomes that is appropriate, reliable, robust and ethical.

Good citizen inquiry need to do valuable learning, linked to teaching, have a large scale data set, good element of engagement and serendipity, involvement of trained scientists and accurate data collection and analysis.


Some of the book chapters:

Maria Aristeidou provided the analysis of the nQuire It platform, identifying the design requirements and then evaluated the implementation. Participants self reporting didn’t report on the inquiry process and suggested recommendation and guidelines

Gill Clough talked about geocaching about the use of geocaching then and now – she done a study in 2007. She done a detailed mixed survey of closed and open questions, and she discovered a lot of learning – 84% learn something online. Geocaching have become a subscription app, not expensive, and the commercialisation led to debate in the community. GPS is also available on the phone, and it is relying on them.

Stuart Dunn and Mark Hedges look at citizen humanities and transmission of knowledge. Looked at crowdsourcing in humanities projects notice different types of projects that are close to the classical crowdsourcing. Crowd gets methodological proficiency, domain expertise about the subject – but outside universities. They also identified collective knowledge and practical skills.



Podcast – discussion with Liz Killen and Alice Sheppard on citizen science

Several weeks ago, Liz Killen, who is studying for an MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College organised an interview with me and Alice Sheppard about aspects of citizen science, for the I, Science the science magazine of Imperial College. This is the second time ExCiteS is covered in the magazine, after a report in 2013 by .

Opportunistic Citizen Science in central California

iNaturalist MapAs I’ve noted in the earlier post, I’ve travelled through central California in August, from San Francisco, to Los Angeles. Reading Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction‘, made me think about citizen science, but this was my holiday – and for the past 4 years, as I finish setting the email away message, I disable the social media apps and email on my phone, and only use it for navigation, travel apps like TripAdviser, weather, taking images, and searching for the opening times of the local supermarket (more on this in the next post). In addition to the phone, I do use a digital camera with an integrated GPS receiver which somewhat surprisingly, displays a map of the world with data from HERE . As I was travelling along, I wasn’t aiming to take part in any specific citizen science project, just to experience the landscape, and understand the places and people.

Yet, I had several encounters…

DSCN1815 DSCN1822 On t he way back from a visit at Yosemite valley, by coincidence, we decided to stop at a vista point along the road, and as I was getting out of the car, I realised that the sign looks familiar. There was a board with information about the Rim Fire  and the need to protect the forest from tree disease and fire. But one familiar sign, which I’ve seen in photos, and just read about it, was now in front of me. Here’s the description from Hannibal’s ‘Citizen Scientist’:

…A succinct two-and-a-half-minute video explains it here:
“The concept uses little more than a camera phone and a stout piece of bent steel to start,” reads the site. Droege figured out that using photo-stitching software and images periodically captured from the same place, he could create a mural of change over time…
DSCN1818Droege’s idea is being put to use by a sui generis citizen science group in the Bay Area, Nerds for Nature. …In their emphasis on improvisation and community the Nerds embody the grassroots spirit of citizen science. Two Nerds projects using Droege’s camera-bracket idea currently underway are both trained on documenting and observing fire recovery … in the Stanislaus National Forest in Yosemite … if you happen to be hiking in either place, here’s what you can do to be a cool Nerd. Find a bracket and take a picture. On Mount Diablo, post it to Twitter using the hashtag #diablofire01. At Yosemite, use the hashtag indicated at each bracket. For example, #firerim01. The Nerds will harvest the photos and “create time-lapse views of change.” The effects of fire on the ecosystem here are imperfectly understood, probably subject to climate change, and of the utmost interest to figuring out the deep truth of the landscape, so you will be doing a good deed.” (p. 348-349)

DSCN1821So I had to take a picture with my camera, as well as a zoomed-in image to see a little bit better how the recovery is happening around the burnt trees. I have tweeted the images (and I hope that the project will prove successful) but only after I’ve went back to use social media. If you follow the hashtag, you’ll see the steady stream of images…

DSCN1814I have also captured many pictures of birds, flowers, and animals that we came across (see the map at the top of the post), from a bird that landed on the side mirror of the car, to Sea Lions we’ve seen on a boat tour to the Channel Islands. Last Friday, I finally organised the pictures and uploaded them to my iNaturalist account. I’m not familiar with the wildlife in California, and I didn’t know that in these three weeks, I’ve seen American Robin, California Scrub-Jay (in the picture), Turkey Vulture, Cottontail Rabbit and much more. A truly amazing experience of uploading the images into iNaturalist is to see, within an hour, identification for most of the species. Not only that, my observations were added to “Wildlife of the Santa Monica Mountains”, “California Birds”, and pleasingly  “2016 National Parks Bioblitz – NPS Servicewide” collections. It all happened very rapidly. It’s odd and pleasing to contribute to citizen science by basically uploading holiday photos.

The last encounter was planned. Being close to Los Angeles was an opportunity to meet Lila Higgins and her wonderful team at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum who are doing extensive outreach through citizen science. One of the most impressive areas in the museum is the Nature Lab with its wall of invitation to many types of citizen science, and an interactive, continually updated map of observations from iNaturalist in the area of L.A.. The lab is full of exploration areas, each of them inviting the visitors to explore nature through ‘memory maps’ – and in many cases, join citizen science activities such as observing birds, insects, or listening to the sounds at night.

…Ladybird (Ledybug) observations …
or audio recording at night

At the time of the visit, two interns were working on classifying flies which were captured in a citizen science project across the city, and their view in the microscope was projected overhead. The live exhibits in the lab are also full of hints and information on how the visitors can join in and contribute to the collection. It was good to see the utilisation of the opportunistic and directed data collection that the museum provides – the synergy of professionals and volunteers which is integral to citizen science. Personally, the visit motivated me to upload my photos to iNat.

On reflection, I can see the potential of opportunistic observations and participation in simple activities such as sharing photos. I did had to prepare the photos before uploading them to iNat, mostly to adjust the time-stamp from UK to California (I forgot to adjust the time at the beginning of the journey), but this was fairly simple and easy. I’m also pleased to micro-contribute to the monitoring and understanding nature in the places that I visited…