Five online training modules on citizen science

At the beginning of the year, as part of my work at UCL and together with members of the Extreme Citizen Science group, I launched a new postgraduate level course “Introduction to Citizen Science and Scientific Crowdsourcing“. We have opened it for distance learners on the UCL eXtend platform. As a postgraduate course, it required a high time commitment, since such a course expects the students to invest about 150 hours over a period of 14 weeks, which translate to at least 5 hours a week. It was expected of students to read and prepare for class, follow the material, and do the practical element each week. Therefore, it was not a surprise that some of those that follow the course remotely found it challenging!

The Opening Science For All project (OPENER) provided an opportunity to create a lighter version of the course, which requires less time. Gitte Kragh from Earthwatch led on the selection of the elements from the full course that can be reused to create 5 modules that cover the following topics: an introduction to citizen science generally, focus on environmental citizen science, information technology in citizen science, understanding participant motivation, and evaluation. Each of the modules is designed to take about an hour and to be relevant on its own. Few slides were adjusted and re-recorded, to ensure that they make sense.

Selecting a platform for the course was challenging – after trying several options, which proved complex, we found the Wix is providing a template for a basic course structure. Unfortunately, it doesn’t provide a forum for interaction between learners, but the general framework of providing the modules and sharing the material of the course is fairly good. As always, putting all the information on the website took time and after testing the course internally, by the OPENER team, we have released the course and you can access it here.

As Gitte pointed: “Each module should only take about an hour, including watching a couple of short videos, reading through the suggested publications (with focus on practical publications, reports and articles rather than core academic papers), and trying out the suggested activity. (If you find any bugs, please let us know!)

This course was created as part of the NERC-funded Opening Up Science for All! (OPENER) project @openupsci. We focused on making this short course more accessible to practitioners and less academic in nature.”

We hope that it’s useful!

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Communities of practice of citizen science – workshops, meetings, and conferences

It’s now about two months since the intensive 10 days at the beginning of June, which included attending the workshop Science and Dissent, the ECSA conference, the follow-up COST Action on citizen science meeting, and the Ecsite conference. Shortly after, I  attended the UNECE 22nd Working Group of Parties to the Aarhus Convention. June ended with a long meeting of the Doing It Together Science consortium to plan the last year of the project. Participating in so many meetings is an overwhelming experience, which takes time to process and reflect on. But a promise for the OPENER project for a reflection that is relevant to the topic of the project – the idea of a community of practice around public engagement and in particular environmental citizen science – provide a reason to consider “what kind of a community of practice was demonstrated in each event?“. I’m not trying to compose here an insight on the nature of communities of practice but just a description of where things are right now.

A Community of Practice (CoP) is “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” and the different formats of the meetings provided the physical space and temporal co-location for people to come together.

The meetings are of very different sizes: from the over thousand participants in Ecsite, to the 15 or so participants in DITOs meeting. Those different sizes lead to different possible interactions and linking up with people, but in each case, it wasn’t only a single CoP in action, and that becomes clearer with the growth in size since people come together. The COST action meeting, although bring about 150 people, was very distributed, with each working group (where people with similar interest discuss their research) talking in their room with only short interactions with other people during coffee breaks.

All these meetings brought together people with a shared interest in citizen science to some degree and in different ways. In “Science and Dissent”, it was historians of science who are researching citizen science, while in ECSA conference, a lot of people who research and organise citizen science projects came together. Ecsite conference focus on science centres and science museums, so only some of the people there have a strong interest in citizen science (I’d guess that about 100 to 200 were interested in “Citizen Science on Trial“). There were overlaps between the people that participated in this series of events, but the “Ven diagram” of participation across them, end up being fairly small. I see that as evidence that while the interest in citizen science is reaching different groups and CoP, the number of people that cross boundaries between them is small.

Another question is the equity in participation. What was especially interesting is to see that the communities of the COST Action and ECSA conference do not completely overlap, but that might be the results of the costs, affordability, and length of travel. The ECSA conference requires people to book travel, hotel, and conference, while COST covers the costs of travel. This brings to the fore questions about resources (in time and in money) that shape the interactions within a CoP – for example, in participating in ECSA AGM and voting on specific decisions.

Finally, it is also interesting to see how different modalities of formalism and practices play out in each meeting, with the UNECE meeting, naturally, being at the formal end – and yet, you could see that some people in the room have been working together for a very long time and are a very tight CoP on public access to environmental information; to the ECSA conference, which is fairly open, but developing new ways of working and agreeing on common issues, where there is familiarity, but as a relatively young organisation, there are many newcomers.

Finally, it is also worth noting that amongst the meeting, there was also a launch of three CoPs that are dedicated to citizen observatories as part of the WeObserve project.