Who really benefits from citizen science? How can citizen science support STEM education? How do we bring citizen science to new audiences? How can we leverage new technologies to expand student participation in citizen science projects?
These were some of the questions we set out to discuss at the Citizen Science Meet-up at SXSWedu. SXSWedu is an annual conference that attracts thought-leaders from the worlds of education, technology, policy, and the media. This year, 7,000 participants from 38 countries—including bestselling authors, TED-talking professors, and quirky teachers—came together to discuss the future of teaching and learning. At SciStarter and the California Academy of Sciences, we believe that citizen science is an integral part of that future, so we joined forces to bring our ideas to the participants of SXSWedu.
We designed the Meet-up as an interactive experience with roundtable conversations and resource share-outs. In one corner of the room, participants explored a playground of citizen science projects and toolkits, including tinkering with arthropod observation tools, exploring the biodiversity app iNaturalist, and discovering diverse DIY projects featured on SciStarter. In another corner, at the Citizen Science Platter, the participants shared their insights about the role of citizen science in education today. Here’s what people were saying:
“We are upbeat and enthusiastic about the power of citizen science.” Citizen science is a powerful tool that can be used to tap into the natural curiosity of students and empower students to drive their own learning, both inside and outside the classroom. Moreover, citizen science has a low barrier to entry. “Everyone has a phone,” one attendee said, referring to the proliferation of elegant apps, such as iNaturalist and GLOBE Observer, that democratize participation in the scientific process.
“We need more collaborative work in the field.” We need best practices to guide collaborations between educators, scientists, and research on learning. For example, scientists can be more transparent about how the data collected by citizen scientists will be used. We also need to continue to develop ways citizen scientists can connect with each other to share experiences, learn from each other, and create a sense of community in citizen science. In addition to using Web apps, we might also ask citizen scientists to create portfolios of their work so that they can showcase their achievements and get feedback from students peers and other citizen scientists. For example, the new SciStarter dashboard is a digital portfolio for people to track, earn credit, and receive recognition for their contributions across projects. There is clearly an opportunity to expand this to serve the needs of classrooms.
“We need design that is more focused on who we are trying to reach.” As advocates for citizen science, we can make educators’ jobs easier by building more scaffolding around our designs. For example, as citizen science practitioners develop projects that are fit for schools, they might consider the limits of space at many schools. An added challenge is determining how citizen science can most effectively enhance STEM learning
The Meet-up created a renewed sense of the excitement about using citizen science as a learning and engagement tool for STEM education. There are many smart, creative, passionate people who are designing and evaluating citizen science experiences both in and out of the classroom. Our power comes from the communities we support, and we encourage program designers to not only collaborate across organizations, but also empower their audiences with additional resources. If you don’t know where to start, here are some ideas:
Together, we make the commitment to help connect citizen science more closely with educators, students, and, of course, anyone who wants to contribute to our understanding of the world. The future of citizen science is bright, and we welcome it with open arms.
For more information or to chat further please feel free to reach out!
Katie Levedahl (KLevedahl@calacademy.org)
Katie drives the strategic design, implementation, and wide-scale expansion of science education resources that transform informal science learning. As the Director of Informal learning with the California Academy of Sciences her work includes expansion of offerings to serve thousands of people through the Academy’s youth leadership programs, the founding and scaling of the Science Action Club network, and a lead role with several regional STEM education networks.
Catherine Hoffman (email@example.com)
Catherine bring citizen science to new audiences through SciStarter. As the Managing Director of SciStarter she oversees strategic partnerships with formal and informal education groups, coordinates product development within SciStarter, and grows citizen science through festivals and events throughout the country.
The United States Endangered Species Act is often considered to be the most powerful piece of environmental legislation not just in the US, but in the world. As a result, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) formally lists a species as either threatened or endangered, it can be a game-changer for the species in question, protecting and even recovering a plant or animal that would otherwise be headed towards extinction. Such an action usually garners a fair amount of notice among conservation biologists and environmental advocates. Read More
By Lishka Arata, Conservation Educator at Point Blue
Despite the current administration’s efforts to roll back the Clean Water Act and dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency, interest and participation is growing in a new EPA- and stakeholder-led citizen science project that aims to inform clean water management.
The Cyanobacteria Monitoring Collaborative has been gathering steam since 2010, when Hilary Snook, EPA Senior Water Quality Scientist, began receiving calls from state water quality agencies with complaints from their constituents about cyanobacteria blooms occurring in their waters.
A collaborative workgroup was formed between New England state water quality scientists and the EPA in an effort to create something that was stakeholder-inclusive and educational for those concerned about and involved in addressing cyanobacteria blooms and the water quality issues that surround them. Read More
You may have noticed some strange weather recently where you live. For example, in February, it reached 100o in Mangum, Oklahoma when 56o is the average. For the first time ever, temperatures in Antartica rose to the high 60s. And when was the last time you saw a headline reading Hawaii Has Had More Snow than Chicago or Denver in 2017? Some may link these strange events to a changing climate, and although climate influences weather patterns, it’s important to make a distinction between the two to fully understand the impacts of global climate change.
Neil Degrasse Tyson communicates this distinction with an analogy of a man walking his dog, and another common analogy states: “weather influences what clothes you wear on a given day, while the climate where you live influences the entire wardrobe you buy.” Read More
Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and other New Ways of Engaging the World by Sharman Apt Russell. Oregon State University Press. 2014.
From the very first pages, Russell’s diary pulls the reader into experience. Vivid descriptions, lively metaphors, and breathless narrative bring together her diary entries into a larger story of becoming a scientist. Russell and her tiger beetles are revealed within her first entry—these are indeed the main characters in the story that follows—and we find a scientist at the beginning of her expedition into the mysterious world of tiger beetles.
“People protect what they love.” ~ Jacques Yves Cousteau
When I was a kid, my family and I used to love watching “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.” Every week we’d set out the TV tables and share our dinner with the French marine explorer as he led us on underwater adventures and taught us to appreciate the beauty of science and the sea.
His show is one of the main reasons I became an environmental reporter and earned my scuba diving certification in Monterey Bay, and it made a similar positive impact on millions of other kids and families across the globe. Read More
By Kaitlin Vortherms
When smog is so thick that it clouds our vision, we can see and acknowledge that air pollution is a problem. In December of last year, China issued its second ever red alert, their highest rating for air pollution, and last month, London broke modern air pollution records.
But on days when the haze has lifted, we tend to forget air pollution is still there. More to the point, we forget about how air pollution affects our health and the environment. It’s out of sight, and therefore, out of mind.
But what if we could actually see air pollution levels, even when the smog isn’t present? Would this motivate us to make changes about how we live our lives? This is where AirVisual comes in. Air Visual is a crowd-sourced platform that provides information and access to historical, real-time, and forecast air quality data in a visually engaging way. Read More