Blog Post

Building a Framework for Citizen Science & STEM Learning


By: Ryan Collay, Mary Ford, Sandra Henderson, Eric Jolly, Nancy Trautmann, and Sarah Kirn
Join the Education Working Group of the Citizen Science Association for the panel discussion – Developing a Framework for Citizen Science in Education – Join the Conversation – on Wed. Feb 11th at 9:55 am. You can also participate in their open conference session on Feb. 12th.
The Education Working Group has been meeting since August of 2014 with a focus of drafting a vision for the role of citizen science in science learning and a framework to help the community achieve this vision. From the outset, our intent has been to tee up ideas for our conversation with the broader citizen science community at the February Citizen Science 2015 Conference in San Jose.
The current education climate seems particularly favorable to integrating citizen science into science learning. There has been a national call for more integrated, engaged, and authentic science learning – in school and out – in acknowledgement of the value to students of learning experiences that span the boundaries of school, home, and community. Citizen science projects offer such opportunities, but not always with explicit supports for science learning.
So how do we help K-12 teachers and out-of-school educators incorporate citizen science as a core strategy to achieve diverse learning outcomes? And how do we help citizen science programs support and engage learning-focused volunteers? We see a significant opportunity for the Citizen Science Association to address these questions. To this end, we have drafted Core Values and Core Practices, which we offer here to invite your feedback (please share your comments!).
DRAFT Core Values:

  1. Supporting civic engagement and scientific literacy through participation in citizen science is essential for society to address wickedly complex problems
  2. Participation by diverse individuals strengthens the value of citizen science to individuals, communities, scientists, and the environment; leverages divergent perspectives; and makes outcomes more robust
  3. Allowing the locus of control over question, direction, and analysis to shift from ‘scientist driven’ to ‘community driven’ invites diverse participation and is essential to extending the benefit of citizen science efforts to diverse audiences
  4. Learning is most effective when it reflects human values and characteristics, including play, joy, inquisitiveness, curiosity, and challenge
  5. Individuals participate in citizen science for a variety of reasons; individual contributions to the scientific process should be respected without regard to background, respecting anonymity or identity as participants choose.

DRAFT Core Practices:

  1. At minimum, locate participants’ activity within the scientific inquiry process; at best, support participants’ through the complete scientific inquiry process
  2. Include diverse learners with varied interests and skills, embrace diverse learning pathways and learning goals
  3. Instill in participants a sense of belonging in the scientific community by enabling authentic, rigorous contributions to research
  4. Facilitate participants’ growing identities as scientists and science-capable learners who see science as part of their lives
  5. Facilitate social interaction among diverse novices, learners, and experts, to foster learning and also to leverage divergent perspectives that will make science and learning outcomes more robust
  6. Reflect the interdisciplinary nature of scientific research by incorporating math, language, literature, and art
  7. Reflect the unpredictable, sometimes messy nature of discovery
  8. Share control over who poses research questions, who analyzes the data, and who benefits from the research

In drafting these lists, we have wrestled with two provocative questions that have relevance well beyond our focus on STEM learning through citizen science:

  1. Who forms the scientific questions that drive each citizen science project, who decides how to analyze the data, and who benefits from these efforts?
  2. In what ways can we work to ensure that citizen science projects are accessible to diverse groups rather than inherently biased towards certain audiences and populations?

Please comment here and join us in San Jose to share your perspectives and shape this ongoing conversation.

Ryan Collay is the Director of Oregon State Universities SMILE Program
Mary Ford is Manager of Citizen Science at National Geographic. Follow her @maryeford
Sandra Henderson is the Director of Citizen Science at the National Ecological Observatory Network
Eric Jolly is President of the Science Museum of Minnesota
Nancy Trautmann the Director of Education at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Sarah Kirn is Education Programs Strategist at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. Follow Sarah at @sierralimakilo

3 thoughts on “Building a Framework for Citizen Science & STEM Learning

  • Rob Stevenson

    Exciting developments. I hope sometime soon students from kindergarten onward have a chance to do research and contribute to science.
    The philosopher Latour has written about the difference between science and research,
    “Science is certainty; research is uncertainty. Science is supposed to be cold, straight and detached; research is warm, involving, and risky. Science puts an end to the vagaries of human disputes; research creates controversies. Science produces objectivity by escaping as much as possible from the shackles of ideology, passions and emotions; research feeds on all of those to render objects of inquiry familiar.”
    (Latour 1998 Science, Vol 280, Issue 5361, 208-209 , 10 April 1998)
    As an educator I am hoping to teach students how to 1) make observations carefully, 2) record data and metadata systematically, 3) think critically and 4) devise new questions.
    This sounds like research and some forms of citizen science. Doing research comes naturally to some people while others just want answers and sometimes only the answers they want to hear. See http://www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_haidt_on_the_moral_mind or some data here
    Haidt, J. (2007). The new synthesis in moral psychology. science, 316(5827), 998-1002.
    Latour writes further,
    “In the traditional model, society was like the flesh of a peach, and science its hard pit. Science was surrounded by a society that remained foreign to the workings of the scientific method: Society could reject or accept the results of science; it could be inimical or friendly toward its practical consequences. But there was no direct connection between scientific results and the larger context of society, which could do no more than slow down or speed up the advancement of an autonomous science. Galileo deals with the fate of falling bodies in one palace, while in another palace cardinals and philosophers deal with the fate of human souls.
    The only way for science to disseminate its results, its ethics, and its methods was by educating as many members of the general public as possible. It is because young America was unfriendly toward science that the AAAS was created in the first place. How different are the connections nowadays between research and society!
    Consider the group of patients who created a French association for the treatment of muscular dystrophy (AFM) that raised $80 million in charity through a telethon. Because the disease that triggers the handicap has a genetic origin, for 15 years now the AFM has invested heavily in molecular biology. To the great surprise of the French scientific institutions, this charity for a while funded more basic research on the human genome than the French government.”
    In the realm of health, his claims seem true. Efforts, especially in the USA, to slow down environmental research such as projects related to climate change, worry me (See Naomi Klein’s “This changes everything”)
    The distinction between science and research might be worth considering in your deliberations.

  • This part of the provocative questions “…who decides how to analyze the data…” is intriguing.
    Equally provocative, I think, is who decides WHO analyses the data.

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