Citizen Science projects, do they enhance formal science education?

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In the era of Big Data, Citizen Science projects are naturally the way many respected Research Institutes choose to collect observations to address their scientific questions on a scale that would not be possible in the past. Thousands of people across the globe, without specialist knowledge, contribute to these projects by recording data often with the help of technology, simply by using their mobile phones to capture pictures of blossoming orchids, record the sounds of birds during a countryside walk or by screening pictures of the sea floor for marine life and folding 3D structures of proteins at their home computers.  Undoubtedly, citizen science is a handy tool for researchers, but does it facilitate science learning when applied in a formal education setting?

Many schools worldwide participate in such projects partly because it is an exciting thing to do, but also because it has great potential for bridging the gap between scientific research and school education. All too often, science teachers feel isolated in their attempt to make science appealing to young students, struggle to engage them in science projects and find it difficult to invent effective ways to teach them about the scientific method. Sometimes, they may also lack the adequate scientific background and the appropriate support by the educational system. What is more, the most difficult part in school science is to define meaningful scientific questions to be answered by students as there is limited connection between schools and Research Institutes.

Citizen science projects give the opportunity to schools to participate in real-world research by collecting and contributing data regarding authentic questions and this has been found to increase motivation and interest in science even to otherwise apathetic students. Another benefit of this is, as citizen science projects often include field trips to natural landscapes and observations about organisms and their environment, they enhance environmental education, restore student and teacher connection to nature and promote positive attitudes towards environmental protection and conservation.

However, participation in Citizen Science projects does not guarantee student engagement and sense of ownership of work. In order for this to happen, schools should be committed to developing, implementing and evaluating year-long science/environmental education projects that students not only collect data but also process data, monitor areas of interest, collaborate to end up with conclusions about their observations and propose areas for action. This is why Research Institutes should work closely and carefully with schools to design educational material relevant to the project’s scopes that will introduce students to the scientific concepts involved, both theoretically and practically, and enable them to experience the scientific method hands-on. Proper evaluation by use of control groups, pre and post surveys and student and teacher interviews would be highly desirable to assess the impact of such projects on science learning.

There are many Citizen Science projects currently available for your school to participate, for a collection of some very interesting projects you can check this link: https://www.tes.com/lessons/t1KUT_7RSpuCVg/citizen-science-projects-for-your-students.

 

Vasiliki Kioupi

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