Citizen and Community Science


Citizen and Community Science

Young people at lake shore collecting water sample

Citizen and community science is scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by nonprofessional scientists. Citizen and community science is sometimes described as public participation in scientific research, participatory monitoring, or participatory action research. Its outcomes are often advancements in scientific research, as well as an increase in the public's understanding of science. Four common features of citizen and community science practice are: (a) anyone can participate, (b) participants use the same protocols so that data can be combined and is of high quality, (c) data can help real scientists come to real conclusions, and (d) a wide community of scientists and volunteers work together and share data to which the public, as well as scientists, have access.

LiMPETS is a citizen science program that gives 6th to 12th grade students a chance to participate in monitoring research that is used to track trends in ecology and the effects of climate change, among other environmental phenomena, along the coast of California. Students build science skills in data collection, analysis, and presentation in their classrooms and backyards. The program, based on outstanding high-quality science, provides instructional training and materials that are usually only available at the college level. Supported by the National Marine Sanctuaries, it can also connect educators to broader resources on ocean and climate science on our coasts.

Guidelines: Depth, Emphasis on skills building, Fairness and accuracy, Usability

What I really like about this toolkit is the connection it makes between youth participation in citizen science and the development of environmental science agency. The more we can do to promote learners using their knowledge and skills to help solve and take action around environmental problems and issues, the better! The toolkit will help you design citizen science experiences where participants go beyond the collection of environmental data to engage in key practices such as taking ownership of data quality or sharing findings with outside audiences.

Guidelines: Action orientation, Depth, Emphasis on skills building

I use iNaturalist when I encounter plants and animals that intrigue or inspire me by snapping a photo and sharing it to this worldwide database. I do my best to identify the plant, animal, or fungi and when I can’t I use the “Suggest an ID” feature to receive suggestions. Other community members help review my contributions to verify my IDs or suggest alternatives. You can set projects on iNaturalist to have participants add wildlife observations, whether it’s for a short-term bioblitz or a long-term study of your environmental education campus.

Guidelines: Depth, Fairness and accuracy, Usability

I highly recommend joining this listserv, as it gives you a great window into the vast world of citizen and community science happening around the globe. If you ever have a question or a request related to citizen science, the community participating in this discussion forum is always ready to help with great ideas and resources. The Citizen Science Association also has an education working group and maintains an open-access journal called Citizen Science: Theory and Practice with plenty of content of interest to environmental educators.

Guidelines: Usability

I know that many of us are striving to offer rich outdoor education experiences that help those we serve create lasting bonds to our amazing planet and that may result in ongoing stewardship of the environment, inspire career pathways involving conservation of nature, and more. If you are thinking about how to design citizen science experiences with science learning as an outcome, this report will help you think about which types of learning outcomes you may want to target, whether increasing motivation and interest in the environment, building science skills, or learning project-specific disciplinary content.

Guidelines: Depth, Fairness and accuracy

There are so many citizen science projects out there to join, which is wonderful and exciting! I like that SciStarter gives educators an easy beginning place to sort through the options and find projects that may be right for learners in a variety of settings. The SciStarter portal for educators also makes suggestions for projects to join based on grade-band from K-2 up through college. Many projects involve observation-based ecology practices and opportunities for building related science skills.

Guidelines: Action orientation, Usability

Many citizen science projects ask participants to collect data, which is a great way to engage in authentic science. But there’s also so much to learn from analyzing data and understanding how observations contribute to the bigger picture. FieldScope allows project participants to do that. And the accompanying “Invitations to Inquiry” instructional activities guide students in how to use the FieldScope visualization tools to learn about where data are collected and what they mean. These activities support numerous aspects of the Next Generation Science Standards, particularly the Science and Engineering Practices, and the Environmental Education Materials: Guidelines for Excellence.

Guidelines: Action orientation, Emphasis on skills building, Usability

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology (CLO) has been a leader in citizen science for many years and hosts innovative projects with excellent educational resources. The biggest project is eBird, for which participants fill out a checklist of all birds seen and heard during an outing. NestWatch has volunteers finding and monitoring nests, while Project FeederWatch asks people to record birds at feeders in the winter. Celebrate Urban Birds is designed to be easy to do in cities (and elsewhere) and offers materials in Spanish and English. CLO also offers a free bird ID app called “Merlin” that is very easy to use.

Guidelines: Instructional soundness, Usability

GLOBE is used by educators around the world. When I’ve traveled to other countries, GLOBE has provided common ground, because so many teachers and students have participated in it. Being involved in a truly global project helps kids feel connected to scientists and students in other places and understand how interconnected our world is. Scientists have developed GLOBE protocols and interdisciplinary activities about the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere and more, and teachers have validated these activities. They are strongly aligned with the Environmental Education Materials: Guidelines for Excellence.

Guidelines: Depth, Emphasis on skills building, Instructional soundness

I’ve heard from many educators that their students love participating in Zooniverse projects because they’re easy to use and they provide windows into ecosystems and institutions far from home. Kids can count penguins in Argentina or lions in Mozambique by viewing images from camera traps. Or they can inspect and transcribe handwritten museum labels from long ago. And the Zooniverse discussion boards allow volunteers to work together and interact with researchers. Zooniverse projects have produced hundreds of published research papers and open source data sets. And there are some great educational resources that enhance Zooniverse as well.

Guidelines: Action orientation, Usability

This post was written by the Education Working Group of the Citizen Science Association. (Full disclosure: I was part of the working group. But the ideas in this post are the result of extensive discussions with members of the group and many other educators.) I like it because it doesn’t encourage all citizen science programs to approach education in the same way, but does articulate the potential for citizen science to be used to reinvigorate civic engagement, broaden participation in science, awaken curiosity and joy, ignite passion for learning, and welcome diverse learners with a variety of interests, talents and motivations.

Guidelines: Action orientation