Citizen Science Opportunities, Partnerships, and Challenges

Camillia Matuk, Suzanne Dikker, and Ido Davidesco, New York University

MindHIVEWhat do you see as the key opportunities for scientists, teachers, and students who engage in citizen science collaborations? 

We view citizen science as an opportunity for teachers and students to experience scientific discovery as a joint effort involving collaboration, iterative testing, and transparency. While it is common to view interactions between scientists and the general public as merely unilateral (scientists educate the public about their work through “outreach”), we believe that citizen science projects can enrich scientific practice. Scientists not only gain access to a unique pool of research participants, but their collaboration with students and teachers may help them to refine their research goals and to communicate their work. 

Citizen science projects provides teachers with the opportunity to engage their students in authentic research. Engaging students in authentic research is challenging, as teachers may not have the necessary knowledge, experience, and resources. Citizen science projects allow teachers to collaborate with scientists and gain access to unique scientific expertise and practices. This process can help teachers to better understand how real-life scientific research is conducted, and debunk misconceptions about science. For example, teachers might realize that counter to the image of the lone science genius conveyed in traditional school textbooks, scientists typically work collaboratively in teams. 

By engaging in scientific inquiry, students gain an understanding of the dynamic nature of science as a process that involves developing theories, testing them empirically, and then revising the theories based on data. Previous research suggests that participating in citizen science projects not only improves students’ content knowledge, but also helps them to better understand the nature of science and inquiry (Crawford, 2012).  Here again, the social nature of science is crucial: Scientists work in communities of practice, in which they both construct and critique knowledge to address real-world problems. There is evidence that immersing students in these same roles leads students to develop a “grasp of practice” (Ford, 2008), and a more solid understanding of scientific phenomena. 

What have you found to be key features of successful partnerships between disciplinary scientists and education stakeholders? 

In our own research on dynamic social interactions in classroom learning (e.g., Dikker et al., 2017; Bevilacqua et al., 2019), we found that one of the key features of successful science-education partnerships is ensuring that all stakeholders maintain a sense of ownership over the project. For example, students were considerably more motivated as study participants when we actively involved them in designing studies. Conversely, as neuroscientists, we were more motivated to guide the students through their projects when these directly benefited our own research goals.

What strategies are you using to address some of the typical challenges?

One of the challenges facing Student-Teacher-Scientist (STS) programs is the tension between generating the data required for the scientist, on the one hand, and encouraging students to develop their own research projects, on the other. Moreover, if student-initiated projects do not receive proper guidance, this can lead to students learning ineffective scientific practices, such as  defining untestable research hypotheses, or drawing conclusions from inadequate data. With MindHive, we hope to address these challenges in a number of ways, based on the premise that projects are more likely to succeed with the support of a network of students and scientists. First, the platform emphasizes student-initiated research, while still enabling scientist-initiated data collection. Students and scientists submit project proposals to the platform, which are then reviewed by an online network of students and researchers, and revised before proceeding to data collection. Students participate as research subjects in each others’ experiments, which increases the likelihood that enough data is collected to draw meaningful conclusions. Scientist-led experiments serve as examples for student-led projects, and scientists whose studies we host are asked to contribute teaching resources to MindHive. Together, MindHive takes an open science approach, in line with calls to promote open access and scientific transparency in science communities.


References

Bevilacqua, D., Davidesco, I., Wan, L., Chaloner, K., Rowland, J., Ding, M., Poeppel, D. and Dikker, S. (2019). Brain-to-brain synchrony and learning outcomes vary by student–teacher dynamics: Evidence from a real-world classroom electroencephalography study. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 31(3), pp.401-411.

Crawford, B.A. (2012). Moving the essence of inquiry into the classroom: Engaging teachers and students in authentic research. In Issues and challenges in science education research: Moving forward (Tan, K. C. D. and Kim, M. eds), pp. 25 – 42, Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.

Dikker, S., Wan, L., Davidesco, I., Kaggen, L., Oostrik, M., McClintock, J., Rowland, J., Michalareas, G., Van Bavel, J.J., Ding, M. and Poeppel, D. (2017). Brain-to-brain synchrony tracks real-world dynamic group interactions in the classroom. Current Biology, 27(9), pp.1375-1380.

Ford, M. (2008). ‘Grasp of practice’ as a reasoning resource for inquiry and nature of science understanding. Science & Education, 17(2-3), 147-177.