Citizen science: a powerful way to new learning experiences
Jan. 24, 2022, 2:35 p.m.
Citizen science is one of the most promising approach of public engagement in science and technology as it allows for the creation of authentic and lasting alliances between research and society, and its potential for education are now being explored. Yet on this path, many challenges must be faced. What can we learn from the experiences until now?
One part of society that has been heavily neglected in all European countries is the school and the world of education in general. The structural deficiencies, more or less deep in the various school systems, have been severely tested by the pandemic and no country has been able to propose and implement effective actions to meet the educational needs of learners and educators. Schools need a whole new learning paradigm requiring novel educational methods.
Could citizen science represent a way out of this crisis, and help to renew the education system of the 21st century?
Citizen science has great potential for schools. Through the collaboration between citizen and scientists, new knowledge and awareness on the practices and methods of research are generated. The direct involvement of students and the connection between science and their life experience are facilitated and make clear. Citizen science develops critical thinking and field learning of the scientific method, as well as establishes a real connection with the world of research through concrete projects. In fact, the citizen science approach can support educators and learners, facilitate exchange of knowledge in both directions, and make learners active partners in participating in authentic scientific research.
Teachers have a more active and rewarding role which allows to overcome the old educational model of mere transmission of knowledge and to become protagonists of a change towards a modern and active educating community. All this allows schools to play a more active role in the educational ecosystem as proposed by the most recent European indications promoting open schooling. Open learning and open schooling are broad terms indicating a more engaging environment for learning and put schools at the centre of an educational ecosystem composed by many dimensions: informal learning centers, research institutions and universities, policy makers, associations, private sectors, media, all giving their vital contribution to the community.
Also the role of scientists and experts must be revised. The scientist needs to support the teacher with scientific expertise, material and make sure that the teacher is able to implement the data gathering or any other scientific process accurately. The scientist is also responsible to give any information needed to the teacher so that the activity can be contextualized in the curriculum and everyday classroom.
There are many projects that have pioneered the citizen science approach in the classroom, and some examples can be found in the Scientix report (2019) and in Roche et al (2020) in many different fields, from conservational biology and biodiversity, to economy, astrophysics, physics, and computer science. Some projects bridge the formal and informal learning contexts, such as the SEEDS project (www.seedsmakeathons.com). SEEDS is a citizen science project by teenagers for teenagers, that aims to empower them to live healthy lifestyles and to help them explore how important and exciting science is. SEEDS uses the citizen science method in schools to create new experiments for healthy lifestyles in across Spain, the Netherlands, Greece and the UK.
A common element to all these projects is that citizen science, although not yet established in education, can be a truly transformative practice with the power to promote a structural change and democratize the society. As people, starting with students and educators, have the power to engage more deeply and learn more about the science projects in which they are directly involved, their role changes: from mere spectators, more or less interested, of a science that takes place in other spheres distant from their life and experience, they may become active collaborators of the scientific enterprise, thus shaping its objectives, strategies and values.
Training courses for practitioners and educators
- Citizen Science in the Classroom: A toolkit
- Citizen Science in Schools: schools as agents of community well-being through science and research
both available on the EU-Citizen Science platform for free (previous registration to the: https://moodle.eu-citizen.science/)
- A Roadmap to Citizen Science Education, available online for free (previous registration to the European Schoolnet platform), https://www.europeanschoolnetacademy.eu/courses/course-v1:BRITEC+CitizenScience+2021/course/
- Bringing research into the classroom. A Scientix Observatory Report, April 2019, https://britec.igf.edu.pl/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Scientix-BRITEC-Citizen-Science-in-Schools-WEB-final-2.pdf
- Roche J, Bell L, Galvão C, Golumbic YN, Kloetzer L, Knoben N, Laakso M, Lorke J, Mannion G, Massetti L, Mauchline A, Pata K, Ruck A, Taraba P and Winter S (2020), Citizen Science, Education, and Learning: Challenges and Opportunities, Front. Sociol. 5:613814. doi: 10.3389/fsoc.2020.613814, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fsoc.2020.613814/full
- Inspiring cases on Open Schooling, https://www.phereclos.eu/mapping
- Make it open, What is open schooling?, https://makeitopen.eu/wp-content/uploads/Edit-of-D1.1-Set-of-user-centered-delivery-templates-Make-it-Open.pdf
(Photo: Simona Cerrato | CC:BY)