Posted by: soniahs | October 1, 2010

Exam readings: Public participation in science

Citizen science projects like those at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology are an important venue for science communication. These two papers evaluate whether and what project participants learned about science as a process during two of these projects.

First: Deborah Trumbull, Rick Bonney, Derek Bascom & Anna Cabral. “Thinking Scientifically During Participation in a Citizen-Science Project.” Science Education 84 (2000): 265-275.

Summary: One assumption of citizen science projects is that participants will think more scientifically after participating; this paper analyzes letters written by cit. sci. participants to see whether this is the case. People participated in a bird seed preference test; they received a kit with information on scientific method/process, and instructions for the experiment mentioned that they would be learning about the process of inquiry. Demographics of participants: they tended to be older, well-educated, white, and had positive attitudes about and interest in science. Survey results suggested that, after participation, participants didn’t have changed levels of scientific knowledge. The authors decided to analyze the many unsolicited letters received from participants to look for evidence of inquiry (e.g., clearly identifying problems or hypotheses, designing an experiment, changing procedures if necessary, and analyzing and interpreting the results.) Some people did demonstrate inquiry, but not many (especially consistent observation, changing methods when not working, hypothesis formation.) They conclude that more explicit education about the process of inquiry is probably necessary for people to actually try it out. They also highlight some other potential problems with cit. sci. projects, e.g., people not understanding the point of pooling consistent data from a wide geographic area, or the relationship between prior knowledge and a formal research question.

Comments: The main conclusion here is that citizen science projects do have the potential to increase inquiry, but that it probably has to be emphasized in the instructional materials. Another possibility is that more localized or community-based citizen science projects might promote inquiry through a higher level of interaction (though this might have to be guided in some way…)

Links to: Roth & Lee (measure scientific literacy differently in citizen science projects); Brossard et al. (assessment of learning/attitudes about science in another CLO project)

Second, Dominique Brossard, Bruce Lewenstein, and Rick Bonney. “Scientific Knowledge and Attitude Change: The Impact of a Citizen Science Project.” International Journal of Science Education. 27.9 (2005): 1099–1121. Print.

Summary: Presents an analysis of the learning of participants in the Neighborhood Nestwatch Project (Cornell Lab of Ornithology). This project asked participants to put up nest boxes and report data about birds that used them using standardized protocols. Participants received protocol information, info about bird biology, and practical info about nest boxes; they were also encouraged to interact with CLO staff electronically or via phone. The project had a dual emphasis: collecting wide range of nesting data and increasing participant knowledge and change attitudes. Using a framework of experiential education, authors predicted that bird knowledge and knowledge about scientific inquiry would increase. Using the Elaboration Likelihood Model (increased attention activates persuasion), they predicted that there would be an increase in positive attitudes toward science and the environment. They found that attitudes toward science and the environment didn’t change (science-beliefs might have been more complex than test questions, or lack of emphasis in educational materials; environment-may have been high to begin with). While knowledge of bird biology increased, knowledge about the scientific process did not (they attribute this to both the level of emphasis of these things in educational materials and participant interest).

Comments: The authors recommend that more emphasis should be made on the scientific context in order to directly increase understanding of science and inquiry. This seems to be a common issue with citizen science projects- people participate with certain interests in mind, and generally this is not to learn more about the scientific process.

Links to: Trumbull et al. (CLO project); Roth & Lee (perspective of science literacy as a communal thing, making it ineffective/inappropriate to test individuals’ knowledge for citizen science projects)



  1. […] to: Trumbull et al., Bonney et al., Brossard et al. (public participation in research); Nisbet (framing) Eco World […]


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