By Arvind Suresh (Editor) January 20th, 2015 at 9:00 am | Comment
Editor’s Note: This guest post by Chandra Clarke originally appeared on the author’s Citizen Science Center blog. Projects mentioned in this post including Loss of the Night, EteRNA and Sound Around You are all part of SciStarter’s ever growing project database. Find a citizen science project that tickles your fancy using the project finder!
I’ve been covering the citizen science movement for a very long time now; indeed, I’ve been writing about citizen science in one form or another since before it was really a movement.
Recently, I sat down and had a think about what I had seen in the past, as well as some of trends that I’ve been noticing. Today, I’m going to review some of those and also go out on a limb with some predictions as to where I see citizen science heading.
It’s Definitely a Thing, Now
In the last three or so years, I’ve noticed a sharp increase in the amount of mainstream interest in citizen science. Where it was once just the province of a smaller group of hardcore geeks (think: early adopters of the SETI@Home client), it now seems like everyone is talking about citizen science. Anecdotally, I’ve been interviewed by a fairly wide range of media outlets — everything from CBC Radio to Woman’s World. On the hard data side, this screen shot of the Google Trends entry on citizen science bears this out:
Citizen Science is Converging with Other Movements
Open source, participatory civics, activism, maker spaces, crowdfunding: citizen science is part of an even broader shift across many segments of society, and in some cases it’s increasingly hard to see where one movement begins and another ends.
There are an increasing number of citizen science games, some with the data processing and manipulation right out front like EteRNA, and some not quite so much, like Reverse the Odds. This not to be confused with the gamification of citizen science projects: that is, the addition of game elements like leaderboards, badges, scoring, etc., to an otherwise non-game-based project. (The jury is still out as to how effective gamification is at improving user retention.)
Point and Click Projects Are Here to Stay… For a While
Zooniverse has pretty much perfected the model of citizen science projects wherein users are presented with a bit of data (most often an image) and are asked to perform a simple task (usually identify and locate a specific feature). As more and more people get interested in citizen science in general, the platform (and others like it) will likely continue to register new users faster than it ‘loses’ them. This is a good thing, because the participation dropoff curves appear to be pretty steep. Eventually, however, as more interesting ways to do citizen science continue to proliferate, and if we ever see a ‘peak citizen science’ (i.e., the most number of people likely to do citizen science are already doing it), this will no longer be the case.
On the flip side, I think that image processing technology will replace the need for human participation here sooner, rather than later, in part because mega-companies like Google and Baidu are throwing boatloads of money at the problem, and because technology improvement curves are much steeper than we realize.
But Apps are Where It’s At
The number of citizen science apps — and by this I mean the programs that run on tablets or smartphones — is going up, and that has opened up a whole new frontier in citizen science. Whereas before, most citizen science has been about data processing, apps allow for more datacollection. Apps like Sound Around You or Loss of the Night are good examples.
However, I think we’ve only just barely scratched the surface of what’s possible with current mobile technology. The average smart phone now comes with an accelerometer, a camera, a video camera, a magnetometer, an ambient light detector, GPS, and obviously, a speaker and a microphone, all as standard equipment. Considering how creative people are getting with simple GoPro cameras and their special mounts, or cameras attached to drones just for fun, there’s clearly a lot of scope for some much more interesting citizen science apps than what we’re currently doing.
That Internet of Things We Keep Hearing About
As sensors become cheaper and cheaper, and the Internet becomes even more ubiquitous, the average citizen, with or without connection to an official citizen science project, will soon be able to measure and track pretty much anything. (Seriously, check out those links to see what’s coming, especially if you’re looking for ideas.) Anyone will be able to deploy sensors, and this will in turn generate huge amounts of highly granular data. Indeed, most of us will deploy sensors, even if not entirely deliberately, because they’re going to be embedded in the products we use.
In some ways, we’re just beginning to build a massive nervous system for ourselves and our planet, and it’s going to teach us all sorts of amazing things. We don’t yet know what we don’t know.
But it’s going to be very interesting. Stay tuned.
ChandraClarke is an award-winning business woman, prolific writer, and a passionate advocate of learning and knowledge. You can see her citizen science blog at CitizenScienceCenter.com and her personal blog at ChandraKClarke.com.
By Darlene Cavalier January 19th, 2015 at 3:20 pm | Comment
Propose or join a project or activity for the SciStarter Hackfest at the Citizen Science Association Conference!
Be a part of SciStarter’s hackfest at CitSci 2015 in San Jose, California!
What: A hands-on and discussion-driven meet-up where everyone participates in dreaming up AND building creative tools to improve the field of citizen science!
Where: Citizen Science 2015 Conference, San Jose, CA
Who: The SciStarter team and YOU!
Why: To capitalize on the collective wisdom (and desire to act!) at the Citizen Science Association Conference
The inaugural conference of the Citizen Science Association will take place February 11-12 in San Jose, California and the SciStarter team is looking forward to soaking up new information during the scheduled sessions and talks!
We’ll also contribute to these conversations through a few presentations and an interactive, “roll-up-your-sleeves!” hackfest designed for everyone.
Will you join us? Learn more about SciStarter’s past Hackfests here.
First, make sure you have registered for the Citizen Science 2015 Conference if you want to participate in person. You can join us remotely, too. Just let us know how you plan to participate when you sign up.
Then, fill out this form to let us know you’re coming so we know how many people to expect. Remember, ALL contributions are valuable, and some projects may be discussion-based (no programming skills required). All projects should spark the start of something great! Just bring your creativity, enthusiasm and talents and we’ll make sure you’ll have fun!
Do you have a Hackfest idea or project you’d like people to know about or join at the event? Great!
Here’s the running list of proposed projects! Just click on the image to learn more about the proposed project.
1. Agile Citizen Science
Join this group to participate in a brainstorm session to generate ideas and examples of possible agile citizen science projects and of the design features for a digital platform that would support those projects. Clickto learn more.
2. Locating Citizen Science Activity
Having a simple, accurate representation of a project’s geographic area of interest is important not only for validating the contributed data, but also for finding and recruiting potential participants who live or visit the area of interest and may be able to contribute. Click to learn more.
By Caren Cooper January 19th, 2015 at 10:12 am | Comment
Starting this month, you can tune in and take part in monthly discussion sessions about citizen science. The discussions take place on Twitter and anyone is welcome to join with questions, answers, comments, and ideas. You can follow the discussion at the hashtag #CitSciChat.
The monthly #CitSciChat are sponsored by SciStarter and The Counter Culture, which is my new research lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. These Twitter chats are designed to bring citizen scientists, project managers, students, and scientists together to share ideas, knowledge, and resources. We’ll discuss news, policies, discoveries, papers, and projects. The chats are opportunities for people around the world to meet and share their experiences with citizen science.
Whether you are experienced with Twitter or not, I hope you will find it easy to take part. Here’s how it works. I’m the moderator (@CoopSciScoop) and for each session I will invite a few guests with varied expertise and who enjoy lively discussions. I’ll pose question (Q1, Q2, etc.) and guest panelists and others will answer (prefaced with A1, A2, etc). Others can answer too, and pose related questions (label them, e.g., Q1a, Q1b, etc). There are no expectations that everyone will agree, but there are expectations that everyone will be courteous, polite, and respectful. Know that it’s okay to simply follow along, but I hope you will join the conversation. If you do, be sure to remember to include the hashtag #CitSciChat so that others in the conversation don’t miss your Tweets. I will Storify each session and post the recap on this blog.
The #CitSciChat follows in the footsteps of many other Twitter chats. For example, there are Twitter journal clubs, such as #microtwjc for discussions of microbiology papers (initiated by @_zoonotica_). There are chat sessions like #StuSciChat that connects high school students and scientists (moderated by Adam Taylor @2footgiraffe) and #STEMchat that connects parents, educators, and STEM professionals (moderated by Kim Moldofsky @MakerMom). A very popular #Edchat, founded by Shelly Sanchez Terrell (@ShellTerrell), hosts conversations among educators.
Citizen science chats take place on Twitter at #CitSciChat the last Wednesday (Thursday in Australia) of every month, unless otherwise noted. The first will be January 28 (29th in Australia). We’ll increase in their frequency if interest levels are high. To involve people across the globe, chats take place 7-8pm GMT, which is 2-3pm ET in USA and Thursday 6-7am ET in Australia. Each session will focus on a different theme. To suggest a project or theme for an upcoming chat, send me a tweet @CoopSciScoop!
Building A Community of Practice: Organizing the Organizers in Citizen Science
By Ariel Simons January 12th, 2015 at 9:00 am | Comment
Trees infested by the polyphagus shothole borer in California (Eskalen Lab. UC-Riverside, Reproduced with permission)
Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the author’s blog. Project SCARAB is one of more than 800 great citizen science projects on SciStarter. Use our project finder to find one that you can participate in!
The great thing about living in a major port city such as Los Angeles is having access to ideas and goods from the around the world. However, the port of LA, and by extension every trade conduit branching off from there, takes the chance on cargo containers carrying an invasive species. In 2003 one such species, the polyphagus shothole borer (PSHB), was spotted in Whittier, a suburb of Los Angeles. In the intervening decade it has quickly spread to many of the trees in southern California. Read the rest of this entry »
By Arvind Suresh (Editor) January 9th, 2015 at 9:37 am | Comment
This guest post by Sharman Apt Russel describes a citizen science experience with the children in her daughter’s third-grade classroom. the project, Celebrate Urban Birds was one of our Top 14 Projects of 2014. Check out the rest of the projects on that list here. Celebrate Urban Birds is also one of more than 800 citizen science projects on SciStarter. Use our project finder to find one that fits your interests!
The Mourning Dove, a common rural and urban bird perched upon a rock (Image Credit: Elroy Limmer, used with permission)
Public school teachers have always been my heroes. When I first began to research and write about citizen science, I was particularly interested in easy-to-do, inexpensive, age-appropriate, classroom-friendly projects that I could take to teachers like my own daughter Maria—then in her second year in a third-grade classroom in the small border town of Deming, New Mexico. Unsurprisingly, one of the best programs I found—Celebrate Urban Birds–was also recently named by SciStarter as one of the best citizen science projects of 2014.
Designed and managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Celebrate Urban Birds asks children and adults to choose an urban, suburban, or even rural area half the size of a basketball court and watch bird activity for ten minutes. Any observations of sixteen designated species are recorded on a data form. For Maria’s class of twenty-four, Cornell Lab promptly sent twenty-four kits written in English and Spanish–instructions, forms, colored posters to help us identify the birds, packets of flower seeds to plant, and stickers that said “Zero Means a Lot!” The “Zero Means a Lot!” theme was repeated a number of times. “Send us your observations,” the Lab enthused, “EVEN IF YOU SEE NO BIRDS in your bird-watching area. Zero means a lot!”
On that warm spring morning, we headed out with a gaggle of children to the school playground where we faced a row of planted conifers and deciduous trees, the school fence just behind the trees, a street and residential houses just behind the fence. The mostly eight-year-olds divided into three groups of eight, each with a supervising adult, each with their own area to watch. This didn’t last long, of course, with a few small boys first running back and forth under the trees, and then entire groups dissolving and mixing.
Wonderfully iconic– a kind of miracle–an American robin posed on a branch and puffed out its red breast. That was one of the birds on our list of sixteen species! A rock pigeon swooped through the bare yard behind us. Rock pigeons were on our list, too! We could hear mourning doves call from a nearby telephone pole. A third bird on our list! Next, a child spotted a house sparrow lying dead on the other side of the fence, and this attracted far more attention than the live house sparrows in the nearby tree. Our fourth species.
The American Robin, a beautiful sight commonly found in urban areas and one of the birds that the group spotted during the project (Image Credit: NASA)
For ten minutes, we exclaimed and watched and checked our list, looking for American crows, American robins, Baltimore orioles, barn swallows, black-crowned night herons, brown-headed cowbirds, Bullock’s orioles, cedar waxwings, European starlings, house finches, house sparrows, killdeer, mallards, mourning doves, peregrine falcons, and rock pigeons. One child believed emphatically that he saw a peregrine falcon swoop through the blue sky and another a Baltimore oriole colored red and yellow. Their teacher Maria said, “No, probably not,” but when the children insisted, she only smiled—“Okay, then, check the box that says ‘unsure.’” Some children remembered birds they had seen before, the mallard at the El Paso zoo with a broken leg and the mean parrot kept by their grandmother. Birds and memories of birds seemed to fill the air.
For ten minutes, we watched and then came inside and concentrated on filling out a form that included a description of the site and our observations, carefully copying what Maria wrote on the chalkboard. I realized that this last activity—learning how to record data–was as useful to these children as anything else we had done today.
My daughter and I were immeasurably pleased and planned how to do the next Celebrate Urban Birds even better. Perhaps we would do one of the associated art projects that the program suggests. We would have graphs and word problems. We would hand out more information about other common species in town–grackles and Western kingbirds. Eventually these children would say, “I learned how to bird-watch in the third grade.” Or, “I became passionate about birds in the third grade.” Or, “My teacher’s mother came into my third-grade class and revealed the world to be a web of miracles and connection, and I have never been the same since.”
At this point, I knew I was getting ahead of myself a little.
In today’s schools of scripted curriculums and constant test-taking, teachers like my daughter often have very little time in which to teach science. My daughter only had a half hour a week. A half hour. Celebrate Urban Birds was a creative, fun, educational use of that time. Moreover, like citizen scientists everywhere, these third graders had just become part of something larger than themselves. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology estimates that they work with some two hundred thousand volunteers, tracking and monitoring birds, with over a million observations reported each month on the Lab’s online checklist. These observations help produce real science, contributing to over sixty scientific papers as well as policy decisions designed to protect birds and their habitat.
The next year, my daughter and I did a repeat of Celebrate Urban Birds, and this time we had to use the stickers “Zero Means a Lot!” But that was a good learning experience, too. Surprisingly, the children did not seem particularly discouraged. They only asked if they could look for birds again tomorrow.
Sharman Apt Russell lives in rural southwestern New Mexico and teaches writing at Western New Mexico University in Silver City and at the low-residency MFA program in Antioch University in Los Angeles. She’s engaged in a number of citizen science projects, including monitoring archeology sites and inventorying possible new wilderness areas in the Gila National Forest. Her new book Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World (Oregon State University Press, 2014) was selected by The Guardian (UK) as one of the top ten nature books in 2014.