Partnering science education research and citizen science practice: lessons from using a design-based research approach in the informal learning setting of natural history museums

Wardlaw, J.; Ballard, H.; Robinson, L.; Johnson, R.; Young, A.; Higgins, L.; Herodotou, Christothea; Lorke, J.; Ghadiri Khanaposhtani, M.; Miller, G.; Pratt-Taweh, S.; Jennewein, J.; Aristeidou, Maria; Burton, V; Papathoma, T. and Miller, G. (2020). Partnering science education research and citizen science practice: lessons from using a design-based research approach in the informal learning setting of natural history museums. In: ECSA conference 2020, 7-10 Sep 2020, Trieste, Italy.



Applied learning research has the potential to inform project design, enhance outcomes and drive best practices in Community and Citizen Science (CCS). However, educational research typically examines the learning processes and outcomes for participants in CCS by treating the venues and practitioners as a ‘study site’, with little input to research design from practitioners. Traditional “top-down” research approaches may not account for the real-world trade-offs made in CCS programming and delivery, so that research findings may be unrealistic or inaccessible for practitioners, and researchers may miss opportunities to inform practice. “Research-Practice” partnerships, attempt to address this gap. But how do such researcher-practitioner collaborations work in practice? What benefits, risks, challenges, and successes are emerging?

Here we share the experiences of the LEARN CitSci team - an interdisciplinary, international collaboration of educational researchers and CCS practitioners across two research institutions and four informal science institutions (three museums and two online platforms). The research is focused on participants aged 5-19 years in three CCS settings: long-term monitoring projects, BioBlitz events, and online/mobile-enabled crowdsourcing projects. This four-year project is applying a mixed-methods approach to 1) characterise the settings and participation, 2) capture the development of participants’ knowledge, skills, and agency, and 3) identify and promote the key design features in CCS projects that could foster learning processes.

The team has implemented several novel approaches to bridge the research-practice gap:

A staff member with a practitioner background is embedded full-time within each museum in a role that spans CCS practice and educational research. They receive training in qualitative research methods, collect data and contribute to analysis. The University-based researchers and a Museum-embedded researcher collaborate entirely on every aspect of the research design and train the above staff.

We apply a design-based research (DBR) approach (Bakker, 2018) to iteratively study and co-design for learning across projects and settings. The researchers and practitioners communicate almost constantly to embed the real-life experiences of the CCS programme teams within the research.

While the first phase of the LEARN CitSci project focused on collecting data on different settings to understand youth learning in CCS projects, the second phase - and this presentation - is centred on the use of DBR to develop new program design features based on research findings.

We present the opportunities and challenges for research-practitioner partnerships of co-designing programme features that contribute to youth learning with the DBR approach. The collaborative process of DBR includes the co-creation of conjecture maps, which describe how programme features should function to produce intended learning outcomes (Sandoval, 2014) for implementation in any of the informal science learning programs or settings. Such concrete artifacts have provided an invaluable framework through which the research informs practice and vice versa. With time, and a common understanding of DBR terminology, the DBR process seems to concretely support practitioners’ desire to improve their programs with research-based evidence and provide researchers with a unique opportunity to systematically examine a common approach to informal science education (through facilitated participation in citizen science) for multiple settings.

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