Characterizing Youth Participation in Natural History Museum-led Citizen Science: Online and in the Field

Ballard, Heidi; Herodotou, Christothea; Lorke, Julia; Aristeidou, Maria; Robinson, Lucy; Johnson, Rebecca; Young, Alison; Higgins, Lila; Jennewein, Jessie; Miller, Annie; Pratt-Taweh, Sasha; Sanghera, Harpreet; Miller, Grant and Pauly, Greg (2019). Characterizing Youth Participation in Natural History Museum-led Citizen Science: Online and in the Field. In: Citizen Science Association, 13-17 Mar 2019, Raleigh, North Carolina.



Here we report on the design and initial findings from the ongoing “Learning and Environmental science Agency Research Network for Citizen Science” (LEARN CitSci) project, an international collaboration between educational researchers and NHM practitioners to study how youth participants develop expertise, identity, and agency in environmental science, here termed environmental science agency (ESA; Ballard et al. 2017), through participation in citizen science projects led by NHMs, in both online and field-based settings. We leverage the iterative nature of design-based research (DBR) to understand how youth develop ESA across varied settings—online platforms iNaturalist and Zooniverse, and short- and long-term field-based settings—across 3 NHMs, one in the UK (NHM in London) and 2 in the US. (California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, and NHM of Los Angeles County, California). During Year 1 for the field-based settings, we relied upon ethnographic field observations of over 150 young people, with ongoing programs consisting of at least 3 repeated sessions with the same young people, and 3-5 short-term events for each NHM. For the online platforms, we used learning analytics data and visualisation techniques to identify engagement patterns and choices of projects and activities of over 200 young participants in the Zooniverse and iNaturalist platforms. In both settings our methods attempt to capture and describe affordances, constraints, resources, roles, activities, and citizen science practices in order to understand the contexts and modes of participation within which youth may develop ESA. We found that across the field-based settings , in only about one-third of the episodes did we see evidence of youth engaging in science practices and developing agency with environmental science with respect to the CCS activities themselves. However, among those episodes, we found important patterns in the ways that the CCS contexts provided 1) access to scientific tools (insect nets, vials, binoculars, cameras, field guides, etc.) that youth took up and identified their own expertise in using the tool, sometimes teaching their parents or other youth how to use it, 2) opportunities for constructive interactions with parents/ guardians around science, specifically during the Short-Term (Bioblitz) events. We also saw a large proportion of episodes we termed ‘missed opportunities’. Often these centered around the framing of the event or program that did not focus on the “real science” CCS aspects of the activity, which points to key design features around how educators frame activities. Findings from online settings, in particular the Zooniverse platform, point to five distinct patterns of participation: ‘systematic’, ‘moderate’, ‘casual’, ‘lasting’, and ‘visiting’. The majority of youth participating online are found in the ‘lasting’ and ‘visiting’ profiles while only few of them are ‘systematically’ engaged with Zooniverse projects. We found no clear pattern for which projects are most chosen by young people. Most popular projects were those actively promoted by our project or the Zooniverse platform. These findings have implications for how citizen science programs can be designed to enhance environmental science learning and agency for youth participants.

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