Sigma Xi Student Research Showcase

Training Citizen Scientists to Collect Ecological Data

Maggie Gaddis

PhD Student, Education- Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment

University of the Rockies, Denver, CO

PI: Dr. Kimberly Fonteix

Committee members: Dr. Greg Newman, Dr. Charles Dull

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Training Citizen Scientists: A Qualitative, Comparative, Multiple Case Study to Identify Theoretical and Instructional Design Themes in Current Citizen Science Training Initiatives

This dissertation inquiry investigates citizen science training. Citizen scientists are volunteers who participate in scientific activities under the guidance of professional scientists and organizations. The work of citizen scientists expands the data collection possibilities in natural resource management and increases science literacy among participants and their social communities. Citizen scientists are increasingly important to the on-going assessment of ecological restoration, species identification, and monitoring on natural lands. The general problem is data collected by citizen scientists is often viewed as unreliable by the scientists and land managers who might use it. The specific problem is the absence of educational training measurement in citizen science program design and analysis with which to ascertain the learning gains of trained citizen scientists. To address this problem, this dissertation lays the observational groundwork for developing training themes in citizen science. This may lead to improved training programs for citizen scientists and improved data reliability. This qualitative multiple case study involves a sequential investigation of member organizations, including training document analysis, an organizational survey, and follow-up semi-structured interviews with training leaders to identify content, theoretical, and instructional design themes in and perceived efficacy of current citizen science training initiatives.

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8 thoughts on “Sigma Xi Student Research Showcase

  1. When citizen science data collection is evaluated, are most of the analyses focused on an individual training paradigm or pairs/groups of collection methods? In other words, if accuracy and acceptability are the primary complaints abut using citizen science people, would this be more acceptable if pairs of people collecting information and trained?

    What are the risks of having people with an “agenda” collecting information to support a bias and then falsely claiming that this is “good “science? How does an educational training paradigm deal with this situational ethics challenge?

    • Hello,
      My apologies for the delayed response. I was searching everyday to see if there were comments and I just stumbled upon a setting in which I need to approve the comments to see them. It was technical error on my part.

      In response to your first question, investigators have responded to questions of data reliability by designing studies in which benchmark measurements are collected by professional scientists. Individual citizen scientists are then asked to collect the same measurements and the two groups’ measurements are compared. Since the goal of citizen science is to expand data collection possibilities and natural resource monitoring funds are dwindling, it would not be feasible to pair a scientist with every citizen scientist, if that is what you were insinuating. If you mean to have citizen scientists work in teams to collect data together, I think this is how it works in the field setting, but most experimental training methods have individual people as research subjects. For example, the citizen science program I run for Rocky Mountain Field Institute employs teams of data collectors. The image to the left is one of the teams. 🙂 They are not the subject of my dissertation, however. I think your comment is perceptive. I had no intention of looking whether the citizen scientists work in teams or not, nor had I thought about the fact that the published experimental methods in citizen science training do not match what I assume to be the actual field setting of team data collection. This gives me a lot to think about. Thank you.

      Regarding your second question, I think this is a question for any research anywhere. In the case of citizen science, most of these programs are funded by the federal government, by granting organizations with a mission for environmental conservation, or they are unfunded, initiated by local citizens for the protection of their local habitats. I think the “agenda” in natural resource citizen science is always a mission for protecting natural resources and human health. This presents a potential bias, but there is no product or profit in direct relationship with the scientific process. In other words, citizen science responds to a lack of funding and political awareness and action rather than promotes an agenda from within. I suppose that could happen, but I have not seen evidence of that in my reading.
      Thank you for your comments,

  2. Hello!
    I hope you are enjoying the research presentations. I am impressed with the projects I reviewed so far. It is great to see so many young investigators. I am not one of them, but working with students is my job! I like to be a student here, instead of being the instructor. I look forward to the challenge of your questions.

  3. This is very interesting and looks like it could have a lot of neat implications for regular people to do science. It would be wonderful to have more scientifically literate people to better understand policy. It looks like you’ve put a lot of thought and energy into the structure.

    A couple of procedural questions:

    Slide 5 (I think): lit references print over the graph.
    Slide 6: Are there references for Scientific Researchers topic?
    Slide 12: Starr found that….should this be citizen scientists as the topic?

    I have an overarching question about evaluating training (live, video, static, etc): how did they evaluate the effectiveness of these methods? Were CS observed in the field? Or was their data analyzed? This would be interesting to hear how they evaluated this..

    Are the surveys with the organizations who work with citizen scientists? Or the citizen scientists themselves?

    • Hello Dr. Gaddis,
      Thank you for your questions. Regarding the words over the graph, that was probably a poor choice on my part. We had a 25 slide limit and those were two slides. I wanted to show the exponential growth in literature, but make the written points. I will modify that.
      On slide 6, scientific researchers are always involved by definition and therefore I included no citations. I will re-arrange that slide so scientific researchers are at the top before the colon.
      On Slide 12, good catch. I will fix that as well.

      The evaluation of training methods is the emerging perspective arising from the work of Newman, Crall, and Starr among others. However, they took it as far as using different training modes as levels of the training treatment. However, the evaluation of training methods stops there in the peer-reviewed literature. For example, there are also no studies that validate data reliability over time since training, or as a factor of field measurement hours. My dissertation is the first investigation to aggregate training information to develop a conclusion about what is happening on-the-ground in citizen science programs. The next step (a post-doc hopefully) is to develop best management practices for citizen science training. For example, my assumption is that the procedural measurement skills inherent to citizen science measurements are similar across programs. My dissertation will help me validate or invalidate that assumption. If in fact, the same procedural skills are inherent across training programs investigated in my dissertation, we can then develop research to explore how effective certain instructional modes are for teaching certain procedural skills. See, we nee that level of understanding about the nature of citizen science training to develop appropriate experimental methodology to investigate your question.

      I started to answer your second question in response to Judge51, but to continue that here, the behaviors of the citizen scientists were not observed. It was the data that was compared against benchmarks, which were machine-generated data, or scientist-generated data. For example, water quality data can be collected by a person or a machine. Field collection of botanical information can be collected by a scientist first and then collected by a citizen scientist.

      The surveys are with the program managers, not the citizen scientists themselves.


  4. This was a very interesting read. I didn’t realize there were so many citizen scientists. This reminds me of the range management programs the ranchers and farmers around here do. Are there certain areas the citizen scientists are “working” in that training is focused?

    • Hello Ms. Hare,
      Great to see you here! My research is specifically focused on ecological citizen science, which of course includes rangeland ecology. Citizen scientists can work in all kinds of scientific disciplines from astronomy to health science to chemistry. I like this TED talk because Ms. Richmond talks about the breadth of citizen science research:
      The kinds of citizen science projects that might occur in the agricultural landscape includes water quality testing, soil testing, plant growth measurements, you name it! If you are doing it on a ranch, it can be measured by citizen scientists.
      Thank you for visiting my research blog.

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