Posted by: MandyS | February 8, 2013

Citizen Science and Citizen journalism?

Block 1 Week 2a Activity 2 Evolution Megalab

This activity involves having a look at this website and assessing its ‘learning’ capabilities. The clue was very much in the title of the activity i.e. Citizen Science but before I ventured into the site I had not really appreciated that it is really the general public that gather information, submit it and from there, all sorts of information can be assimilated and analysed.

So what did I find? It is certainly easy to navigate and very informative without too much detail. I am certainly encouraged to delve into the garden and find out just what sort of snail I have other than hungry ones. The only downside was the maps; they take ages to load and zoom into. Although there were no surveys in my own location, there was one near to my mother-in-laws! I would definitely be interested to know whether her snails are any different to mine!

Anyone can use this site and I think it would appeal across the board; it being quite lighthearted as well as educational. The motivation for using the site is likely to be taking part in research, but I can see it as a useful tool for schoolchildren learning about evolution or anybody else who might have a general interest.

I suppose one question is who the research then belongs to. Although the information I input would ultimately be mine, I think the basis of the site is collective ownership.

How then does this compare with Brown’s idea of participation? To me, this is an example of the ‘distributed learning’ which Brown referred to as being ‘equally important’ as campus study groups. Although the research is individual, it is the pooling of information which ultimately leads to a greater knowledge and understanding of how, in this case, snails evolve and how this differs throughout the world. Silvertown in his presentation to the Ecology Society evidences this site as a valuable asset to the idea of distance learning.

These are a couple of other examples of Citizen Science:

The Great Backyard Bird Count – an annual 4 day event to create a real-time snapshot of where birds are.

The Great Sunflower Project – to gather information about the Bee population

Citizen journalism I am not familiar with but again the giveaway is in the title. Basically, it is where the ‘public play and active role in collecting, reporting, analysing and disseminating news and information’. The main one that springs to mind for me is Sky News, which has the capability, on my phone at least, of commenting and sending in my own news items.

But there are many more!

This type of participation largely involves individuals collecting and submitting data. (I suppose it could also involve groups e.g. schoolchildren working on a project). To this end, it is not too dissimilar to forums i.e. individuals write about their observations which then share with a group. I suppose the difference is whether there is an opportunity to discuss the findings, which does not appear to be an option with the Megalab. Comparing it to the formal learning of science, I doubt there is much difference in that both involve knowledge transfer and then the practical ‘hands-on’ learning to develop understanding. The only difference will be that the information is coming from many different locations rather than from one source.

References:

Silvertown, J. (2008) ‘Geographically-referenced teaching and learning (GReTL): making a virtue out of necessity in distance education and citizen science – the example of the Evolution MegaLab’, Presentation to the 93rd Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting, Milwaukee.

Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizen_journalism

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