Leveraging Citizen Science for Informal Science Learning
As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program funds innovative research, approaches, and resources for use in a variety of settings. The proposed project broadens the utility of Public Participation in Scientific Research (PPSR) approaches, which include citizen science, to support new angles in informal learning. It also extends previous work on interactive data visualizations in museums to encompass an element of active contribution to scientific data. To achieve these goals, this project will develop and research U!Scientist (pronounced `You, Scientist!')--a novel approach to using citizen science and learning research-based technology to engage museum visitors in learning about the process of science, shaping attitudes towards science, and science identity development. Through the U!Scientist multi-touch tabletop exhibit, visitors will: (1) interact with scientific data, (2) provide interpretations of data for direct use by scientists, (3) make statements based on evidence, and (4) visualize how their data classifications contribute to globe-spanning research projects. Visitors will also get to experience the process of science, gaining efficacy and confidence through these carefully designed interactions. This project brings together Zooniverse, experts in interactive design and learning based on large data visualizations in museums, and leaders in visitor experience and learning in science museums. Over fifty thousand museum visitors are expected to interact annually with U!Scientist through this effort. This impact will be multiplied by packaging the open-source platform so that others can easily instantiate U!Scientist at their institution.
The U!Scientist exhibit development process will follow rapid iterations of design, implementation, and revision driven by evaluation of experiences with museum visitors. It will involve close collaboration between specialists in computer science, human-computer interaction and educational design, informal science learning experts, and museum practitioners. The summative evaluation will be based on shadowing observations, U!Scientist and Zooniverse.org logfiles (i.e., automated collection of user behavior metrics), and surveys. Three key questions will be addressed through this effort: Q1) Will visitors participate in PPSR activities (via the U!Scientist touch table exhibit) on the museum floor, despite all the distractions and other learning opportunities competing for their attention? If so, who engages, for how long, and in what group configurations? Q2) If visitors do participate, will they re-engage with the content after the museum visit (i.e., continue on to Zooniverse.org)? Q3) Does engaging in PPSR via the touch table exhibit--with or without continued engagement in Zooniverse.org after the museum visit--lead to learning gains, improved understanding of the nature of science, improved attitudes towards science, and/or science identity development?