Science Learning+: Youth learning in Public Participation in STEM Research opportunities (crowdsourcing and citizen science) facilitated by natural history museums
Public Participation in Scientific Research (PPSR), often referred to as crowdsourcing or citizen science, engages participants in authentic research, which both advances science discovery as well as increases the potential for participants' understanding and use of science in their lives and careers. This four year research project examines youth participation in PPSR projects that are facilitated by Natural History Museums (NHMs). NHMs, like PPSR, have a dual focus on scientific research and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. The NHMs in this project have established in-person and online PPSR programs and have close ties with local urban community-based organizations. Together, these traits make NHMs appropriate informal learning settings to study how young people participate in PPSR and what they learn. This study focuses on three types of PPSR experiences: short-term outdoor events like bioblitzes, long-term outdoor environmental monitoring projects, and online PPSR projects such as crowdsourcing the ID of field observations. The findings of this study will be shared through PPSR networks as well as throughout the field in informal STEM learning in order to strength youth programming in STEM, such that youth are empowered to engage in STEM research and activities in their communities. This project is funded through Science Learning+, which is an international partnership between the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Wellcome Trust with the UK Economic and Social Research Council. The goal of this joint funding effort is to make transformational steps toward improving the knowledge base and practices of informal STEM experiences. Within NSF, Science Learning+ is part of the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program that seeks to enhance learning in informal environments and to broaden access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences.
The study employs observations, surveys, interviews, and learning analytics to explore three overarching questions about youth learning: 1) What is the nature of the learning environments and what activities do youth engage in when participating in NHM-led PPSR? 2) To what extent do youth develop three science learning outcomes, through participation in NHM-led citizen science programs? The three are: a) An understanding of the science content, b) identification of roles for themselves in the practice of science, and c) a sense of agency for taking actions using science? 3) What program features and settings in NHM-led PPSR foster these three science learning outcomes among youth? Based on studies occurring at multiple NHMs in the US and the UK, the broader impact of this study includes providing research-based recommendations for NHM practitioners that will help make PPSR projects and learning science more accessible and productive for youth. This project is collaboration between education researchers at University of California, Davis and Open University (UK), and Oxford University (UK) and citizen science practitioners, educators, and environmental scientists at three NHMs in the US and UK: NHM London, California Academy of Sciences, and NHM Los Angeles.