January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

Engaging Students in the Classroom, Field, and Beyond: The Role of Multimedia in Citizen Science

Posted: Thursday, November 12th, 2015

by Emily Gottlieb and Monika Krach

“Isn’t it amazing how the position of the sun and the moon in the universe can affect the lives of little creatures like these sand crabs?” narrates one high school student in a self-directed and produced video entitled, “What the Ocean Means to Us.” The students who created this video participated in a citizen science program called LiMPETS, Long Term Monitoring Program and Experiential Training for Students. Last school year, LiMPETS began to incorporate multimedia projects to enhance students’ citizen science experience. LiMPETS now uses a suite of multimedia tools to train students and teachers before they go out into the field. After their field experience, blogging, video projects and scientific posters encourage students to think critically about their experience in order to communicate it. This is all part of LiMPETS larger effort to support classroom science. As students engage authentically with science through research and multimedia communication, they become empowered as young scientists and environmental stewards.

Citizen science engages students or volunteers to contribute to scientific inquiry by collecting or processing data (Silverton 2009). Created in 2002, LiMPETS was one of the earliest citizen science programs geared towards students. California’s National Marine Sanctuaries combined two student-driven coastal monitoring programs, rocky intertidal and sandy beach monitoring, which were initially developed by Dr. John Pearse and Dr. Jennifer Salzman, respectively. LiMPETS is run collaboratively by California’s National Marine Sanctuaries, Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association, the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, and the Marine Science Institute at the University of California at Santa Barbara. The program aims to increase our understanding of California’s coastal ecology while engaging students in authentic scientific data collection.

Citizen science programs continue to expand as they gain traction in the scientific community and in classrooms. In the 2014-2015 school year, LiMPETS trained approximately 5,500 teachers and students from 13 counties in California. Citizen science programs like LiMPETS can continue to grow and support classroom science by using multimedia tools to train students for scientific data collection. This year LiMPETS piloted multimedia training tools for teachers and students to use in the classroom before they go out to collect data used to monitor sandy beach and rocky intertidal ecosystems. These materials include a dynamic presentation that incorporates video, graphics, text and online quizzes that provide students and teachers with immediate feedback about their preparedness to conduct field research. These multimedia training resources are aimed at increasing students’ understanding of the scientific process and improving the quality of data that student citizen scientists collect.

The LiMPETS program has also piloted student multimedia projects to help students expand upon what they learn leading up to and during their field experience. Accessible media platforms, like blogs and social media; increasingly affordable communication technology, like small waterproof cameras; and even more traditional science communication tools, like scientific posters; put the power of scientific communication to a wider audience into students’ hands. The LiMPETS website features student videos and blogs. One student-authored blog, Beyonce’s Hit Single: Female Sand Crabs Run the World, explores abundance of gravid female sand crabs at one beach over a ten year period. Students used LiMPETS data to create graphs to examine years with high numbers of gravid females and total abundance of crabs in subsequent years. They also discuss the potential impacts of seasonal variation and climate change on the sandy beach ecosystem.

This year, eleven LiMPETS students presented research posters at the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Currents Symposium. Their posters, documenting trends in sea star wasting, predator-prey dynamics in the intertidal, and parasite prevalence in Pacific mole crabs, were among only 50 posters accepted for the Symposium. One student team, comprised of high school interns from the California Academy of Sciences, won an award for their outstanding poster. After a busy poster session, one LiMPETS student excitedly said to his teacher, “I NEVER thought I would get so into this. I mean [to his teacher] you didn’t think I’d ever get so into this, right?” Multimedia projects allow students creativity in demonstrate their knowledge in authentic ways and to a broader audience, beyond the scope of a lab report or a test.

Citizen science programs like LiMPETS give students a unique lens through which to explore the natural world, the lens of a field scientist. Through this lens, students take a focused look at the natural environment and the systems therein. When they are challenged by multimedia projects to reflect on their new scientific world view, they think critically about what they have experienced in the field and they find creative ways to communicate their new-found knowledge. This challenge of knowledge acquisition and communication is integral to the scientific process. As schools in California, and nationwide, adopt the Next Generation Science Standards, students are called to engage in the scientific process, rather than just reading about it in a textbook. This call can be answered by the integration of multimedia communication into science projects.

In the student directed video “What the Ocean Means to Us,” students talk about sand crabs, the tiny but critical inhabitants of the sandy beach ecosystem, and describe how all things, big and small, are connected “in a delicately balanced web.” The video ends by asking viewers to consider “what footprint will you leave?” The use of multimedia in citizen science programs may enhance students’ preparedness and experience in the field, encourage students to consider their own paths in the sciences and maybe even their own footprints in the environment.

Emily Gottlieb is the LiMPETS Program Coordinator at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, and can be contacted at www.limpets.org.

Monika Krach is the Science Education and Technology Specialist at the Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association.

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

One Response

  1. Em….loved your erudite article!!!!! You know that Helen Friedman was an excellent writer. You have good Friedman genes. Love BFS

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