Using Citizen Science in the Online GenEd classroom

Alexandra Davatzes, Temple University
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I use citizen science projects that are abundantly available on the web as a way to teach non-majors about the scientific process and as a way to teach them about geoscience/environmental science. I use this in an online Sustainable Environments class, so that students can get a virtual "hands-on" experience with data collection.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



This is used about partway through the course, after I have taught them about the scientific process. It is geared towards non-majors, but I think with some minor modifications it could be used in any intro to environmental science or geology classroom.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered


How the activity is situated in the course

I have it in the middle of my course, and it spans a 2 week period


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Specific goals may vary depending on the citizen science project, so this is highly conformable to different classes.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

I use this to get them to see that they can be part of the scientific process, but also to get them thinking about what part of the process they are not seeing while doing the crowdsourced project.

Other skills goals for this activity

Students have to write and are graded on writing as well, but this also gets at self efficacy and helping students realize that they, too, can be a scientist.

Description and Teaching Materials

The Citizen Science Project is broken into 2 parts, each in a separate week of the class:

Citizen Science Part 1:

Look through the websites listed below, and pick one of them to participate in.

1. Penguin Watch ( Monitor penguins to help researchers track the changing numbers over time.
2. Nature's Notebook: ( Track backyard flora and fauna to contribute data on climate change. This one requires you to get outdoors. Class credit to take a hike!
3. Sounds of New York City ( Identify city sounds to help machine learning for automatic detection and mitigation of noise pollution.
4. *NOTE* These projects come and go over time, but I would recommend and add any of the projects on the Zooniverse site:

Spend at least two hours participating in the project, and submit a 1 page summary of what you did, describing how much you were able to accomplish in that time. Include screenshots. Submit here on Canvas. This is due by Wednesday at midnight.

Citizen Science Part 2:

Crowdsourcing science has become a popular way to gather large volumes of data. There are potential advantages to both the scientists and the citizens involved in these projects. But others have argued that it does not give an accurate perspective of the scientific process to the general project because they do not see the project from concept through completion, and are only involved in data collection. Having read the articles and participated in a citizen science project yourself, what do you think? Spend a couple more hours on your project and then write a reflection on your experience participating in a citizen science project, after you have read this article ( and this article ( To receive full credit for the paper, you must include the following:

-2-3 page paper total (12pt., Times New Roman, 1.5 space)
-A discussion of the overall project: what are the goals of the project and how did you contribute? (~1 paragraph)
-A discussion of the scientific and/or societal implications of this project. You should include specific details and citations from the articles that pertain to the results or are relevant to the purpose of this study. (~1 page)
-A discussion of what you have learned by participating in the project. How, if at all, has this project refined/reshaped your worldview. (~1 paragraph)
-A discussion on how the purpose of this research connects to the world around us. Does this project reshape our understanding of human interaction with the environment or does it reinforce previous knowledge? Explain your response. (~1 page)
-Did you feel that the work that you put into this citizen scientist project helped make an immediate impact? Do you feel that participating in citizen science that you were actually doing science? Explain your reasoning. (~2 paragraphs)

Submit here on Canvas. This is due by Wednesday at midnight.

Teaching Notes and Tips

The biggest thing is to double check that your projects are still running. I have set this up at the start of a semester, and the projects are completed and no longer using participants by the time the activity comes up in the class, so just check on that the day before the activity starts. Students typically really enjoy this, and some even participate in crowdsourced projects after the semester is over. There are also activities outside of Zooniverse. I have enjoyed having my students involved in several different ones over the years. But I do recommend testing them out first before selecting them.