Maria K. DiBenedetto
Bryan School of Business and Economics
University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Dale H. Schunk
School of Education
University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Beginning to conduct research can be overwhelming as there are many aspects of conducting research that must be addressed. One must define the purpose and goals of the research, identify the variables, seek permission from the appropriate Institutional Review Board, obtain access to participants, gain participant consent, ensure the reliability and validity of the measures, and determine the appropriate way to analyze the data. Once the research is completed, researchers must identify an appropriate journal for publication. Then, researchers undergo the critical review process whereby their manuscript, into which they put a great deal of time, energy, and work into writing, is either rejected or invited for resubmission with revisions.

Researchers also have different goals. Some researchers for example, are trying to predict behavior while others are attempting to describe or explain behavior. Some researchers are trying to find solutions to critical issues whereas others are trying to obtain outcomes that provide support for various theories. Regardless of the purpose and the many details associated with conducting a research study, it can be extremely motivating, exciting, rewarding, and even fun!

There are many aspects to conducting research that make it enjoyable, but we would like to focus using the outdoors as your laboratory in conducting citizen science research and collaborating with educators in citizen science projects.

Citizen science has become increasingly popular and is defined as the, “public engagement in scientific research with the collaboration with professional scientists” (Shah & Martinez, 2016, p. 17). It involves research that is based on collaboration between scientists and ordinary “citizens”.  Citizen science programs have historically been used to study nature and include explorations of birds, amphibians, and butterflies found only in certain areas (DiBenedetto & Schunk, 2019). The data obtained from citizen science projects have helped provide information on animal and insect migration, invasive species, diversity, pollution, rising sea levels, and climate change.

Citizen Science Programs offer new researchers, including those who are environmentally conscience or interested in nature, a venue for conducting research that may ultimately have an impact on our Earth and our quality of life. In a citizen science program, researchers collaborative with others as coinvestigators in authentic, hands-on settings. This type of research can excite, motivate, and proactively engage others to participate because it is not only hands-on, but it also often involves outdoor activities. Citizen Science Programs thrive globally and can receive funding from prestigious organizations such as the National Science Foundation.

One such program is the Ant Picnic in the Students Discover program that was developed out of research at the Rob Dun Lab at North Carolina State University. In the Ant Picnic, scientists work with teachers and their students to study ants’ eating habits by preparing baits for the ants on index cards, then counting the ants on each of the different baits, taking photos of the ants, and then sending the information through a global database used by citizen science researchers globally. The children and teachers are not only excited to see which ants and how many ants will select a particular bait. They also learn about the process of collecting, recording, and calculating data for scientific research.

Citizen Science Programs allow us to capitalize on the work of others to help us conduct research in a cost-efficient way. Collaborating with teachers provides educators with professional development opportunities and can heighten their students’ interests and motivation for learning. It can also help provide educators and their students with a deeper understanding of the topic and on the process of conducting research. Educators and their students can experience teaching and learning differently from the traditional classroom experiences as they are actively engaged in outdoor activities. Researchers benefit from working with teachers because it provides them with opportunities to finetune the protocol, teach others about the process of data collection and analysis, and collect more data than they would have collected on their own. It also allows researchers the opportunity to learn from teachers and students with whom they are working. Collaborations between researchers and teachers also expand the breadth of knowledge on topics of research and the environment. Citizen Science Programs can be quite fun and exciting for all involved because the research is conducted in the real-world. We would like to encourage new scholars to pursue citizen science project opportunities and to collaborate with educators in citizen science projects.

DiBenedetto, M. K., & Schunk, D. H. (2019). Student motivation and teacher/scientist collaboration in citizen science programs: Making science learning fun andrelevant. In A. Kitsantas & S. E. Hiller (Eds.), Citizen science programs:  Guidelines for informal science educators in enhancing youth science motivation and achievement (pp. 165-186). Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science Publishers.

Shak, H. R., & Martinez, L. r. (2016). Current approaches in implementing citizen science in the classroom. Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education, 17(1), 17-22.