by Austin Mast, Libby Ellwood and Bruce MacFadden
Citizen science is growing as a research field, as evidenced by the formation of a professional societ
y, a peer-reviewed journal
, and now, at least one university class. In the Spring 2015 semester, we taught a graduate-level course in Citizen Science, offered jointly at Florida State University and the University of Florida. Fourteen graduate students enrolled in the course, numerous other students sat in on the class or joined remotely, and several faculty and staff members also participated. We met for one hour each week.
The course began with student-led discussions of relevant literature on such topics as the history of citizen science, frameworks for thinking about citizen science, best practices, real-life experiences, and the future of citizen science. Students experienced citizen science from the volunteer’s perspective in the Munson Hills Ephemeral Pool Amphibian Monitoring project (see photos) and through a number of online projects, including several from the Zooniverse
. Students refined their citizen science practitioner skills by developing methods for projects related to their own research interests. This exercise produced impressive results, with students designing projects that investigated a wide range of topics including animal behavior hypotheses, pollinator abundance, beach dune insect populations, and identification of understudied marine organisms, all with critical involvement by citizen scientists. We also hosted four webinars from experts in the field—Greg Newman, David Bonter, Tina Phillips and Laura Whyte. The combination of literature discussions, hands-on activities, innovative applications of learned material, and interactions with citizen science professionals, made for a thought-provoking, lively semester.
This course was widely advertised campus-wide, but most students that enrolled were from the Department of Biological Science (at FSU) or the Biology, Geology, Science Education, and Wildlife & Conservation departments (at UF). In the future, we hope to expand our enrollment to more of the sciences, as well as education and the digital humanities.
Details of the course, along with the course bibliography and assignments, can be found on the course wiki
. If you're planning on teaching a citizen science class or are curious about how we approached it, have a look and feel free to rework the materials to your needs. We'd also like to know of other graduate-level citizen science courses that have been taught in the past or are planned for the future. If you taught one or took one, please let us know—we'd love to compare notes!