Bridging the gap between citizen science practitioners and academics through nQuire

A one-day hands-on workshop with 33 attendees took place at the Open University on the 2nd of July 2019. Invited practitioners and researchers used the authoring functionality of nQuire ( to set up and test their own nQuire missions. The nQuire team offered live feedback to the missions and scaffolded individuals in setting up scientifically and ethically robust investigations. The platform provided them with secure data storage and allowed them to download anonymized data sets.

Attendees originated from a range of non-academic and academic organisations including (non-academics) the BBC, BBC Arts, the Natural History Museum London, THIS institute, Living Maps, Science Atelier, National Centre for Earth Observation, ADAS, Green Steps, Spaceflight UK, RHUL, Permaculture Association, and (academic) UCL, Swansea University, University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, Royal Holloway University London, University of Hull, Linnaeus University Sweden, Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science, and the OU.

The event was funded by HEIF.

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CitSci Edu: Understanding and improving the experience of educators engaging young people in citizen science activities

CitSci Edu is a Santander-funded project that focuses on understanding and improving the experience of educators and other mediators who engage young people in citizen science activities in formal and informal education. To this end, surveys and interviews with educators who have already engaged in citizen participation activities in their classrooms or in other locations such as libraries or cultural centres, will identify their motivations, engagement techniques, and difficulties. Following on the analysis of the surveys and interviews, a discussion group taking place in Barcelona will focus on how to support and improve the experience of the different types of mediators and consequently of young people.

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New project: CitSci Diaries!

This new European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) funded project is a collaboration between the Institute of Educational Technology (IET) and the Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education (IPN) at Kiel University, Germany. This Short Term Scientific Mission (STSM) involves the IET researcher Dr. Maria Aristeidou visiting the IPN in December 2019, for a collaboration with Prof. Dr. Ute Harms and Dr. Till Bruckermann.

Enhancing the engagement of citizens within science participation communities is a focus of attention for researchers and practitioners who want to amplify the impact on learning, science and society. Citizen diaries are proposed in this collaboration as an alternative or supplementary method to pre/post surveys, retrospective interviews and activity observation, for capturing daily changes to motivation and participation.

The WTimpact project at IPN aims to elucidate the factors that make Citizen Science successful as a knowledge transfer tool. WTimpact involves citizens in three monitoring projects in Berlin and Leipzig, carrying out their own measurements and observations in the field, share and evaluate their data, and exchange their results and reflections on them with other citizens as well as the researchers.

The aims of the project are:

(a) to develop a methodology (settings, instructions, modes, time-frame, evaluation) for applying diary studies in citizen science as a way of capturing citizen engagement; and

(b) to pilot the methodology with samples (translated into English) from a field study taking place in Berlin

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Young people’s requirements for engaging with inquiry-led, civic engagement technologies

A partnership with young people took in Leysin American School (LAS), in Switzerland, during the European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) workshop on enhancing synergies between citizen science and education helped us in evaluating a first version of the nQuire platform. LAS is a boarding school with students coming from different backgrounds and having different native languages.

The aim of this study was to examine the usability of an early version of the platform and understand, in particular, how young people aged 16 to 18 in particular perceive technologies that support inquiry-led social science investigations.

The students decided and registered in a workshop of their choice, based on the circulated descriptionsthat informed about the study purposes. The students who joined our workshop consented to their participation on the online consent and confirmation form on the platform, prior to contributing or creating an inquiry (mission).

Outcomes revealed that there is a preference by the majority of the young participants to use mobile devices for accessing the platform. This finding emphasises the importance of mobilised learning and mobile-friendly design for engaging teenagers with inquiry-led activities. Further difficulties and suggestions mentioned by students included scaffolding (instructions), better colours and search features. These have already been communicated to designers and have been implemented in the latest version of the platform.

The study details have been presented at the 17th World Conference on Mobile and Contextual Learning (mLearn 2018). Find out more about the study here:

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How to design citizen science tools for learning

Our long-lasting experience of designing citizen science tools for inquiry learning has now been captured and published free access here. We report on eight design principles that guided the design of the nQuire platform, a citizen inquiry platform empowering people to initiate and complete their own research projects. These are:

  1. users as producers of knowledge,
  2. topics before tools,
  3. mobile affordances,
  4. scaffolds to the process of scientific inquiry,
  5. learning by doingas key message,
  6. being part of a community as key message,
  7. every visit brings a reward,and
  8. value users and their time.

The abstract of the paper copied here: This paper reports on a 4-year research and development case study about thedesign of citizen science tools for inquiry learning. It details the process of iterativepedagogy-led design and evaluation of the nQuire toolkit, a set of web-based andmobile tools scaffolding the creation of online citizen science investigations. Thedesign involved an expert review of inquiry learning and citizen science, combinedwith user experience studies involving more than 200 users. These have informed aconcept that we have termed‘citizen inquiry’, which engages members of the publicalongside scientists in setting up, running, managing or contributing to citizen scienceprojects with a main aim of learning about the scientific method through doing scienceby interaction with others. A design-based research (DBR) methodology was adopted forthe iterative design and evaluation of citizen science tools. DBR was focused on therefinement of a central concept,‘citizen inquiry’, by exploring how it can be instantiatedin educational technologies and interventions. The empirical evaluation and iteration oftechnologies involved three design experiments with end users, user interviews, andinsights from pedagogy and user experience experts. Evidence from the iterativedevelopment of nQuire led to the production of a set of interaction design principlesthat aim to guide the development of online, learning-centred, citizen science projects.Eight design guidelines are proposed: users as producers of knowledge, topics beforetools, mobile affordances, scaffolds to the process of scientific inquiry, learning by doingas key message, being part of a community as key message, every visit brings a reward,and value users and their time.

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Citizen science impact event at The Open University

Book launch and latest developments in citizen science and learning

There will be a citizen science impact event on the 20th of November (Monday), between 10 am – 3:30 pm, at the Open University to celebrate the launch of the Citizen Inquiry book and present developments in citizen science research.

Professor Muki Haklay and Professor Mike Sharples will be keynote speakers along with other experts presenting their work on citizen science and learning.

Registration is free and complimentary lunch and coffee will be provided on the day.

To register please visit:

For any inquiries, please contact: Christothea Herodotou (@herodotouc) or Maria Aristeidou (@aristeidoum)

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New book: ‘Citizen inquiry: Synthesizing science and inquiry learning’!

Citizen science or crowdsourcing has gained an increasing popularity the last few years with web-based platform such as Zooniverse and iSpot scaffolding interactions between scientists and members of the public. Yet, little emphasis has been given to the educational benefits of citizen science, in particular for volunteers or members of the public who wish to contribute to citizen science activities.

Citizen inquiry: Synthesizing science and inquiry learning recently published by Routledge is the first book of its kind to draw the emphasis on inquiry-based learning from participation in citizen science activities. This innovative edited volume by Christothea Herodotou, Mike Sharples and Eileen Scanlon introduces the concept of ‘citizen inquiry’ to emphasize the active engagement of the public in citizen science activities, which refers to, not only participation in collecting or analysing data but also initiation, implementation, and completion of personally meaningful scientific projects. Citizen science projects enacted by the public can be supported by mass participation, professional scientists, and online and mobile tools. Also, citizen inquiry expands across diverse disciplines; citizen science projects have been originally focused on natural and physical sciences. Citizen inquiry suggests that mass participation in scientific activities could span diverse disciplines including education, psychology, sociology and medicine.

The book presents empirical evidence about how learning can be achieved or facilitated in a range of citizen science projects taking place in both formal and informal learning contexts. These exemplar case-studies showcase how citizen inquiry, as a new approach to learning can contribute to scientific thinking, collaboration and life-long learning as well as how citizen science and inquiry learning, when merged together can lead to certain pedagogical advantages such as the identification of sound solutions to real-life problems.

The introduction of the book is open and free to access. More information can be found here

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Tomorrow’s World nQuire

The Open University and the BBC have set up a joint project to develop a web platform for running large-scale public experiments in psychology and social science.  

The BBC has experience in running mass-participation experiments through Lab UK which was launched in 2009 and ran until 2015, engaging members of the public in investigating aspects of psychology, sociology and health. The Open University has developed the nQuire-it platform to explore ‘citizen inquiry’, which helps people learn by doing large-scale science.

During 2017, the existing nQuire-it site will be developed and extended to include support for a new type of ‘mission’ involving surveys and quizzes. Scientists, and members of the public, will be able to create and run online studies to explore attitudes and personality. This will involve providing new ways to enter responses, secure handling of personal data, and ways for participants to see overview results. The work will also involve re-implementing nQuire-it to run large studies linked to TV or radio programmes.

Citizen science is growing in importance, as scientists find new ways to involve members of the public in collecting or analysing data – for example through Garden Birdwatch to monitor birds, or Galaxy Zoo to assist astronomers in analysing telescope images. Citizen inquiry focuses on helping people to learn by doing big science – from providing guides on how to visualise and interpret data, to helping people set up their own big-scale studies.

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