Dr. Charlotte Dean writes about her experiences of using nQuire with young people

Young People’s use of nQuire to Ascertain Adults Perception of and Attitudes Towards Single-Use Plastic 

By Dr. Charlotte Dean, University of Hull; School of Education

This article describes how young people participating in the University of Hull’s Plastic Citizen project utilised nQuire.org.uk to tackle a question that they had around exploring adult’s perceptions of and attitude towards single use plastics.  The Plastic Citizen project was just one of several projects, within the University of Hull’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (ESPRC) funded Evolving a Circular Plastics Economy (ECPE) programme, which had the overall aim of tackling some of the key issues and challenges around the problems caused to the environment by excessive use and disposal of single-use plastic. The Plastic Citizen project aimed to do this specifically through examining the attitudes and approaches of young people to the issues relating to the circular plastics economy and by empowering them to undertake and share their own research using Citizen Inquiry methodologies. This transdisciplinary project brought together researchers from three different areas in the University of Hull (Education, Politics and Chemistry), along with external stakeholders such as community-based youth projects, schools and specialist education providers.

The overall objectives of the project were to:

  • identify what young people know and understand about the circular economy
  • work with EPCE scientists to develop a student friendly typology of plastic types for use in a Citizen Inquiry investigation
  • test the feasibility of Citizen Inquiry methodologies in primary school age settings
  • explore how young people centred initiatives (e.g. youth councils) can influence decision-making and increase their sense of environmental agency
  • develop an international youth perspective on issues like the plastics circular economy to prepare future European funding applications around Citizen Inquiry
  • create teaching resources to support the wider understanding of the plastic circular economy with different groups and students

The project was split into three phases, it started by exploring the ‘voice’ of different youth groups to identify what they understand about issues related to single-use plastics and how they believe they can influence and impact upon it. This information was then used, to develop a participatory research design which included young people as co-researchers in designing their own individual projects aimed at engaging them in the circular plastics economy. The intention was that each of the six groups of young people that the project engaged would work either individually, in small groups or as a whole group together to design a project which would influence the circular plastics economy through tackling the problem of single use plastic utilising the 4Rs (Reduce; Recycle; Repurpose; Reuse). It was originally intended that the designs would be entered into a ‘Dragon’s Den’ type event to be held at the University of Hull in June 2020 whereby the young people would present their ideas to a panel of academics/researchers and potentially win a prize for their youth project/school. Unfortunately, this event was cancelled due to the onset of the Covid-19 restrictions which were put in place in March 2020.

The young people were given the following guidelines and asked to ensure that their projects:

  1. Encourage others to use at least one of the 4 Rs: Re-purpose; Reduce, Re-use and Recycle single-use plastic.
  2. Involve carrying out research – may be with other young people, may be local community, school etc.
  3. Involve digital technology in their design/execution.

One of the groups of young people (consisting of 30 mixed gender young people in Year 5 – aged 9-10, these young people were from 15 different primary schools but came together as one group to participate in the project across 5 sessions) decided that they wanted to explore the perceptions of adults towards single-use plastics in order to ascertain any actions that could be implemented to influence their actions and attitudes towards recycling, re-using, re-purposing and reducing their use of plastics. The group adopted the approach of facilitating a Citizen Inquiry ‘mission’ using the online interactive survey tool created by the Open university – nQuire. The young people had no prior experience of working with an online platform such as nQuire and so the researcher spent time outlining and demonstrating the capabilities of the programme. It became clear that the young people were struggling to understand how to create and populate the survey fields and it was decided that the researcher would work instead with the young people to create their own potential questions that they would wish to pose to adults and decide on which response style suited each question i.e Likert scale; multiple choice; comments etc.  The researcher then created the ‘mission’ using nQuire and shared this with the children in order to elicit feedback and amend as appropriate.

The subsequent ‘mission’ was set to pilot mode and permission gained for the young people to engage with local shoppers in a large city centre shopping centre. The young people were equipped with iPads all logged in to their particular ‘mission’ and also designed an accompanying observation log with which to record how nQuire worked as a research tool. The young people then met again to apply a thematic analysis approach to their findings which are currently being written up by the young people and will form part of the end of research report.

Other notable outputs for the overall project have been the creation of two user-designed digital ‘apps’ to engage and educate primary school children in activities relating to the 4R’s. The young people involved in the various projects have also produced a number of learning resources, again, designed to be used with younger children. These include a set of jigsaws based around the 4Rs; a series of posters to be displayed in schools/youth settings to encourage young people to recycle their plastics; designs for recycling bins to be installed in a school dining hall for children to recycle any single use plastics in their packed lunch boxes; planters made out of recycled plastic to be installed in a school playground for growing edible produce; a story book, aimed at younger children containing fun facts about how children can contribute towards a circular economy and an animated film made with a local arts production company which will be available on YouTube and will also be linked to supporting activities and resources on the project website.

The majority of young people feel their generation is under pressure to solve environmental issues such as climate change and plastic pollution but do not think they are well-enough equipped to make a difference (Young, 2019). This project moves some way towards resolving this issue through placing young people at the forefront of identifying, researching and developing collaborative approaches to teaching and learning resource deficits through the co-creation of a needs-led, responsive Citizen Inquiry led solution.


Young, S. (2019) World Environment Day: 80% of teens feel under pressure to save the planet, but aren’t learning how. Accessed online on 14/05/20 at https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/teenagers-save-planet-world-environment-day-2019-climate-change-plastic-pollution-protest-a8945131.html

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How to author online citizen science investigations

A hands-on workshop about how to design citizen science investigations using the nQuire platform (nquire.org.uk) took place on the 6th March 2020 at the Open University UK. Attendees mainly from a range of non-academic organisations such as museums, health care, environmental sciences and journalists had the opportunity to learn about the nQuire platform and how to author their own personally meaningful investigations including piloting a first version of their investigation. nQuire is a platform developed by the Open University in partnership with the BBC. It has been designed to support the process of setting up, managing, and implementing citizen science projects from start to the end. It includes a dynamic toolkit that allows for data collection from a range of resources including sounds, images, text, and sensor data while a process of approvals ensures that all live projects are ethically designed, approved and checked.

The activity has been funded by UKRI as part of the project  “EDUcating Citizens and organisations in Citizen Science methodologies” (EduCS) that aims to develop citizen science capacity in organisations not normally involved in citizen science such as the BBC and the Met Office. Amongst other project activities, we are currently working with academics from the University of Liverpool and University of Manchester to design a nQuire mission about climate anxiety which will be promoted by the BBC in the next month. Later in the year we will be working with the BBC to develop a mission about heatwaves and how they may affect people’s everyday lives.

For more details contact: Christothea.herodotou@open.ac.uk

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nQuire workshop with the BBC, Met Office and community organisations

As part of the project “EDUcating Citizens and organisations in Citizen Science methodologies” (EduCS) funded by UKRI, we held the first workshop with community organisations, the MetOffice and the BBC about identifying personally meaningful citizen science investigations related to weather such as climate change and heatwaves. Twenty five people attended the workshop in person on the 30th Jan 2020 at the Open University. Discussions focused in particular on how to ensure weather data quality that can inform national initiatives (e.g. complement MetOffice data) as well as how to devise citizen science projects with the dual objective of educating citizens and contributing original data to science initiatives. At least one of the proposed projects will be designed and shared via the nQuire platform (inquire.org.uk) in March 2020.

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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 (www.nquire.org.uk) 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: http://oro.open.ac.uk/57620/1/proceeding_184922.pdf

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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: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/citizen-science-impact-event-the-open-university-tickets-39399801868?aff=ebdsorderfblightbox

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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