Academic journal article The Science Teacher

21st-Century Citizen Science: From Global Awareness to Global Contribution

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

21st-Century Citizen Science: From Global Awareness to Global Contribution

Article excerpt


With rapidly evolving technology, the world is more connected than ever, and citizens around the globe can contribute to science like never before (Dickinson and Bonney 2012). Reflecting the growing capacity of citizen science, this article presents a science education continuum (Figure 1) that moves from global awareness to global contribution. At each stage of the continuum, we provide examples of citizen science projects that educators can use or adapt to meet the needs of their students. Educators can enter the continuum at any stage they deem useful.


Citizen science can engage learners in science while immersing them in science content and scientific practices. Participation in citizen science projects can foster science literacy, skill development in science communication, collaboration, critical thinking, 21st-century skills, and problem solving, and immerses participants in the open-ended nature of science experiences (Bonney et al. 2009). Citizen science projects can even happen on a global scale.

Global awareness

First on the continuum is global awareness, which involves exposure to other cultures and geographical areas to increase knowledge or perception of a world beyond one's own. Global awareness can be developed in the classroom by exploring print, online, or other multimedia materials.

Google Earth fosters global awareness by allowing students to explore the world from a "bird's-eye view" as they "fly" around the Earth. JASON Learning (see "On the web") offers the Seas of Change curriculum that exposes students to global marine issues and concepts that develop learners' global awareness. Data mining activities (Smith, Campbell, and Hoopingarner 2004) can facilitate global awareness by enabling students to propose and address questions on such phenomena as international bird migration and global health issues. Data mining also develops skills in critical thinking and technology.


Parallel activity

This next point on the continuum involves classrooms that are separated geographically yet are simultaneously engaged in the same science activity. Participating classrooms don't communicate directly but are aware that other classrooms across the globe are also participating. One example is the Google Science Fair, in which students ages 13-18 in multiple countries simultaneously investigate an authentic science or technology question. Another example is the global online celebration of Earth Day (see "On the web") with students involved in local, relevant science activities such as local water studies or lunchroom recycling studies. Many Zooniverse projects (see "On the web") include parallel science activities in which data are crowdsourced and provided to help scientists working on real-world science problems and questions. Global Zooniverse projects such as Plankton Portal, Cyclone Center, and Galaxy Zoo provide parallel global citizen-science opportunities, where citizens worldwide independently contribute to the project data.

Shared data

At this point on the continuum, students from a variety of locations share their data in some way but without direct communication between classrooms. Benefits of shared data projects include flexibility in scheduling and the lack of a need to meet or confer by video.

Shared data is a common entry point on the continuum for many secondary science classrooms. In many of today's citizen science projects, participants input data that are viewed by others around the world. Examples of such projects include Journey North, Globe at Night, the World Water Monitoring Challenge, HerpMapper, iNaturalist, and more (see "On the web").


Limited communication

This next point on the continuum involves some form of direct communication that can be asynchronous, such as via e-mail or a letter; or synchronous, such as a Skype session (interactive audio or video), and typically involves students from a variety of locations reporting their authentic science data, coupled with a communication exchange of some sort. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.