ASU researchers, including SciStarter’s founder, shine at world’s largest science meeting

The following are excerpts from ASU News: “ASU faculty shine at world’s largest science meeting,” by Joe Caspermeyer,  Manager (natural sciences), Media Relations & Strategic Communications, ASU  ( ).

At the world’s largest general scientific meeting, Arizona State University researchers, faculty, staff and students gathered with colleagues to tackle some of society’s grand challenges as part of the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting, held Feb. 13-17 in Seattle.

The meeting included keynote talks by leaders such as Bill Gates, whose foundation has contributed more than $50 billion (including many grants to ASU research) to make a big difference in the fight against the world’s leading cause of death, infectious diseases.

Topics including: Citizen science movements

Science has also moved beyond the lab to involve everyday people.

Researchers are using nonscientists more and more to help conduct their research and expand their reach. Everyday people are contributing their data, helping researchers learn more about a topic and get comprehensive results.

But what does “citizen science” mean and how can it support science learning and education?

Darlene Cavalier and Lekelia “Kiki” Jenkins, professors at the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, were members of the first National Academy of Sciences’ committee on designing citizen science to support science learning, which authored a report on citizen science.

AAAS photo

The National Academies’ report found that citizen science is reshaping research. It can greatly facilitate large-scale research by providing opportunities to study more topics while teaching people more about science and enhancing science education.

The report is one of the first of its kind to examine the available information on citizen science projects and, through peer-reviewed evidence, clearly identify trends, weaknesses and opportunities for growth.

“This session specifically highlights the potential of citizen science to support science learning,” said Cavalier. “We’d like to share best practices to intentionally design citizen science programs with science learning as one goal. Personally, I enjoy the Q&A sessions where I learn about developments and hear from people shaping the field.”

“We need to understand where we are before we can start thinking about where we need to go,” offered Jenkins, who organized the AAAS session in addition to her presentation. “That’s the reason why this study was done, because people were doing citizen science and assuming that (because) you’re doing science, you’re going to learn something. But without being directed in what are the learning objectives and how we are building in support structures to make sure people are learning these things, actually what we find is that people don’t learn as much as they could.”

Cavalier and Jenkins are putting the lessons learned from the report into practice.

Cavalier, a professor of practice, is a founding board member of the Citizen Science Association. She’s also the founder of SciStarter, a platform that connects people to citizen science projects they can participate in. She says she wanted to learn more about how people without formal degrees could participate in science.

Cavalier and a team from the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and ASU Library recently developed citizen science kits that can be checked out of local libraries. The kits include all the instruments and resources needed for people to research things like light pollution, air quality and biodiversity.

Jenkins focuses much of her research on marine conservation, including studying fisheries learning exchanges, where fishing communities learn from each other how to mitigate common problems involving habitat damage and decreasing fish populations. Fisheries learning exchanges and citizen science share similar approaches to collective problem-solving. Jenkins has even developed a “Sea Turtle Science Dance” as a way to communicate science to the public.

When done right, citizen science can be an opportunity to support and extend learning and welcome different skills and beliefs. But according to the report, those opportunities can only be reached if diversity, equity and inclusion are included as goals in a project’s original design. Jenkins said people have to intentionally design citizen science projects around those three things; otherwise, it can lead to bias in the project.

“It’s a mission that everyone needs to take up if they care about those issues,” said Jenkins. “We all have a role to play around diversity, equity and inclusion in the sciences.”

Categories: In the News

Tags: , ,

About the Author

Darlene Cavalier

Darlene Cavalier

Darlene Cavalier is a professor of practice at Arizona State University's School for the Future of Innovation in Society and a Senior Global Futures Scientist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory at ASU. Professor Cavalier is the founder of SciStarter (a popular citizen science portal and research platform connecting millions of people to real science they can do), founder of Science Cheerleaders (a non profit organization comprised of current and former NFL, NBA and college cheerleaders pursuing STEM careers), cofounder of ECAST: Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology and cofounder of She is a founding board member of the Citizen Science Association, an advisor and Fellow at National Geographic, a member of the EPA's National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology, appointed to the National Academy of Sciences "Designing Citizen Science to Support Science Learning" committee and named cochair of America 250's Innovation, Science, and Entrepreneurism Advisory Council. She is the co-editor of "The Rightful Place of Science: Citizen Science," author of "The Science of Cheerleading," and co-author of the Field Guide to Citizen Science (Timber Press). Recently, ASU President Michael Crow awarded Cavalier and her team the prestigious Medal for Social Embeddedness.