Citizen Science workshop brings together academics and external stakeholders

Text: Mira Väyrynen, Petteri Laihonen, Tamás Péter Szabó

One of the main goals of FIT FORTHEM, the Alliance’s joint Research and Innovation focused project, is to enhance the collaboration between the universities and university-external stakeholders. As a dedicated task, the team of FIT FORTHEM’s Work Package 5 is organizing seven so-called matchmaking workshops, each in tandem with one of the seven FORTHEM Labs, to boost the impact of R&I activities through novel ways of collaboration and creating connections between universities and university-external stakeholders. The University of Jyväskylä leads this task and organizes each workshop together with the university that coordinates the Lab. The first matchmaking workshop was organized on April 27, 2021 as an online event as a joint venture of Multilingualism in School and Higher Education Lab and Mankola Comprehensive School (Jyväskylä, Finland).

The title of the workshop was Science as a Civic Skill – Citizen Science in Schools. The topic stems from the Citizen science output of the Multilingualism Lab, coordinated at the University of Jyväskylä (JYU) by Academy Research Fellow Petteri Laihonen. Academy research fellow Laihonen and his JYU team conducted a citizen science pilot together with Mankola School in the autumn term of 2020.

In the pilot, Mankola School’s pupils (7th and 9th graders) conducted small-scale research studies about multilingualism and the use of power, taking examples from various contexts such as school life, social media and sports. The pupils themselves decided on the topic, the way of collecting and analyzing data, and they reported on their findings. That is, the approach of the pilot was rather different from “classic” citizen science as the pupils have not only provided data, but they have planned and conducted all phases of research under the supervision of JYU students. This model is known as “extreme” citizen science and is rather novel in the field of applied linguistic research. You can learn more about the pilot from a previous blog post summarizing the team’s experiences, and read about Citizen Science approaches in a blog post reflecting on a recent conference.

Workshop program

The workshop was launched with a short introduction about FIT FORTHEM and the FORTHEM Multilingualism Lab to set the context of potential collaboration among the invited stakeholders. The introduction was followed by a presentation about the citizen science pilot in Mankola School including the pupils’ presentations and feedback from all participants to the pilot, that is, pupils, JYU students, JYU researchers, teachers and the rector of Mankola School. In the context of comprehensive education, it is an exceptional achievement that after their in-house seminar, the pupils translated their materials to English and presented the results in the FIT FORTHEM workshop.

One of the research groups investigated languages that they could see in school environment.

After the introduction, the participants chose two workshop themes to take part in. The workshops were hosted via Howspace, a platform that allows a high level of interactivity.

In workshop theme session 1, the topic was “Citizen Science in schools – utilizing and developing the model”. The discussion revolved around the possibilities to utilize citizen science in schools and how it would fit to the objectives of the core curriculum. Since the Finnish National Core Curriculum emphasizes learners’ own responsibility for their learning process, the radical citizen science approach could well be embedded into the activities of basic education.

Workshop theme session 2 focused on developing digital learning materials. The discussion tackled the possibilities and challenges of creating digital learning materials for citizen science in schools. The participants discussed what kind of digital learning materials or platforms could enable a smooth cooperation between different stakeholders, such as university staff, students, teachers and pupils.

In workshop theme session 3, the participants created new ideas for upcoming events and hands-on workshops related to citizen science. In this workshop, different types of events connected to citizen science and science education were explored, and contributors discussed how and where such events could be organized.

Workshop theme session 4 was dedicated to extreme citizen science for multilingualism research. The attendees discussed several ways in which research can be carried out about multilingualism together with the society, based on citizens’ needs. The participants reflected on the meaning and potential of citizen science in their own work and envisioned a citizen science project that would draw on their expertise.

This first ever FIT FORTHEM match-making workshop was concluded by a wrap-up session where the workshop facilitators summarized the outcome of the discussions. Finally, some ideas for future collaboration were discussed.

Participants and their feedback about the event

The aim of the workshop was to bring the academics and non-academics together to discuss about the citizen science. To reach this goal, FIT FORTHEM invited people from several organizations, institutions, companies and NGOs. There were altogether 73 registrations from 10 European countries, and eventually 63 participants from 9 different countries showed up in the workshop. 32 participants (including the organizers) represented FORTHEM Alliance universities, 8 other universities and 21 university-external organizations, such as museums and science centers, educational institutions (e.g., schools, the Finnish National Agency for Education), private companies, foundations and NGOs. Two participants served as assisting personnel.

We conducted an online event evaluation survey and received positive feedback from the participants. Participants were satisfied with the communication, content, schedule, technical solutions and arrangements for discussion and networking. Participants also liked the facilitation of the workshop and that the atmosphere of the event was relaxed. They agree on that citizen science in schools is a relevant and interesting topic. They hoped for more time to work on workshop themes and longer breaks between the sessions – these are very good suggestions that we will keep in mind when organizing upcoming events. In addition, participants suggested organizing more discussions already in the introductory part, since there was a lot of new information and many presentations. Participants wished to hear about other examples of citizen science in future events, too.

Future collaboration and next workshops

As a follow-up to this workshop, the FORTHEM Multilingualism in School and Higher Education Lab organizes an online meeting on May 31st. The aim of the event is to learn about how the pilot was implemented in Opole, Poland and discuss future plans for collaboration in the form of applying for a Horizon Europe project. New participants are also welcome! Please register to the follow up discussion via this link.

As workshop organizers, we learned many lessons from this first workshop and will continue to develop our FIT FORTHEM matchmaking workshops in future with other FORTHEM Labs. The next virtual workshop will be held on June 17th, 2021 at 10.00-14.00 CET with the topic of Digital Transformation in Societies. Please see more details about the upcoming event here and register by June 15th here.

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