Text: Venla Rantanen, Kristiina Skinnari, Petteri Laihonen, Tamás Péter Szabó

(Originally published in October 2020 in JYU's FORTHEM blog.)

The citizen science pilot is one of the outputs of the FORTHEM Multilingualism in School and Higher Education Lab. It was launched during June 2020 meetings in which the different outputs of the lab were discussed and developed. It. In short, the aim of the output is to address the linguistic diversity in schools and to actively involve different members of the society, in this case students, pupils and teachers, in sociolinguistic research. This will be done by first piloting, after which conducting a citizen science project in outreach schools of the partner universities is planned. There are three FORTHEM partner universities taking part in this output: University of Jyväskylä (Finland), Uniwersytet Opolski (Poland) and Universitat de València (Spain).

What is citizen science about?

The general aim of citizen science is to involve lay people in constructing scientific knowledge, to increase the authenticity of the constructed knowledge, to decrease the hierarchy between scientists and the communities they study, to create better access to scientific knowledge, and also often to create a possibility for empowerment of the (vulnerable) groups involved (Nind, 2014). Citizen science is better known from natural and technology sciences, in which voluntary citizens have been contributing to science for instance in reporting on different animal or plant species in various locations. However, it is an emerging field also in social studies and humanities, and the European Union has given it prominence in its open science and science education recommendations.

In the field of sociolinguistics, there are a few research projects that have used citizen science as an approach. For instance, in Norway, a team of researchers lead a project in which school children explored the languages of their schools. The study resulted in a database that allowed the children and teachers to explore different languages in different regions and thus learn and become aware of the languages in their community. (Svedsen, 2018.)

Recent developments and future plans

In September, one of the two output managers, Petteri Laihonen (JYU), led meetings in which the members of the involved universities discussed the progress so far, the future steps and the theory, possibilities, and challenges of citizen science as a methodology.

The project will be piloted both in Opole and Jyväskylä. The University of Valencia will contribute on planning and the dissemination of the pilot. Jyväskylä team has already proceeded to a phase where the next step will be to train a group of pre-service teachers of the LAMP (Language Aware Multilingual Pedagogy) Teacher Education Pogramme to do citizen science in mid-October. Afterwards, the students will train pupils in a school, and together plan a research project, collect and analyse data and share the results through the medium and form of their choice. A presentation of the results and discussion on future plans will be held on the 9th of November. Finally, the results will be shared online with the partners in Opole and Valencia . The Opole team has started working on the pilot as well. The other output manager, Marcin Deutschmann, looks forward to conducting a similar collaboration with schools in Opole in the spring semester of 2021 the latest.

Even though the participants are already excited about the positive aspects of the approach, its practical challenges raise questions: for example, how to ensure that the project is (and stays) meaningful to all participants, not least to the pupils and schools, and what could be the alternative actions if the Covid-19 pandemic staves off the on-site school research. However, since it is a pilot, the participants are invited to boldly experiment, and most can already envision themselves as (citizen) researchers.

References and further reading

European Commission, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation 2016. Open Innovation – Open Science – Open to the World – a vision for Europe. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Nind, Melanie 2014. What is Inclusive Research? London: Bloomsbury.

Svedsen, Bente Ailin 2018. The dynamics of citizen sociolinguistics. Journal of Sociolinguistics 22/2: 137–160.

Recent developments and future plans


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