Text: Venla Rantanen

(Originally published in February 2021 in JYU's FORTHEM blog.)

In the summer of 2020, a team of FORTHEM Multilingualism in School and Higher Education Lab members started to work on a citizen science pilot. Its aim has been to test out the citizen science approach in Applied Language Studies in a FORTHEM outreach partner school environment in order to envision and conduct a large-scale project with the alliance member universities in the future.

Work in the pilot intensified in mid-October when student-researchers from JYU’s LAMP (Language Aware Multilingual Pedagogies) programme joined the pilot. The LAMP students were first mentored by researchers on how to prepare for tutoring the pupil-researchers of Mankola School. Before the training session week, the students watched an introductory video about the citizen science approach and another short video that was also sent to the pupils. Both videos had been scripted and filmed by JYU researchers, bearing in mind the different audiences.

After the training, everyone was excited but also slightly nervous to enter the school and start to work with Mankola lower secondary school’s 7th and 9th graders. An unfortunate backlash at this point of October was that the Covid-19 situation in Jyväskylä had become worse and the project needed to be transferred to Zoom over a weekend. The team thus decided to extend the pilot by one week because of the foreseeable technical challenges.

However, over the four weekly meetings via Zoom, all the fuss started to disperse, and the research process began. Each student-researcher tutored a three-to-five-member team in their own breakout room, and the Mankola School teachers and JYU researchers acted as mentors. The teams designed research projects based on their interests and carried them out between the meetings. Every participant also kept a research diary that was shared with the JYU students and researchers. In mid-November, the pupil groups exhibited their posters or PowerPoints sharing the results with other groups. In the end of November, FORTHEM Labs had a chance to participate in the European Researchers’ Night 2020 as part of the JYU program, and two pupil teams were proud to present their research as part of the Multilingualism in School and Higher Education Lab’s session.

The pilot has provided all the participants with both success and excitement but also learning experiences for future social citizen science projects. The most often mentioned challenge in the feedback and research diaries was online communication. Unfortunately, by now all of us are probably familiar with these issues: internet being slow, difficulties with connecting to the session, audio issues, lack of in-person communication and so forth. Luckily, the students and pupils were both relatively flexible and found alternative ways of communicating, such as various social media apps.

The physical distance between all participants might have partially also caused the lack of motivation to participate for the pupils – this was not an issue for all of the teams but for some. Another aspect to consider in the following projects is time. Even though there is never too much time in any project taking place in a school environment, carrying out a research would need more than four times 60 minutes. In addition, there were some important insights into designing citizen science projects, such as how to share and store data when all contributors are not part of the host organisation and do not have access to its online storages.

Despite all the troubles with technology and the pandemic, the pilot was an enlightening and inspiring process. The JYU researcher team was especially impressed by the students’ hard-working attitude despite the difficult circumstances: even though this was the first experience for many of working with lower secondary school pupils, they seemed to cope very well. Also, students of the

LAMP program themselves reflected on the pilot giving them a great opportunity for hands-on learning and getting to assess their own skills in instructing pupils.

An important aspect of the project was to accommodate, or even better to integrate, research process to the school’s needs too, and this was realised in the choice of topics but also in creating a self-assessment form for the pupils as the pilot was part of their schoolwork. In addition, the pupils were given a certificate to acknowledge their hard work. As transferable, working life skills the pupils gained plenty of knowledge of both working online and independent work. The results of the projects were genuinely interesting and also provided the JYU researchers with knowledge that would have been impossible or difficult to access in another way. All in all, the pilot gave first-hand information and experience on conducting citizen science and provided all the participants with new skills and knowledge. Further, it will serve as a perfect model for planning a major citizen science European project to explore multilingualism at schools.

 

Core team at JYU:

Petteri Laihonen: PI, FORTHEM Multilingualism in School and Higher Education Lab Alliance level Contact Person, Output manager for the Citizen Science pilot.

Tamás Péter Szabó: Scientific Manager for FORTHEM Lab Actions, FORTHEM Multilingualism in School and Higher Education Lab Alliance level Contact Person, researcher, mentor and tutor in the Citizen Science pilot.

Kristiina Skinnari: coordinator and teacher of the Language Aware Multilingual Pedagogy teacher education program at JYU

Venla Rantanen: project researcher of the Citizen Science pilot

Oskari Vesterinen: Coordinator for FORTHEM Lab Actions

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