On the Trail of “Citizen Scientists”
A team of researchers led by Richard E. Ferdig, Ph.D., professor in the Research Center for Education Technology in the College of Education, Health and Human Services at Kent State, are developing a mobile device application to help visitors to Cuyahoga Valley National Park learn more about the park’s history and ecology.
By using the app, they will become “citizen scientists,” sharing their findings with others.
The project is funded by a $952,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.
Users of the app will be learning science while at the same time helping park rangers and scientists learn about the park’s ecosystem. Park visitors will be able to use the app anonymously and free of charge. They also will be able to log in and save information about their personal park experiences.
The main goals of the project are to explore the feasibility of using GPS-based mobile devices for informal science learning and to understand the impact of such technology.
“We’re really interested in advancing informal science learning in the park while also getting people involved in citizen science – a process where they contribute to our scientific understanding of the environment,” Ferdig said.
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Users of the app also may choose to log in and save their findings, creating a record of their discoveries that they can use to plan future visits. The app will work on Apple and Android products, the bulk of the mobile market. Mobile devices will be available for visitors to check out at the park, or visitors can use the app on their own smartphones or devices. The app will not require a wireless connection but will rely on the devices’ built-in GPS.
The researcher team includes a biologist, a computer scientist, and Ferdig, an educational psychologist. They will survey users to find out how much they have learned, their attitudes toward personal learning and what interests them. Where education has traditionally relied on “teaching as dissemination of content,” Ferdig said, people are becoming more involved as creators of their own learning content – the “maker movement.”
While Cuyahoga Valley National Park will be the “lab” for the three-year project, the app could eventually be used in other parks around the world that develop their own databases of content.
Ferdig, principal investigator on the grant, is the Summit Professor of Learning Technologies and Professor of Instructional Technology in the College of Education, Health and Human Services at Kent State. He focuses on innovative learning through technologies and is the founding editor of the International Journal of Gaming and Computer Mediated Simulations.