Research Heidi Ballard

Heidi Ballard Receives Two Grants to Study Citizen Science

February 2014

Associate Professor Heidi Ballard, an expert in environmental science education, is embarking on two newly funded research projects to study the efficacy of employing citizen science as a learning tool and a sustainable model for rigorous research. One project will focus on adults and the other on children.

Scaling Up Cost-Efficient Community Engagement in Coastal Resource Management

The significant impact of human activities on global marine ecosystems requires a huge investment in data collection to fully understand the impacts and generate adequate responses. Because the scale-up of data collection outstrips what individual researchers can accomplish, many organizations have turned to citizen scientists.

Unfortunately, the rapid proliferation of citizen science projects in recent years has sometimes come at the expense of ensuring both data quality and educational outcomes for the citizen scientists. A new two-year study, “Scaling Up Cost-Efficient Community Engagement in Coastal Resource Management,” funded by West Coast Sea Grant*, will team up UC Davis School of Education Associate Professor Heidi Ballard, Julia Parrish from the University of Washington, and Shawn Rowe from Oregon State University to study a model citizen science program: COASST (Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team).

The core strength of the COASST program, according to the researchers, is community engagement and ongoing training for volunteers. “In this study we seek to qualitatively and quantitatively examine factors affecting three measurable aspects of successful citizen science: engagement, retention, and accuracy,” according to Ballard, who explains that there is no existing research in the natural or social sciences conducted that rigorously examines these aspects of success.

The researchers hope to deliver a succinct set of guidelines for participant experiment and data collection success in coastal marine citizen science with implications for informing the design of citizen science programs across all areas of environmental research.

Public Participation in Scientific Research as a Tool to Promote Science Learning, Environmental Stewardship, and Civic Engagement for Youth

The SD Bechtel, Jr. Foundation has made a grant to support Ballard’s research into the educational role and impacts of youth participation in environmental science and other forms of Public Participation in Scientific Research (PPSR).

According to Ballard, PPSR projects that include youth offer a unique opportunity to study the Next Generation Science Standards’ reasoning practices both in school and out of school contexts. The study’s goal is to determine best practices of PPSR programs for environmental education for youth, with two key research-to-practice outcomes:

  • An evidence-based framework that defines the ways in which PPSR is an effective way to engage children and youth in science, environmental stewardship, and in serving their communities
  • A “toolkit” of strategies and practices that can be applied by both educators and PPSR practitioners to increase the quality and quantity of PPSR programs for children and youth.

* West Coast Sea Grant (composed of Sea Grant programs in California, Oregon and Washington) is part of 33 state programs within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Grant College Program, authorized by Congress in 1968. Each receives funding from federal and state appropriations, as well as contributions from local governments and industry.

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