Research Heidi Ballard

Studying Public Participation in Scientific Research and Its Impact on Identity

November 2013

Heidi Ballard, associate professor in environmental science education at the UC Davis School of Education, received a three-year $283,907 grant from the National Science Foundation to examine how participation in authentic scientific practice fosters and supports lifelong science learning.

Ballard, who is quickly emerging as a foremost expert on public participation in scientific research (PPSR, sometimes referred to as citizen science), is particularly interested in the impact that engaging in scientific research has on participants’ scientific identity, understanding of science, and advocacy for the environment.

Her current project, “Collaborative Research: Exploring Engagement and Science Identity through Participation,” will provide an analysis of six PPSR projects with adult participants that represent a range of project types and levels of participation. Some of the programs are classified as contributory; these are national programs which require participants to observe specific species and submit data online. The collaborative projects included in the study require participants to provide some research design and analysis of data. Finally, two of the projects are classified as co-created because they involve local participants in nearly every aspect of the project.

“This variety will allow us to study how breadth and depth of research engagement influences individual STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] learning outcomes and science identity,” said Ballard. “If the goal of informal science is to promote continued public support of science, advance the democratization of science, and increase the scientific workforce, it is critical that we understand why and how science interest is sustained and why and how people identify with science.”

In August, Ballard presented her research at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.  She was joined by Professor Gretchen LeBuhn, who teaches at San Francisco State University and directs the world’s largest citizen science undertaking on pollinators, The Great Sunflower Project. Listen to a podcast of the presentation on iTunes. Choose #4: Backyards, Beaches, Birds (posted on 9/2/13).

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