STEM & Citizen Science

Engineering & Computer Science

Engineering-related citizen science projects often center around infrastructure systems, such as storm watching and transportation, which will help calculate risks and prevent environmental hazards. In these projects, citizen scientists are particularly called upon the improve their communities as well as contribute to the field of engineering. These hazard and prevention projects build upon environmental monitoring to include damage assessment, reporting natural disasters, and stormwater runoff monitoring, for example. 

The University of Buffalo explored the role of citizen science in two undergraduate engineering courses. They wanted to find ways for students to directly interact with the scientific method and apply citizen science elements in a formal educational setting. While citizen science has been explored in K-12 education, this endeavor allowed citizen science to be formally included in undergraduate curriculum and help improve STEM retention and sense of connection to STEM. These engineering courses used citizen science as an evaluation and data collection tool and introduced students to surveys, focus groups, and historical datasets. 

Engineering-related citizen science projects often provides volunteers an interdisciplinary approach to the scientific method by introducing them to the the related fields of natural sciences, sustainability, and manufacturing, for example. While citizen science has been used to foster interest in STEM in children, it can also be used in higher education to continue to foster that interest in STEM, to increase knowledge retention, to introduce new skillsets in data collection and evaluation, and to foster a sense of community.

Computer Science
Human-computer interaction (HCI) looks to explore the successes of citizen science projects. Particularly, we have seen the rise of "citizen cyberscience," the ability of citizen scientists to participate in projects virtually, and of massive open online courses (MOOCs), both democratizing education and the ability to participate in science. HCI specialists, in particular, are interested in data quality, technology, and project design. They want to create citizen science projects that increase our ability to interact with and utilize technology to improve our lives and communities.

Artificial intelligence (AI) demonstrates another avenue for citizen scientists to be involved in computer science-related projects. As early as 2000, both the Generic Artificial Consciousness and the Open Mind Common Sense projects created databases of common-sense knowledge from user submissions. This developed into the machine learning that helps support citizen science projects today via automated taxonomies and identification processes. AI-related projects present ethical concerns of privacy and data stewardship, while also increasing the potential scale of projects by incorporating machine processing. 

Overall, the fields of engineering and computer science support the technology needed to implement citizen science projects on massive scales. Also, discipline specific projects help improve the fields of environmental engineering, human-computer interaction, artificial intelligence, for example by including the public in the creation of new knowledge and methods.

Ceccaroni, Luigi, et al. “Opportunities and Risks for Citizen Science in the Age of Artificial Intelligence.” Citizen Science: Theory and Practice 4, no. 1 (2019).

Esmaeilian, Behzad, et al. "Use of Citizen Science to Improve Student Experience in Engineering Design, Manufacturing and Sustainability Education." Procedia Manufacturing 26 (2018): 1361-1368.

Gharaibeh, Nasir, et al. “Potential of Citizen Science for Enhancing Infrastructure Monitoring Data and Decision-Support Models for Local Communities.” Risk Analysis, no. 0 (2019).

Preece, Jennifer. “Citizen Science: New Research Challenges for Human-Computer Interaction.” International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction 32, no. 8 (2016): 585–612.

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