Human-computer collaborative learning in citizen science

Lead Research Organisation: Open University
Department Name: Faculty of Sci, Tech, Eng & Maths (STEM)

Abstract

This project explores the potential for collaborative learning between humans and machines within the framework of environmental citizen science. The term `citizen science' encompasses public participation in science and scientific communication to the public. Although not new, citizen science has gained renewed attention because of the opportunities arising from citizens' access to digital technologies in terms of data collection and annotation. While the vast majority of citizen science projects are aimed at data gathering, we instead propose a transformational shift to a new citizen science in which the public and technology are regarded not just as sensors or data recorders, but as a collective and empowered human--artificial intelligence that can help each other in science learning.

We will focus on the task of species identification from images. Citizen science projects such as iSpot invite the public to submit photos of wildlife. These are identified to species level and verified before being contributed to science. We will explore artificial intelligence as a means to automatically identify species in images. While this can save human effort, we are concerned about impact this might have on nature lovers. The introduction of technology is often associated with concerns of de-skilling. For naturalists, the honing of species identification skills is a key motivator of the recording activity. Hence, designing technology that provides opportunities for learning for both citizens and machines is essential, as is co-creating the technology to ensure that it is not only user friendly but responds to their motivations. Our approach will involve citizens collaborating with AI to arrive at
a species identification. AI will narrow down the choices and inform the citizen about how to distinguish the options. The citizen in turn will through providing an identification help the machine in its learning. We will study this learning interplay with respect to collaborative species identification, but will also explore technologies that foster wider science learning, environmental consciousness and data literacy through better communication of complex citizen science data. For this we will develop technology for Natural Language Generation that can communicate complex data through language.

Our proposed work programme seeks to bring about quantifiable benefits to (a) science, e.g., through the production of new knowledge and through monitoring key scientific processes at challenging temporal-spatial scales; (b) diverse stakeholders including the citizens themselves, e.g., through meaningful science learning for sustainability in formal and informal education contexts; and (c) wider society, e.g., through better societal understanding of current sustainability issues, leading to individual and societal action in support of the environment.

Planned Impact

We hope to achieve the following impacts through this research:

1. On Primary Schools and Secondary Schools

Citizen science practice, and notably technology, has been minimally promoted within formal education. We will unfold how the proposed collaborative learning technologies can be applied to citizen science in formal education settings and quantify the benefits to students and teachers.
We wish to see more schools take up citizen science and outdoor learning as means to enthuse students about science and technology. We expect this to lead to better learning outcomes for schools, and a more involved and engaged student community.

2. On Universities

We will demonstrate how citizen science can enhance STEM teaching in universities, and encourage its uptake within our universities. Citizen science is increasingly being viewed as a complementary approach to traditional science learning and research and offers several benefits, such as opportunities for students to work with their local communities, engage with technology, and involve themselves in designing and testing tools. It also allows academics to integrate their research with their teaching, which makes for a more stimulating student experience.

3. On Students

Through taking part in citizen science, students will develop the most important Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills, including intellectual curiosity, problem solving,creativity, statistics and data-driven decision making. We will in particular engage with students in primary and secondary schools. While secondary school students can learn science and data skills in greater depth, it is important to get primary school students enthusiastic about science and technology. We are particularly conscious about the take-up of STEM subjects by girls and are keen to reach out to younger students who still need to decide which subjects to retain or drop in secondary school.


4. On Society and the Environment

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) explicitly argues for the need to ``take urgent and significant action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity and, by 2020, protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species''.
Yet, the most recent State of Nature report concludes that the UK has lost significantly more nature over the long term than the global average and is among the world's most nature depleted countries.
In the decades that nature has been in decline, so too has our connection with it. Fewer than a quarter of British children regularly use their local patch of nature and many suffer from `Nature Deficit Disorder', impacting education and physical and emotional health.
Research that promotes science learning through increased interaction with nature thus has multiple benefits to society. It contributes to health and learning outcomes for individuals and the development of a scientific temperament and pro-environmental attitudes in society.

Or research promotes actionable citizen science, whereby individuals, schools and communities can maintain and repair their habitats in the context of pollinating species. Using our developed technologies, students and teachers will build the knowledge and skills required to collect data, enhance habitats and gain the confidence to become passionate environmental stewards. We will encourage students to, through creative campaigns, share their knowledge about insects, the scientific process and planting for pollinators with members of their local and online communities.

The school-based campaigns will also build the capacity to collect high-quality data about changing pollinator populations and the availability of high-quality habitats.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Widespread concern over declines in pollinating insects has led to numerous recommendations of which "pollinator-friendly" plants to grow to help turn urban environments into valuable habitats for such important wildlife. Through analysis of the data gathered through our citizen science project BeeWatch, we discovered that much of the plant use recorded on our project did not reflect practitioner recommendations. We concluded that generic "pollinator-friendly" lists fail to recognise the stark differences among species and pollinator groups or adapt to changing phenology or gardening practices. Or findings, published in Nature Scientific Reports, call for the increased use of up-to-date dynamic planting recommendations driven by live (citizen science) data to support pollinator-friendly management of garden spaces, and in the process transformative personal learning journeys through gardening.
Exploitation Route The Royal Horticultural Society will use the information from the study to further improve its recommendations for bumblebee-friendly plantings, and to inform future research.
Sectors Environment

URL https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-77537-6
 
Description X:Polli-Nation has created a buzz amongst students, teachers, education professionals and academics across the UK, Italy and further afield. We have formed a hub (xpollination.org) for online and in-school explorations hosting a well-regarded package of resources for students to learn about, record, create habitat and communicate the importance of pollinators. Joining forces with European and UK Pollinator Monitoring Schemes and the Italian Institute for Research & Protection of the Environment, our citizen science survey is now collecting vital data across expanding geographic scales. Our project has been referred to in the 2021 Ofsted report for our partner school, presented at a COP26 green zone event in Glasgow 2021, and showcased during Bees' Needs Week 2020 and 2021, public engagement events coordinated by DEFRA. Over 2500 students have directly engaged with our project and we now have a growing community of global supporters online. The Covid situation limited our access to schools and we were unable to roll out our actionable pollinator citizen science programme through site visits. Instead, we invested effort into creating a collection of online resources on Pollinator Citizen Science, with interactive AI-enhanced elements based on our research. This provided a timely way for families and schools to explore our research and engage in science learning, and allowed schools to continue participation in X-Polli:Nation without requiring visits from us.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Creative Economy,Education,Environment
Impact Types Societal

 
Description Online Open Course Materials aimed at Primary Schools
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
URL https://www.open.edu/openlearncreate/course/index.php?categoryid=417
 
Description Reference in Ofsted Report
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Contribution to new or Improved professional practice
Impact The role of citizen science projects in primary education has been acknowledged and praised by school inspectors. This is a great step in gaining acceptance for such methodologies within formal education.
URL https://www.stalbansprimaryschool.co.uk/ofsted-and-performance-data/
 
Title Human - AI collaborative interface for biological species identification from images 
Description A Web Tool whereby members of the public can learn how to identify different species of Bumblebee and Butterfly using a key and getting help from Artificial Intelligence technologies such as image recognition. 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This tool is incorporated into an online collection of course materials on Pollinator Citizen Science (https://www.open.edu/openlearncreate/course/index.php?categoryid=417) It was publicised as part of DEFRA's Bees' Needs Week 2020 (https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/bees-needs/) 
URL https://citsci.kmi.open.ac.uk/xpolli-bumblebee/
 
Description Blog / Article: iSpot: your place to share nature - A long-term citizen science platform for identifying and learning about biodiversity 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This article was written as part of activities marking the 12 year anniversary o the launch of www.iSpotnature.org. It highlighted biodiversity loss the role citizen science can play in helping the public have a positive impact and facilitate change, noting what iSpot has achieved over the years.

iSpot associated projects were also featured: iSpot is co-designing services for biodiversity and environmental citizen observations through a European collaboration (https://cos4cloud-eosc.eu/) , exploring human computer collaborations in pollinator citizen science as well as the role of touch (http://kmi.open.ac.uk/projects/name/sense ), using smart devices in experiencing nature, enhancing biodiversity information enabling volunteers to record nature where it matters (https://www.ceh.ac.uk/our-science/projects/decide), and leading innovation in citizen science and artificial intelligence (https://citsci.kmi.open.ac.uk/).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.open.edu/openlearn/nature-environment/creative-climate/ispot-your-place-share-nature
 
Description British Council STEM Education Hub Event - Citizen science and basic education: how to develop a project with schools' engagement in scientific research 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The British Council STEM Education Hub hosted an online seminar - Citizen science and basic education: how to develop a project with schools' engagement in scientific research? (https://www.stemeducationhub.co.uk/citizen-science-and-basic-education-how-to-develop-a-project-with-schools-engagement-in-scientific-research/) on August 11, 2021. The event had simultaneous interpretation available in both English and Portuguese.

The event focused on demonstrating practical approaches to develop schools' engagement in scientific research. Specialists from the UK and Brazil led roundtables to discuss and explore with participants the concept of citizen science and practical approaches to implement research/evidence-based pedagogies.
Ansine was invited to be a panellist and provided practice-based insights with examples of OU projects and platforms demonstrating UK collaboration between a university, schools and the public through citizen science. Presentation available here: https://www.stemeducationhub.co.uk/citizen-science-and-basic-education-how-to-develop-a-project-with-schools-engagement-in-scientific-research/. Citizen science project examples demonstrated included iSpot (www.iSpotnature.org), Treezilla (www.treezill.org) and X:Pollination (https://xpollination.org/).

Teachers attended showed interest in all examples asking questions with further folllowup queries after the event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.stemeducationhub.co.uk/citizen-science-and-basic-education-how-to-develop-a-project-with...
 
Description COP26 Green Zone Event 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We presented our research from this project as part of a panel discussion in the COP26 Green zone in Glasgow (attended by around 100 people live, and over 1600 online).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76oloGAqtBc
 
Description Interview for local news 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Following a press release and a video posted on University of Aberdeen's Twitter account (https://twitter.com/aberdeenuni/status/1349325455460020224), we gave an interview to the Press and Journal leading to media coverage (https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/fp/news/aberdeen/2810275/aberdeen-research-creates-a-buzz-among-citizen-scientists-while-hoping-to-halt-species-decline). The research was also reported in the Evening Express (https://www.eveningexpress.co.uk/fp/news/local/bee-enthusiasts-swarm-to-help-with-project/)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.abdn.ac.uk/news/14603/
 
Description Invited talk at the Green Data Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The PI (Siddharthan) was an invited speaker at the 2019 Green Data Conference, London, organised by the Environmental Industries Commission and sponsored by UKRI and NERC. Siddharthan addressed a diverse audience from industry, government bodies, academia and the third sector alongside other speakers that included the NERC head of digital environment, deputy director of DEFRA, executive director of the Environmental Industries Commission and vice president of the World Resources Institute. There was a lively discussion that followed in which we explored topical issues around Artificial Intelligence and Citizen Science for environmental monitoring.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.acenet.co.uk/media/4149/green-data-conference-agenda-2019.pdf
 
Description NBN Conference 2020: iSpot Autumn Bioblitz & update on features, projects and future plans 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact In 2020 the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) Conference and NBN Trust AGM took place online on Wednesday 18 November. and was co hosted by the iSpotnature.org team / Faculty of STEM, The Open University (https://nbn.org.uk/news-events-publications/nbn-conference-2/nbn-conference-2020/ ) Janice Ansine gave a presentation which included an introduction to iSpot related projects DECIDE, Human Computer Collaborative Learning / X;Pollination, highlighting opportunities that would be available for participants to get involved. A key engagement activity integrated practical use of iSpot through an associated NBN BioBlitz, a new feature for the Conference this year. Results demonstrated increased species group observations in fungi and lichens, plants and invertebrates, in comparison to iSpot's previous year's observation figures. There was also an increased engagement on the site, with 627 engagements in the BioBlitz Project's area and higher viewings of associated articles and news which also promoted the projects.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://youtu.be/izcoifrsx_U
 
Description NBN Conference 2021: Biodiversity data - from collection to use - OU / iSpotnature welcome 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact In 2021 the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) Conference and NBN Trust AGM took place online on Wednesday November 24, and for the second year was co-hosted by the iSpotnature.org team / Faculty of STEM, The Open University (https://nbn.org.uk/news-events-publications/nbn-conference-2/nbn-conference-2021/ ) Prof. Advaith Siddharthan gave the welcome on behalf of the iSpotnature.org team / Faculty of STEM, The Open University in which he gave an update on recent activity iSpot related research and projects including DECIDE and Human Computer Collaborative Learning / X;Pollination, highlighting opportunities for participants to get involved.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGCrJeBC5yc
 
Description School Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact We hosted a series of workshops (May 2021) with 60 students in a Secondary School (Year 8, 9 and 10) to test the usability of the tool we have developed with young people.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Science Showcase at Dynamic Earth - 2-day exhibition with Citizen Science exhibit featuring iSpotnature.org and Treezilla.org 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Science Showcase at Dynamic Earth, Scotland was an exhibition with interactive activities for all. Attendees were able to meet academic and student scientists from The Open University involved in BBC broadcasts, find out what they do and how they do it. They were also able to get involved in our virtual science experiments and a range of hands-on activities. This included discovering the space robots used to explore comets and the planets; trying being an ocean explorer or food scientist; and getting involved in citizen science with iSpot and Treezilla. And much more.discover how we "do Science" at a distance for students!
Exhibit description:
There is a fascinating world around us and the Open University (OU) provides tools to help us explore this; extending beyond the field, laboratory or lecture hall. iSpotnature.org is the OU's online citizen science platform for biodiversity and for over ten years has amassed a collection of over 43,000 species through our online database of over 1.5 million images from over 70,000 participants. Join us and expand your interest in wildlife, help others identify what they find or see how you can learn more, build your skills and become a citizen scientist. You can also find out about our ambitious effort to map trees across Britain with Treezilla.org: the monster map of Trees!
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL http://www.open.ac.uk/scotland/events/science-showcase-dynamic-earth
 
Description Twitter Channel 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Twitter account for our project, with over 250 followers and close to 400 tweets. We use it to campaign on environmental issues, advertise our project resources, and to run competitions, for example for photos of pollinator habitats submitted from school grounds.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019,2020,2021,2022
URL https://twitter.com/XpolliProject
 
Description Workshop at European Citizen Science Association Annual Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We demonstrated our AI-enabled Biological Species Identification tools of described the X-Polli:Nation (cross-pollination) citizen science project that the tools is embedded in. This engagement has sparked new engagements with pollinator citizen science groups in Europe.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.ecsa-conference.eu/
 
Description World Environment Day Webinar: Biodiversity and Citizen Science - Connecting Nature 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact This was an online webinar held on World Environment Day. Below is the summary of the event:

Biodiversity was the theme for World Environment Day (WED) in 2020 and the June 5 campaign "Time for Nature" is a call to action to help combat the accelerating species loss and degradation of the natural world. The Covid-19 pandemic makes this even more relevant as we all see the connection between human health, our well-being and the environment.

As we appreciate and re-examine our relationships with the natural world can citizen science be a way for us as global citizens to take action and make "Time for Nature"? Biodiversity is indeed complex, and understanding and untangling its many inter-relationships is fascinating. At the same time, documenting global biodiversity is a major challenge - which is attracting volunteer involvement, i.e. citizen scientists.

Already doing your bit, interested in building your relationship with nature through citizen science or just curious? Do join us for what promises to be a stimulating discussion. This special WED webinar will be led by an Open University team experienced in citizen science, research and teaching in ecology and environmental science, from the Faculty of STEM:
• Janice Ansine - Senior Project Manager - Citizen Science
• Dr. David Robinson, Honorary Associate, School of Environment Earth and Ecosystem Sciences
• Dr. Yoseph Araya - Lecturer in Ecology & Environmental Science, School of Environment Earth and Ecosystem Sciences
• Dr. Mike Dodd, Curator - iSpot: Your place to share nature (www.iSpotnature.org )

Date & Time: June 5, 2020. 13:00 - 14:00 BST

Session outline:
• 8 - 10 minute presentation by each panellist followed by Q&A and discussion with the panellists.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=6T3sd1F35n0