Citizen Scientists in the Classroom: Investigating the Role of Online Citizen Science in Primary School Science Education

Funding year: 
1 year
Victoria University of Wellington
School sector
Project start date: 
January 2018
Project end date: 
March 2019
Principal investigator(s): 
Dr. Markus Luczak-Roesch and Dr Dayle Anderson
Research team members: 
Dr Cathal Doyle (Victoria University of Wellington) Brigitte Glasson (Freelance Science Education Consultant) Yevgeniya Li (Research Assistant, Victoria University of Wellington)
Research partners: 
Dianne Christenson (Koraunui School) Melissa Coton (Muritai School) Carol Brieseman (Hampton Hill School) Matt Boucher (South Wellington Intermediate School)


Project description

This project explores the impact on student learning and engagement with science of incorporating online citizen science (OCS) projects in classrooms. OCS is an extension of citizen science, where the tasks to be completed are aided, or completely mediated, through the Internet allowing volunteers’ contribution to real scientific endeavours. The co-constructive partnership between researchers at Victoria University of Wellington and primary teachers who are advocates of science education in New Zealand is the first ever attempt to investigate the potential of OCS projects to contribute to the improvement of science education of primary-age children.


This project seeks to answer the following research questions:

  1. Which existing OCS projects best align with the NZ science curriculum and are most suited for use in the classroom?
  2. What learning benefits derive from embedding particular OCS projects in the classroom?
  3. How might participation in OCS specifically support development of science capabilities for citizenship?

By answering these questions, we will significantly improve our understanding of the OCS impact in the science education of primary-age children. We will develop practitioner support materials that will allow teachers to develop better approaches to teaching science and result in higher enthusiasm for and engagement with science amongst New Zealand’s youth. Our work will also inform providers of OCS platforms and researchers studying these kinds of online communities about the design of projects that can attract sustainable and purposeful contributions from primary-age children.

Why is this research important?

OCS projects have great potential to help to improve scientific engagement, develop scientific skills and increase children’s science capabilities at different ages, while also supporting the development of basic skills such as counting and reading, and advancing digital literacy. However, our current knowledge about learning through OCS is limited to informal settings where individuals participate in OCS because they want to, and little is known about the impact of OCS use purposefully in schools. We are interested in how OCS projects can address the intentions of the NZC, particularly with respect to the science capabilities for citizenship.

What we plan to do

We will assess how suitable OCS projects are according to intellectual and perceptual capabilities of NZ school children at different ages and how well suited they are to classroom learning. This will involve detailed thematic analysis of relevant documents about the science capabilities for citizenship and consolidation of teacher expertise through knowledge elicitation exercises. The output of this phase will be a scheme for the classification of online citizen science projects through the lens of the NZ science education curriculum. Teachers and researchers will then collaboratively identify one or more of the science capabilities that have potential for development through participation in the selected OCS project. We will identify intended learning outcomes, plan learning experiences and design tools for pre- and post-intervention assessment of students’ science learning. During this phase data will be gathered from researcher-teacher meetings; individual interviews with teachers after the implementation of the unit plans; student data from assessment tools, work samples, questionnaires and focus group interviews. Analysis of the data collected will be qualitative and quantitative, focused on student learning with regard to the chosen capability that occurred during the intervention and how student learning was supported or constrained.

Our partners

Our research partnership involves four primary teachers who teach at a range of year levels from year 3-8 in the Wellington region: Dianne Christenson (Koraunui School), Melissa Coton (Muritai School), Carol Brieseman (Hampton Hill School) and Matt Boucher (South Wellington Intermediate School).
We have also set up a research advisory panel of experts to guide the project, which consists of Dr. Azra Moeed (Victoria University of Wellington), Dr. Cathy Buntting (Waikato University), and Dr. Craig Rofe
(Victoria University of Wellington)

Contact details 

Dr Markus Luczak-Roesch
Room 410, Rutherford House 23 Lambton Quay, Wellington, 6011
04 4635878