Surasinghe and Courter (2011)

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Surasinghe, T. and Courter J. Use of citizen science in teaching ecology. Southeastern Ecology and Evolution Conference. Auburn University, AL. USA.

Surasinghe, T. and Courter J. Use of citizen science in teaching ecology. Southeastern Ecology and Evolution Conference. Auburn University, AL. USA.

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  • 1. Use of Citizen Science in Teaching Ecology ThilinaSurasinghe1,2, Jason Courter21Dept of Biological Sciences, 2Deptof Forestry & Natural Resources, Clemson University, SC
    Citizen Science…
    • Provides an opportunity for the general public to contribute to scientific research
    • 2. Volunteers measure and observe scientific processes and compile data
    • 3. Applicable across local, regional, national and global scales
    • 4. An effective means of public awareness
    • 5. Facilitated by recent technological advances: the internet, electronic recording devices, and cameras
    Student Opinions
    • Citizen science was a new concept to most students
    • 6. Students reported feeling that they were making a difference and enjoyed contributing to something larger than themselves
    • 7. Students strongly recommended that this lab be continued in the future
    The Lab Activity
    • We introduced students to eBird, an interactive and freely accessible database (
    • 8. This was conducted in 3-hour sessions of an undergraduate ecology lab, repeated in four classes
    • 9. We took each class to two previously scouted locations with high levels of bird activity
    • 10. Students were provided with binoculars and colored pictorial identification guides for regional birds
    • 11. Students surveyed each location for 1 hr and recorded observations on datasheets (Fig 1)
    • 12. Records were collected from visual encounters and recognizable vocalizations
    • 13. We did travel counts since they allowed observations over large areas and are suitable for amateur birders
    • 14. Each student registered for an eBird account and submitted their observations to the eBird database
    Research Applications of Citizen Science
    • To monitor global climate, water resources, and biodiversity
    • 15. To understand the causes and effects of climate change
    • 16. To assess the survival and reproductive success of wildlife
    • 17. To study wildlife phenology: bird migration, budburst, flowering
    • 18. To achieve research objectives more feasibly and cost-effectively
    Sample Student Assessment Questions
    • What kinds of ecological questions can be addressed using the eBird database?
    • 19. How are the distributions/abundances of common/rare birds changing in your home state/college town?
    • 20. What are the limitations and advantages associated with citizen science programs?
    • 21. Describe other citizen science programs and how do you compare them with eBird?
    • 22. What is your opinion about being a “citizen scientist” in an ecology lab?
    Fig 1. Sample eBird survey form for students.
    Student Learning Objectives of this Lab
    • Collect ecological data that will contribute to scientific research
    • 23. Interact with the natural world and identify elements of nature
    • 24. Learn the concept of citizen science
    • 25. Understand the importance and limitations of citizen science
    • 26. Enter observations into a citizen science database
    • 27. Design an inquiry-based research question