Citizen Science

The 2018 Annual Conference of the European University Association was held in Zurich, Switzerland April 5-6, 2018 using the theme of “engaged and responsible universities shaping Europe”.  Topics included social responsibility, lifelong learning, sustainable Europe, social inclusiveness and diversity, open science, scientific integrity and ethics, and more.  The sessions included lively discussions and live tweeting (#EUA2018Zurich).  It was informative to hear about the EUA perspectives on these topics and to reflect on these same topics as discussed (or not) among higher education leaders in the U.S.  The presentations can be found on the EUA website.

A fascinating presentation on Citizen Science closed the conference and is the focus of my comments here.  In the U.S., we have frequently referred to the social responsibility of the university and public engagement as part of the university mission especially land grant universities.  We have used terms including ‘citizen scholars’ (eg., VT Graduate School Citizen Scholar program), ‘scholar citizens’, ‘scholar activists’ and to some extent citizen science.  The programs and opportunities vary across universities but highlight the connections between the university and society.  Citizen Science in the U.S. seems to be a relatively new entity (first conference in Oregon in 2012), books authored recently (e.g., C. Cooper, Citizen Science: How ordinary people are changing the face of discovery, 2016) and often associated with the environment issues (e.g., Citizen Science Association).

In his introductory comments at the EUA Hot Topic session and overview, Daniel Wyler (University of Zurich) identified Citizen Science as an element of open science and described Citizen Science as able to “enlarge the scope of research in all fields of science and able to enhance public education and the understanding of science”.  He argued that “many scientific and societal issues need citizen science” in areas such as the environment, aging, and energy” and could be helpful in providing the foundation for long-term policy decisions.  He shared guidelines for universities and policy makers and introduced the Citizen Science Center Zurich which is jointed operated by the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich. The goal of the Center is to enable “researchers and citizens to create and conduct research collaborations that produce excellent science” in support of the UN 2030 Agenda 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Examples of citizen science in the European context were shared by Kevin Schawinski (ETH Zurich), Sabine Stoll (University of Zurich) and Julia Altenbuchner (University College London).  The three shared distinct examples of science conducted at universities that actively engaged citizens in the research.  As part of the process, citizens could become actively engaged in the design of research projects, data collection and analysis, developing recommendations, and shaping research agendas and public policy.

Extreme Citizen Science (ExCiteS) is one example and can be described as “a situated, bottom-up practice that takes into account local needs, practices and culture and works with broad networks of people to design and build new devices and knowledge creation processes that can transform the world.”  Current projects include: Doing it Together Science (DITOs), Extreme Citizen Science: Analysis and Visualisation (ECSAnVis), WeGovNow, and Challenging RISK (Resilience by Integrating Societal and Technical Knowledge).  Check out these exciting projects and see how citizens are helping with research.  And there’s a free new online course entitled “Introduction to Citizen Science and Scientific Crowdsourcing”.

Another example comes from Kevin Schawinski who engaged citizens in his research on galaxy and black hole astrophysics.  He and his colleagues initiated a project entitled Galaxy Zoo which can be found with Zooniverse.  Zooniverse is the “world’s largest and most popular platform for people-powered research.”  Zooniverse provides many opportunities for citizens to engage in meaningful research with professors and currently lists 84 very diverse projects on their website.  These range from arts to literature to medicine to space and demonstrate the real projects and publications as a result of Citizen Science. Very impressive.

Universities have a responsibility to society and a Citizen Science approach provides the opportunity to reframe science through ‘people-powered-research’, to challenge our existing paradigm of research, to redefine “expertise”, and to empower genuine public engagement.

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“Take up the baton”

In January 2018, the Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech hosted a live performance of The Mountaintop as part of the 2018 current tour for the Los Angeles Theatre Works (LATW).  It was a powerful performance with a very important message and challenge for us to continue the work of Martin Luther King and to “take up the baton”.

The Mountaintop, winner of the prestigious Olivier Award for Best New Play, provides the audience with “a glimpse at the human side of Martin Luther King Jr.”  The performance focuses on the evening hours of April 3rd after his famed final speech including the statement that he had “been to the mountaintop” and his assassination on April 4, 1968.  Throughout the play, the racial tension of the 1960s is highlighted and the parallels to today’s struggles are revealed. One of the messages of The Mountaintop is the challenge to take up the baton for social justice and equity.

Nationally, many opportunities to “take up the baton” have arisen recently out of which ‘movements” and initiatives have evolved including but not limited to #MeToo movement, Women’s March on Washington, BlackLIvesMatter, Transequality, and most recently, the March for our Lives.  Made visible through these movements are the concerns of many and their actions in support of equity and social justice.  I believe these “movements” are testimony to the impact of the work of Martin Luther King Jr. some 50 years ago and at the same time examples of the work that still needs to be done.

Education is critical to an informed citizenry and universities often provide the space and place for increasing awareness, understanding and engaging with issues of social justice and equity. These efforts are championed by offices of inclusion and diversity, academic departments (e.g., sociology, women and gender studies, cultural studies) in which scholarship and coursework focuses on social justice and equity, events and gatherings offered by cultural centers (e.g., connect-lunch, lavender graduation, international street fair, Tribal pow-wow), and history month programs (e.g., Black History, Hispanic, LGBTQ, Women).  Examples of these exist at Virginia Tech and include specific initiatives and programs offered by the VT Graduate School (e.g., citizen scholars) and through the Graduate School’s Office of Recruitment, Diversity and Inclusion (VT_ORDI) (e.g., diversity scholars, Bouchet graduate honor society, mentoring circle). The educational opportunities are many and typically help university constituencies engage in the difficult dialogues and contribute to the creation of affirming and inclusive communities within higher education and beyond.

Education begins with awareness and progresses to understanding and active engagement.  As part of our individual and collective journey, we can no longer be silent or simply be an observer and bystander to acts of social injustice, bullying, harassment or abuse and violence.  It is important to consider the multiple ways in which each of us can become (more) active bystanders, advocates and allies for civility, equity and social justice. Please choose the issue(s) important to you and  “take up the baton”.

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third post

“Knowledge is power, but has little value unless it can be easily accessed and put into practice”…….Melany Gallant

This quote speaks volume.  With the different restraints that are put on teachers in the classroom, creativity in the classroom appears to be a thing in the past. In today’s schools,  students are learning how to be great test takers. They learn what they need to know in order to pass the test.  Information is not being retained. In order for a student to truly learn a skill or strategy, it must be practiced and not just one time.  With the demands of  teachers having to teach a prescribed curriculum  in an allotted amount of time,  makes it difficult for true  learning to occur in the classroom.

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second post

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn……Benjamin Franklin

We all learn in different ways and at a different pace.  In my opinion, it all goes back to relationships and knowing the population that you serve.  Teaching and learning is not a one size fits all model.  Classrooms should look different.  I’m a big fan of play and hands on learning.  When  I taught a group of inner city 7th grade students, I noticed that I could not stand in front of the class and have the student s do a lot of note taking.  In order for my students to UNDERSTAND  the content, I had to be creative with my instructional delivery.  Instructional delivery that reached all students which included multiple teaching strategies.  Real learning should drive and inspire you and should not be a taught as a one size fits all model.

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Week 9: Final Project Proposal

For my final project, I would like to create an Academic Integrity-themed Jeopardy game.

As a Jeopardy fan myself, I find trivia games to be an effective way for students to learn material in a fun and engaging way. We all know how dry and boring it can be to discuss issues of academic integrity, so my hope is that by using a trivia game like Jeopardy, students will be more engaged in the material and actually learn something that might stick with them.

Throughout my time as a student, I have tried to make final projects that offer more than just a grade in a course–this jeopardy game is something I can use each semester in my composition and technical writing courses. While it will benefit my students to play this game, creating this game will also undoubtedly benefit me as I will need to be well-versed in the many different facets of academic integrity in order to fill the Jeopardy board.

After doing some preliminary research, I think my best option (and the most free) is to use Google Slides for this project. I have downloaded this template which I will update with my own content. If you look at the template, you will notice that there will be five categories, each with five options (ranging from $100-$500 in worth). Thinking ahead, I envision I will use the following five categories (though I plan to brainstorm more interesting titles):

  1. Cheating
  2. Plagiarism
  3. Falsification
  4. Academic Sabotage
  5. Ethics & Integrity

Underneath each of these categories, I imagine having definitions, scenarios, images, and examples. When using this in the classroom, students will divide into groups and we will go around the room. Whatever group has the most points at the end of the game will receive some amount of extra credit on their next assignment.

Though I will use this primarily in my classrooms, I am open to sharing this tool with other instructors and/or students hoping to gain a better understand of academic integrity.

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Week 8: Authorship Issues

Authorship in higher education can sometimes be a hard pill to swallow. One question from the assignment prompt stuck out to me: Is it necessary for an author to participate in the writing of the paper?

It seems paradoxical, right? That someone could be listed as an author without having ever written any sections in the document.

Though I’m sure every graduate student has their own horror story, I have been on the short end of the authorship stick too. While working as a graduate research assistant, it became clear that divisions exist between authors and these divisions are not at all based on the distribution of work but the distribution of credentials. Prior to coming to Virginia Tech, I always assumed that if anyone contributed any written content to a text, they deserved some form of credit if the document were ever published. However, while working in this role, it became clear that certain sections of journal articles guarantee authorship whereas other sections do not.  For example, the introduction and literature review sections generally warranted less respect (and less authorship) than the results and discussion section.

It is ironic, right? The university seems to care so much about plagiarism and academic integrity, and yet it fails to hold researchers accountable when it comes to fair recognition for fair distribution of work. Of course graduate students have little ability to stand up to advisors and directors in these scenarios. What is (or should be) the university’s role in monitoring these issues of authorship?

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Week 7: Citation Methods

Citation and I have always had a tenuous relationship. I feel it is a necessary evil, but an evil nonetheless. It always blows my mind how many different citation styles there are, and while I realize that there are reasons for having different styles depending on the discipline and its purpose, does citation need to be quite as complicated as it currently is?

Early in my academic career, I encountered Kurt Schick’s article in The Chronicle about the role of citation in instruction. In this article, Schick questions academia’s obsession with citation formatting and instead emphasizes the importance of teaching students to not only be critical of sources, but also to know how to effectively incorporate them into their research. “Plagiarism hysteria” has created a climate where teachers often punish incorrect citation far more than they reward good selection, analysis, and incorporation of research. According to Schick, this hysteria has also created students who avoid using sources (i.e. just barely meeting the minimum number of sources required by the assignment) in fear of losing precious points to citation (or worse, being slapped with an honor code violation). Really, the current situation begs the question, what is more important? Is it better to be able to produce a perfectly formatted in-text citation if our critical reading and writing skills are so weak that we cannot successfully incorporate another source’s words/ideas into our own writing?

To Schick, more time should be spent teaching students how to effectively analyze and incorporate research and less time should be spent on demanding flawless citation formatting. I agree. Yes, I still do my part to teach students proper citation, but in the grand scheme of the assignment (and the qualities of good writing that I am looking for), citation would be a minor point allocation on a rubric.

Really, my hope is that we can have both–we can train students to be strong analytical researchers and also train them to properly and carefully use citation. To do that, though, I think the traditional way we have approached citation needs to change.

I just realized that I am writing most of my blog posts from the perspective of an instructor–I apologize if I should be writing from the perspective of a student. It is difficult for me to think that way now that I am done with coursework and teaching courses. My same argument holds for graduate students–even myself as a graduate student. Citation is unnecessarily complicated. Think of all the time students use to properly format citations–while this is useful, especially since graduate students are often publishing research, think of how this time might be put to better use if citation weren’t so complicated. Sure, there are citation management software, and while that solution works for some, it doesn’t for others. Maybe I would feel like annoyed by citation if I did use a citation management software like EndNote. Perhaps, like most things, the 21st century has brought about a new era for citation, and we all need to recalibrate a bit.

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Week 6: Don’t Turn It In

This post will probably quickly turn into a manifesto against anti-plagiarism software like TurnItIn. I’ll be honest: I hate anti-plagiarism software. It feels like a sham, and it often doesn’t teach students how to avoid plagiarism–it just shows them where it has occurred. What users often don’t realize about these tools is that, if you use a service like TurnItIn, the company retains copies of the essay content, stores all that data in its own databases, and then sells its service to universities–thereby solidifying its constant stream of student work. While these companies argue that students still retain rights to their own work, that does not prevent the company from using the student’s work to check it against submissions from other students in the future. Moreover, this system does not respect educational privacy whatsoever. What is really insidious about this is that sometimes, students’ papers are being run through this software without their consent.

If students or graduate students want to use these tools to check themselves for honor code violations, I think that is fine. But when these anti-plagiarism software companies profit off student work and then withhold copies of the students’ essays (often without the student’s expressed consent), that is a problem. If you’re interested in learning more, here are two recent articles:

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/06/19/anti-turnitin-manifesto-calls-resistance-some-technology-digital-age

http://www.digitalpedagogylab.com/hybridped/resisting-edtech/

https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/anti-turnitin-scholars-call-rethink-tackling-plagiarism

Beyond the fact that anti-plagiarism software companies are terrible, I would argue that many times (though, yes, not every time) students who commit honor code violations do so unwittingly–they often didn’t mean to plagiarize a source. Putting papers into a machine and then dinging students for a plagiarized sentence feels like the wrong way to go about instructing students on academic honesty and citation.

Hey–but, shout out to GRAD 5014 for including videos with subtitles and in a few different languages! Awesome!

 

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Week 5: VT Graduate Honor System I

As a writing instructor, I recognize the importance of the honor system and the importance of knowing the four different kinds of violations–cheating, plagiarism, falsification, and academic sabotage.

Before I started teaching courses at Virginia Tech, I worked as a graduate tutor in the Writing Center. In this position, I mostly worked with graduate students. One major obstacle to preventing honor code violations among graduate students was simply lack of comprehension. Many students did not fully understand what the four violations entailed–particularly what they considered to be gray areas, such as self-plagiarism. Some viewed these violations on a spectrum,  with certain types of cheating as more acceptable than others.

Culturally, there are also a number of differences between writing conventions in the US and writing in other countries. This is another huge impediment to battling academic dishonesty since some countries do not find it as problematic to borrow each other’s ideas (this article covers the international perspective on plagiarism). Across the board, but especially when it comes to academic integrity, there needs to be more support and information available to international students. This course is a nice addition–but I can’t imagine that too many students take it seriously when they are bogged down with other coursework.

While browsing the Graduate Honor System website, I was struck by the red stop sign that reads Disrupt Academic Bullying. Prior to visiting this site, I didn’t realize that the Graduate School had any commentary on academic bullying and it was such a relief to see that small symbol. For so many graduate students, academic hazing or academic bullying is a reality–I think most graduate students have witnessed this behavior, perhaps even experienced such bullying firsthand. It is abhorrent that school can become so competitive that students will begin to humiliate and demean each other. One major takeaway this week for me is related to academic bullying–which I think should be a crucial component to academic integrity. Sure, academic bullying is not one of the four honor code violations, but maybe it should be.

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