Networked data need networked education
At the interface of science and education, Citizen Science (CS) programs are uniquely situated to promote networks of educators contributing to advancement in ecology. CS is a cornerstone of NEON education and outreach programs. Early on, Project BudBurst (budburst.org), a plant phenology program, was identified as one type of citizen science project that would be well suited in helping NEON meet its goals of engaging the interested public in the scientific process. NEON CS represents a multi-pronged approach including Project BudBurst (budburst.org) a continental-scale plant observation program; Citizen Science Academy (citizenscienceacademy.org); and a new crowdsourcing approach to the categorization and annotation of remotely sensed phenological images. These partnerships are focused on networking education at multiple scales. Project BudBurst was co-founded by staff at the Chicago Botanic Garden. This initial partnership has grown to include numerous new partners taking the project in many directions. NEON’s Citizen Science Academy, an online professional development resource for educators offers online courses that engage external CS programs. Finally, a collaboration between the PhenoCam Network and Project BudBurst has resulted in a relatively new opportunity for ecology – a crowdsourcing approach to categorizing remotely sensed phenological data.
Working with external partners has clearly created a networked approach to education. A key outcome has been the ability to advance continental scale ecology by making it relevant at a local level. For example, the Chicago Botanic Garden, a key Project BudBurst partner, helped create templates that allow local plant species of interest to be the focus of education and outreach at wildlife refuges, national parks, botanic gardens, and other nature based centers. Project BudBurst partners represent all parts of the country including Alaska and Hawaii. The number of observations submitted has increased as a result of the Project BudBurst network efforts. NEON’s CSA has also expanded its reach by partnering with other institutions and programs in offering citizen science based instruction. For example, the USDS Forest Service has worked with NEON staff to create an online course targeted at Forest Service field staff. The effort is currently being beta tested, however, it is anticipated that the result will be a significant increase of phenological observations from national forests and grasslands. In addition, an online course focused on citizen science for educators has been developed in collaboration with other CS programs external to NEON (eBirds; COCORaHS; PicturePost, and FrogWatch USA).