There is no shortage of historical or contemporary examples of unqualified amateurs working and learning alongside qualified professionals and the boundary issues associated with defining the nature and extent of different contributions. In, for instance, health and social care, policing, some aspects of teaching, the contribution of the non-qualified volunteer can be significant. Yet while there is great attention of professional and inter-professional learning, less attention is given to the learning by amateurs arising from their participation in professional practices.
An interesting example of amateurs contributing to professional work is in the area of scientific research and the growth of citizen science projects in many countries.
Citizen science can take many forms, but often involves geographically distributed amateurs contributing to professional scientific endeavours. This might entail contributing data to a project through surveys and crowd-sourcing, such as annual surveys of migrating birds or attempts to chart the impact of climate change on the seasons. It might also involve contributing to data analysis, such as in the astronomical mapping of the stars. It can also involve identifying issues to be researched and presenting information to others about the topic, such as talking about the findings from archaeological digs. In a sense, the examples and possibilities are multiple and growing.
Citizen science has grown significantly in terms of number of projects, their scale, focus and scope in recent years. There is evidence they are making important contributions in many areas of science. With these projects has come research on, for instance, the ways in which professional scientists and amateurs interact, the validity of the scientific work undertaken, the practices and technologies of interaction, and the effects of such work on attitudes to science.
However, less attention has been given to the educational backgrounds of the citizens contributing to these scientific projects, the forms of knowledge and expertise they draw upon in making their contributions, the knowledge practices in which they engage, and what they learn from participation in projects. Existing educational research in this area tends to focus on the learning outcomes of participation in such projects, with less attention given to how that learning occurs.
There are also some important conceptual issues in relation to the question of citizenship in citizen science. In what ways are the contributions of amateurs specifically ‘citizenship’ practices? Descriptions of citizen science projects suggest a conceptual interchangeability of the notion of the citizen with concepts of volunteer and amateur.
Citizen science projects are one area of professional practice where rather than simply considering professional and inter-professional learning, we need also to consider professional-amateur learning.
These are issues explored in a forthcoming article in the International Journal of Science Education and in a British Academy funded project run in collaboration between the Schools of Education and Natural Sciences at the University of Stirling, UK.
Citizen Science Alliance http://www.citizensciencealliance.org/
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