The widespread accessibility of live streaming video now makes it possible for viewers around the world to watch live events together, including unprecedented, 24/7 views of wildlife. In addition, online technologies such as live chatting and forums have opened new possibilities for people to collaborate from locations around the world. The innovation that the projects provide is bringing these opportunities together, enabling real-time research and discussion as participants observe and annotate live streaming footage; sharing questions and insights through live Q&A sessions; and explore data with interactive visualization tools. Scientists will support the community's research interests, in contrast with traditional models of citizen science in which communities support the work of scientists. This project will enable people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives to co-create scientific investigations, including participants who might not otherwise have access to nature. The evaluation research for this project will advance the understanding of practices that enable interconnected communities of people to participate in more phases of scientific discovery, and how participation affects their learning outcomes. It is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants. As such, this project will advance a new genre of Public Participation in STEM Research (PPSR). It will also advance scientific exploration using live wildlife cams and establish a database for long-term research to understand how bird behavior and reproductive success are affected by environmental change. This project aims to deepen public involvement in science, building on knowledge and relevance for STEM learning by creating an online learning environment that expands on traditional crowdsourcing models of PPSR in which participants collect data to answer questions driven by scientists. In this project, participants are involved in co-created research investigations, including asking questions, deciding what data are needed, generating data, looking for patterns, making interpretations, reviewing results, and sharing findings. The goals are to 1) create a system that involves the public more deeply in scientific research; 2) develop participants' science skills and interests; 3) increase participants' understanding of birds and the environment; 4) generate new scientific knowledge about wildlife; and 5) advance the understanding of effective project design for co-created PPSR projects at a national scale. Through iterative design and evaluation, the project will advance the understanding of the conditions that foster online collaboration and establish design principles for supporting science and discovery in online learning environments. Through scaling and quasi-experimental studies, the evaluation research will advance the understanding of how learning outcomes may be similar or different for participants engaging in different ways, whether they observe the cams and read about the investigation, process data as contributors, provide some input as collaborators, or join in most or all of the scientific process as co-creators. Despite the popularity of live wildlife cams, with millions of people watching hundreds of cams around the world, little research has been conducted on the use of live cams for collaborative work in formal or informal science education. The infrastructure and open-source framework created for this project will expand the capacity for online communities of people from diverse career backgrounds and perspectives to collaborative on solving personally meaningful questions and contribute to new knowledge. Using this project as a prototype, cam operators from around the world could build networks of cams, enabling future studies with broader scope for comparative biological studies and discoveries. Additionally, it will serve as a model for use in classrooms or for online communities exploring other scientific fields using live-streaming content in collaborative research. By involving scientists and participants from across society as collaborators and co-creators, this project can help increase public engagement with science, technology, and environmental stewardship while advancing the understanding of the natural world and informing public decision-making.
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