Webcast sponsored by the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre and hosted by the School of Library, Archival, and Information Studies (SLAIS). Citizens have been informally contributing to science for hundreds of years. One of the best known modern examples is of sightings by bird watchers. The Christmas Bird Count, an annual national count in the USA, is one hundred years old and birdwatching activities date back to even earlier times in the UK and parts of Europe. This data informs scientific studies of bird migration and behavior, which in turn provide evidence of habitat loss, and changes in weather patterns.

Citizens contribute to many branches of science from astronomy, to biochemistry, hydrology, biodiversity, personalized medicine, and more. Increasingly digital devices including cell phones, sensors, cameras, databases and associated techniques for storing, retrieving, and communicating data, and many types of social media have been integrated into citizen science and other volunteer practices. In this talk Professor Preece discusses a range of citizen science and volunteer projects focusing on the design of the technologies that support them and suggest some best practices for designing and motivating citizens to use these technologies.

BIO

Professor Jennifer Preece is a Professor and Dean at the University of Maryland’s iSchool She has researched usability and sociability design issues in online communities. Currently she has several research projects that focus on motivating participation in citizen science. She authored or coauthored three high-impact books: Human-Computer Interaction (1994), On-line Communities: Designing Usability, Supporting Sociability (2000), Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction (2002, 2007, 2011, 2015).

A new initiative by the Canadian International Learning Foundation has set out to overcome what Canadians say is the single biggest barrier to becoming a volunteer: lack of time.

“Change the world in five hours a week” is the mantra of the Educator Volunteer Network, which matches up skilled Canadians with schools in developing and at-risk regions around the world, letting them donate their time without ever leaving their desks.

EducatorVolunteer.Net is the brainchild of Ryan Aldred, president of the CanILF, a registered charity devoted to improving educational opportunities for children in destitute and war-torn regions. Through the agency’s work in Afghanistan, Aldred said, he saw that online volunteers could make a massive difference to schools.

So far more than 50 volunteers have signed up to provide one-on-one online assistance with new technologies, research requests, curriculum enhancement, development of resources, writing content for websites and putting together budgets and business plans.

“Going overseas to volunteer isn’t always possible,” said Melanie Wilson, a volunteer working on her PhD in Montreal, in a press release. “Now I’m in touch directly with a school in Uganda… It has been a fun, interesting and empowering experience that has nicely fit into my already busy schedule.”

In addition to two schools in Uganda, there are six other partner schools in Afghanistan, Tanzania, Nepal and Liberia.

The beauty of helping online, Aldred points out, is that because the network offers mainly expertise, there’s little risk that resources might be misused. Volunteers know the exact value of their contributions, and the schools provide oversight and feedback to determine their needs and evaluate the assistance they’re getting.

While charitable organizations are increasingly using the Internet and social media to solicit donations, Aldred said, the network is the first to harness it in this specific way, and he sees huge opportunity.

Right now, Aldred said, the network is seeking volunteers with business knowledge, “to help with developing business plans and help [schools] build up the credibility they need to work with international organizations.”

To volunteer or to donate, visit educatorvolunteer.net

To read the entire Vancouver Sun article, click here

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