Scientific Knowledge and attitude change: The impact of a citizen science project

This article discusses the evaluation of an informal science education project, The Birdhouse Network (TBN) of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology (CLO), and the effectiveness in changing participants’ knowledge and attitudes using the hands-on approach for its target audience.

Brossard discusses the lack of basic scientific concepts, literature that are available for the general public to research or inquire from. Although there are good baseline data projects that exist at the national and international levels for documentation, but many of them are measured in relative terms and many times, published as ‘grey literature’. Most importantly, they do not provide standardized scales or other tools that allow comparison of effectiveness across other studies.

In the TBN project, CLO wanted to achieve two goals; first is the assess the effectiveness of the project, and second to compare the knowledge and attitudes of the participants towards the project with national norms. This is so that this project will be available and feasible for other related research project to use.

Problem with citizen-science project nowadays

  • Insufficient justified data and information.
  • Lack of literature support from similar field studies
  • Lack of standardized scales and data

Why is it important to provide a standardized scales?

Lack of standardized comparable data makes it difficult to decide. For example to decide which project achieves the particular goals better than another project; both may deemed to be ‘successful’ based on their own internal evaluation, but without standardized scales, there are no clear basis to choose which are better, or to use them in a real-world situation of having limited time and resources.

Using Standardized scales and national norms allow one to understand more about the elements of the project, the particular target audience, or the challenges that it faces.

The Birdhouse Network (TBN)

TBN focuses on the studies of cavity-nesting birds such as blurbirds, tree swallows, and the American kestrls. Where these species depend on the presence of dead trees and other dead woods to build their nests. However, due to the dramatic decline of standing dead trees  left in the United States over the last two centuries, these animals habitat has been severely reduced.

TBN aims to achieve two goals:

  1. To increase the participants’ knowledge about science and its process and change the participants’ attitudes toward science and the environment.
  2. Allow scientists to gather large sets of data, based on participants’ observation, which can be used for research ultimately published in peer-reviewed journals.


The main method CLO used in their citizen-science project is Experiential education. According to the experiential theory, ‘information gained through experience provides a requisite contextual base for assimilating information obtained through symbolic, vicarious, and other indirect means’ (Tuss, 1996).

Simply said, information gained through experience are credible and dependable. In the experiential model, participants progress from action, to understanding the consequences of the action in a particular context, to generalization to a broader context (Tuss, 1996).

My View

I agree to Brossard that, some people learn better through hands-on experience because they can make full use of their five senses to experience and learn through the process.

So what are your views in this? Do you think through experiential education, people learn better? Are results obtained solely through this model credible?3



Brossard, D, Lewenstein, B and Bonney, R. (2005). Scientific knowledge and attitude change: The impact of a citizen science project’, International Journal of Science Education, 27: 9, 1099 – 1121.


3 comments so far

  1. snowkinz on

    i agree that people learn better when they are hands on doing things. if people are only taught in school and not shown how to use a machine or not given a chance to use the machine, they would not know how to operate the machine when they are at work.

    also, people are able to better understand the machanics of a particular machine when they are using it. such as with cooking, there are no right or wrong with regards to the heat, the amount of ingredients. people dont follow blindly to recipes.

    the model is able to acheive interesting results, but i feel that it shld use other research to support its findings.

  2. tarrycher on

    Yup I do agree with Brossard too regarding people learn better through hands-on experience as they are able to remember the material better, feel a sense of accomplishment when the task is completed and be able to transfer that experience easier to other learning situations. When more than one method of learning is accessed as in hands-on learning, the information has a better chance of being stored in the memory for useful retrieval.

    This is also much useful for people with learning difficulties such as auditory deficiencies, ESL barriers or behavioral interference as they can be found to be on task more often because they are part of the learning process and not just spectators.

    • travelrene on

      I do agree that people learn better through hands-on experience. When we are educated with certain theories or methodologies, without putting it into action in real life, it may be hard for us imagine and perform well when come to the real situation. For example, a person can learn a lot about how to operate a camera and involve in photography in theory, by attending many talks. However, without using the camera in real, he will not know how to operate or use the camera properly. Through the hands-on experience, he can gain the necessary knowledge to use the camera to capture photos and videos, while applying the theories that he has learned.

      Even through experiential education, people can learn better; however, there are other factors which affect people’s learning efficiency. For instance, interest can play an important part which facilitates better learning process. Without interest, a person can learn through various mediums, including learning from class-room lessons and hands-on experiences, he may not learn very well as the effort put in to learn is not sufficient.

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