Integrating citizen science and Cos4Cloud into a Greek post-graduate course: inside stories

Don’t miss the story of Maria Kyriakidou, one of the students; and the views Maria collected from two co-students of her, Katia Schiza and Dimitra Tsikerdi, through an informal interview she had with each of them!

The Environmental Education Lab (EEL) of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (NKUA) introduced citizen science and the Cos4Cloud project to post-graduate students enrolled in the Greek Master’s program Digital Transformation and Educational Practice. Some of the students have wanted to share with us their experience in pursuing the course “Education and Learning for the Environment and Sustainability in the Digital Age” led by Dr Maria Daskolia. Don’t miss the story of Maria Kyriakidou, Katia Schiza and Dimitra Tsikerdi, three of the students!

Maria Kyriakidou

Introducing myself…

Hi! My name is Maria Kyriakidou. I’m a Greek primary school teacher for the last 15 years. I really love my job since it has to do with supporting people, youths in particular, in becoming empowered and help grow citizens of the future. I like poetry, and I’ve just published my first collection of poems. I am also running an online art and science magazine (Apodyoptes) for the last five years.  

Photo: Maria Kyriakidou, primary education teacher.

Lifelong learning and self-development are at the core of my motivational motto in life as a person and an educational practitioner. This is why I decided to apply and become accepted to pursue Digital Transformation and Educational Practice,’ a two-years Master’s Degree that is collaboratively organized and offered by three Greek Universities. As a first-year postgraduate student, I chose to enroll in the course “Education and Learning for the Environment and Sustainability in the Digital Age” offered in the winter semester by Assoc. Prof. Maria Daskolia. I was happy to see that 16 more co-students, all in-service or pre-service teachers with a range of disciplinary and educational backgrounds (teachers, mathematicians, philologists, engineers, computer scientists), were also selected to attend this course.

How did I come across citizen science, citizen observatories and the Cos4Cloud project?

It was in this course that I came across “Citizen Science” for the first time. It was such an excellent opportunity for me to be taught about citizen science’s history, scope, and purposes. Also, it helped me to understand how its integration into school practice can contribute to strengthening both my students’ science and environmental literacy and their citizenship identity and active participation competence. Additionally, it gave me new paths and ideas on how to enrich my own educational practice.

The role of Citizens Observatories (COs) also struck my interest in assisting citizens’ participation. I realized how important the work the Cos4Cloud project is carrying out to upgrade and support their technological services.

Pl@ntNet app. Credit: Pl@ntNet.

Together with my other co-students, we had the chance to explore the 9 Citizens Observatories in the Cos4Cloud project (Artportalen, Natusfera, iSpot, Pl@ntNet, FreshWater, KdUINO, OdourCollect, CanAir.IO & iSpex), all in the area of biodiversity monitoring and environmental quality, and the range of services that are under development.

In the context of activities and micro-projects led by our tutor, Dr. Maria Daskolia, we had the chance to visit and use all 9 COs. One of the assignments set to us was to select one of them and report our personal view and experience from using it, i.e.: (a) to justify why we chose this one?; (b) how were we involved with it?; (c) what are the platform’s characteristics in terms of access, usage, environment, functionality, etc?; (d) what are the pros and cons when comparing the chosen one to other COs? I chose Pl@ntNet, and I am happy about my choice because of an activity that focused explicitly on it. But I felt really excited about all COs.

Depicting my Pl@ntnet experience in a diary and through a digital story

The most exciting and meaningful activity we were asked to participate in this course was that we all interact with Pl@ntNet for four weeks and record our experience weekly by filling in a semi-structured diary template created and shared with us by our tutor, Dr. Maria Daskolia. This micro project took place from mid-December 2020 to mid-January 2021, in the Greek lockdown period due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The instructions were that we were completely free to record anything in our diary that would depict our experience with Pl@ntnet. There were no right or wrong notes to keep or comments to make. Any facts, thoughts, reflections and emotions, trials and discoveries, successes and failings about our use of Pl@ntNet were all welcome.

What did I personally gain from the Pl@ntNet experience and from keeping a diary on it? Under the circumstances of the pandemic and lockdown period, and trying to cope with a dull and depressing daily routine, going out on everyday walks to observe and record with my Pl@ntent mobile app was the best thing that could happen to me and I expected for the whole day to do! I “saw” my neighborhood differently, I walked much longer walks, I met and admired how nature springs in the city, and I learned so many things I did not know until then. I was motivated to go back home and look for a new plant or tree I had never noticed before. I was challenged to think about how involving my friends, family and my students in this endeavor. And all these with just an app on my side.

Plant observations uploaded in Pl@nNet. Credit: Maria Kyriakidou.

I know it was not just me who felt that way. In our last evaluation meeting, all my co-students admitted that they had gained a lot from this experience! First of all, they began to observe nature again. Life was there, present in thousands of different ways, waiting for us to locate it, record it, learn from it, live with it. Environmental Education for Sustainability, Citizen Science, and “Pl@ntnet” were giving us one such opportunity! And our diaries invited us to unfold this experience. Perhaps the most engaging part of this postgraduate course was how we were led so that this experience was revealed to us: step by step, as if we were passengers in a partly unknown journey, with several unexpected stops, all of which brought us closer to small revelations about our relation to the plants’ world all around us, with citizen science technologies enabling us to do so.

The final step in this journey was tied with and structured by another course assignment: to use our diary as a documented material and create a digital story! Our tutors, Dr Maria Daskolia and Mrs Naya Grillia, showed us what it means to create a digital story as an expressive means to talk about personal experience and how this could be used in educational practice. They showed examples and the steps of how to construct such stories.

Another interesting challenge was how to turn our personal experience into a digital artifact affording communication and interaction with more people. I can confidently say that it was my first time creating a digital story, even though I am used to writing other ‘stories’. My motive was strong and led by my deep affection for the environment and my will to engage with anything ‘environmental’ that was reinforced thanks to this course. Working on my digital story was a whole new experience in itself, a learning experience that changed me in many ways as a person. It urged me to reflect and realize what I really want to communicate through my story and convey this message. It also new generated ideas about micro-projects with my school students. Finally, it stirred a genuine interest in me to research this topic within the context of my Master’s dissertation! You can visit my digital story here: “4 weeks along with Pl@ntnet”.

If I were asked to describe my overall experience of the course in just three sentences, I would say: 1) it enhanced my environmental awareness, 2) it fostered a sense of responsibility towards biodiversity in the city, and 3) it activated my will to get involved with citizen science, the COs technologies and environmental education for sustainability both though my school practice and in educational research.

What about my classmates?

Taking the initiative to conduct my first small survey, I run an informal interview with two of my classmates, Katia Schiza and Dimitra Tsikerdi, asking them their views and reflections on their experience:

Katia Schiza

Based on what you got from the course, what do you think about Citizen Science? What did it mean to you this experience?

In the beginning, the very term “Citizen Observatories” was utterly unknown to me. That is why I got immediately interested in understanding what it is all about. The course allowed me to come across many COs, specially Pl@ntnet; which showed me how easy it can be for everyone to record various plant species and the flora biodiversity. I am very much interested in further exploring how to introduce Pl@ntNet in Greek schools and my teaching because I think it is a very practical and easy tool for students to use!

It was an excellent opportunity for me to get to know citizen science, citizen observatories and Pl@ntnet through a postgraduate course. Although we completed the training three months ago, I continue using Pl@ntnet for plant identification because I like to support science and nature protection. But above all, because I feel that I continue studying and learning this way.

Photo: Katia Schiza, math education teacher.

Do you find it easy to include any of these practices in your teaching practice?

Katia Schiza: I am a math teacher, and still, I think it is possible to integrate citizen science into my teaching practice. What we did in our course gave me many ideas on how to organise a similar project with my students. I can ask students to take pictures, identify plants, learn about them and interact with each other weekly for two months. They could then conduct statistical analysis to estimate the average number of plants each student shared in the app or the plant(s) species that most students shared. They could also go on to represent their data with percentage charts. There are a lot of possibilities for introducing citizen science in schools across all subjects.

Dimitra Tsikerdi

Based on what you got from the course, what do you think about Citizen Science? What did it mean to you this experience?

My point of view is that citizen science is an innovative way to promote and develop integrated scientific knowledge, particularly about environmental issues. Because of its engaging and alluring character, citizens can be involved in scientific procedures, like observation and data collection, contributing to global environmental efforts this way.

Citizen observatories, the digital platforms that support citizen science, can be equally used for educational purposes. They not only contribute to science and research development but also have educational benefits for the citizens who want to develop or update their environmental knowledge. Moreover, the digital applications can be combined with playful learning activities and become educational tools to assist the practice of environmental education.

Photo: Dimitra Tsikerdi, a Greek primary education teacher.

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