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Understanding Volunteers’ Interests in Virtual Citizen Science Projects

Fri, September 1, 2:00 to 3:30pm, Sheraton Boston, Floor: 3, Beacon H


Literature on the motivation of virtual citizen science volunteers includes reports of volunteers’ interests in the projects they contribute to, indicating that volunteers may come to a project with interest in a discipline (Jackson et al. 2015), and that participating in citizen science may support new interests (Bates Goodale & Lin 2016). These examples fit a well-established distinction between personal and situational interest. Personal interest refers to a “long-term disposition to engage a topic or a domain” (Azevedo 2013: 464); situational interest is triggered by the environment (Hidi & Renninger 2011). Existing studies have yet to focus on personal or situational interest in the setting of virtual citizen science, or how knowledge and expertise related to personal interest may be deployed in these projects.

This study uses the pilot of a citizen science online portal to investigate situational and personal interest in virtual citizen science. Following collaboration between a botanical organization and a natural history museum explores the assumption that volunteers from the organization may have an existing personal interest in the museum’s collections, and that the citizen science task may include some element of situational interest. Data collection for the study includes observation of volunteers’ interactions with the portal, log data, and a focus group discussion with volunteers. The study provides an account of volunteer interest in citizen science and contributes to an understanding of the role of local knowledge in citizen science and the way volunteers tailor museum-designed tasks to better meet their personal needs.

Azevedo, F. S. 2013. “The Tailored Practice of Hobbies and Its Implication for the Design of Interest-Driven Learning Environments.” Journal of the Learning Sciences 22 (3): 462–510. doi:10.1080/10508406.2012.730082.
Hidi, S., and K. A. Renninger. 2006. “The Four-Phase Model of Interest Development.” Educational Psychologist 41 (2): 111–27. doi:10.1207/s15326985ep4102_4.
Jackson, C., C. Osterlund, G. Mugar, K. DeVries Hassman, and K. Crowston. 2015. “Motivations for Sustained Participation in Crowdsourcing: Case Studies of Citizen Science on the Role of Talk.” In 2015 48th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS), 1624–34. Los Alamitos, CA, USA: IEEE Computer Society. doi:10.1109/HICSS.2015.196.
Bates, J., P. Goodale, and Y. Lin. 2016. “Co-Observing the Weather, Co-Predicting the Climate: Human Factors in Building Infrastructures for Crowdsourced Data.” Science and Technology Studies 29 (3).