Students Measure Urban Stream Health in Citizen Science Field Research Project

By Lisa Lobel and Elisabeth Cianciola

Wheelock College and the Charles River Watershed Association integrated classroom work with citizen science field research in urban stream health through the project “A Citizen Science and College Student Partnership to Assess Stream Health in the Charles River Watershed.” Students at Wheelock College and citizen scientists participated in the Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA) biological monitoring program, which assesses benthic macroinvertebrate (BMI) communities within the Charles River Watershed as a measure of water quality. The aim of the partner institutions was to create connections between citizen scientists and students in science programs to create advocates for protecting and preserving urban waterways.

Understanding changes in attitude and engagement of both citizen science volunteers and student participants were assessed with surveys for Motivation for Doing Science and Motivation for Engaging in Environmental Action (Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology 2013). Student participants exhibited only a slight increase in motivation for doing science compared to the citizen science volunteers, who exhibited a more substantial increase in motivation. Students also showed a decrease in motivation toward environmental action, while the volunteers became more motivated. Knowledge gains for both groups included increased recognition of water quality concepts and gains in BMI and water quality knowledge.

The citizen science program at CRWA engages local residents, training volunteers to collect water samples and educating individuals of all ages about watershed management challenges and solutions. Participating in the biological monitoring program allows students to link their experiences in field collection, data analysis and data interpretation for management solutions directly to their course topics. Students engaged in classroom learning, translated that learning into field research, completed the analysis of results in collaboration with students at another institution and communicated their shared results to peers at an undergraduate research symposium.

This project has impacted teaching and learning in the environmental science class by providing a place based, experiential learning opportunity for students who also contribute important data to the citizen science project. Reflections from students suggested their experience with “real-life” and “hands-on” methods increased awareness of urban ecology, moved them toward environmental action, and that they had an increased appreciation and understanding of their local watershed. Student interaction with CRWA scientists also provides insight into ways for continued engagement in the issues.


This work was part of a project funded by a sub-award provided by SENCER-ISE through the project, Partnership Champions: SENCER ISE and Professional Development
 Through Mentoring to Enhance 
Learning Environments (MG-10-15-0071-15A).  Partnership Champions is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Posted in eNews, SENCER News.

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