Every autumn since 2009, thousands of Swedish pupils of all ages have been helping researchers gather huge amounts of data. These so-called mass experiments are of mutual benefit: the researchers get more data than they could otherwise easily collect, the pupils get the opportunity to participate in real research, and the teachers get material and methods based upon state-of-the-art research to integrate in the curriculum.
VA (Public & Science) coordinates the mass experiments as part of the European science festival, Researchers’ Night. Schools from across the whole of Sweden are involved and as many as 18,000 pupils were engaged in the 2013 experiment.
The mass experiments efficiently link education to research, establishing valuable contacts with researchers and giving students insights into research methods and scientific thinking.
VA helps the researcher to design an experiment whereby students gather data guided by their teacher. Research projects are also selected according to how well they fit into the curriculum. Instructions and teachers’ manuals are jointly developed by the researcher and VA, and researchers also communicate directly with individual teachers and students using Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Examples of mass experiments to date are:
- Nutrition: How much fruit and vegetables do children and teenagers consume in Sweden?
- Biology/climatology: How is climate change affecting autumn leaves?
- Sociology: What risks do young people perceive in their daily lives?
- Food science: Is food stored at the right temperature in different parts of the refrigerator?
- Health/physics: Does the acoustic environment in schools affect pupils’ ability to learn?
- Climate change: What can tea bags and soil decomposition rates tell us about climate change?
The 2016 Notice Board mass experiment examined the function of the physical notice board in the digital age and won an Open Knowledge Award for Best Open Science Initiative. The results have also been published in the open access scientific journal PLOS One.
The 2017 experiment was on source criticism and researchers and pupils have been investigating the type of news in young people’s online news feeds.
The 2018 experiment combines ladybird monitoring with artificial intelligence to learn more about biodiversity.
VA’s annual mass experiments are examples of citizen science. Our experiences from conducting them are shared in an essay published in the Journal of Science Communication that discusses how mass experiments/citizen science can stimulate scientific literacy and an interest in science while generating scientific output.
Here you can find an information folder about the Swedish mass experiments.
Other citizen science-related projects
As from January 2018 VA is part of a collaboration project aiming to create a national portal for citizen science in Sweden. More information about the project, ARCS, can be found here.
For further information about the mass experiments and citizen science, please contact Fredrik Brounéus.