Adapting our training and support for the Big Seaweed Search in Mexico | Community Science

In this blog I want to tell you about the amazing work my colleague Ana is doing with our colleagues from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM): Ameyalli, Arely, Carmen and Erika.

For every community science programme we run at the Museum, we provide training and guidance to help people take part. This will be tailored according to the programme and audience. This means that training will sometimes be delivered in person, sometimes we produce written resources, and sometimes we develop video tutorials, for example.

In Mexico, our colleagues delivered training workshops in Sisal and Puerto Morelos in March and April respectively, and have recently returned from delivering workshops in the same locations, but in the rainy season.

Lessons from our UK training programme

These workshops were built upon a model the Museum’s Community Science team had piloted with youth groups taking part in the Big Seaweed Search (BSS) UK in 2019 and 2020, which comprised:

  1. an hour’s practical introduction to seaweed delivered by the Marine Conservation Society, a charity, followed by,
  2. three beach surveys facilitated by their leaders, to search, observe, and photograph seaweed on their local shore, and
  3. sometimes a follow up session online to discuss what they found.

This programme aimed to promote participation in science, environmental education, and individual and collective conservation action through participation in BSS UK.

In this initial delivery of the programme, young people carried out the surveys in small groups and were encouraged to take on roles (e.g. photographer, note taker) in order to develop expertise.

The experience really excited and inspired the young people in seaweed, but logistics required us to make some compromises in the programme and it was left to the group leaders to upload the data they collected online. This seemingly impacted the young people’s understanding of what happened to the data they collected and the scientific purpose of the programme.

We had the opportunity to redesign the programme according to the lessons we learned through the LEARN CitSci research project. The second iteration occurred during the pandemic, so youth group members carried it out in their small family units rather than as part of a large peer group.

Whilst this meant that they had to carry out most – if not all – of the survey tasks and would not develop expertise in one particular role, it gave them each a broad experience of all the tasks required to carry out the survey and develop their scientific identity in a different way. (You can read more about this in a recent paper I published and the project’s knowledge sharing guide.)

How our Mexican colleagues adapted the programme

In Mexico, our colleagues developed this educational programme into an eight-hour workshop over four days, taking it further than our wildest imaginations!

This allowed time to include an extension activity on the “herborización” or preservation of seaweed specimens, and also some fun board games they designed to engage the participants with seaweed.

For example, the team adapted the game of “snakes and ladders” into an activity to support participants to learn facts and how to identify the seaweeds they would encounter on the beach. There was also time in the schedule to discuss the responsible management of seaweed on the Yucatán coast. 

A workshop facilitator and student in a classroom, preserving speciments for a seaweed collection.
“Herborización” in the classroom, to preserve specimens for a seaweed collection. This is a very similar process to pressing flowers.

This extended programme also aimed to develop a scientific thinking and skills (including identification of seaweed) in participants, but – as Ana presented at the European Citizen Science Association Conference earlier this month – seems to have gone beyond that and affected their attitudes towards seaweed and its meaning to their community.

Receiving immediate feedback on species identifications and encouragement to take part in different parts of the data collection process, as well as having access to a range of scientific tools to use, are also important adaptations that we suspect will be found to be important influences on the participants’ learning outcomes.

The image shows Ana Benavides-Lahnstein, presenting evidence for the tranformative potential of taking part in Big Seaweed Search Mexico at the European Citizen Science Conference. The image shows a slide that reports: 1) Attitude changes are evidenced by 87% and 76% describing that their way of thinking about nature and science respectively had changed. 2) There were also signs of agentic behaviour. 39% shared their experiences and learning with family and/others in their communities, sometimes teaching others. 22% began to search and/or identify macroalgae in their free time. One young person also started working on a seaweed-based fertiliser.
Ana Benavides-Lahnstein, presenting evidence for the tranformative potential of taking part in Big Seaweed Search Mexico at the European Citizen Science Association Conference in Berlin.

Ana is working with Arely and Ameyalli to carry out this educational research as part of the project to better understand the learning processes and outcomes for the people who take part in Mexico.

Read more about the Mexican programme:

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