Exploring the Intersections of Making and Citizen Science

By Trey Lathe, Maker Ed’s Executive Director

On October 27th, I had the privilege of attending the Citizen-Science Maker Summit hosted at Arizona State University and organized by the School for Future Innovation at ASU, and SciStarter. The summit was designed to explore the crossroads of citizen science and the maker movement, and I was honored to be asked to give one of the keynote presentations.


The summit kicked off with a keynote from David Lang, founder of Open ROV, an open source underwater exploration robot. His talk, titled “How makers are changing the economics of discovery,” explored some of the ways that, in his opinion, citizen science can learn from the maker movement. I was particularly interested in the ways in which Lang drew comparisons between the maker movement, citizen science, and Gartner’s hype cycle. He felt that the maker movement was on the “slope of enlightenment,” while citizen science is still approaching the “peak of inflated expectations.” Between those two parts of the curve lie the dreaded “trough of disillusionment” that perhaps citizen science could learn from the maker movement how to get through that. Obviously, the hype cycle is an imperfect model, but it was a very interesting way to frame the discussion and it came up a few times during the two days. I think the maker movement, and specifically maker education, is in various stages of that cycle depending on locations and institutions. Our role at Maker Ed is to get those communities, institutions, and educators through all the parts of the cycle to the point of the “plateau of productivity.”

The summit continued with keynotes from myself, Alison Parker from the EPA and Sophia Liu from USGS. In my presentation, I hoped to introduce summit attendees, many of whom were unfamiliar with the maker movement, to the value of maker education, and to show some of the challenges faced by the maker community going forward. I emphasized three main challenges I see this community facing:

  1. Building a strong community for educators
  2. Developing a deep and broad research base
  3. Ensuring maker education is equitable and able to be accessed by all


I also tried a little maker hack during my talk. I played around with coding something that every time I changed to a new slide, a tweet including the slide and a summary of that portion of my talk would automatically send. I was hoping for a way to live-tweet my own talk. Unfortunately, the coding didn’t work so well (i.e. it did not work at all), so instead I auto-scheduled tweets to go out at the same period I was talking in the morning. I felt that was a way for a broader audience, and for the in-person audience to get the links I was sharing in a simple manner. Next time maybe I’ll get that program to work. If you are interested, you can see the tweets here.

Overall, the summit was an extremely enjoyable, informative and fascinating experience. I was able to meet some makers in Arizona who had attended Maker Ed’s Maker Educator Convening this last May and were so inspired that they have organized maker education meetups and a maker fest of their own! I also spoke with a budding maker from Colorado who was inspired at the summit to do more maker education and citizen science. Though the challenges faced by the citizen science, and maker movements take on many different forms, there are certainly many similarities, and many ways the two movements can learn from one another. Through the course of this summit, I think we all learned that there were indeed ways to combine a maker education approach with a citizen science purpose that would be highly beneficial to both communities. I look forward to exploring that further and seeing what the attendees and organizers come up with.







Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *