ClimateWatch provides real-world learning opportunities for university students, from data collection out in the field to data analysis and interpretation back in the classroom. By actually making science, not just reading about it, students are engaged and motivated to learn, and feel like they’re making a difference by contributing to Australia’s climate change response.
Tertiary education institutions across the country have been integrating ClimateWatch into their courses and seven Australian universities now have a ClimateWatch trail located on campus. The trails have been developed in collaboration with university teaching staff, grounds staff and local conservation groups who helped select key locations and shortlist ClimateWatch indicator species.
Through delivery partnerships with Australian universities, ClimateWatch is engaging the next generation of scientists, science communicators and computer scientists in projects that make a difference and build Australia’s citizen science capacity. The success of ClimateWatch delivery partnerships relies on creating value for the partner. For example ClimateWatch can involve students from fields as diverse as biology, science communication and computer science through activities like data collection and analysis by science students, representing results can involve software development projects for computer science students and sharing results with non-experts can provide projects for students in science communication.
As part of their course, first-year biology students utilise ClimateWatch records on a chosen species to formulate a hypothesis as to why that species might show different phenophases over time. They are required to submit their own observations, made easy through the dedicated ClimateWatch trail on campus.
Students learn the complete process of scientific research in a fun and engaging way, with research showing the majority planned to continue recording data for ClimateWatch after the project was finished. A large proportion (35 percent) also introduced the application to their friends, demonstrating the important role ClimateWatch has in environmental engagement.
ClimateWatch has been integrating into the biology courses at UWA to help open the eyes of students to what plants and animals are doing at different times of the year, and to demonstrate how this information could be used to better understand the effects of climate change on our biota. It is also contributing to building datasets in Western Australia and first year university students are perfectly positioned to make an important contribution.
This program provides a great opportunity that early year students don't often get to do something that contributes to genuine research. The focus on indicator species introduces students to data gathering with common species such as Willie Wagtails that are frequently seen. Students can practise their observation skills and increase their understanding of animal behaviour in a cumulative fashion. The more they observe, the more they learn, and the more they want to understand about individual species and the impacts that climate change may be having on them.