A Citizen Science approach to monitoring powerful predictors of health? Brendan O’Keeffe

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime

Citizen science is a very simple concept. It involves research carried out by members of the public who volunteer to collect scientific data. The benefits are vast and far reaching, providing an unprecedented engagement between professional scientists and the general public. To date, much of the focus of citizen science related research has centred on the environment that surrounds us; bio-diversity, climate, land etc. So, can we utilise this novel approach for gathering health based information in the field of epidemiology?

I wrote in a previous blog of both the predictive capacity and prominence of health related fitness monitoring in school settings. In such contexts, it is often not feasible for one teacher to administer each test item to every student in their class. As a result, a peer-assessment format, where students are responsible for the administration and measurement of test items, is often recommended. However, due to the wide variability in skills and expertise between assessors, issues of data quality often rise to the forefront in considering the validity of citizen science research. Therefore, our research team in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences recently conducted a study to compare the reliability of student assessed measures of health related fitness with those taken by a group of experienced research assistants as part of the Youth-Fit project.

Participants were randomly assigned in to a peer measured (n= 45) or research-assistant measured (n= 41) group, and the same health related fitness tests were performed twice, one week apart with both groups. In short, and without delving in to complex statistics, we found that following a brief period familiarisation with measurement protocols, peer measures were every bit as reliable as those taken by the trained research assistants. This effectively means that, not only do students learn the protocols and theory behind each measure, the measures obtained reflect sound psychometric characteristics.

No testing situation can be perfect, particularly in a field-based context. However, there are various steps that can be taken to minimize potential sources of error when testing, and therefore, optimize the reliability of test scores. In light of the sub-title of this blog, perhaps it is time that more researchers adopt the role of educator than simply administrator?

Brendan O’ Keeffe is a postgraduate student in the department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences. Brendan can be contacted at: brendan.okeeffe@ul.ie    View Brendan’s profile here and on researchgate and twitter at @BrendanOK 

Tagged with: