Fulfilling Service Hour Requirements through Zooniverse

Over the past week a number of students and organizations have reached out to us to see if Zooniverse participation can fulfill volunteering/service hour requirements for graduation, scholarships, etc.

The short answer is — Yes! Many organizations welcome and encourage Zooniverse participation as a way to fulfill service hour requirements. 

We recommend that organizations place at the forefront what students/participants get out of these experiences beyond contributing time and classifications. Rather than creating busy work, we favor a model where participants take time to reflect on how their efforts (and the community’s collective efforts) are contributing to our understanding of our world and the broader universe. 

Here is one approach for constructing a productive and rewarding volunteer experience for your organization:

Step 1: Share this opportunity with your Organization

Email your organization to see if participation in Zooniverse can be used to fulfill volunteering or other participation requirements. Share this blog post with them so they understand what you would be doing and how you’ll ‘document’ your participation (see Step 8 below). 

Step 2: Register at Zooniverse.org

Create a Zooniverse account by clicking ‘Register’ in the upper-right of the Zooniverse.org homepage (only a name and email are required).

Registering is not required to participate in Zooniverse. But it is useful in this case in order to provide a record of participation.

Step 3: Zooniverse background info

Watch this brief animation and video for background/context about the Zooniverse, the world’s largest platform for people-powered research, with 100 active projects and 2 million people around the world participating. Every Zooniverse project is led by a different research team, spanning a wide range of subjects that include: identifying planets around distant stars (PlanetHunters.org), studying the impact of climate change on animals (SnapshotSafari.org) and plants (FloatingForests.org), tracking resistance to antibiotics (Bash the Bug), transcribing handwritten documents (antislaverymanuscripts.org), and more. The collective efforts of Zooniverse projects have resulted in over 200 research publications to date.

Step 4: Choose your project(s)

Choose from the full list of ~100 active Zooniverse projects (see zooniverse.org/projects) or choose from the curated lists of projects below that tend to work well with different age groups, as selected by the Zooniverse team: 

Step 5: Learn a bit about the project before diving in

Read the information on the project’s ‘About’ pages (‘Research’, ‘The Team’, ‘Results’, & ‘Education’) to learn more about the research and the team running the project.  For example: https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/mrniaboc/bash-the-bug/about

Step 6: Participate! 

Click on the ‘Classify’ tab of your chosen project to get started.  A brief tutorial provides instructions and guidance. For example: https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/mrniaboc/bash-the-bug/classify

Step 7: Reflection and Extension

Consider these Reflection Questions, or other similar questions.  The questions explore the ‘why’ behind this experience. Why do the researchers need your help? How might the results help science? Are you interested in participating in other projects of this type, and why or why not?

For Organizations: Consider sending these via a Google Form or other survey tool for participants to submit responses to these questions. Note: before using the example form above, make a copy of the Google form and send the survey from your own account to make sure you can access the responses.

Extension opportunities:

Each project has a  ‘Talk’ discussion forum associated with it (e.g., https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/mrniaboc/bash-the-bug/talk). This is where the researchers and participants from around the world chat with each other — asking questions about the science, weird things people see while classifying, new discoveries, & more. First, explore the discussion threads and check out some of the questions other people have asked. If you’re feeling comfortable, ask the researchers a question about the science, being a scientist, etc. You might start with a question you asked as part of the ‘Reflection Questions’ activity above. The researchers are keen to hear your questions and engage with you. Check back later to see the response, or watch for Talk email notifications, if you’ve enabled them.

Post-experience (a lifetime of engagement): Check out other Zooniverse projects and check out NASA’s Citizen Science project list and SciStarter for other citizen science opportunities. And please do share about citizen science with family and friends (peer networks make a BIG difference in what people try).

Step 8: Document your participation to fulfill your requirements

Once signed in at Zooniverse.org, you’ll see your display name and your total classification count. (If you hover over the doughnut-ribbon in the center top of the page, you’ll see the classification counts for each specific project you’ve participated in.)

Please note that there is no built-in time-tracker within Zooniverse. Many organizations encourage participants to use the number of classifications they’ve contributed as a proxy for time spent on the site. On average, a person contributes 20-75 classifications/hour on most projects (this ranges widely depending on the difficulty of the tasks, the number of tasks for a given classification, etc.). 

For example, if someone has done 100 classifications, you can estimate that they’ve spent ~2 hours classifying on Zooniverse; e.g., 2 hours x 50 classifications / hour = 100 classifications. The Organization should add ~45 minutes to this time estimate for the time it takes to carry out the additional ‘meta’ elements of the experience outlined above.  

Please note – because we are a small organization and 1000s of students each week are participating in Zooniverse as volunteers, we are not able to sign individual’s ‘certificates of completion’ or other records of that type for volunteer hours. Instead, organizations encourage their participants to take a screenshot of their signed-in Zooniverse.org page showing their personal stats. This screenshot serves as a proxy for documentation of your effort.

For Organizations: Consider using a Google Form or other survey instrument for participants to submit their classification count and a screenshot of their Zooniverse.org page. Note: make a copy of the Google form and send it from your account so you can access the responses.

Other Information

If you need to reference a 501(c)(3): 

While Chicago’s Adler Planetarium, one of the hosts of the Zooniverse web development team, is a 501(c)(3), the Zooniverse is not. Organizations that need to link explicitly to a 501(c)(3) for their volunteering efforts use the Adler Planetarium as the reference.  Documentation of the Adler Planetarium’s 501(c)(3) status is provided here.

Future Work:

We recognize it would be helpful to have an easier way to share participation information with organizations for these purposes (though this will need to be done in a very thoughtful way). Please note that because we are a grant-funded web development team, enhancements of this type take time to design, build and implement. If you or your organization have suggestions for how best to share this information, or are interested in helping to support this effort via collaborative grant-writing or otherwise, please let us know.


As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out to contact@zooniverse.org if you have any questions or suggestions. 

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