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Ms Vickie Curtis

Research Student

The Open University Institute of Educational Technology


I am currently a PhD student at the Institute of Educational Technology.   I began my project in October 2011.

Before going back to full-time study, I worked in a number of different areas within the commercial sector including corporate communication, science communication (including media work), regulatory affairs and corporate social responsibility.

I have a background in biological anthropology, but have gradually moved into the area of 'science and society'.


MA (Hons) Biological Anthropology, St John's College, University of Cambridge, 1992

MPhil Human Nutrition, Oxford Brookes University, 1995

MSc Science and Society (with distinction), Open University, 2009

Research Interests

Science Communication

Science and Society

online (virtual) citizen science

distributed computing

Science-based comuter games

Astronomy outreach

public participation in science

Current Research Projects

How digital technologies are changing the way scientists engage with the wider public: a focus on online citizen science projects

Web 2.0 technologies are playing an increasingly important role in public engagement activities in science, and enable non-specialist members of the public to become directly involved in large-scale scientific projects and to address real-world research problems with professional scientists.  

Online citizen science projects enable non-scientists to contribute to research by helping to analyse data provided by scientists.  Projects can be classified into 3 different types.

  • Distributed computing initiatives such as SETI@home or Folding@home, where participants contribute by downloading software that analyses packages of data with their personal computers.
  • Distributed thinking initiatives such as GalaxyZoo, Planet Hunters or Stardust@home where citizen scientists contribute through classification tasks, pattern-recognition, or transcription of data.
  • Scientific discovery games such as Foldit or EteRNA, where a scientific problem is re-packaged as an online computer game.

I am exploring what motivates people to take part in these projects (both participants, and the scientists who set them up), the different ways that people may participate, and how these projects may be creating new opportunities for non-specialist citizens to co-operate and/or collaborate with working scientists, and with each other, to address real-world research problems.  I am exploring different types of online citizen science projects and have undertaken a detailed investigation of three different projects:


I am interested in  the formation of online communities of citizen scientists and how they interact with each other, and with the scientists involved in the projects.  To what extent are these citizens having a dialogue with scientists?  How do participants feel about what they are doing?  Do these projects result in the 'blurring' of the line between scientist and 'non-scientist'?




Book Chapter
Holliman, Richard and Curtis, Vickie (2014). Online media. In: Gunstone, Richard ed. Encyclopedia of Science Education. Springer Reference, (In Press).
Conference Item
Curtis, Vickie (2012). Reassessing dialogue: reflections from an amateur astronomy event. In: PCST 2012 12th International Public Communication of Science and Technology Conference: Quality, Honesty and Beauty in Science and Technology Communication, 18-20 April 2012, Florence, Italy.
Journal Article
Curtis, Vickie (2013). Evaluating the motivations and expectations of those attending a public astronomy event. Communicating Astronomy to the Public, 13 pp. 14–18.

Other Interests

I enjoy running, music, hiking, travel, general science.

last updated 14-Mar-2014