Scientific discourse of citizen scientists: Models as a boundary object for collaborative problem solving

Joey Huang, Cindy E. Hmelo-Silver, Rebecca Jordan, Steven Gray, Troy Frensley, Greg Newman, Marc J. Stern

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


In this study, we examine the nature of scientific discourse among participants enrolled in two citizen science projects as they engage in collaborative modeling and problem solving. Specifically, we explore the nature of their conversation as they use, the Mental Modeler, an online collaborative modeling tool to facilitate science engagement, systems-thinking and reasoning. This paper applies an analytical approach that uses visual representations and the discourse around building these representations to understand the shifts in scientific discourse and interpret complex interaction patterns between participants and facilitators in the computer-based learning environment. Findings suggest that the Mental Modeler serves as a boundary object that empowers participants and facilitators to collaboratively engage with scientific topics and practices through the development of scientific discourse and deeper learning in problem solving contexts. Findings shows patterns for group modeling in terms of shifting from bottom-up level to top-down level of discussions. In addition, the results show greater group collaboration and interaction when participants engage in the discussion by using the Mental Modeler to plan and model the citizen science projects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)480-492
Number of pages13
JournalComputers in Human Behavior
StatePublished - Oct 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Psychology(all)


  • Citizen science
  • Collaborative learning
  • Computer-based learning environments
  • Engagement
  • Participatory modeling
  • Scientific practices

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