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How Pokémon Go could be citizen science of the future

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Citizen Scientists

Foundations of TEL in the Open University’s H880 authored mainly by Dr Rebecca Ferguson and Prof Martin Weller, introduce citizen science as one type of technology-enhanced learning (TEL). This type of TEL combines things like anybody able to collaborate and communicate, collecting data, going on field trips, using technology to contribute to some kind of user interest and/or passion for some greater purpose including self-satisfaction. I could give you a more official definition, but I’ll leave that up to you to inquire into.

Photo by adrian on Unsplash

What citizen science made me think of was how this is also a form of mobile learning. I wondered about how universally connected citizen science makes us be and how learning and teaching went beyond the ideas of a traditional concept of school as the institution and knowledge-keeper of all that is necessary. This made me reflect on Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society (1971) book I read a few years ago, as well as the famous mobile application game Pokémon Go (Wikipedia, 2019). My main focus for citizen science in this blog post relates to, but not limited to, elementary and secondary school education.

Image of my own copy; Illich (1971; new eds 2000)

Illich goes into what he describes as ‘Learning Webs’ of new educational institutions with a purpose and network that, ‘facilitates access for the learner: to allow him to look into the windows of the control room or the parliament, if he cannot get in by the door’ (p. 54, 1971). He basically talks about opening up education breaking free from the discourse of school.

These now quite old ideas of deschooling and learning in some of his writing resembles what we are currently doing with citizen science and other technological advancements like gamification of learning, Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR) (VR) today.

Two very good futuristic visions like the 'Big Market' scene in the movie Valerian and the City of a Thousand planets (2017), or the VR dependent-world in Ready Player One (2018) reflect what Illich is talking about. Check out the clip of the 'Big Market' below:

Straight away, I thought about H880 and how we can adapt to contexts and open up education through citizen science which could do all of this gaming, AR and VR stuff, and take citizen science forward into the future.

Pokémon Go has been a mobile app international sensation around the world (South China Morning Post, 2019). It propelled AR into mainstream mobile skilling and usage.

It was only 3 years ago when I was on a scooter in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam, going past a large park area, where I saw hundreds of people stopped and moving around in this park, on foot, on scooter, running, sprinting and even frozen, all with their heads down in their mobile device. I stopped to see what was all the commotion about, and every one of them were playing Pokémon Go. Take a look at the video I took of that exact situation, it was phenomenal!

My reflections on these experiences, H880 and the future of citizen science brings a number of questions I want to research.

Is it possible that Pokémon Go could be transformed into a citizen science app?

Is citizen science the next step towards deschooling society through resources such as VR, AR and gamification?

That first question resonates in the creators of the app itself, Niantic; a subsididary of Google. They began with their first app entitled ‘Field Trip’ which is ‘a location-based app which acted as “your guide to the cool, hidden, and unique things in the world around you”’ (Wikipedia, 2019a). Yes! Field Trip is citizen science and also Pokémon Go is citizen science! All you have to do is see what is coming up for Halloween with Pokémon Go (Heavy Inc, 2019). They have Halloween research tasks to complete!

So there is a way that the gamification of citizen science can be powerfully engaging, just like what happened with Pokémon Go. The one problem being is that Pokémon Go’s pedagogical paradigm is behaviourist. Meaning that the 4D inquiry, engagement and scope became like a race horse with blinkers on, as players turned into Pavlov’s Dog.

This is a polar opposite of a true citizen science design, primarily designed for communication, collaboration that focus around George Siemen’s concept of connectivism and our old mate Vygotsky with his socio-constructivist beliefs in a real-world of inquiry and action.

There is some hope of governments picking up the revolutionary TEL of citizen science, such as the Queensland (Australian) government providing $580 000AUD (€355 890) for citizen science projects in the state. However, once looking into how these funds were distributed, it averaged out that each project received about $30 000AUD (€18 400) (Queensland Government, 2019). Is the future of citizen science able to accommodate new technologies like AR, VR or more with such a small budget? Probably no chance in hell! This kind of funding will never match the effort or economics of something like Pokémon Go!

Nevertheless, some funding is better than nothing. Meanwhile also considering the terrible prehistoric state the Australian national broadband internet situation has been in for years, such funding for simple and basic citizen science platforms is all that is capably possible in 2019. I drew a picture to exemplify the state of the internet in Australia a few years ago, to which has not changed since.

So what is next for citizen science in the future? Is it the deschooling of society as Illich envisions?

How can we contribute to the creation of a VR and/or AR world with the knowledge around us, and why should we bother?

Is this the beginning of the ‘Big Market’ like we see in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets?

Is this the beginning of a world we rely on like in Ready Player One?

How can we get there?

"READY PLAYER ONE Book Cover" by TommyPocket Design is licensed under CC BY-ND 4.0


Cresswell, M. (2016) Pokémon Go in Ho Chi Minh City, [video] by Michael Cresswell

Heavy Inc. (2019) ‘Pokémon Go Halloween Research Tasks 2019’, heavy. [online] Available at: Accessed on 19 October 2019

Illich, I (1971) ‘Deschooling Society’ Harper and Row publishers, NY, USA [online] Available at: Accessed on 19 October 2019

Pokémon Go Halloween is back! (2019) Pokémon Go on YouTube [video] Available at:

Queensland Government (2019) ‘Media Statements’, The Queensland Cabinet and Ministerial Directory: Minister for Environment and the Great Barrier Reef, Minister for Science and Minister for the Arts: The Honourable Leeanne Enoch, [online] Available at: Accessed on 19 October 2019

South China Morning Post (2019) ‘How Pokémon Go craze lives on, three years after mobile game took over the world’ South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. [online] Available at: Accessed on 19 October 2019

Overview of Connectivism – Dr George Siemens (2014) USC: Learning and Teaching on YouTube [video] Available at: Accessed on 19 October 2019

Wikipedia (2019) Pokémon Go, Wikipedia [online] Available at:émon_GoAccessed on 19 October 2019

Wikipedia (2019a) Niantic (company), Wikipedia [online] Available at: Accessed on 19 October 2019

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