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Chapter 15 Investigating Bulletin Boards with Students: What can Citizen Science offer Education and Research in the Linguistic Landscape?


Abstract and Figures

This chapter reports on a citizen science project which investigated the role and function of analog bulletin boards in public space. The project involved 96 classes from 46 primary to secondary schools across Sweden. The students photographed bulletins, transcribed, coded and uploaded them using a mobile app. The project had a clear learning perspective on research: By participating in data collection and discussions on issues related to their project, the students would get insights into research methods and scientific thinking. Simultaneously, the participating researchers would obtain new and unique linguistic landscape data. In this chapter we describe and analyze the project from an educational and research perspective. Drawing on questionnaires from students and teachers, and retrospective interviews with teachers, we investigate how bulletin boards can be used as a site for project-based learning, and what citizen science can offer education and research in the field of linguistic landscape. We examine how this educational potential was put into practice and point to methodological, technological, administrative and ideological challenges and impediments of the project's design and implementation. Keywords: Citizen science, analog bulletin boards, doing research with pupils and students, learning perspective on research, linguistic landscape, project based learning.
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Chapter 15
Investigating Bulletin Boards with Students: What can Citizen Science offer Education and
Research in the Linguistic Landscape?
Helle Lykke Nielsen, Tove Rosendal, Johan Järlehed, and Christopher Kullenberg
This chapter reports on a citizen science project which investigated the role and function of analog
bulletin boards in public space. The project involved 96 classes from 46 primary to secondary
schools across Sweden. The students photographed bulletins, transcribed, coded and uploaded them
using a mobile app. The project had a clear learning perspective on research: By participating in
data collection and discussions on issues related to their project, the students would get insights into
research methods and scientific thinking. Simultaneously, the participating researchers would
obtain new and unique linguistic landscape data. In this chapter we describe and analyze the project
from an educational and research perspective. Drawing on questionnaires from students and
teachers, and retrospective interviews with teachers, we investigate how bulletin boards can be used
as a site for project-based learning, and what citizen science can offer education and research in the
field of linguistic landscape. We examine how this educational potential was put into practice and
point to methodological, technological, administrative and ideological challenges and impediments
of the project’s design and implementation.
Citizen science, analog bulletin boards, doing research with pupils and students, learning
perspective on research, linguistic landscape, project based learning.
1. Introduction
In 2015, Swedish researchers in the humanities were invited by Public & Science (Vetenskap &
Allmänhet), an independent Swedish non-profit membership organization, partly financed by the
Swedish Ministry of Education and Research, to take part in a citizen science experiment aiming at
investigating the role and function of analog bulletin boards in public space, that is, physical boards
with announcements which can be found in libraries, schools, supermarkets, and other businesses,
Preprint of chapter to appear in Language Teaching in the
Linguistic Landscape: Mobilizing Pedagogy in the Public Space,
edited by David Malinowski, Hiram Maxim and bastien Dubreil
(Springer Educational Linguistics series).
both indoors and outdoors (see Figure 15.1). These messages might consist of, for instance, job
postings, flyers advertising products to buy or sell, invitations, or lost-and-found notices. The
project which took place in the autumn of 2016 documented and analyzed bulletin boards across
Sweden by involving students from primary and secondary schools around the country. The
students were tasked to take photos of the bulletin boards, code the images according to context and
content, and then upload them to a server by means of a special mobile app which placed and
displayed the boards on an interactive map. The involved researchers, who belonged to four
research groups from four different universities, later analyzed the received data asking questions
like "How are analog bulletin boards used in today's digital society?", "Which languages are used,
by whom, and for which purposes?" and "How are text and images interacting?" The project ended
in April 2017 with a report describing the preliminary results in a language accessible for the young
participants (Björkvall et al. 2017). A fuller scientific account of the role of analog bulletin boards
within contemporary digitalized media ecology was later published together with the codified data,
making it publicly accessible for further research (Kullenberg et al 2018). The latter publication
also contains a detailed description of the content and form of the board messages, their senders
(see Figure 15.2), and the types of technologies used to refer to other media.
Figure 15.1 Example of public bulletin board used in the guide sent to the participants in the
project (Brounéus 2017, p. 7)
The bulletin board project is the first citizen science project initiated by Public & Science in the
field of the humanities since they started organizing such projects in 2009. It is also, as far as we are
aware, the largest mapping of public bulletin boards to ever have been carried out (Public &
Science 2017). For researchers in the field of linguistic landscape studies the project provided an
excellent opportunity to get a country-wide panoramic picture of the use of a particular LL genre, as
well as to collect data on multilingualism. In a multicultural and globalized country such as
Sweden, with five officially recognized minority languages1 and a population out of which in 2015
more than 16% were born outside the country,2 the project offered an organizational frame for
examining to what extent multilingualism had spread across the country: How widely used is
1 Recognized minority languages in Sweden (since 1999): Finnish, Meänkieli (also known as Tornedal,
Tornionlaaksonsuomi or Tornedalian), the Sami languages, Romani, and Yiddish.
English on public bulletin boards? Are immigrant languages found mainly in urban areas? To what
extent are minority languages used for writing in the public sphere? Due to the top-down nature of
the initiative, not only did the project offer relatively easy access to data which would be close to
impossible to collect in a smaller research project, it simultaneously provided a technical and
logistic infrastructure with staffing that provided access to digital resources and contacts to schools
on a national level. This would have been very time consuming to organize for individual
Public & Science has an explicit learning perspective on research and innovation. By participating
in data collection and ongoing discussions on issues related to their project, students get insights
into research methods and scientific thinking. This educational dimension played a pivotal role in
the development, adaptation, and implementation of the bulletin board project. The invitation to
participate was distributed to primary and secondary schools across the country, and a website and a
research-based teacher’s guide were prepared with instructions and suggestions about how the
bulletin board project could be used within education. 96 classes from 46 schools engaged in the
project. 14 classes were grade 1-3, 48 were grade 4-6, 12 were grade 7-9 and 15 were grade 10-12
(secondary school). Additionally there were 7 mixed classes that spanned several grades. The ages
of the students thus ranged from 6 to 18 years, but the majority of the participating students were
between 9 and 12 years old. The participants were relatively balanced in terms of gender with a
slight majority defining themselves as female.
In this chapter we will describe and analyze the bulletin board project from an educational and
linguistic landscape research perspective. The chapter has a dual aim as it sets out to investigate the
following questions: 1) How can bulletin boards be used as a productive site for project-based
learning,3 and 2) What insights can citizen science projects provide to education and research in the
linguistic landscape? The two questions are intertwined in the sense that the first one examines how
the educational potential of the bulletin board project was put into practice and points to inherent
challenges and impediments of the project, while the second one looks at the project from a
methodological perspective. The aim of this chapter thus differs from many LL studies in the sense
that it does not pretend to present and analyze physical visual data from a particular geographic site
but rather to reflect upon the design, implementation, and outcome of a citizen science project as
well as its value for education and research in linguistic landscapes. In the chapter we will give a
few examples of the actual notices found on the Swedish bulletin boards and illustrate questions
that they incite, but for a description of what the students and we found in the linguistic landscape,
we refer to the publications by Kullenberg et al. (2018), Björkvall et al. (2019), Järlehed (2019) and
Nord et al. (2019).
The chapter has four parts: In the first section we describe the role and aims of the involved
participants. Then we outline the educational design of the project and map differences and
similarities compared to other educational projects in the field of linguistic landscape studies, as
reported in the literature. In the third section, we examine the practical implementation of the
bulletin board project, drawing on questionnaires from students and teachers as well as
retrospective interviews with teachers. In the fourth section we discuss affordances and constraints
when using citizen science as a method within education, and in the concluding section we evaluate
what insights citizen science projects can provide to education and research in the linguistic
3 Project-Based Learning is here defined with Bell (2010, p. 39) as “a student-driven, teacher-facilitated approach to
learning”, where learners “drive their own learning through inquiry as well as work collaboratively with peers to
research and create projects that reflect their knowledge.”
2. Role and aims of participants
To understand and assess the potential of citizen science projects for education and research in the
LL we first need to outline the intended aims and roles of the different parties involved in the
bulletin board project.
Public & Science works with and promotes dialogue and openness between researchers and the
public. One of its annual activities is to organize citizen science projects where researchers and
students from primary and secondary schools across Sweden cooperate to generate new knowledge
by using scientific and authentic research methods, where students get insight into research
processes and scientific thinking. Earlier projects have dealt with issues such as food science,
climate change, and other natural science-related issues.4 Public & Science supports its projects
administratively and technically, by providing access to relevant networks, distributing materials to
primary and secondary schools, financing development of technical resources such as digital
applications and maps, providing free online access to data and results, and assisting in
dissemination of results in simple language, in order to make the research process as open and
transparent as possible. This makes their citizen science projects an exemplary case of what has
been termed Research 2.0 (Koltay et al. 2015). Ideally, it contributes to the democratization of
research in which researchers not only communicate, but also collect data and construct knowledge
in collaboration with groups outside university – in this case students from primary and secondary
schools in Sweden.
4 The focus of the earlier projects were questions such as: Is food stored at the right temperature in different parts of the
refrigerator? What can tea bags and soil decomposition rates tell us about climate change? For a more detailed list, see
Public & Science:
The choice of public bulletin boards as a basis for the citizen science project in 2016 was motivated
by an interest in the consequences of digitalization of everyday life. Today, much communication
has moved to social media and the internet, which is both faster and in many ways more efficient
than traditional media. The question emerges then: what happens to old media such as printed
books and newspapers, and analog bulletin boards? Thus, the study of bulletin boards is a project
about the role of an old medium of communication in today’s digitalized society. These analog
bulletin boards have significant pedagogical potential in such a project because they form part of a
local, daily reality with which the students can identify, and at the same time provide a relevant
pedagogical tool for analyzing communication from a wide variety of perspectives.
For primary and secondary school teachers and students, participation in the citizen science project
offered an excellent opportunity to get familiar with research methods and scientific thinking. The
students learnt about important parts of the research process through their data collection and data
processing. By integrating this work with ordinary classroom activities, the students could discuss
the data they had collected, as well as observations and reflections they had made, in relation to the
overall aims of the project. At the end of the project, students and teachers received a final report
written in an easy-to-understand language, which not only presented results (see example in Figure
15.2) and explained how the researchers had reached their conclusions, but also gave examples and
illustrations of how researchers more generally work and gain knowledge, raising questions such as:
What is theory and method? How can data be analyzed? And which conclusions may be drawn
from the analysis of the data? (Brounéus 2017, p. 22-23). Following this feedback, interested
students could continue working with themes that they found especially interesting, given that all
data were made available via an open access database.5 As for the teachers, they benefited from
5 The database can be found at The data is of course also open to
further research for the scientific community.
access to data, teaching material and methods based on state-of-the-art research which could inspire
to use new pedagogical approaches.
Figure 15.2 What is communicated by whom? A short description from the final report explaining
content distribution in an easy-to-understand language. The text above the figure summarizes and
exemplifies the content of the two largest categories of notices: Invitations and Buy–and-sell
notices (Brounéus 2017, p. 12).
Participating in the project offered a different but equally promising perspective for the involved
researchers. As researchers in the field of linguistic landscape, our group was mainly keen on
getting data on multilingualism, as explained above, whereas other researchers took an interest in
the use of text and genre analysis (Nord et al. 2019), Swedish cultural heritage (Järlehed 2019), and
research about what kind of learning activities that were announced and offered through the public
boards (Björkvall et al. 2019). Generally speaking, we all had good hopes to find relevant data, but
as the project was explorative, we did not know exactly what to find.
To sum up, the citizen science approach instigated by Public & Science not only stimulated
scientific literacy and an interest in language and communication for specific purposes. It also
invited teachers to consider learning processes from new angles and generated research output
which benefited the involved researchers. In short: The bulletin board project had the potential of
effectively linking education and research in a way that created a win-win situation for all parties
3. Educational design
From an educational perspective, the bulletin board project consisted of three phases: 1) a
preparatory phase (3 months) in which schools across the country were informed about the project,
and where teachers who chose to participate were given the opportunity to acquaint themselves with
the project by using the teacher’s guide and integrate the activity as a part of their curriculum; 2) an
implementation phase (1 month) during which each single class collectively prepared the activity,
collected data, and reported their findings to the researchers, and discussed issues related to the
findings; and 3) discussion of the final report in the classroom and evaluation of the project (both
teachers and students) during the following term.
To achieve a successful outcome, we needed generic methods and guidelines that guide data
collection and support reporting practices while simultaneously providing a sound pedagogical
approach. A teacher’s guide with suggested readings and themes related to language and
communication as well as a variety of thematically relevant questions for discussion was therefore
collaboratively produced by researchers and Public & Science as a preparation for carrying out the
project and sent to the participating classes.6 The teacher’s guide was complemented with a step-by-
6 The teacher’s guide can be found at
step guide on how to download and install the mobile application, report bulletin board messages,
transcribe and classify the content.7 During the implementation phase, the participants could also
ask questions and chat with researchers via a closed Facebook-group and ask Public & Science for
support. Only a few took this opportunity.
During the data collection, students took photos of boards, transcribed the written content, and
coded the images according to context, following the guidelines provided by the researchers, (e.g.
‘indoor’/’outdoor’, ‘free access’/’restricted access’), and content (e.g. ‘sender’, ‘topic’, ‘language’),
and then uploaded them to a server. The students collected 1516 photos of notices/announcements
in total, which rendered 1167 messages after a quality check. Each message on the bulletin board
was photographed individually by using the app Public Boards produced by Spotteron, which
placed and displayed the bulletin boards on an interactive map (see Figure 15.3). The participants’
transcriptions and classifications were later checked by two of the researchers and a proofreader to
validate that the transcribed text corresponded to the image, that the transcriptions preserved
misspellings and errors in the posted messages, and that the classification followed the instructions
in the step-by-step guide. During this process all personal data (telephone numbers, email
addresses, street addresses, personal social media usernames, vehicle registration plates and names)
were removed.
7 The step-by-step guide can be found at
Figure 15.3 Different interfaces of the app Public Boards on cell phone. On the left the possible
choices when encoding the location of a new bulletin board: Library, shop, school, public place,
private place, other (in Swedish). In the middle an encoded notice from a bulletin board in a school:
a company looking for volonteers in developing countries. On the right a digital map of Sweden
showing the distribution of encoded bulletin boards (
In the third phase, some five months later, schools and students received feedback from researchers
in the form of the final report mentioned above. 45 pupils and 22 teachers also answered an online
questionnaire about the project. The questionnaires targeted attitudes towards research and the
project work, surprising results, and learning outcomes (both self-estimations by students and
estimations of learning outcomes made by teachers). Additionally, interviews about how the work
was organized, the potential of citizen science within education and the students’ reactions to
findings about language use, were conducted retrospectively with four primary and one secondary
school teachers.
To illustrate and discuss the educational challenges, we refer to theories of educational research,
which typically make a distinction between a) intended learning goals, that is, the requirements of
what students should learn, or the desired outcome; b) realized learning goals, that is, the
educational activities which are actually presented to students in class and which are based on the
teachers’ understanding and interpretation of the intended learning goal; and c) what students
actually acquire, or the learning outcome, which is based on student’s individual capacities, earlier
exposure, knowledge, and motivation, etc. It is not uncommon to find a discrepancy between the
intended and the realized learning goals as well as between the realized learning goals and the
student’s actual learning outcome (Dolin 2006, p. 115–118).
In the bulletin board project, the intended learning goals were reflected in Public & Science’s
ambition to give the students insight into research processes and scientific thinking as well as in the
questions posed by the participating researchers. The realized goals were seen in the data collected
by the students, their transcriptions of announcements, and the questions in the questionnaires
which explicitly targeted learning, such as (for students) “Did you learn anything from participating
in the project?” (mostly yes/no answers, some comments), and “Have you learnt anything about
being a researcher?” or (for teachers) ”Do you think that the students have acquired a more realistic
picture of what it implies to be a researcher?” and “Do you think that the students’ ideas about
researchers have changed through their participation in the project?”. Consequently, our means of
analyzing the students’ learning outcome is limited. In addition to these few broad questions about
learning goals in the questionnaires, it was only through the retrospective interviews with the five
teachers and their reflections about the students’ learning that we can analyze the learning outcomes
of the students. This implies that in this chapter we will mainly discuss the relationship between the
intended and the realized learning goals and only to a limited extent touch upon the students’ actual
learning outcomes. In this way, the bulletin board project belongs to the range of educational
analyses that see the field of linguistic landscape as a useful and relevant arena for educational
activities, but that lacks solid empirical evidence to indicate if the desired learning outcomes have
been met (Gorter 2018, p. 84).
Although the bulletin board project shared many features with other educational LL projects e.g.
its focus on multilingualism and multiliteracies (Burwell and Lenters 2015; Shohamy 2012),
meaning making of multimodal texts (Cenoz and Gorter 2008), and the importance of authenticity
(Malinowski 2016; Rowland 2013) - there were also distinct differences. Unlike many LL projects
which typically are one-time, experimental, and small-scale course settings (Malinowski 2016, p.
110), and which can best be described as bottom-up processes where the teachers freely design
projects which suit their various pedagogical goals, students, and contexts (Rowland 2013, p. 503),
the bulletin board project was a top-down project and, within linguistic landscape research, a big-
scale project (see Svendsen 2018 for a similar sized sociolinguistic citizen science project). With its
96 participating classes from 46 different schools and eight researchers, our project required a
different kind of project management and coordination compared to small-scale projects. However,
it is important to stress that the results of the bulletin board project, despite the significant number
of participating schools and students and their geographical spread, indicate that in socioeconomic
and demographic terms it did not cover Sweden as a whole. The participating schools typically
turned out to be situated in residential, middle-class areas close to towns with many resourceful
teachers and only few immigrants. This was reflected, among other things, in the amount of
multilingual data provided in the project. These observations make us reflect on two sides of
representativeness. On the one hand, the low number of multilingual signs may be seen as not very
representative of the entire Swedish linguistic landscape. The lack of such representativeness,
which in this project probably resulted from the free and voluntary participation in combination
with uneven distribution of socioeconomic and technological resources, indicates a challenge for all
citizen science projects. On the other hand, the results may be seen as representative in showing
how participation in projects like this is likely to be unequally distributed across regional,
economic, and social circumstances, and thus revealing a social/societal dimension of participation
which needs to be taken into account when designing citizen science projects.
One of the major advantages working with the linguistic landscape in an educational context is that
it can be used with any age group (Gorter 2018, p. 83), and although the literature primarily focuses
on university students and adult EFL learners (see Chesnut et al 2013; Malinowski 2010, 2015,
2016; Rowland 2013; Sayer 2010 among others), there seems to be a growing number of studies
which focus on students in elementary schools such as first graders (Clemente et al. 2012), fifth
graders (Dagenais et al. 2009, Pakarinen and Björklund 2018) and tenth graders (Burwell and
Lenters 2015).
As opposed to these relatively clearly delimited age groups, we targeted a wide age range, from first
grade in primary schools to the final grade in secondary school, even if almost half of the
participating students were grade 4-6 students. Our project also differed from other projects
regarding the role of both teachers and researchers. Generally, the same physical person had both
these roles (Malinowski 2010, 2015, 2016; Rowland 2013; Sayer 2010) and, if not, both teachers
and researchers participated side-by-side in the project and interacted with the students (Burwell
and Lenters 2015). In our project, the functions and roles were not only clearly distinct; they also
were serial, in the sense that the involved researchers did not have contact with the students or
followed them during the project work. Thus, they could not observe how the students worked or
analyze processes which could detect affordances or difficulties. The fact that the researchers came
from four different universities and four different research groups also challenged the necessary
coordination. The lack of personal contact with the students and the use of a basic questionnaire as
the primary source for feedback from students and teachers implied that we did not get insight into
the students’ interpretations or access to qualitative feedback from student blogs, teacher journal
entries, or other teacher/student products (Burwell and Lenters 2015, p. 214; Malinowski 2016, p.
101). However, the bulletin board project resulted in an open source database in which all project
data were open to everyone. This seems to be an unusual, but very promising practice which will
benefit education and research in the linguistic landscape.
4. Implementing the curriculum
To answer the question of how bulletin boards as a genre within the linguistic landscape can
become a productive site for project-based learning, we first need to describe how the curriculum
was put into practice. In this part, we draw on questionnaires from students and teachers as well as
on retrospective interviews with five teachers who responded to our call for feedback about the
project, about five months after the project had ended. This section is structured in four parts, each
from a unique perspective: 1) an organizational perspective: How the teachers worked with the
bulletin board project; 2) a technological perspective: If there were any challenges caused by using
new media and technical devices; 3) a learning space perspective: Which spaces were activated
during the learning process; and 4) learning outcomes: How students benefited from the project,
based on the available data.
4.1 The role of the teachers
Teachers were the key actors in the bulletin board project in the sense that they were responsible for
planning and organizing activities to suit the daily routines of the school. According to the
questionnaires, it was the teachers who chose to work with the project, not the students. They chose
to participate mainly because they wanted to take part in a research project, and because they found
the themes and questions interesting. Of the 22 teachers who answered the questionnaire, only three
reported that they participated because the students wanted to. This is not surprising, as most of the
participants were primary school teachers working with children aged 6-12 years, who might well
be able to express their interest in a suggested subject, but who were not at a stage where they fully
understood the implications of such choices. Most teachers appreciated the teacher’s guide - 15 of
them gave it the best rating in the questionnaire and evaluated the practical instructions as well as
the app as ‘good’ or ‘quite good’ (16 and 14 respectively). Figure 15.4 shows a page from the
teacher’s guide, to be used to raise students’ awareness about communication. The teacher’s guide
suggests themes and activities.
Figure 15.4 Page from the teacher’s guide about how communication is affected by technical,
linguistic, social, cultural and economic factors, and how increased globalization leads to
multilingual communication. The text box bottom left informs on forms of address in different
languages while the text box bottom right suggests a related class room activity (Teacher’s guide,
pp. 10-11).
Before starting the practical work of collecting data, most teachers reported that they worked with
themes provided in the teacher’s guide, such as communication, different modes of written
communication, different media, and multilingualism. The data collection process was organized in
diverse ways. Some teachers identified bulletin boards in their local neighborhoods, while others
asked the students to find them. The students either biked or walked in pairs or small groups. Some
teachers organized a common walk from bulletin board to bulletin board, where they took photos
together. Some preferred to make the transcriptions on the spot and uploaded these directly, while
other groups did the transcriptions in the classroom or as homework. The interviewed teachers said
that the data collection led to a positive social interaction between the students and stated that the
major obstacles which they experienced during the process were of technical nature. They also said
that they experienced lack of time for the task.
Overall, the teachers highly appreciated participating in the project: 20 of the 22 responding
teachers (91%) found that it added advantages compared to traditional school work, stressing
especially the link to ”real life” which not only allowed students to realize that the acquired
knowledge was useful, but also promoted the students’ interest in learning more about research.
Furthermore, the teachers found that the students appreciated being part of the project: 59% of the
teachers indicated that the students found the project exciting, 46% estimated that the students
found it interesting, and 32% that the project was fun. As we shall see below, the students’ answers
gave a similar picture. More than half of the teachers did not think that the work generally was too
hard for the students, but 33% stated that the project was hard for the students to understand and
quite demanding, especially when it came to transcribing the texts of bulletin board messages.
Almost all teachers thought that students learnt something new about communication through
participating in the project, and 68% of the teachers said that most students were motivated, even if
they acknowledged that some students lacked interest and motivation.
Not all teachers and classes completed the project. 14% of the teachers who answered the
questionnaire stated that collecting the data was too time-consuming to fit into their curriculum, and
a few others deemed the reporting procedures too complicated, though they proceeded with the data
collection. But the main challenge seems to be related to the final phase of the project, which
implied reading and discussing the final report. Many teachers did not engage in this part, and none
of them participated with their students in the follow-up Facebook chat with researchers. This may
be due to one of two reasons (or both): Either the project took longer than initially planned, and
therefore teachers chose to save time by eliminating the final phase; or the educational interest in
the project was more linked to the out-of-class activities and the use of mobile technology than to
the actual content of the project. Nevertheless, in the questionnaires some teachers asked for more
educational products, such as YouTube videos and power point presentations, to complement the
4.2 Choice of medium and technology
Citizen science projects have been extremely well served by mobile technology, such as
smartphones and tablets with camera and access to the internet. This was also true for the bulletin
board project, where it was of major importance for the teachers in order to reach the intended
learning goals. The use of media and technology had two conditions: The availability of these
technical devices and the ability to use them for the planned project work. Regarding the first
condition, there were apparently no problems. In most cases, the students used their own mobile
phones, but some teachers preferred to use class tablet sets. In practice, this implied, as far as we
could read from the questionnaires and the interviews, that no student was excluded from the
project due to lack of available technical devices. The major obstacles of the project, according to
12 teachers answering the questionnaire, were of technical nature (unfortunately not specified). The
students, however, did not report such technical obstacles: Most of them (58%) stated that it was
fun to take photos, 27% said that they appreciated using the app, some also liked to transcribe the
texts of the board announcements and to translate texts into Swedish. However, not all students
agreed on this. About one fourth stated that it was hard to use the app and to transcribe the texts of
the bulletin boards, some argued that it was difficult to translate texts into Swedish, and half of all
students claimed that it was challenging to be forced to be very precise.
It became clear in the retrospective interviews with teachers, where we could go into more depth
about how the students worked, that the implementation varied considerably. One class, for
example, chose to take photos, categorize and transcribe the texts, and then upload them directly on
the spot, thus using only the device for all steps, even if they sometimes lost texts in the process.
Another class chose to do the transcriptions and categorizations in the classroom by using paper and
pen, while a third, a secondary school, decided to work in pairs when taking the photos and then to
meet and discuss a joint transcription. This procedure proved to be problematic, as nobody turned
up for the meeting, but rather decided to deal with the tasks individually. Moreover, neither teachers
nor students reported on problems with categorization of the bulletin board messages in their
feedback, even if we know from the literature that this can create problems. Rowland describes the
process of categorization as a challenge for the students which resulted in confusion (2013, pp. 497-
8) and Burwell and Lenters portray ”the process of categorization (…) as nonetheless daunting”
with their 10th graders (2015, p. 214).
4.3 Learning space
It is often argued that the linguistic landscape is “an easy and enjoyable way of involving students
into field work” (Lazdina and Marten 2009, p. 212). Furthermore, if such fieldwork is organized in
a local neighborhood or an urban area in the vicinity of the school, it is seen as an easily
manageable and logistically appealing activity, be it as a core or supplementary school activity.
According to the interviewed teachers in our study, moving the learning activity outside the
classroom, which made it possible to explore how language is used in society, was extremely
motivating for both teachers and students and contributed considerably to students’ general learning
about communication. This is hardly surprising, given that the pedagogical benefits of authentic
language activities often have been highlighted in earlier studies (e.g., Malinowski 2016; Sayer
2010). What interested us was rather the discursively constructed distinction made by the
interviewed teachers between the classroom and “reality as it takes place outside school” (teacher
interview 1) – as if what happened in the classroom was not a genuine part of real life. This reflects
Gruenewald’s distinction between “abstractions and simulations of classroom learning” and
examination of real places (Gruenewald 2008, p. 317), a distinction which has been noticed for
years within communicative foreign language education and sought to be overcome, for example by
sending foreign language students abroad (Malinowski 2016; Nielsen 2002).
Seeing bulletin boards as a site of contextualized, authentic language use enables students to
understand how language and place are intertwined, which is an example of what Malinowski calls
localization (2016, pp. 100-101). However, whereas most educational projects focus mainly on a
one-site localized perspective of the linguistic landscape, the bulletin board project paves the way
for including a multi-site learning perspective, through its citizen science approach. By instantly
visualizing all announcements that are uploaded through the app onto a digitized map that can be
accessed on an open webpage, the technology expands the students’ learning space through this
multi-sited dimension (see Figure 15.5). Interestingly, neither teachers nor students reflected on this
expansion of the learning space, perhaps because the questionnaires only asked questions about
technical aspects of using apps and websites, perhaps because the internet has become such an
integrated part of the learning space that even teachers no longer consider this a novelty. Even
though nothing in our data explicitly showed that the interactive map played an active role in the
educational process, it is obvious that this multi-sited learning space has an educational potential. It
allows students and teachers to get access to the postings of other students, look for similarities and
differences in language use and content, find new language features across space, etc.
Figure 15.5 Screenshot from cell phone showing the easy access to buy and sell adds in
supermarkets which allows students to look for similarities and differences, new language features
across space, etc. (
4.4 Learning attitudes and learning outcome
As stated in the description of the project’s educational design, it is hard to draw any conclusions
about students’ actual learning outcomes, based on the questionnaire data. From the questionnaires,
we can only infer how they experienced the project. About half of the students thought that looking
for public bulletin boards was fun. Slightly less than half of them (40%) also said that the project
generally was fun, 25% said that it was easy, 33% that it was interesting, and another 33% that it
was exciting. Some also enjoyed reading about the results in the final report and said that they liked
to be part of a research activity. But only five students (11%) stated that they learnt something
about being a researcher and ten (22%) that they would like to become a researcher when they grow
up. Not all students, however, were as enthusiastic about the project. The multiple-choice options
showed that 33% of the students found it hard to find bulletin boards, 50% of the students claimed
that working with the project was boring, 33% stated that it was weird or strange, 25% that it was
complicated and another 25% that it was difficult. And 31% of the students found it difficult to
understand the results of the final report.
The issue of multilingualism was central to our initial research interest, but as mentioned above,
practically all announcements which were collected and uploaded as photos, turned out to be
written in Swedish - only 5% were written fully or partly in other languages than Swedish,
primarily in English, but also Finnish, Arabic, Kurdish and Somali were used. This was an
unexpected result, both because more than 16% of the Swedish population are born outside the
country, but also because Sweden attracts a considerable number of tourists and exchange students.
This result was surprising to the students to some extent, since 27% of them stated that they had
found fewer foreign languages than they had expected, while 18% had found more foreign
languages than expected. The limited number of announcements in foreign languages (see Figure
15.6 as an example) made the students reflect on the validity of the collected data: 64% of the
students believed that they would find more foreign languages in other places, that is, they realized
that their own data were not representative of the language situation in Sweden. Also, some of the
teachers observed this bias and mentioned in the interviews that they should have put more effort
into finding multilingual public bulletin boards.
Figure 15.6 A multilingual English-Swedish-Korean announcement from a school in southern
Sweden with pedagogical potential, e.g. for a classroom discussion on the role of semiotic resources
in communication: What is the link between the pictures to the left and the cakes to the right
(“Bonus: cake”)?
Nevertheless, the feedback we received from the teacher interviews shows that the language
situation led to interesting reflections among some of the students, especially those from a
participating school situated in the southeastern part of Älvdalen municipality in northern Dalarna,
Sweden. Students here are exposed to an old and still ongoing discussion about the status of
Elfdalian (Älvdalska), which is considered by many locals to be a language distinct from Swedish,
and thus not a dialect. The teacher in Älvdalen described how the project made her students become
aware of the bulletin boards as an important site not only for announcing various activities, services
and products, but also and more importantly as an arena for negotiation and contestation of
language policy and visibility. Once her class started paying attention to the boards, the students
saw them as an easily accessible and vital resource for language policing from below, potentially
increasing the visibility of the local language variety, Elfdalian, and this insight further incited
discussions about language status and linguistic rights, not least among immigrants in Sweden. This
example shows how the project offered a tool for developing the students’ awareness about
language use and triggered a desire to actually change the local linguistic landscape in order to
make it more inclusive.
5. Affordances and constraints
When assessing if public bulletin boards as a genre within the linguistic landscape is a productive
site for project-based learning, it is conducive to start by analyzing the relationship between the
intended and the realized learning goals, followed by an analysis of the students’ learning
outcomes. Starting with the intended learning goals, we see that many of Public & Science’s
intended learning goals were fulfilled. The organizational top-down process, combined with how
the involved teachers worked with the project, made the implementation of the project relatively
successful, especially regarding the preparatory phase, the data collection phase, and the production
of the final research report – a process which led to the fact that in December 2016 the bulletin
board project was awarded The Open Knowledge Award as Best Open Science Initiative in
Sweden.8 At the same time, however, the process was an illustrative example of a project where not
all intended goals were reached. Many of the involved teachers did not use the final report as part of
their teaching, nor did they explore the photos uploaded to the interactive map by other school
classes, and they did not participate in the Facebook chat which ended the project. In short, many
teachers did not use the full potential for teaching and learning which the project offered.
If we look at the intended versus the realized learning goals from the perspective of the students,
many of them found the learning activities motivating and appreciated the kind of learning which
took place outside the classroom. Compared to traditional teacher-oriented classroom activities, the
8 The Open Knowledge Awards have been launched by the non-profit organization Open Knowledge Sweden and were
awarded for the first time in a ceremony at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm on 2 December 2016.
project activities activated learning styles which are not often catered for, and we believe that this
was conducive for achieving the students’ learning outcomes. Simultaneously, however, a
considerable number of the students found the tasks both difficult and boring. Given the limited
data we have obtained from the questionnaires, it is not possible to analyze these responses further.
Nevertheless, such polarized patterns are documented by other experimental digital projects in
which resourceful students were strengthened by such learning activities, while weak students
withdrew from the activities, claiming that they were boring (Nielsen 2005; Nielsen 2012). Despite
these facts, we claim that bulletin boards form a productive site for project-based learning, because,
as also stated by Burwell and Lenters, we realized that linguistic landscape pedagogy “can spark
engagement, agency and community participation in the lives of urban youth” (2015, p. 210). For
example, this was demonstrated by students at the earlier mentioned school in Älvdalen who,
because of their increased language awareness, wanted to engage in social change by actively
working for establishing more communal bulletin boards in their community.
Another area where the intended goal of the project was not reached at first sight was related to the
collection of multilingual data as input to our research in the linguistic landscape, which was why
we chose to participate in the project in the first place. As mentioned above, only 5% of the
bulletins which were collected in the project were written in a language other than Swedish. Even
though this result is not representative in correlation with the national demographics, it may well be
that the documented locations are more monolingual than the national average, or that they are
monolingual in their linguistic practices despite of their multilingual population. This is a well-
documented fact within LL studies and would need more research in our case. In any event, these
results reflect a major principle of citizen science, namely, that all participation is voluntary and that
the collected data therefore risks being biased. However, both students and teachers reflected upon
this methodological problem which contributed to the intended learning about research processes.
Furthermore, the monolingual character of the documented data worked in the way we wanted in
that it spurred the students and teachers to reflect on issues of visibility, representation,
multilingualism, and nationhood.
Citizen science research can thus be seen as dependent on the number of participants, who the
participants are, where they live and also their social background. This raises the question of how
valid citizen science research is, not least within the humanities and the social sciences. Natural
sciences has a longer tradition of using citizen science for data collection. Nevertheless, lack of
experience does not imply that citizen science is not suited for research within the humanities - it
only poses new and different requirements regarding the research process (see Purschke 2017a,
2017b; Svendsen 2018). This lack of experience was demonstrated in our project. For instance, we
were not explicit enough in the instructions and questions supplied to our target group, and
therefore did not receive the kind of data we wanted. At the same time, such outcomes urge us to
reflect upon the different ‘ways of seeing’ (Berger 1972) of ‘real’ versus citizen scientists: How is
the culturally and scholarly trained and socialized perception of the world around us influencing
what we as researchers expect both us and citizens to see, and what we and they de facto see?
In sum, a successful citizen science project within the field of linguistic landscape places higher
demands on a thorough and detailed planning and project management, compared to small,
individual research projects. This is especially important regarding geographical distribution,
preparations, and specified instructions on how to transcribe and how to use specific categories for
labelling and uploading the data. Likewise, the teacher instructions must be precise, as the teachers
are the crucial link between researchers and students. In the same way, the construction of the
questionnaire must be carefully designed if we want to assess the effects of the project on students’
learning outcomes. Additionally, considerable time should be allocated to check and secure the
quality of the data. Such proactive measures can never totally eliminate all the methodological and
epistemological problems of citizen science projects, but will minimize many of them. Ideally, they
will bridge the many ways of seeing that are entangled in citizen science projects.
Figure 15.7 Hand drawn images on buy and sell adds: Selling a front door (upper left), eggs (upper
right), buying a playhouse (lower left) and offering a service of walking dogs (lower right). Are
childrens pictures more exciting than adults’? (Brounéus 2017, p. 21).
6. Conclusion
Is a citizen science format like the one we have conducted on bulletin boards a promising way
forward for linking teaching and research in the field of linguistic landscape? In other words, is
there a genuine educational and research potential in citizen science research? Despite the above
reservations, our response is clearly affirmative. The citizen science format has the potential of
integrating education and research in a new way, at least in the field of languages, in which students
are trained and gain insights into scientific thinking, where students and teachers step out of the
classroom and into a real life-setting which is very much appreciated by both, and where
researchers can gain access to large amounts of data. In other words, the citizen science format
creates a cycle in which research and education mutually benefit from each other, but which at the
same time cannot be clearly separated. Where does the implication of pedagogy begin and where
does it end? When does pedagogy turn into nascent research and when does reporting of research
drift into educational efforts? Thus, the citizen science format provides an example of a knowledge
ecology or knowledge ecosystem where diverse types of knowledge and learning are integrated for
mutual benefit. Such a knowledge ecology that blurs the distinction between research and education
corresponds well to the modern globalized society's need for blended learning and knowledge
forms, as has been pointed out in the management literature (Shrivastava 1998, among others).
Citizen science also benefits from economies of scale in the sense that it can generate much larger
quantities of data than the small-scale studies which usually characterize the field of linguistic
landscape. But it comes with a price: Citizen science projects must be coordinated, managed, and
quality assured to a much greater degree than small-scale studies, and this is time consuming. The
considerable educational potential in generating generic didactic courses also sets specific
requirements for the development of learning materials and instructions, which are not based on
knowledge of the individual school or neighborhood. Furthermore, researchers must be prepared to
work within a top-down approach that requires a lot of infrastructure – which is a great support
when things work out fine – but which also requires active engagement throughout the project. In
return for these efforts, the citizen science format contributes with its premises of openness and
accessibility in collecting and accessing data to a democratization of research that benefits both
education and the research community.
We firmly believe that the citizen science format represents a research approach which will be used
more extensively in the years to come, as already demonstrated by projects such as Lingscape in
Luxemburg (Purschke 2017a, 2017b) and Ta tempen på språket! in Norway (Svendsen 2018). We
see this as a great strength for education and research in the field of linguistic landscape in the sense
that the technological innovation with its digital solutions and capacity of handling big data opens
up for new directions and perspectives which in a helpful way will complement the many small-
scale projects that are already taking place today.
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This narrative article analyses three Korean undergraduate students' experiences conducting a linguistic landscape research project. Linguistic landscape research, the study of publicly displayed language such as billboards and other signs, is a relatively new area of scholarly interest. However, there has been only limited study of using linguistic landscape as pedagogy. This analysis found that, for these students, participating in this project led to a greater awareness of the complex and contradictory relationships between languages, and aided their development as language learners. However, the study also found that the different perspectives of these three students and their Canadian instructor shaped how they viewed these multilingual signs, creating both tension and opportunities for learning.1