Foldit: Citizen science as a means for identifying lead compounds in drug discovery

Reynepullen 1
Second Year
Assessment, Open-ended activity
Biochemistry, Chemistry, General Chemistry, Medicinal Chemistry
The University of Sydney
Mar 2021

An alternative, online laboartory activity targeting authentic research and science in society.

View Resource | Supporting Documentation

About this resource


This resource describes the use of an ongoing citizen science project,, in a second-year undergraduate laboratory activity. The pedagogical framework around this citizen science project aims to offer students an engaging, real-world research experience while fostering an understanding of science and its place in society.



Pedagogical backing


The current disruption to face-to-face teaching due to the COVID-19 pandemic forced us as practitioners to consider how we could deliver the laboratory-specific learning outcomes over remote teaching. Through the use of Foldit as an ongoing citizen science project tackling global issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic, this activity provides a contextualised research experience that immerses students within an authentic research experience. The open-endedness of this activity encourages student-led learning alongside the formation of unified groups of students in a format analogous to a community of practice. Finally, in the assessment of this activity, we have placed a strong focus on students placing science within a societal context and translating scientific research to a format accessible by a general audience.

How is the resource used

This resource is designed to be a self-contained online laboratory activity. The task is largely self-directed by the students (with the support of the supplementary information and task objectives). I used this in 2020 to accommodate the special circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic – I intend to use this permanently as part of the standard laboratory program (I’m moving towards multi-week laboratory projects so this will allow me to retain the same number of assessment tasks while diversifying the skillset developed and assessed).

Student evaluation

A pilot laboratory activity utilising Foldit in a similar manner was run in Semester 1, 2020 in an advanced first-year chemistry unit with 77 students. The submitted activity was an expansion of the pilot into second-year, building on lessons learned in Semester 1 including detailed feedback from USS scores and unsolicited feedback on the assessment task and expectations. The submitted task was implemented in Semester 2, 2020 as a second-year dry laboratory alternative exercise due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Respectively, 100 second-year students undertook this experiment in 2020. Speaking specifically to the second-year variation as presented in this resource, anecdotal evidence has been collected through conversations with individual students and quality of the work produced (exemplars provided in supplementary information).


Reyne Pullen (
Alice Motion (
Alexander Yuen (

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