Reflections on SCIE 311: Science Communication

Between July – October 2015, Rebecca and I had the genuine pleasure of teaching a topic that we both love, to a class of fantastic, enthusiastic students. This was the first time either of us had taught Science Communication as a formal University course, and we while we had bold ambitions, we weren’t sure what the students would make of it.. or produce. To our great delight, they particularly enjoyed the classes on history and science communication theory – and even asked for more of those in the feedback! In addition, we were privileged to be able to invite fantastic artists, educators, scientists, writers, and journalists to talk with the class about their work. Many thanks to everyone who joined us.

Our class was offered both as a 15-point, credit-bearing 300-level undergraduate course, and also through Continuing Education (not for credit). In total, we had 21 students, including employees from NIWA, the Ministry of Primary Industries, Pew Charitable Tusts, the Department of Conservation, and the Royal Society of New Zealand, as well as more ‘traditional’ students from both science and non-science disciplines.

For the practical component of the course, the students first worked on a written assignment each – of the type that might appear in a long-form magazine (such as this piece by one of our students). Using a “workshopping” process adapted from the International Institute of Modern Letters, they shared their draft ideas and work, gave each other feedback, and had an opportunity to improve their work prior to submission. It was wonderful to not only see all the work improve, but also to listen to the creative, thoughtful, and constructive conversations within the workshop groups.

Much of the students’ work is now on display – both online and in physical locations. You can get an idea of the diversity of the work from the following examples:

A song, by Matapuku Robati (more info on this can be found here)

An expedition blog, by Amelia Conell

Wanted  Chemical Elements by Jessica Siacci
http://jessica-corrin.deviantart.com/
featuring Hydrogen, Fluorine, Chlorine, and Osmium (click on the links to fully appreciate them, and their associated text)

hydrogen_by_jessica_corrin-d83y7safluorine_by_jessica_corrin-d83y1nk

an oil painting by Kate Calcott that explored changes in forests over time in New Zealand

picture of painting in location

picture of Kate Calcott’s painting in location

a poster by Kelly MacLeod about microbes

What Are Microbes and How do We Identify Them?

and an educational website for computer science students and app developed by Pauline Kelly.

There was also a poster by Erroll Gibson that’s currently on the wall of the Cotton building at Victoria University of Wellington, and an “i-beacon” hidden behind one of the paintings in the same building, with associated content developed by Vicky Pruditsch. In addition, several assignments with great potential  are still being worked on so that they can be made available in an ‘authentic’ environment. This includes videos, apps, events, spoken word performance, and a game.

All assignments were also accompanied by a critical reflection that explored what they were hoping to achieve, and how they felt this work compared to their goals and aspirations.

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