Science communication

Welcome back to Café Scientifique

After a year’s break the Wellington meeting of Café Scientifique has started with two successful events in July and August.

Jesse Bering, a Dunedin based American evolutionary psychologist, in Wellington to talk to students of CREW352: Creative Science Writing, packed out VK’s Comedy Bar in Dixon Street with his favourite research topics: sex, death and religion.

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Jesse at WORD Christchurch 2015

Bering has had enormous success with his honest and humorous style. He writes a regular column, Bering in Mind, for Scientific American online, and his books include The Belief Instinct, about the psychological origins of our desire to believe in something bigger than ourselves, and PERV, which explores the range of human sexual desire and experience. Bering told students in the CREW352 that like many of us his academic interests have followed what he is naturally curious about, and he hopes talking about it is helpful to people struggling with these issues.

Bering’s Café Scientifique event followed a fantastic evening with Alom Shaha, a teacher, science communicator and author, who recently visited New Zealand to be the keynote speaker at SciCon 2016, the annual conference for secondary science teachers.  Shaha has become a teacher of teachers and points out that he does not consider himself to be a scientist, but rather an expert in pedagogy.  We took advantage of his visit to invite him to address students of SCIE311: Science Communication. “The world needs teachers,” says Shaha, “as we are the ones who make the scientists”.   Shaha disagrees with the common expression that children are born scientists. “Science is a range of methods and tools, for a particular way of looking at the world.  It takes years to practice these tools in the way that scientists do,” he said to our SCIE 311 students.

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Courtesy alomshaha.com

As this was Shaha’s first time in New Zealand, he was keen to understand the religious, cultural and educational landscape of our country.  His book The Young Atheist’s Handbook is part memoir, part philosophy, and part permission for others to wrestle with doubts about their faith.  “Religion is passed on from parents to children at a time when they are not able to think critically for themselves.  Sometimes young people find that it’s just easier to go along with it,” he told his Café Scientifique audience.

Shaha has a new book due to be released in 2017 about science teaching, and we hope to see him back in New Zealand next year.  In the meantime you can check out his Demo: The Movie  a half hour movie encouraging science teachers to use demonstrations to inspire their students look closely at the world.

Café Scientifique is jointly hosted by the Wellington Branch of the Royal Society and Science in Society Group at Victoria University.  Find us on Facebook to hear about our upcoming events

Want to be a science writer?

Ashleigh Young and Rebecca Priestley are teaching CREW352: Creative Science Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters again this year. Past students have included undergraduate science and humanities students, experienced writers and journalists, environmental advocates and practising scientists. Students on the course have written engaging non-fiction stories about science and had these stories published in literary journals such as Sport, Overland and Landfall, in the student magazine Salient, and in industry journals such as Organic New Zealand magazine and books such as Tell You What: Great NZ Fiction 2014. Other students have used the course to kickstart a book-length project.

Here are some links to some online stories you can read that were written and workshopped as part of CREW352.

The albatross in the cupboard by Nina Powles on Te Papa blogs

Four circles by Sarah Bainbridge in Landfall

Simply air vibrating by Simon Gennard in Overland

Is it getting hot in here? By Bronte Ammundsen in Salient

Applications for this year’s workshop close this 21 June. You can find out more about how to apply here: http://www.victoria.ac.nz/modernletters/study/how-to-apply

 

New ‘Antarctica Online’ Course

Cliff interviews Nick Golledge, from the Antarctic Research Centre, while Rebecca hides inside her extreme cold weather gear.

Cliff interviews Nick Golledge, from the Antarctic Research Centre, while Rebecca hides inside her extreme cold weather gear.

Following Rebecca and Cliff’s successful trip to Antarctica in December 2014, the Science in Society team have been working hard to put together a new fully online course called ‘Antarctica Online’.

The course features lectures that were filmed on the ice and examines contemporary Antarctic scientific research, placing it in a wider scientific, historical, social and cultural context. Rebecca and Cliff gathered material over 10 days around Scott Base, McMurdo Station, and the Ross Island historic huts and three days at an Antarctic Research Centre field camp in the Transantarctic Mountains.

As well as filming lectures for their own modules—on Antarctic science history, and Geology and paleoclimate—they also filmed material for a third module, Constructing Antarctica, which will be led by Rhian, and Leon Gurevitch from the School of Design.

Most of us will never get to visit Antarctica, but this course hopes to offer the next best thing.

The course runs from Monday 28 September to Friday 6 November 2015 (6 weeks)

Fee: $120  (There are no prerequisites for this course)  ENROL HERE

 

 

We’re looking for a special someone to join our Science in Society team

For the last two years we (Rhian and Rebecca) have been getting by on a lot of adrenalin and with the support of an army of awesome tutors: but now we have new courses to launch and new plans to hatch and we need someone else to join our small, dynamic team. This is an 18-month full time teaching position, with full details below. This job could suit someone who’s been working as a high-school science teacher, or someone with a science PhD and a real interest in and commitment to teaching, or someone with a science degree and experience in online education.

Here are the details on the job ad:

Senior Tutor in Science in Society, Faculty of Science (18 month fixed term position)

Our small dynamic team seeks a senior tutor with a background in science, interest and/or experience in digital learning technologies, project management skills, and confidence in delivering online courses. The appointee will have excellent organisational, communication and interpersonal skills, a demonstrated understanding of science and its role in society, and experience working with students and academics.

The appointee will coordinate an innovative and flexible online general science course that will be delivered to first year university students, teachers, and high school students and will utilize the latest online technologies and pedagogies. The appointee will be at the forefront of strategic development and delivery of large, online courses (including MOOCs) at Victoria University and will be expected to engage with a range of internal and external stakeholders representing educational technology, instructional design, and secondary and tertiary education. In addition, the appointee will support existing initiatives of the Science in Context teaching programme, including supporting online courses and related outreach.

Depending on the appointee’s background, opportunities exist to develop and teach online modules on Antarctic science, environmental science, and other contemporary issues in science and society.

We encourage applications from a range of candidates including, for example, science teachers, people with a higher degree in science and demonstrated interest in teaching, and educational technologists/ instructional designers with a demonstrated science literacy.

The position is for a fixed term of 18 months with an immediate start date.

Contact Details for Vacancy: Rhian Salmon, Programme Director for Science in Context, Faculty of Science

Applications close 5 June 2015 Reference 634

Full details on how to apply are here http://www.victoria.ac.nz/about/careers/current-vacancies

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)

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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.