Science in Society recognised for excellence in teaching

Breaking the mould yet again, Rebecca Priestley and Rhian Salmon were joint winners of the Early Career Teaching Excellence Award, an honour that is usually awarded to a single recipient.

two women one man smiling

Smiles all round as Georgia (Rhian’s 2 yr old daughter) calls ‘Mama’ from the back of the room

Rhian and Rebecca, who co-lead the Science in Society group, have, since they started working together in 2013, developed a suite of courses, including an undergraduate minor in Science in Society and a Master in Science in Society.   As a complement to their many undergraduate online courses, they have also been closely involved in the development and delivery of the university’s first massive open online courses (MOOC) – Antarctica: From Geology to Human History delivered through the edX platform last year. At Victoria University of Wellington’s recent teaching and research awards evening, the duo were recognised for developing an excellent teaching programme in a only a handful of years.

As she presented the award, Provost Wendy Larner commended what they have achieved together in only a few years, “Associate Professor Rebecca Priestley and Dr Rhian Salmon are joint leaders, close collaborators and team teachers in the extremely successful Science in Society programme.  They develop and evaluate their courses using a research framework and utilise innovative modes of delivery to facilitate student learning.  They regularly pilot new digital technologies such as a massive open online course and other online resources, allowing other staff who contribute to the courses to develop.  Rebecca and Rhian both engage in continual professional development and reflective practice and their individual teaching scores demonstrate sustained teaching excellence.”

Speaking at the ceremony, Vice-Chancellor Professor Grant Guilford said that the awards were a chance to recognise the University’s most engaged and hardworking people.

You can find all out about all the award winners at Victoria University of Wellington Celebrates Staff Excellence



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



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
featuring Hydrogen, Fluorine, Chlorine, and Osmium (click on the links to fully appreciate them, and their associated text)


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.

The Conversation

The following work is by Matapuku Robati, a student in our Science Communication course. For this assignment, students were encouraged to explore non-written modes of communication. Below is the story of this work…


If I was given the opportunity to communicate something to the world that I actually gave a shit about, what would it be? This notion came to me from Dr Rhian Salmon who described the inner challenge of deciding what to speak about as she was preparing for a TEDx Talk. This was the inspiration that placed ‘The Conversation’ at the forefront of other scientific topics that I had considered for a creative science communication piece. My aim was to communicate the science of climate change to a non-specialist audience by engaging in a continuous two-way exchange of knowledge between specialists and laymen. I am no climate change specialist by any stretch of the imagination, but for this project I assumed that particular position. The role of the laymen was allotted to my teenage daughter (Sanaa), nephews (Isaac, Adam and Te Ahi) and nieces (Daley, Grace, Faith, Tuakana and Missy). However I felt that these roles were frequently interchanged throughout the course of the project as I felt myself being educated about the complexities of the teenage psyche on many occasions. Whilst not addressing a worldwide audience, but definitely a global issue, I felt a moral obligation to address the teenagers in our family, because at some stage they will need to deal with what generations before them have left behind. ‘The Conversation’ is a creative science communication piece that tackles the issue of climate change by drawing attention to its link with our personal energy consumption.

The KidsDaley and Sanaa

A changing climate is upon us and as a result of the human consumption of fossil fuels global surface temperatures have been increasing rapidly since the advent of the industrial age. With the latest electronic socially necessitated devices appearing more frequently on the teenage wish list and communication within households occurring more often via social media than in person, I felt compelled to at least engage in a conversation that would allow us to look at the situation with some degree of objectivity. But first I needed to establish common ground and between myself and the rest of the family – and music is something we all love!! So it was not very difficult to entice the teenage faction within the family to help me write a song. Prior to that invitation a series of casual conversations about climate change unfolded between me, my daughter and several of my nieces and nephews; who knew what? and how we each of us felt about it. Only 1 out of these 9 teenagers I spoke with had some kind of understanding of climate change and how we as individuals are influencing it. I began to elucidate the subject utilizing various forms of information with the intention of allowing those who engaged in the process of writing the song to think intently about the information I presented, whilst considering any barriers in this exchange and how they thought it could be best conveyed. A collective decision was made to portray the different stages of personal opinion and understanding of the conversations that took place in the song. Considerations as to the intended audience, genre, tempo, artistic elements, delivery, video etc… saw these teenagers don the role of multidisciplinary expert, whilst I took note of their views and steered the project to an amicable conclusion. I have since allowed the budding environmental enthusiasts to take ownership of our creation, to see if they can impart what they have learnt to others. For artistic integrity it was decided that ‘The Conversation’ would be posted on Vimeo. My niece, Daley Bishop, who has been a key collaborator in the development of the project, has since been given the opportunity to speak about the project and could possibly get ‘The Conversation’ some airtime on Atiawa Toa FM.

Success for me in this process would be for at least one of these kids to consider the impact of their energy consumption and, more ambitiously, that one would go on to influence the behaviour and culture of society with regards to our impact on the changing climate.


The Conversation

Lyrics:Daley Bishop, Sanaa Tupuivao & Matapuku Robati
Creative contributions: Tuakana Pupuke
Producer: Matapuku Robati
Video & Images: Matapuku Robati; Videoblocks.com

Pre chorus

Don’t take my device away / it’s my life my everything – x 2

Verse 1:

You say I should care about the world, but I don’t.

I don’t care what you say what you do with your thoughts.

What I own is mine stop wasting your time preaching about a minor thing, it’s not my problem.


I ain’t trying to drag you down/ just want you to look up

You got your head in your phone/ you can’t see that were stuck

We leave devices on charge, the lights left on, we take the car to the shop/hot water until it’s gone

You know we’re using more than ever before/ power bills through the roof and appetites are growing more.

The source ain’t infinite, if we can’t find more/ we need to change right now, we need to take a detour.


We are – x 3

Running out of patience

Whatever man, whatever man.

Chorus 1:

Don’t take my device away / it’s my life my everything – x 2

Verse 1:


Keep your iPod and your phone what I need is your trust/ give me your ears for a second this is bigger than us.

Bigger than who’s rocking the next best big thing/best be better than your average teenage meme right?

Temperatures are rising/a result of the gases emitted from the cars that we driving.

Things we consume, energy we use / 80% still coming from fossil fuels.

Weather patterns changing, sea levels on the rise/ homes in the pacific sitting beneath the tide

Then there’s us sitting at home oblivious/ apart of the cause, but we gotta change or we’re ……..


We are – x 3

Running out of time

And you should know it all matters.

Chorus 2:

Don’t change my skies today / I’m staying far from that energy – x 2

Verse 3:

Every thought on my mind / has no conclusion, resolution.

Not the life I had in sight / over and over constantly moving.

Now I know, now I’m aware/ I will change some habits yes.

It’s just one of those things/ it’s ongoing

And now I know it all matters.

Chorus 2:

Don’t change my skies today / I’m staying far from that energy- x6

A very cold classroom

In Norway, they say there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.

Back home in New Zealand, I wouldn’t tolerate giving a lecture in minus 8 degrees C – or minus 17 if you take the windchill into account. But down here at Scott Base, that’s just fine, because I’m dressed for the weather. Cliff and I have settled in – we’ve been running around with the camera trying to catch what we can of our K001 team, led by Tim Naish from the Antarctic Research Centre and Richard Levy from GNS, as they prep for their trip to Friis Hills. We’ve also gathered general footage from around Scott Base, McMurdo Station (the annual Turkey Trots fun run) and the surrounding landscape. And we’ve started recording lectures. There’s still loads to do, but it’s great to have made  a start. I’m just about to run off to skidoo training – it will be great to have our own means of getting about – but here are a few pics.

We flew down in a Safair hercules - seven and a half hours from Christchurch. Photo Rebecca Priestley.

We flew down in a Safair hercules – seven and a half hours from Christchurch. Photo Rebecca Priestley.

Prepping for a lecture: Module 1, Lecture 5: Surviving Antarctica. In this lecture I talk about food, fuel and transport and how these needs have been met in different ways over time.

Prepping for a lecture: Module 1, Lecture 5: Surviving Antarctica. In this lecture I talk about food, fuel and transport and how these needs have been met in different ways over time. Photo Rebecca Priestley.

Cliff has been getting some great outdoor footage so far - the camera is dealing really well with the white landscape.

Cliff has been getting some great outdoor footage so far – the camera is dealing really well with the white landscape. Photo Rebecca Priestley.