In our column, we’ve previously blogged about lecturing about SciComm and different SciComm exercises you can do in your class. In this post, we provide some do’s and don’ts for developing a SciComm module or course for your students.
Do: Recognize that a core goal of educational SciComm is to develop the ability to explain science in simple terms.
Don’t: Try to use SciComm as a way for students to learn more about various scientific concepts and principles. That’s not what SciComm training is for.
A problem with SciComm education is that it’s often thought of as a side project rather than a core part of scientific training. Don’t confuse your students by making them learn more science in your SciComm education. Instead, start with something they already know a lot about in science to help them improve their outward science communication skills. It’s easy to explain something that one understands. A more advanced SciComm exercise could be to learn about a complex aspect of science, and then try to explain it to someone with no experience in the topic.
Do: Give your students the option to decide the topics to communicate. You may give them some suggestions with broad topic areas.
Don’t: Don’t have the expectation that the students will communicate only what you would like to hear about. This is a learning experience for them and your teaching should be centered around their needs.
Science communicators come from different walks of life. Some may prefer to talk about health sciences, some may have a passion for space science, and others may also want to communicate about mathematics or climate change. Again, your teaching should be focused on the learner: what are they going to communicate? What is their scientific background, and how can they communicate their knowledge effectively to others?
Do: Come up with exercises science students can do and help them complete them (see our previous article for examples).
Don’t: Provide feedback that is not constructive, act like you know more about science communication than them, or talk down to students.
Sure, you’re a seasoned science communications expert, and the people you are teaching may be young (or old) scientists-in-training. That doesn’t mean you don’t have just as much to learn from them as they can learn from you. We found, in the course of our SciComm training, that our students were often much smarter and faster at picking up SciComm principles than we anticipated! Talking down to your students is counterproductive – seek to lift them up and support them in their communications education!
Do: Keep it simple.
Don’t: Feel the need to turn your students into SciComm Shakespeares from day one.
Start small when it comes to practical SciComm exercises. Yes, ideally you’d want your students to be able to do a detailed policy analysis involving complex science, or explain the latest astrophysics paper to a first-grader, but that’s not going to happen overnight. Begin with small goals. Being able to summarize a paper abstract in 3-4 easy-to-understand sentences could be a first goal.
Do: Providing students with plenty of opportunities to practice their science communication skills. This should also be outside of the classroom and outside of their peers.
Don’t: Force an opportunity on your students or tell them exactly what they should do – guide them so they can figure themselves out, because only then will they enjoy the communication and discover what it is they truly like to inculcate in their communications.
Providing students with plenty of opportunities is important to hone their communication skills. However, make sure that they are getting plenty of opportunities outside of their classroom and outside of their own peers. Perhaps a local museum? A primary or elementary school? Ask students what they would prefer and who their ideal audience is. Let them all have a go at communicating with various audiences.
Most importantly, make sure that your students have an engaging and fun environment in which to learn. They are probably only going to have fun if you are really having fun too!
If you’re looking for a way to learn more tips on science communication, in an inclusive environment where you and your students can both learn from expert science communicators, please check out SciCommChat, a weekly Twitter chat. Follow the ‘#SciCommChat’ hashtag on Twitter and make sure to follow @SciCommClub to stay up-to-date on the SciComm conversation.
#SciCommChat is a free and engaging one hour chat that takes place on Twitter every Wednesday at 6pm GMT. Everyone interested in (or practicing) Science Communication is welcome to chime in and learn more about Science Communication from experts around the world.