Communicating science through digital media

If a scientist conducts research, and never tells anyone, did they really do it?

Scientists communicate with one another in very specific ways: peer-reviewed journal articles and technical presentations. However, most journal articles largely go unread and conference audiences can be limited..

Public trust in science is decreasing, so it’s our job to help them understand the importance of science to society! How to do it? We must communicate our research through media that is engaging and interesting. 

Y’all have probably seen this one before, but just in case…

Technical communication is baked into the curricula of university science programs. We train students to write peer-reviewed journal articles and give conference presentations .

Meanwhile, in the real world, students are communicating with memes, snaps, and videos that are read far more broadly than that capstone research project they spent a year on.

Lots of scientists are doing a great job of communicating their work with engaging media. But let’s face it–those brilliant few are either naturally-gifted or self-taught. 

This leaves me asking, is there a place for #SciComm in the natural resources curriculum? With all the talk of digital literacy in the K-12 classroom, you can bet it’s on its way.

With that in mind, I tried something different this semester. I teach a grad-level quantitative ecology course. It’s a pretty typical course you’ll find in most natural resources programs– linear modeling, program R, lots of writing. You know the drill. 

But this year, I added a non-technical component:

Ecology SciComm
This page is both the assignment instructions, and an example of how it can look

Long story short, I challenged grad students to communicate their work as either a page, post, or video. In the past, the technology learning curve has been the barrier. But now, Adobe Spark has an excellent set of tools that require precisely zero knowledge of creating sites or videos. Just sign up, sign in, and get started.

Some students made pages presenting preliminary results:

Ecology SciComm
Effects of antidepressants on Striped Bass feeding–A MS thesis by Lauren Stoczynski

 

Ecology SciComm
First-season results of habitat selection by Bartram’s Bass by Emily Judson

Others presented proposed research that will start this summer:

Ecology SciComm
Proposed research by Meghan Angelina

There were some pretty sweet videos too:

Preliminary results (in review) by Sam Silknetter

 

But it wasn’t all fish: the herp squad made a strong showing:

Ecology SciComm
Proposed research by Lauren Diaz
Ecology SciComm
Results of a summer internship by Sheldon Davis

 

And of course #TeamBird was not to be out done:

Effects of urban noise on birds by Alec Schindler
Foraging ecology of Rhinocerous Auklets by Bradley Wilkinson

All in all, I’m pretty happy with the way the projects turned out. Students got a different kind of outlet to communicate their work, and hopefully some experience in creating digital media.

These tools are an easy way to develop nice-looking media products communicating our science, so let’s replace those recipe videos in social media feeds with science!

Brandon Peoples

One Comment Add yours

  1. Really nice idea. Would be worth point the students working on fish related topics (especially those with video like go big or go home) in the direction of the ASFB sci com awards…they would be very competitive in the jnr category https://twitter.com/AustSocFishBiol/status/979106871620464640

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