The Wild Melbourne Journey
The advanced connectivity and computing power of Smartphones opens up new possibilities for science communication, and an increasing number of institutions are experimenting with this great potential. That’s the topic of the thesis I published as part of my Masters of Science Communication, in which I look at the potential benefits and limitations of science-related mobile applications. This excerpt summarises the main ideas, and I hope it can be beneficial to some out there.
Great potential yet to be explored
For science communication professionals who are continuously exploring new strategies for communicating with current and potential audiences, mobile applications open up the possibility for reaching new audiences through a personal device they have chosen and are familiar with. In the case of science museums and science centres, mobile apps also enable the institutions to reach those audiences not only during the museum visit, but before and after also.
“This ability to reach users in conditions and in an environment of their choice opens up new possibilities for the communication of cultural content for life-long learning and edutainment, in addition to the potential for cultural marketing. Additionally, the fact that these users are connected in a wide network offers possibilities not only for one-to-one communication between the cultural organization and the user, but also for social networking and creating communities of users interested in cultural content, incorporating Web 2.0 capabilities.”
Furthermore, in the past few decades we have been observing a paradigm shift in museum learning which is based on an explorative hands-on approach and focuses on the users’ needs rather than the curators’ key message. While traditional museums put visitors into a passive and ‘guest’ position, this new paradigm is about participation and interactivity and puts the users into an active role (Kahr-Højland in Katz, LaBar and Lynch, 2011).
With their advanced computing abilities and connectivity, smartphones are regarded as the key vehicle for customizing and enhancing visitor experience and seem to fit perfectly into this new learning paradigm. However, in reality, museum mobile applications are not as numerous as we may think, and the few that exist do not seem to significantly enhance the museum visit experience (Valtysson, and Ling in Holdgaard Katz, LaBar and Lynch, 2011). The majority of museums apps developed so far have the form of enriched audio-guided tours (with images, video, and sometimes additional texts), and few of them actually support social interaction and participation.
Facilitate accessibility, encourage dialogue
But edutainment mobile applications are not limited to museums, and science-related apps actually abound. A quick search on iTunes with the keyword “science” gives more than 2,000 results. In my thesis I look at a sample of mobile applications created by science museums, science centres, and research institutes, and analyse the means they used to convey science-related content.
It appears that a good way to embrace this new learning paradigm, and retract from the passive one-way information delivery from institution to user, is to enable the user to contribute to the content (e.g. upload photos), ask questions, provide feedback, and share on social networks. Smartphones are connected devices, so let’s use that feature!
To convey science-related content to a large and diverse audience through a mobile app, there are a few things to keep in mind, such as: don’t forget to offer different levels of reading (e.g. with “in-depth” or “further info” options available), make the content available on different platforms (e.g. develop the app on different OS, upload content on website as well), use a level of language adapted to the audience (avoid jargon and keep technical language to a minimum, in a manner that it is not misleading, but that your audience can understand quickly and easily), increase usability (e.g. provide captions for videos, title the back arrows with the previous page’s name, have an option to change contrast and text size), and it’s a smartphone app so use the smartphones features (e.g. camera, microphone, GPS, connectivity, gyroscope…).
A mobile app is the device, not the message
Smartphones do offer a broad range of possibilities to science communicators and can be fantastic devices to communicate science to different audiences, and some apps are truly brilliant. However a mobile app may not be the most adapted tool for everyone’s communication.
Thank you to Sarah Lau who shared her deepest darkest secrets with us for this Q&A profile!
When not working as Communication Manager for ChemCentre in Western Australia, Sarah spends her time keeping things in order as the Secretary of the ASC. As a long-term member, Sarah’s commitment to the ASC is a great example of what keeps a volunteer organisation like ours running like clockwork. She kindly took some time out of her busy schedule to answer some ASC profile pop-quiz questions.
Read on to find out about everything from ASC WA events to malformed origami!
When you were a little girl, what did you want to be when you grew up?
As a small child, my career choices were heavily influenced by books and television, so I went through phases of wanting to be a journalist, a police officer, a lawyer… at one point I’d even settled on being a spy. Eventually when I hit high school I decided I wanted to get into science, but a disastrous Year 12 practical chemistry exam made me realise that lab work wasn’t for me. So I decided to combine my passion for science with my love of talking and working with people, which led me to science communication.
Apart from being superstar secretary of the ASC, what work do you do?
In my daily role, I am the Communication Manager at ChemCentre, the WA chemical and forensic science facility. This is a fascinating and varied job which sees me doing everything from briefing media on synthetic drugs to devising marketing strategies for air monitoring analysis. Right now I am working with our team to deliver a series of August outreach activities, tying into National Science Week, and culminating with ChemCentre’s annual Open Day. (Shameless plug – if you’re in WA, come by on Saturday 24 August!)
With another hat on, I work as a science communication and presentation consultant. The most exciting role I have taken on recently was for The University of Western Australia, working with some of UWA’s highest profile scientists to deliver the Science for our Future Festival program across South East Asia.
Has your time with the ASC helped or hindered your work?
I joined ASC as a student when I was studying Science Communication at The University of Western Australia. I found it was very useful, as it gave me a chance to engage with established professionals and consider future career directions.
As an early career professional, being involved with ASC, and particularly volunteering at the branch level, meant that I had the chance to develop skills and build a network of contacts.
Now, my role with ASC has grown to allow me to support the evolution of ASC as we expand and move towards a professional association. As I’ve become more involved with ASC, one my favourite things has been the chance to connect with ASC members from across Australia and hear their experiences.
Why is science communication important?
I see science communication as ‘bridging the gap’ – bringing skills and expertise to connect the world of science and an intended audience. I’ve always considered that science communicators help make science accessible, relevant and engaging. Science communicators also bring perspective and expertise to scientists to help the scientific process in the modern world. The benefits to ensuring science is communicated are wide-ranging, including better informed decision making in the wider community, and increased uptake of science at the policy and governance level. I think the recognition of science communication as a specialisation is increasing, and along with it, an appreciation of the value of science communicators.
What ASC events are you looking forward to this year?
In WA, there is a fantastic local committee which has worked hard to create a diverse programs of events, including social, professional and networking events. We’ve had some great evaluation events and I’m looking forward to this program continuing this year. Fast forward to 2014 – I am excited about the ASC National Conference in Brisbane!
When you are not science communicating, what are your hobbies/interests?
Not much has changed since I was young, so books and television still feature prominently. I adore music and I’m easily distracted by music videos. I also love checking out the great cafes and bars now popping up all over Perth. And for the novelty category – I enjoy attempting geometric origami structures, which is an odd choice for someone with little artistic ability or patience!
Thank you to Jarrod Green for preparing this summary of the ASC list discussion.
It is one of the most enduring debates in the field of communication: where do the boundaries lie between journalism, PR and other communication roles? The ASC is the latest to tackle this thorny demarcation problem through a discussion on the ASC email list and calls for further debate at the next ASC conference in February.
The recent ASC list discussion shows how differentiating between communication professions can become deeply entangled with questions of independence, ethics and bias.
Best practice journalism was distinguished early in the discussion by its critical and independent stance. Summarising a SciLogs post by Matt Shipman, ASC member Arwen Cross pointed out that sharing news from a single source is not journalism. Good journalists draw on multiple sources and independent experts. This distinction was supported in the ASC discussion, though members also observed that mainstream journalism often fails to cover science with a critical voice, illustrating that independence doesn’t guarantee investigative reporting.
Pointing to articles by David Carr and Jack Shafer respectively, ASC members Bianca Nogrady and Sarah Keenihan highlighted the tension that can exist between journalism and activism, bringing into question the feasibility (or even the desirability) of totally impartial journalism. Nogrady argued that a pro-science outlook does not diminish the effectiveness of a journalist or their capacity to ask the hard questions.
However, the (im)partiality of journalists was only a minor theme in the ASC discussion compared to the question of bias in other communication professions. One of the most debated topics was whether institutional affiliation necessitates bias. Some ASC members argued that bias (especially spin) is the hallmark of PR and should never be a feature of good journalism or communication. ASC member Jo Finlay argued that science should always be reported honestly and accurately, irrespective of your employer.
Other members highlighted what they saw as the inevitability of bias, emphasising instead the importance of transparency and consistency with audience expectations. ASC member Adam Barclay wondered whether “communicator” may just be a term used by PR practitioners to “spin” their own job description. Members like Barclay were not troubled by the possibility of biased elements in their work so long as the bias was consistent with their values and ethics. They would sooner leave a job than push a message that they don’t support.
However, for ASC member Niall Byrne, communication professions are distinguished in the first instance by the source of their paycheck and only secondarily by judgments of ethics or bias.
“[If] you’re funded by the subject of your writing (in the broadest sense) it’s not journalism,” he said.
So far discussion has been framed largely in terms of writing for the media, though as ASC Acting President Claire Harris illustrated in her post, science communication covers a broad range of engagement and knowledge brokering activities that include but are not limited to writing for the media. Beyond the question of demarcating journalism from communication and PR, Harris also asks what the word “science” really means at the head of each of these professions.
With the topic now flagged as a potential topic at the ASC 2014 conference, there will surely be some interesting discussion ahead.
ASC members highlighted various links in the course of discussion, including Kaz Janowski’s editorial at SciDev.Net, which was the impetus for the ASC list discussion (via ASC member Lynne Griffiths). Sarah Kennihan’s open letter to the ASC was a further catalyst for discussion (see also Keenihan’s profiles of journalists and communicators, her comparison of the two, her thoughts on the “death” of journalism, and Jacqui Hayes’ reflections on switching from journalism to PR). For summaries of a related discussion at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Helsinki this year, see these posts by Anne Sasso and Kai Kupferschmidt.
|17 May 2013
Join us for a discussion on this, and more, by a panel of expert science and medical writers in Sydney on 17 May. This is a joint event of the Australian Science Communicators and the Australasian Medical Writers’ Association.
Our speakers are:
As well as the role of science and medical writers they’ll be covering:
This session is for anyone who cares about the public discussion of science and medicine.
Place: Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts, 280 Pitt St, Sydney (near Bathurst St) smsa.org.au
Drinks and nibbles start at 6 pm, discussion begins at 6:30 pm (for about an hour).
Seating is limited and bookings are essential:
Cost: Free for ASC and AMWA members; $10 for the general public
Enquiries: Helen Sim 0419 635 905 (voice or text)
Jane McCredie is an author and journalist specialising in science and medicine. She is co-editor with Natasha Mitchell of this year’s anthology of The Best Australian Science Writing and writes a weekly blog on medicine for the Medical Journal of Australia’s electronic sister publication, mjainsight.com.au. Her book on the science of sex and gender, Making Girls and Boys, was published in Australia in 2011 and in the US (under the title, Beyond X and Y) in 2012. The former popular science publisher at NewSouth Books, Jane is now executive director of the NSW Writers’ Centre.
Michael Slezak is New Scientist’s Australasian correspondent. Since starting there a year ago, he’s written about everything from dinosaur footprints to space mining, and covered every twist and turn in the Higgs boson story. Before that, he spent two years as a medical journalist at Reed Business Information and studied and taught philosophy of science at the University of Sydney.
Bianca Nogrady is a freelance science journalist, broadcaster and author, who is yet to meet a piece of research she doesn’t find fascinating. In nearly a decade of freelance reporting, she has written for publications including Scientific American, The Australian, Ecos magazine, Australian Doctor and the ABC’s health, science and environment websites. She is also author of The End: The Human Experience Of Death (in bookstores this month) and co-author of The Sixth Wave: How To Succeed In A Resource-Limited World (2010).
As 2013 starts to accelerate, I’m noticing that these are increasingly interesting times to be involved in the wide world of science communication. Doubly so if you’re a member of the ASC.
In 2012 the association was regularly invited to confer with other science and science communication related bodies, and if the first two months of 2013 are anything to go by, this is just going to continue. I take this as a sign of a growing ASC public profile, and also of an increasing awareness ‘out there’ of science communication more broadly. It also highlights to me that professionalising our organisation has never been more timely.
On that, we have confirmed and installed our two VPs now and have a clearer idea of their main portfolios (though the names of these may still need a tweak). Will Grant has agreed to take the lead on running the processes that will lead us down the professionalization road. I was tempted to call his portfolio VP (Black Ops), but something more like “Charter and membership” will probably better provide the necessary gravitas the process and position warrants.
Claire Harris has confirmed she will take on the other VP position overseeing communication and marketing, a role for which she has a huge amount experience, drive and commitment. I’m delighted these two fine people agreed to step up: this will be great for us all!
Moving to my other ASC hobby-horse, one of my missions as president is to get the ASC more firmly entrenched in the public arena as an organisation. We have many high profile members, but the organisation itself is not yet the ‘go to’ place for sci comm related mattes that I suspect it could be.
To help realise this, I’d like to ask all of you to keep your eyes open for current or impending issues you think might be suitable grist for media releases and comment from the ASC. If you see anything, please send me a heads-up, a link, or a short polemic. Of course I can’t promise that the things people send through will automatically go out under the ASC moniker: some matters will be more suitable than others. But the more material and ideas you send, the more opportunities we will have to positively embed the ASC in minds of those beyond the science communication community.
Onward, upward and outward!
Dr Rod Lamberts
Australian Science Communicators
Thanks to Joe Hanson for posting his best science apps for iphone / ipod – for the science and technology obsessed – enjoy!
Best Science Apps for iPhone/iPad:
– NASA has a great free educational app where you can track spacecraft and learn about projects.
– GoSkyWatch, which is inexplicably free for the iPad only version (and a very underpriced $3.99 for iPhone/iPad compatible version). Seriously, it will change your life. Point it at something, it tells you what it is. It even draws constellations and has a red low-light mode.
– Molecules lets you input any Protein Data Bank or PubChem molecule identifier and then renders a 3-D version that you can rotate, zoom and space-fill. Must-have for molecular noodling on the fly.
– The Elements is pretty pricey for an app at $13.99, but it’s bar none the best app for exploring the periodic table.
In The Lab:
– Life Technologies has a useful app called DailyCalcs that will calculate solution concentrations, convert units, figure out dilutions and give you cell culture plating tips. Nothing you couldn’t look up or figure out on a paper towel, but nice to have it handy for free.
– WolframAlpha: There’s Wolfram reference support built into Siri, but the full app is like a math search engine/calculator/reference guide all in one. Very cool.
– Skeptical Science will help you refute climate deniers right from your pocket![Extracted from Joe Hanson’s Blog: It’s Okay to Be Smart – post link here]
If you know of or use any great science apps, share it! (email: firstname.lastname@example.org )
Thanks to Karine Bruron from Liquid Learning Group for providing this information:
Liquid Learning is delighted to present The 2nd Annual National Science Communication Officers’ Forum 2011 – the premier event for communication professionals to exchange and acquire knowledge, tools and skills for true performance excellence.
The National Science Communication Officers’ Forum 2011 will be held on 22 & 23 November 2011 at Citigate Central, Sydney
Essential Tools and Approaches for Developing Communication Strategies within Scientific and Technical Research Environments
View the brochure here: http://bit.ly/pxt0bc
ASC Members receive a 10% discount off the standard registration fee.
Visit Liquid Learning’s website at: www.liquidlearning.com.au
Phone: (02) 9437 1311
The Department of Innovation Industry, Science and Resources (DIISR) has produced a brochure about nanotechnology and regulations aimed at the general public. They are looking for ways to make people aware of the brochure and to distribute it.
While the brochure is not a professional development resource about science communication, it is related to the broader area in which we work. The document is an interesting example of a government department communicating the reasons for regulating the technological arena of an emerging science. As such it both communicates science and government activity. Perhaps this is in response to public concerns, preliminary research studies and a realisation that the precautionary principle needs to be applied. The brochure contains a link to a website which is more science communication focused, http://technyou.edu.au/
You can read the brochure (in pdf form) via this link, http://technyou.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Nanotech-Regulations.pdf.
Missing out on the latest news from around the country? Here’s a quick reminder of the ways to stay connected with ASC:
Note that anyone can join the lists as observers, but only current, financial ASC members can post messages. Membership to ASC does not automatically register you to the ASC email lists. You must register through the separate system as described here.
ASC-list is the mailing list for discussing science communication issues and promoting events. The ASC-media list is for press releases and self promotion. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) including details on unsubscribing, converting your list preferences and accessing the archive can be found here.