Science Communication Course: Topic Selection

This is post #2 in a series where I’ll be talking about a 4th year undergraduate Science Communication course that I ran from January to April of 2019.

After defining my learning outcomes and objectives, the next order of business was to decide on the weekly topics that I wanted to cover in the course. I ended up finding a great paper called “Core Skills for Effective Science Communication: A Teaching Resource for Undergraduate Science Education” written by Lucy Mercer-Mapstone and Louise Kuchel. This paper contains a list of elements that are important for effective science communication that was generated by a literature search and later vetted and ranked by experts in the fields of science, communication, education, and science communication. I used this list as a starting point for structuring my in-class sessions and their associated assignments. The course was 13 weeks and each class ran for 3 hours once per week (one session was cancelled due to inclement weather). I’ve listed the topics and the focus for each week below:

Week 1: Introduction to Science Communication and its Purpose

Week 2: Communicators and Audiences

Week 3: Overview of Modes of Communication

Week 4: Mode-Visual Communication

Week 5: Mode-Oral Communication/Social Media

Week 6: Mode-Written Communication/Developing a Science Communication Plan

Week 7: Reading Week-no class

Week 8: Narrative and Story Telling

Week 9: Content, Context, Prior Knowledge

Week 10: Style and Language

Week 11: Final Presentations for Student Capstone Projects

Week 12: Engagement and Dialogue

Overall, I found that this structure and order of topics worked. My goal was to cover a particular topic and then the students would spend the next week often completing an assignment that directly related to what we had explored in class. Each class session consisted of multiple active learning exercises that allowed the students to put into practice the theory that I had shared with them. I demanded a lot of the students in terms of participation during class time, but they rose to the occasion and were engaged and excited about the material. This made the course a lot of fun to teach and I ended up learning a ton about science communication also.

In my next post, I’ll start talking about each topic and the active learning exercises that I used to reinforce the material for my students. Some of these activities were pulled from the literature, but others I came up with on my own and decided to give them a try.

 

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