Reaching non-specialist audiences and engaging them with science at an affordable seaside campsite
The idea behind the study is that while science days and science festival and those kinds of events are great opportunities for the interested public to engage with cutting edge research or other interesting science, the problem is that it will only engage the interested public. As long as people have to choose to specifically enter a space (whether physically or on the internet) where scicomm happens, doing so actually needs to be made a priority. A priority in how time and money are spent, and in competition with many other things that might be a lot more important to people. So how can people be reached without relying on them to make the effort to enter in a scicomm space?
In this study, the scicomm topic was “insects as a sustainable food source”. The way they did it was a pop up kitchen in the middle of a campsite where they offered a menu made from insects as well as information and conversations on that topic. And here is what they recommend:
In the study, an affordable campside near the seaside was chosen in order to reach audiences who might not make an active effort to engage with science otherwise. The assumption that those audiences are more likely to be found on affordable, local campsites than in high-end holiday ressorts is grounded in literature.
(Also, a campsite can provide infrastructure that will make your experience as scicommer a lot more enjoyable. Parking spots, toilets, food, all within easy reach…)
People have time
In the study, Woolman found that since people were on vacation and had time, engagement wasn’t just the sadly too common “grab and go” of scicomm giveaways, but that extended engagement (longer than 10 minutes) could easily take place. This is important because other scicomm activities that take place in spaces where people just happen to be are often in very busy places like shopping malls or even train stations, where there is a lot of people going through, but where engagement is made difficult because people are there for a specific purpose which they want to get done and then go some place else. At a campsite, on the other hand, people have a lot of time on their hands and are often grateful for some kind of unexpected stimulation or the opportunity to have the kids kept busy for a couple of minutes.
School holidays or a weekend in November?
Depending on who your target audience is and what type of engagement you are going for, it might be a good idea to do your scicomm activity during the busy times. For example during the summer school holidays, camsites are typically most busy, with all sorts of people. If you were to target families with school-aged kids, for example, this would be the time to do your activity! But of course it’s also possible that your target audience are pensioneers — then maybe choosing a weekend or even week day outside of the school holidays might be a better idea! It might not be as busy in total numbers, but the density of your target audience might be relatively higher.
So what now?
I really like the idea of doing pop up scicomm at campsites. At my friend Sara‘s windsurfing school, this was happening when both she and other Kiel Science Outreach Campus (KiSOC; I was the project’s scientific coordinator at that time) PhD students did scicomm on their projects on the beach (in the picture you see a 3D movie on water striders being test-watched). Another project was related to sunscreen — very appropriate to do this on the beach! And from that experience doing scicomm specifically at that place, but more generally in a similar setting was something I wanted to do more of, and that I’ve been thinking about for two reasons.
As you know, my pet project is wave watching. And what better place to do it than on a beach? And that beach specifically is great because it offers a variety of features that influence a wave field (Check out a short wave watching movie from that beach here), plus I enjoy hanging out there (which I think is a really important factor when planning a scicomm activity — it needs to be enjoyable! If it’s not, that will show and put people off your science, no matter how awesome it might be).
I’ve been thinking about offering wave watching excursions there and actually had some scheduled this spring and summer, where I would meet up with people, walk to different spots on the beach, and explain what physics they can observe there. Well, there is always next year, or my wave watching Instagram @fascinocean_kiel :-)
GEO-Tag der Natur
I’m the programme manager of the german “GEO-Tag der Natur” festival on biodiversity. As part of my job I’ve been thinking about engaging different audiences through new formats, and this seems like a great idea. For GEO-Tag der Natur, there are typically excursions into interesting biotopes where experts on that type of biotope explain animals and plants that can be found there. Usually we advertise excursions in spots that are especially interesting in terms of biodiversity, but even just a regular beach, forest, or nature around wherever the campsite is located are super interesting and there is so much to discover anywhere! So using campsites as home bases for our excursions is definitely something that I want to try when it’s possible again. It’s also an attractive idea for the campsites themselves to be able to offer these kinds of events, so it’s a win-win!
What are your thoughts on doing scicomm on a campsite? Let me know!
Woolman, A. (2020) ‘Reaching non-specialist audiences and engaging them with science at an affordable seaside campsite’. Research for All, 4 (1): 6–15. DOI https://doi.org/10.18546/RFA.04.1.02
(Not true, there were 22 tweets, but apparently I can’t count! :-D)
For those of you that don’t follow my Twitter, here is what I posted over there the day our Nature paper got published:
Published online in @Nature today: “Ice front blocking of ocean heat transport to an Antarctic ice shelf” by @a_wahlin @nadsteiger @dareliuselin @telemargrete @meermini (Yes! That’s me!!! :-)) @ClnHz @ak_mazur et al.. What is it all about? A thread. 1/x
The Antarctic ice sheet has been losing mass recently. Ice sheets consist of the “grounded” parts that rest on land or sea floor, and the parts that float on the sea. If the floating part get thinner, the grounded part “flows off” land much more easily (pic by @dareliuselin) 2/x
Floating parts of ice shelves break off&melt. But why are ice sheets thinning? Mainly because of melting from below. We are thus concerned with what controls how much warm(-ish) water is transported across the Antarctic continental shelf towards the ice (Sketch: Kjersti Daae) 3/x
I’m writing “Warm(-ish) water”, because the water is only 1-2°C “warm”, but that’s still warmer than the freezing point. IF this warm(ish) water gets in contact with ice, it will nibble away at it. But that’s a big IF, that we set out to investigate 4/x
From existing data, it seemed that the shoreward heat flux is much larger than what would be needed to cause the observed melting. But this is a heat flux that was measured not right where the melting is happening, but a lot further offshore 5/x
It’s difficult to measure the heat flux right up to the ice shelf, because Antarctica isn’t the friendliest of environments for research ships, gliders, moorings, etc, especially in winter. Cool toys like floats, or CTDs on seals give a lot of data, but not enough yet 5/x
But @a_wahlin, @dareliuselin & team put moorings closer to the ice shelf than ever before, the closest one of three only 700m from the ice shelf front. There was absolutely no guarantee that the moorings would survive (Pic by @a_wahlin showing @dareliuselin) 6/x
Luckily, despite being threatened by storms, ice bergs etc, the moorings recorded for two years, right next to the ice shelf, giving us better estimates of heat fluxes than were available ever before 7/x
While the moorings were out in Antarctica, we went to LEGI in Grenoble and worked on the Coriolis rotating platform, basically a 13-m diameter swimming pool on a merry-go-round. SO EXCITING! (Pic by Nadine Steiger) 8/x
It’s really an amazing experience to sit in an office above a swimming pool when both are rotating together. As long as it’s dark outside the tent that covers both, you don’t really notice movement. But when the light comes on it’s very easy to get dizzy! (Pic Samuel Viboud) 9/x
We were not playing on the merry-go-round for two months just for fun, though. Rotating the large water tank is important to correctly represent the influence of Earth’s rotation on ocean currents, which is very important for this research question 10/x
In the rotating platform, we built a plastic “ice shelf” that was mounted at the end of a v-shaped plastic “canyon”. We could set up a current and then modify parameters to investigate their influence on the transport towards and underneath the ice shelf (Pic @a_wahlin) 11/x
If you are interested to read a lot more about this (also about how parts of the team went for a swim in the rotating tank, and about how sick you can get when sitting on a merry-go-round all day every day for weeks), check out @dareliuselin’s blog 12/x
In a nutshell: We put particles in the water and lit them, layer by layer, with lasers. We took pictures of where the particles in each layer were, and with the “particle image velocimetry” (PIV) technique, we got a 3D map of particle distributions over time 13/x
And what we found both from the data that we got from the moorings in Antarctica, that we were lucky enough to recover, as well as from the tank experiments at the rotating platform was really interesting: Ice front blocking of ocean heat transport to the Antarctic ice shelf14/x
The ice shelf, at its most offshore part, still reaches down to 250-500m. That means that the depth of the water column changes drastically at the front of the ice shelf. And that has important consequences for depth-independent part of the current 15/x
The barotropic, i.e. depth-independent part of the current is blocked by the step shape of the ice front (as well as the plastic front in the tank). Only the baroclinic (depth-varying) part can flow below the ice, but that part is much smaller 16/x
In the tank we changed the shape of the ice front to see that it’s really the large step that blocks the current. Other configurations lead to different flow pattern. But the large step shape is what the Getz Ice Shelf system looks like, and other systems, too 17/x
What that means is that looking at the density structure of the water column, thus the relative magnitude of barotropic and baroclinic components of the current, is a better indicator of ice shelf melting than the heat transport onto the continental shelf 18/x
It also shows the importance of accurately representing the step of the ice shelf front accurately in models in order to simulate the heat transport towards the ice as well as the melting of the ice shelves 19/x
TL;DR: Article published @Nature on ice front blocking of ocean heat transport to an Antarctic ice shelf, and I contributed to the exciting study and feel so honored to have been part of this amazing project with @a_wahlin, @dareliuselin, @clnhz et al. (Pic Samuel Viboud) 20/x
A long, long time ago (ok, in fall of 2017) I got the chance to join Elin Darelius and Anna Wåhlin’s team for a measuring campaign at the Coriolis platform in Grenoble for several weeks. I was there officially in an outreach officer-like role: To write and tweet about the experiments, conduct “ask me anything” events, write guest posts newsletters and websites, etc.. A lot of my work from that time is documented on Elin’s blog, that I blogged on almost daily during those periods. And we had so many amazing pictures to share (mostly green, that’s because of the lasers we used).
Turbulence in a rotating system is 2D, therefore the whole water column is rotating in this eddy that we accidentally made when moving parts of the structure in the tank
But I was extremely lucky: Neither Elin nor Anna nor anyone else on the team saw me as “just the outreach person”, which is a role that outreach people are sadly sometimes pushed in. Instead, they knew me as an oceanographer and that’s how I was integrated in the team: We discussed experiments all the way from the setup in an empty tank (below you see Elin with her “Antarctica”)
No matter how carefully you planned your experiments, once you start actually conducting them, there is always something that doesn’t work quite the way you imagined. But since time in facilities like the Coriolis platform is limited, it is hugely important to think on your feet, come up with ideas quickly, and fix things. Which is the part of science that I enjoy the most: Being confronted with a problem “in the field” and having to fix it right then and there, using whatever limited equipment and information you have available.
Speaking of “limited information”: Sometimes you have to make educated guesses about what’s in the data you are currently collecting in order to make decisions on how to proceed, without being able to know for sure what’s in the data. We took tons of pictures and videos and obviously also observed by eye what was happening in the tank, but in the end, the “real” data collection was happening with images that we couldn’t analyse on the spot (and that’s what the research part is about that took place in between fall of 2017 and now: many many hours of computing and analysing and discussing and rinse and repeat).
Grenoble was also an amazing experience just because of the sheer size of the Coriolis platform. Below you see the operations room, an office that is built above the tank and rotates with it. And let me tell you, being on a merry-go-round all day long isn’t for everybody!
I really also enjoy the hands-on work. Below is me in waders in the 13-m-diameter rotating pool (while it’s rotating, of course), using a broom to sweep up “neutrally buoyant” particles that we use to track the flow that over night settled on the topography (so much for “neutrally buoyant”, but close enough). Sometimes it comes in handy to be an early bird and doing this work before everybody else gets up, so the tank has the chance to settle into solid body rotation again before experiments start for the day.
Here you see the layer of particles in different stages of disturbance, and me having fun with it (it might not be obvious from the picture, but I’m standing in waist-deep water there)
But then we weren’t playing all day long for weeks. There were times of intense discussions of preliminary results. Exciting times! And of course, those discussions only intensified when all the data was in and could be analysed in more depth.
“I don’t want my face on the internet!”, “My science should speak for itself, it shouldn’t matter who I am as a person!”, “I just don’t like what I look like in pictures!”, “People won’t perceive me as professional when I include selfies in my science communication work!”: There are many reasons for not posting selfies on the internet, and I sympathise with many of them. However, I have chosen (and continue to choose) to post the occasional selfie. Why is that?
My main goal I am trying to achieve with my scicomm Instagram @fascinocean_kiel is to show that exciting science (specifically ocean physics) can be discovered EVERYWHERE if you are open to seeing it. This means that I post pictures of water that I take on walks along any kind of river, lake, ocean, but also in puddles, sinks, or tea cups, pretty much daily.
But in order to make my Insta relatable to other people, I find it important to put these pictures in the context of my life. Yes, I live on the Baltic Sea coast and therefore have the opportunity to see “the ocean” (well, kinda) on an almost daily basis, which is reflected in my Insta. But I commute to work in Hamburg (where I see Elbe river and the Port of Hamburg, which you also see quite a lot), and I travel a lot throughout Germany and beyond. Some days I’m on the train — on those days you’ll often see pictures of water taken from the train window. Or if I am giving workshops in locations with fancy taps, you will see those. My point is: You can discover oceanography everywhere. If you choose to look for it.
But then who does get this excited about this kind of stuff? Well, I do. And this is where #ThisIsWhatAScientistLooksLike comes in. I’m not wearing a lab coat, and I am not even observing this science as part of my job. I’m not even employed as a scientist any more, nor do I want to be. But I didn’t loose my identity as a scientist when I decided to stop pursuing an academic career. That was a huge fear I had when I was in the process of wanting out of academia — that I would be a failed scientist if I left, even if I left because I would rather be somewhere else. So for me, showing that I am still a scientist even if that’s not my day job anymore is my way of offering myself as the role model that I wish I had during that time, showing that leaving academia doesn’t make you any less of a scientist.
Of course, #ThisIsWhatAScientistLooksLike also includes other aspects, for example making women or other minorities in science more visible. Or showing that there is no one “correct” way of being a scientist. For example the clothes you wear or how much effort you put into looking put together are in no way correlated to how serious you are about your science. Contributing to spreading that message is a nice side effect for me.
But does posting selfies do anything to how people perceive scientists?
There is a 2019 study by Jarreau et al. that looked at this. They compared different kinds of Instagram posts, some showing selfies of scientists, some showing only lab equipment or other pictures of the work only. And they found that posting selfies does actually have an impact on how scientists are perceived.
Scientists posting selfies (as opposed to those only posting “work stuff”) were perceived as significantly warmer. Appearing warm is definitely desirable in this context, as warmth is a component of trustworthiness. Obviously, as a scientist we want to be, but also be perceived as, trustworthy. This perception is created in this study when selfies were used.
Another finding is that posting selfies does not result in scientists being perceived as less competent, both for male and female scientists. So here goes the fear mentioned above that posting selfies will make you appear less serious about your work! Or does it? Note that of course this study does not guarantee that nobody ever will think less of you because you are posting selfies. Of course there might be people you are working with, or more generally, that see your selfies online and think any number of weird things. In general, this does not appear to be the case. But you know your bosses, your community, your life best, so ultimately if this is a concern you have, you need to weigh the potential benefits of posting selfies against that risk. In my case, I have decided that I can totally live with what some people might think about me posting selfies because I know that the people who matter to me don’t think less of me because of it. Additionally, I have gotten a lot of feedback that people actually enjoy seeing selfies on my Insta occasionally, because it does make it more relatable.
As a women, I also find it important that I post selfies, because the study showed that this can contribute to making science be perceived less as “exclusively male”. The common stereotype of what a scientist looks like is still to this day an old white male (in a lab coat and with messy hair). Of course there are plenty of those around, but there are so many brilliant and inspiring women out there, too, that I’d like to see that stereotype change.
In total, results of the study are that showing selfies can potentially help change attitudes towards scientists towards the better. The study doesn’t explore the mechanisms through which this happens (so it might depend on, for example, facial expressions, features of the background, or tons of other things), so it is by no means guaranteed to work for every selfie being posted on the internet (and also how many selfies do people need to see for this effect to kick in, or what does the ratio to “science stuff only” pictures need to be? And how long does the effect last?). In any case, to me, this study is indication enough that me posting selfies might have all the intended consequences, and that’s reason enough for me to choose to post selfies. And I encourage you to check out the study and consider posting selfies, too!
(Werbung ohne Auftrag // This blogpost is not sponsored)
I strongly believe that all scicomm efforts should be grounded in the science of science communication. That means reading a lot of original literature, or … reading this book that I recently found. It’s a quick and fun overview over the current understanding of what works and why: “The Science of Communicating Science — The Ultimate Guide” by Craig Cormick.
The Science of Communicating Science
The book is structured in four parts: “The ground rules”, “communication tools”, “when things get hard”, and “science communication issues”. It is a really easy and enjoyable read. It’s full of funny stories and cute sketches that illustrate key concepts, and despite it being pretty much a review of the relevant literature, it’s written in a conversational style. The author brings in a lot of stories that make his points. For example to stress the importance of story telling, he talks about how every last tired student woke up in a lecture once he paused his usual lecturing and said “let me tell you a story!”. Very relatable.
“The ground rules”
This part provides a lot of the background knowledge on scicomm. Why do we need to communicate science? What makes science communication good science communication? What is it that the public knows and believes about science, and how much do they care about science? And is there even such a thing as “the public”? (Spoiler alert: of course not!)
It for example tackles one of the big problems I see in science communication: People believing that they will change other people’s minds with more information (and, it’s quite interesting that in my experience, those people’s minds usually aren’t changed by all the data that contradicts them on that).
This part of the book should definitely be required reading for anyone doing scicomm.
In this part, the author deals with many different ways to communicate with audiences, and what is known about them — both the communication tools themselves and what audiences might be reached with which tool. For example for social media, it is important to understand who for example has internet access and who is actually using what channel for what purpose, in order to find the best way to reach your specific audience. Or for TED talks, turns out that the gestures and way you present yourself are super important for how you are being perceived so that it basically doesn’t matter to the ratings whether people watch you with sound on or off. How scary is this?
This part of the book is definitely interesting to browse for an overview over many different tools, and looking at chances and challenges of each. And if you are planning to use, or already using, any of the tools described there, it will be super helpful to look into what the author has to say about it.
“When things get hard”
Now we are getting into the really difficult issues, like for example beliefs. Why do people believe what they believe? And how can we respectfully and constructively deal with people who hold beliefs different from ours? (How) can we change beliefs?
Or another example that I found really interesting because I hadn’t thought about it before, or at least not in those terms, was communicating risk. For risk communication, there are different strategies recommended for audiences that are defined depending on how much they are concerned about a specific risk on the one hand, and how much they are affected by that risk on the other. People in the low concern & low affected corner are an audience that can be communicated with in the way you would normally do scicomm. However, as soon as there is high concern or high risk, things change. For audiences that are highly concerned despite not being highly affected, listening is the key, both to make them feel understood as well as to understand what exactly their concerns are so that you can eventually help them see that despite the concerns they might not be as much as risk as they think they are. But then for people with low levels of concerns but high risk, a completely different approach is needed, one that educates people about the risks they are at. Lastly, people who are both highly concerned and highly at risk are the group that you need to engage with the most. And there are a lot of pointers for how to do that in the book, that I can’t all spill here ;-)
Another chapter in this part of the book that I found really interesting is on changing people’s behaviours. In a nutshell, you don’t change people’s behaviours by changing what they think they should be doing, you change behaviours first and that will lead to a change in attitudes towards the behaviour they are now employing. It’s all about cognitive dissonance and how we are trying to avoid a mismatch between what we say we want to do and what we actually do — usually by changing our attitudes, not our behaviours. So make it easy for people to behave in the way you want them to behave and their attitudes will follow (one of the reasons why I think taxing and fines as tools to influence behaviours should be used a lot more; attitudes will follow…).
This part of the book then concludes with chapters on “communicating controversies” (lots of helpful strategies for if/when you get caught in a shit storm!) and “debunking bunkum” about dealing with pseudoscience.
“Science communication issues”
I really loved this part of the book, because here issues get addressed that we don’t talk about enough, like ethics of scicomm. When we talk about “what works in scicomm”, in a way it’s fair to say that we are talking about ways of manipulating people. We do this with the best intentions, but still, we are basically employing and sharing techniques to make people believe what we believe and act in ways that we think are the right ones. And once in a while it’s good to stop and think about what exactly it is that we are doing there and if we want to adopt existing or develop new guidelines or a code of conduct.
Then there is a chapter on all the caveats of scicomm research. How valid is all the stuff that we think we know about how scicomm works? Very important read!
And lastly, the author ends with an appeal to scicomm researchers to make their findings accessible to practitioners, and for practitioners to dig around if there might already be research available on their formats and topics. To sum it up: “Go and do brilliant things”!
In my old job in scicomm research, I had the time to read a lot of scientific articles as well as reports, blog posts, etc, and go to workshops, watch youtube, browse social media, etc, to inform myself about the cutting edge science and practice of scicomm. And that’s pretty much a full-time job. Now, with my current job, I still try to keep up to date, but I am really glad I have this foundation of two years full-time focus on scicomm research & practice to fall back on. So I am very much aware of how much there is to learn about scicomm, and how difficult it is to do when that isn’t your primary focus.
I received this book last year, two days before giving an introductory scicomm workshop, and binge-read it to make sure I wasn’t missing anything super important in my workshop. Turns out that the first part of this book, “the ground rules”, is a very good match with what I chose to include as a foundation for my workshop, citing many of the same articles and focusing on very similar topics. If you can’t spend a huge amount of time on diving into the science of scicomm (or attend one of my workshops, obviously ;-)), reading this book is really the best way to get started that I am aware of, and I highly highly recommend reading it! And even if you think you know all there is to know, it’s really refreshing to get a new perspective on things. Still go read the book! :-)
P.S.: A quick overview over the main message of the book (and including some of the fun sketches!) is also given here, by the author himself. So go check that out, too!
P.P.S.: Looking for more to read? Another book I liked a lot and recommended on here about a year ago (when it had just come out): Communicating Climate Change by Armstrong, Krasny & Schuldt.
“The Science of Communicating Science — The Ultimate Guide” by C. Cormick (2019).
On publishing in a journal peer-reviewed by kids, and suggesting it as a first journal new PhD students should be asked to write for
You guys might remember my favourite experiment with the ice cubes melting in freshwater and saltwater. This experiment can be used for almost any teaching purpose (Introduction to experimenting? Check! Thermohaline circulation? Check! Lab safety? Check! Scientific process? Check! And the list goes on and on…) and for any audience (necessary observation skills start a taking the time it takes ice cubes to melt in the easiest case, to observing the finest details of the melt). In short, I love this experiment!
A different format of science communication
After using it in all kinds of settings for years, I wrote up the experiment for Frontiers Young Minds, a journal which is written for, and peer-reviewed by, kids (link to my article). I love the idea of not only tailoring your science communication to the audience of young readers, but making sure that it actually works well for them by including them in the process. Additionally, the peer-reviewers get a great insight into how a publishing process (and thus an important step in science) works, too.
The whole peer-review and publication process was a really positive experience. Speciality chief editor for “Earth and its resources“, Mark Brandon, and the whole team were super responsive and helpful all the way from initial article idea until publication.
Writing for and being peer-reviewed by young readers
Having my writing peer-reviewed by the “young readers” was super interesting. For example, on one of my articles, they commented on how, as kids growing up in the US, they were not familiar with metric units and could I please give them units they could actually relate to? This is an issue I should probably have been aware of, but I totally wasn’t.
Another example from the other article: a different young reader commented that English was their second language, and could I replace difficult words like “puddle” and “dye” with easier words. As a non-native English speaker myself, this feedback was super helpful — I thought that I was writing in an easy language already, but clearly my perception of “easy language” has drifted into specialized vocabulary — super valuable feedback!
And then both teams reviewing both my articles had a science mentor helping them, and also commenting him/herself on the article and how the review process with the kids went and suggesting further edits, that would make it easier for kids to work with the article.
Illustration by Jessie Miller for Frontiers Young Minds, used with permission
And then, of course, there are Jessie Miller‘s super cute illustrations! After seeing what she did for my first article, I couldn’t wait to see what would happen for this one, and I am super excited about another illustration that makes me feel completely understood and seen.
Writing your first ever article for FYM?
So all in all, publishing with FYM is something I would totally recommend to anyone. And I would even go so far as to recommend it as the first article that PhD students should be asked to write. Why?
Articles for FYM can be written on “core concepts”, which can mean basically writing a literature review on the topic you are about to write a PhD thesis on, and one that is broken down so far that you will really have to have understood things. There is this saying attributed to basically all science educators in one form or another, that only if you can explain your topic to a child, do you actually understand it yourself. So explaining to children is actually a super helpful step in the process of getting into a topic yourself.
Writing something that is designed to be understood by a wide variety of audiences is really useful for another reason, too: to give to all your family and friends as an easy insight into what it is you are spending all your time on.
The feedback you get on how you talk about your topic will be helpful for all future communications about it; Practicing scicomm as early as possible is always a good idea :-)
Having a really positive publishing experience is a great start into a PhD, because surely other kinds of experiences will follow sooner or later. The submission through the uploads and forms and stuff works the same way for FYM as for all other journals (including the “oh crap, they want the images in a different format than I prepared them in! Let’s google how to convert them”, “Really? They need an abstract? Maybe I should have read the instructions more carefully…”, or “They are really counting the words on the submission! So now I need to cut an extra paragraph that I thought I could get away with…” surprises that are typical for the “Let me quickly submit this article and go for lunch! Oh wait, half a day later and I am still nowhere near the end of the process” experience that is so common when submitting articles. At the same time, the stakes feel a little lower for this kind of article, since as an early PhD student, you are writing about other people’s work, not yet your own (at least when writing a core concept article, there is also the “cutting edge research” article type, in which you are writing about some newly published article of yours). And then, as I described above, the whole process is really positive and friendly and supportive throughout, even though all the steps are the same as for any other journal (Waiting for the editor to send the article out to the reviewers. Seeing that stuff is waiting on a desk somewhere and compulsively checking every day whether it has been moved on and the email notification just didn’t make it through. Replying to a reviewer. That kind of things). So I believe that it’s a really good way to be introduced to the publishing process without being pushed into super cold water right away, building up confidence for later submissions of your own work.
FYM announces new articles on their social media (with lovely tweets!), which have a fairly wide reach, well above what most of us have, and that’s a great opportunity to be seen as authority on a topic by a large number of potentially interested people. Great opportunity to expand your network!
And, as I said before, I just love the illustrations and I would imagine that having something like this when you start working on a new topic would be super exciting and motivating :-)
What do you think? Will you suggest writing a FYM article to all your new PhD students now?
Seeing this illustration (and, of course, having the article published) was a super nice surprise during the busy run-up to my big event, which is actually happening right now (good thing I know how to schedule blog posts ;-)). The illustration makes me suuuuper happy because to me it really captures what the article is about and, more importantly, what my goal in writing the article was. And I feel seen and understood in a profound way, and reminded of who I am. Never underestimate the power of #scicart! Thank you, Jessie!
Glessmer, M. S. (2019) How Does Ice Form in the Sea? Front. Young Minds 7:79. doi: 10.3389/frym.2019.00079
I’ve been recommending the “Continue. Start. Stop.” feedback method for years an years (at least since my 2013 blog post), but not as a research-backed method but mostly based on my positive personal experience with it. I have used this method to get feedback on courses I’ve been teaching a couple of weeks into the course in order to improve my teaching both within the course as well as over the years. If there was anything that students thought would improve their learning, I wanted to be able adapt my teaching (and also, in a follow-up discussion of the feedback, be able to address student expectations that might not have been explicit before that I might or might not want to follow). I like that even though it’s a qualitative method and thus fairly open, it gives students a structure along which they can write their feedback. Also by asking what should be continued as well as stopped and started, it’s a nice way to get feedback on what’s already working well, too! But when I was asked for a reference for the method today, I didn’t really have a good answer. But then I found one: an article by Hoon et al. (2015)!
Studies on the “continue. start. stop.” feedback vs open feedback
In the first study in the article, two different feedback methods are compared over three different courses: a free form feedback and a structured format, similar to “continue. start. stop.”. From this study, the authors draw pointers for changing the feedback method in the free form course to a more structured feedback. They investigate the influence of this change in a second study.
In that second study, the authors find that using a structured feedback led to an increasing depth of feedback, and that the students liked the new form of giving feedback. They also find indications that the more specific the questions are, the more constructive (as compared to more descriptive texts in the open form; not necessarily more positive or negative!) the feedback is.
My recommendations for how to use the “continue. start. stop.” feedback
If anything, this article makes me like this feedback method even more than I did before. It’s easy and straight forward and actually super helpful!
Use this as formative feedback!
Ask for this feedback early on in the course (maybe after a couple of weeks, when students know what to expect in your course, but with plenty of the course left to actually react to the feedback) and use the student replies to help you improve your teaching. While this method can of course also be used as summative feedback at the end of the course, how much cooler is it if students can benefit from the feedback they gave you?
Ask full questions
One thing that I might not have been clear about before when talking about the “continue. start. stop.” feedback method is that it is important to actually use the whole phrases (“In order to improve your learning in this course, please give me feedback on the following points
Continue: What is working well in this course that you would like to continue?
Start: What suggestions do you have for things that could improve the course?
Stop: What would you like us to stop doing?”
or similar) rather than just saying “continue. start. stop.” and assuming the students know what that means.
Leave room for additional comments
It is also helpful to give an additional field for other comments the students might have, you never know what else they’d like to tell you if only they knew how and when to do it.
Use the feedback for several purposes at once!
In the article’s second study, a fourth question is added to the “continue. start. stop.” method, and that is asking for examples of good practice and highlights. The authors say this question was mainly included for the benefit of “external speakers who may value course feedback as evidence of their own professional development and engagement with education”, and I think that’s actually a fairly important point. While the “continue. start. stop.” feedback itself is a nice addition to any teaching portfolio, why not think specifically about the kind of things you would like to include there, and explicitly ask for them?
Give feedback on the feedback
It’s super important that you address the feedback you got with your class! Both so that they feel heard and know whether their own perception and feedback agrees with that of their peers, as well as to have the opportunity to discuss what parts of their suggestions you are taking on, what will be changing as a result of their suggestions, and what you might not want to change (and why!). If this does not happen, students might not give you good feedback the next time you ask for it because they feel that since it didn’t have an effect last time, why would they bother doing it again?
Now it’s your turn!
Have you used the “continue. start. stop.” method? How did it work for you? Will you continue using it or how did you modify it to make it suit you better? Let me know in the comments below! :-)
Hoon, A. and Oliver, E.J. and Szpakowska, K. and Newton, P. (2015) ‘Use of the ‘Stop, Start, Continue’ method is associated with the production of constructive qualitative feedback by students in higher education.’, Assessment and evaluation in higher education., 40 (5). pp. 755-767. [link]
In a presentation about science communication I gave on Monday, I recommended a couple of resources for scientists interested in science communication. For example the amazing climatevisuals.org for advice on which images to use to communicate about climate change (plus lots of images that even come with explanations for what purpose they work well, and why!). And of course my #scicommchall to get people inspired to try out a new micro scicomm format every month.
But here is an (open access!) book I wish I had known about then already but only came across two days after my presentation: “Communicating Climate Change” by A. K. Armstrong, M. E. Krasny, J. P. Schuldt (2018).
This is a book aimed at educators who want to communicate climate change in a literature-based and effective manner. It consists of four parts: A background, the psychology of climate change, communication, and stories from the field, which I will briefly review below (and you should definitely check out the real thing!). It’s nice and easy to read, and there are “bottom line for educators” at the end of each chapter as well as recaps at the end of each part, making it easy to get a quick overview even if you might not have the time to read the whole thing in detail.
This part of the book begins with an introduction to climate change science, reporting state-of-the-art science on climate, greenhouse gases, evidence for climate change, and climate impacts. It then moves to how climate change can be addressed: by mitigating or adapting to its effects, how it is important to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and how that can be achieved both on an individual level and by collective action. It ends with a “bottom line for educators” summary that stresses that climate change is real, that misinformation campaigns are an unfortunate reality, and that educators can contribute to solving the problem.
The next chapter then deals with what is known on attitudes and knowledge about climate change in different audiences internationally and at different ages, explaining that attitudes are actually a pretty bad predictor for behaviour, but nevertheless important to know about if you are an educator! For example, if you want teens to be concerned about climate change, a useful approach might be to involve their parents along with them, since what family and friends believe about climate change is very important to what an individual teenager believes, as is how often they discuss climate topics with their friends and family. Again, the “bottom line for educators” breaks this down into advice, for example to focus on different topics depending on how concerned about climate change a given audience already is, or to focus on areas in which a common ground between them and their audiences exists in order to generate a constructive and positive dialogue even though there might still be areas in which they do not agree with their audiences (which they should think about beforehand, hence the importance to know about the audience’s attitudes).
The next chapter suggests possible outcomes for climate change education — how do we know if a climate change communication activity was successful? — and stresses the importance of defining these goals in the first place. Outcomes can be defined on the level of individuals, of communities, of the environment, or of resilience of all of the above. For individuals, outcomes could for example be literacy (understanding essential principles, knowledge of how to assess scientifically credible information, ability to communicate, ability to make informed and responsible decisions) of climate change, or attitudes and emotions, the feeling of confidence that you can reach your goals, or environmentally friendly behaviour. For communities, outcomes could be positive development of youth, building of social capital (e.g. trust or positive action), the belief that the community can reach a goal together, or action taken together by the whole community. Focussing on the environment, an outcome could be adaptation to, or mitigation of, climate change.
The next chapter then presents three climate change vignettes — three examples of how different educators address different audiences in different settings — and a discussion of why they chose to design their activity a certain way and react to questions or comments the way they did.
The psychology of climate change
This part of the book presents psychology research on why knowledge about climate change is not sufficient to actually change behaviours.
Identity research especially is very helpful, as it explains how in order to feel like you are part of a group (something that we as humans are hard-wired to crave) we tend to conform with our group’s norms and values. We might be part of different groups at different times as well as simultaneously (for example our family as one and our colleagues as another, or inhabitant of a city, or student of oceanography), and contexts trigger specific identities that might even not be completely congruent with each other. When new information is presented, we interpret it in a way that does not threaten our identity in the context the information is presented in. Therefore, in order to not threaten anybody’s identity and making it impossible for them to take on our message, it is important to make sure that climate change is not communicated as something polarising or political, but rather choose to trigger identities that are inclusive, like for example “inhabitant of place x”, and focus on outcomes that benefit that community independent of what other identities might exist, by for example protecting a local beach.
Psychological distance is another lens through which climate change communication can be viewed. The more distant a problem seems, the less important it is perceived. Therefore focussing on local relevance rather than global, on places that are important to people, on communities they care about, might in some cases be helpful — although not always; the results of the research on this are not conclusive yet.
Then a few other relevant psychological research areas are discussed, like for example “terror management theory”. This leads to the recommendation to avoid “doom and gloom” presentations of climate change that might kick people into a defence mechanism of ignoring the topic to protect their emotional well-being in the moment, and to focus on hope and positive action instead. Then there is the “cognitive dissonance theory”, according to which we try to ignore information that conflicts with what we think we already know or threatens other goals we might have. The recommendation here is to give people ideas of easy things they can do to combat climate change to combat cognitive dissonance.
This part of the book presents three aspects of communicating climate change: How we frame it, which analogies and metaphors we use, and how we, as a messenger, can build trust.
“Framing” is about how a message is featured in a story line to help the audience interpret it in a certain way, by making certain aspects of it especially visible, for example economic aspects or tipping points. When thinking about framing a climate change message, it is important to think about audiences and their identities and to avoid wording that will trigger identities which make it difficult to accept the message. Depending on the desired outcomes, climate change communications could, for example, be framed for solutions, hope, or values. There are ways to build entire climate change communication programs around those frames, and there are several examples given for how this might be done.
The next chapter focusses on analogies and metaphors. For example, “osteoporosis of the sea” (which I had never heard in use before) has been found to be a successful metaphor for ocean acidification. However, as all metaphors, it only highlights similarities between issues and neglects to mention the dissimilarities which makes them tricky to use because it’s hard to make sure people don’t take a metaphor so far that it breaks down. In fact, to address this problem, the authors recommend to explicitly talk about where the analogy or metaphor will break down.
Establishing trust in the climate change messengers: This is tricky as people tend to trust other people that hold values similar to their own. Therefore it is helpful to think about the messenger and to use trusted middle persons. [There is are actually some very interesting work on trust out there, for example by Hendriks, Kienhues and Bromme (2015) that isn’t mentioned in the book, but that I’d be happy to summarise for you if anyone is interested!]
Stories from the field
The book ends with a part called “stories from the field” in which examples of different climate change communication activities, focussing on different goals, audiences, messenges and happening in very different settings, are given and the design choices that were made explained in detail. Also for each of the story, an example is given how the message is phrased in actual interaction with the target audience. All of this is super interesting to read because all the theory the book provided in the previous chapters is applied to real world cases, which makes it easy to see how they might be applied to your own climate change communication activities. Also these best practice examples are inspiring to see and give me a sense of hope.
To sum up: I really enjoyed reading this book! So much so that continuing reading it was more important than getting a good Instagram pic of my latte while writing this blogpost. I would really recommend anyone interested in climate change communication to check it out! When I finished my talk on Monday, on my second to last slide I put the African proverb along the lines of “if you think you are too small to make a difference, try going to sleep with a mosquito in the room”. I used this to talk about using messages of hope in climate change communication, and then also applied it to science communication — don’t think you are too small to make a difference there, either! And that’s a message that this book conveys really well, too, providing a good idea of what one could do and how one might go about it, and inspiring one — or at least me — to do so, too.