dinsdag 23 oktober 2012

Catching up on science education developments

Ouch...this blog was lagging behind quite a bit. Time to catch up!  Where to start?

A publication. The translation of the title would be A journey through the landscape of informal learning. As the proud chair of the Science Learning Center's annual vision and strategy days I was send a draft earlier this year. That was already so good and so informative that I was very tempted to forward it to other professionals and organisations with the message "hey look here for some great eduational insights from experienced colleagues". And to very honest also driven by the wish to show that the sector is definitly on a road of professionalisation. Finding its bearings, formalising its fundaments and developing its vision driven by passion and a strong content focus. And from there building strategical partnerships and developing businesscases. But of course it was still internal then, a draft. Which I already thought excellent. But the eventual version incredibly indeed has improved once again from the draft. And the presentation was just lovely. A symposium with a highly interesting presentation from Josh Gutwill from the Exploratorium in San Francisco who enlightened the participants on juicy questions, the insight that the actual exhibitions hardly have a tangible effect on the level of knowledge and that longitudinal research in the USA shows that how well you do at a certain subject is less decisive in the choice of study than what interests a kid. His statement: our goal is to empower people to make sense of the world themselves. How is that for a oneliner that gives food for thought!

prinses Laurentien spices up the science dinner
A dinner. A science dinner to be precise. To kick off October science month and the first ever science weekend. An entire range of activities highlighted science and technology in action for families, schools, and everybody interested. A remarkable dinner with insect meatballs (delicious by the way), and high level speakers. And two very happy winners of the science communication prize in The Netherlands: Freek Vonk & Rob van Hattum. The dinner offered a very nice opportunity to catch up with quite some people I hadn't seen for a while. So thanks for the organisation!

trying to get some lessons learned readable from the iphone

A lecture. By Kimberly Kowal Arcand from the Chandra x-ray center from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachuttes in the USA. A public symposium organised by Leiden University widely publices via linkedin. A lecture about the new insights user research delivered to the institute's communication. Through structured end user research they found that inspite of their efforts and goals they reached only a very specific group: mostly man, white, non-hispanic and 60+. Whereas their goals was to reach a broad audience and many teachers and students. They also found out that different groups appreciate different forms of communications: laymen are appreciative of a rather more narrative approach whereas experts want short and to the point information. Kimberly also highlighted questions that arise in science communications. The one that stuck with me (probably also because it was part of my M.A. thesis for Applied Ethics) was wehterh in your communications as an institution you have to be culturally correct (e.g. the color red indicates "hot" on a picture) or stay with the scientific lingo (e.g. "hot" in the world of astronomers is indicated with a blue color). Her story on reaching out to the public with exhibitions in public spaces was also enlightning. Want to know more? Look out for their stories in which they explain their experiences in the Journal of Science Communication and the CAP Journal.

So quite a few what I would call milestone developments in the professionalisation: effects are measured, impact is charted, and fundaments driving the work in science education and communication are on the road of being formalised in a way befitting the sector. And the sector is slowly but surely taking a peek below the surface, addressing ethical questions (jay! says this ethicist!!) such as what we build into exhibitions, into machines? What are our values driving the designs? How can we chart those and work with those? Productively. The area that Peter Paul Verbeek is developing and bascially making accessible for all sorts of professionals. And that is slowly but surely making it's way into science communication and education. It's always been there, but it's increasingly explicity addressed.

Throughout it all I caught myself wondering: how do we get this (new) knowledge out to others? How do we get past preaching to the choir? And is that indeed possible. And also: how do we paint a realistic picture of the scientific world. Because it is knuckling down. Grafting. Demanding. And to reach the scientific starts takes more than a passion for knowledge. Very few make it onto the grand projects that we hear about and that we like to point to. The stone we tend to romance, to quote after that old movie. Those are questions that will surface from time to time, that are part of the professional development of science communication and education.

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