Overview and Challenge
Those who work in the sciences have their own language. Whether it is biochemistry, botany, or physics, this language is often specific to that field. Through the C3/SciXchange program, we are teaching undergraduate science students how to be bilingual. That is, teaching them how to communicate those in other fields of science as well as with the public.
For this project, the HCRC worked with members of the Life Sciences Center to develop a curriculum to teach basic journalism skills to undergraduate science students and then how to utilize these skills through various media.
Based on our expertise in journalism and communication, we developed an online portal that the students could use to create these communication projects. The forms we decided upon were blogs, stories, photos, video and other multimedia – essentially the basics of convergence journalism. Using the Missouri Method, through which students learn about journalism in the classroom as well as practicing it in multimedia laboratories and real-world outlets, students are able to see how science jargon and academic language are barriers to having the public understand their ideas and work.
Strategy and Creative Direction
We knew from the start this would be a difficult challenge. Although the science students who applied knew what they were getting into, it took far longer than expected to see a change in their thinking. Based on our findings from a pilot group, we learned that eight weeks of instruction were needed to take these students, who often had only been in a research laboratory for one year, to learn the techniques and the reasons why clear communication of scientific concepts were important.
Each summer begins with an eight-week boot camp about journalism basics and answering the question of why this matters. At the start of the academic year, students are then required to take the concepts from the summer and put them into action, creating articles, photo essays, videos and blog entries, typically about science going on at the MU campus.
The first group of seven students in the pilot began the project in January 2011. After revamping the program based on findings from that pilot, we expanded the number of science students to 14 in the summer of 2011 for the boot camp. In fall 2011, we added four undergraduate journalism students to the mix, to allow for an exchange of ideas about science from different viewpoints and encourage collaboration between the students.
To date the students have created nearly 400 blog posts, more than 30 articles, 15 photo essays, and 10 multimedia projects.