Science Online pluses and minuses

How long can a conference continue after it has ended? I don’t know the answer, but I know that Science Online 2012 is definitely not over yet, despite the fact that the last plenary session ended more than two weeks ago. On the Wikipage of the conference the list of blog coverage after the conference just seems to keep growing, and on Twitter #scio12 tweets keeps rolling in. People I didn’t meet at the conference, I am now meeting two weeks later, meaning that I can still add names to the list of “people I met at Science Online”. Quite amazing.

It is great to read other people’s reflections on the conference, their follow-up sharing and their excitement over Science Online 2013, although it is almost one year away (a wikipage for planning Scio13 is already going strong).

As many of the Science Online related blog posts already portray, it is easy to become a fan of this little big unconference. Even though this was my first experience with the original Science Online conference (I attended Science Online London 2011), I felt so very welcome and almost automatically as member of a group or family I didn’t know I was a part of until I joined them there live, in Raleigh, NC.

The hundreds of interesting topics which came up during Scio12 could fill hundreds of blog posts, but here I’d just like to share two things that I really like about the conference, and articulate two of the weaknesses which I encountered.

Science Online 2012 pluses (two reasons why Science Online is great!)

  • It is full with passionate people. People who have a passion for communicating science, whether they are scientists, journalists, editors, communication officers etc. Beginners, longtime experts – they are all there with a passion which they are willing to share!
  • Titles are not important. On the name tag what is important is communicated (a great example of science communication to the point!). And this it not what your title is, which institution you represent, or where in the world you are from. Your first name is central (because this is by which you should approach other people). Second comes your last name, so that you actually have a fair chance of finding people  later on; and third of course their Twitter name, so that you can contact them! Especially the non-existence of titles and affiliations makes you feel equal with your fellow conference participants. No worries in approaching someone who then might turn out to be your favorite blogger or head of communication in the coolest organization.

Science Online minuses (A little bit of critique)

  • The conference brings together enthusiasts of science and communication. Most of them are either already good communicators or are thriving to become so. This provides a basis for valuable sharing of experiences and ideas, but not in all cases does it create a forum for fruitful for discussions. The eternal ‘battle’ of the ‘mean journalist’ and the non-communicating scientist often ended up dominating the discussions. And without the presence of either the bad journalist or the narrow-minded scientist, the discussion could at times end up a bit cliché and useless (or ‘in a rabbit hole’ as one of the people I follow on Twitter wrote). This was a shame for some of the discussions. I (perhaps naively) expected that at a Science Online conference focus would be more forward-looking and centered around how the social web might improve this journalist/scientist relationship. If the other discussion is wanted it might be better to bring in some bad journalists and some scientists who prefer staying hidden away in their lab or behind their desk and have them participate in the discussion.
  • What is science? To my knowledge there is no rule to how broadly science at Science Online should be defined. And that is how it should be. However, despite having met participants at the conference who do research in language, risk and other less ‘fact-based’ science, many of the discussions I participated in tended to centre around science which can be done in a lab, can be boiled down to numbers or relates to  theoretical science like physics and math. These are often difficult topics to communicate, so they deserve all the attention on the communication side that they can get. However, it would sometimes have been nice to have a more articulated discussion about how to communicate the much less fact-based science. I come from the area of public health. An area where there a lots of facts, but even more theories and unknowns. Ethical concerns, moral values, personal opinion, theoretical stand points all matters and makes communication of research in for example the wellbeing of asylum children, the best approaches to prevent stress from causing disease, behavior change’s role in preventing obesity etc. extremely difficult. It would be great if the challenges of communicating less ‘fact-based’ research could be discussed also at Science Online. Or at least that it is made clear that science is a broad thing and that the discussions may become blurry when they are all put under the one hat of “science”.

I guess my two ‘minuses’ could actually be converted into a suggestion for future sessions at Science Online 2013. For example the “Health/Medicine track” is still empty. Maybe this was a occation to make sure that the less medicine-oriented side of public health is also represented at Science Online. Will let the thought boil a little bit in my head..


Dear students: In this class you will have to have your mobiles turned ON

Do term papers have to be written with pen and paper? No, luckily not anymore. Is it necessary to hand in a printed version of your exam paper? No, universities (at least in Denmark) now let you submit online. Would most people use programmes like Word etc for writing their assignments? Probably yes. But how about putting it all online? And making it public. By using a blog format?

The idea seems very relevant in a course on Public Health Science Communication, which will also cover how social media can play a role in communicating science. At least the idea is very inviting to me. And several universities have already tried out the concept. For example the University of British Colombia used student blogging for their course on Social Media in Health and Medicine.

Since I myself have no experience with using blogs in teaching situations, I was happy to learn that Science Online 2012 had several sessions relating to using the blog as a tool in lecturing. Unfortunately, I only managed to make it to one of the four sessions that circled around the topic. Blogging in the Undergraduate Classroom. As with other sessions at #scio12 there was no ‘fixed’ agenda or presentation, but more an informal sharing of experiences, ideas and questions, led by two moderators (Jason Goldman and John Hawks), who both have used blogs in their teaching.

I have tried to but together a small Storify of the tweets from the session. A link to the Storify is here and at the end of this post. I’m not sure that I managed to capture all tweets, so apologies to those who feel their tweets have been overlooked).

In summary some of my main take-home-messages were:

Advantages

  • The goal of having the students blog is to teach them to communicate themselves – it is as simple as that!
  • Blogging can also be a tool for teaching students how to read papers! By asking them to blog about the papers they read it teaches them not just about writing but also about reading papers and commenting on them.
  • Students are much more aware of their audience (their peers and others who had access) and therefore work harder at their writing. (As someone commented: Their mothers might be reading along!)
  • Using blogs, Twitter etc in the classroom makes you the teacher where it’s OK use mobile devices during class – you’re the cool teacher and may create a new classroom culture, which in return can be inspiring/motivating for the students.

Challenges

  • Consider the privacy issue carefully. Should the blogs be public or restricted? Should the students blog under their own name etc.
  • One of the risks of introducing blogs is that you may end up spending all your time training to use platform, become technical support. Take this into consideration and choose your platform carefully
  • In grading it is important to be sensitive to the students technical skills, internet access, time frame for assignment etc.
  • The blog may invite to more informal, loose behavior. Make sure to make deadlines for “handing in” assignments – and stick to them.

Suggestions for how to use the blog

  • Forming student blogging teams can be an advantage. Eg. in teams of three where on student posts a blog, one person edits it and, one person comments on the final product. It can also be a way of involving the more shy students and give them room to express themselves
  • Let the students choose a topic of interest to blog about. They write much better if it is something they have an interest in and care about. Highlight that If they wouldn’t want to read it no one else would!
  • Blogs can be used to assign readings and students may be required to post and comment
  • Start out with a scaffolding the process, eg. Reading & commenting, later on write blogposts
  • Wiki-entries is a good alternative to blogs.

Other experiences

Doing a Google search of using blogs in the classroom, reveals that there are lots of experiences to learn from and also tools made available. (as with any Google search it can be a little chaotic to find out what is useful and what is not). One thing that looks useful that I just came across is something called Edublogs.org, which is an educational blogging services. Will have to explore that some more. There seems to be many ideas and services. And should any of you have experiences, lessons learned etc. you’d like to share they’ll be more than welcome!

Before I end I thought I’d also just share this SketchNote that, one of the participants in the #scio12 bloggin session (Lali DeRosier) did the below SketchNote:

Link to the Storify (Collection of tweets from the Session Blogging in the Classroom)

[View the story “Blogging in the classroom” on Storify]

Update 6. February 2012: Andrea Novicki, from Duke Center for Instructional Technology wrote his conclusions from the session here – very useful overview


The risky business of communicating science

Science Online 2012 is over, and I must admit that I’m still full of all the inputs, impressions and ideas that almost overloaded my head during those three days in North Carolina. Knowing were to start and were to end when giving highlights of the (un)conference is difficult. A blog post on my general reflections of the conference is coming up, but first I thought I’d just touch upon one of the themes I encountered at #scio12.

Risk. How do we communicate it? What is it really? What happens when a calculated, objective risk on paper is processed by a human mind? This is big challenge when communicating science – and perhaps especially in communication health research. Two of the sessions I attended at Science Online focused on risk. The first one, “Science Communication, Risk Communication and the role of social networks”, moderated by David Ropeik was a great session. David Ropeik pointed out that risk may very well be something that can be calculated to a percentage but to people it is a feeling. And feelings operate differently – and are not rational. I myself experienced that today. Being nearsighted I had a preexamination today for later lasic surgery. I had in advanced received a small folder explaining the procedure and of course – the risks. Even though the risks are relatively small, and despite the fact that I know several people who have had it done and are very happy with the result, when I read the small information brochure, I did all of a sudden have a feeling of “yikes – is this risk too big?” “How much is 1% really?” “If there were a hundred of me out there would one have worse eyesight after the procedure? Or would it look different if it was a hundred different people and not a hundred me? It is true, risk is a feeling. I felt like asking the doctor if he would do it if it was him. I wanted his feeling on this too.

Risk really is a challenge to communicate. And perhaps particularly in health, because disease and sickness is something that is very real to us and easy to imagine. In this regard, social media can be a challenge. Things have the potential to spread like viruses when they go online. Rumours of risk a radiation from the Fukushima nuclear plant made friends and family in Denmark fear for my wellbeing when I was in Kobe, Japan although I was more than 600 km away from the Fukushima plant. People in Denmark even feared that with wind coming in over Denmark from Japan they would too be at risk, if the situation got worse. And fears like that may be reinforced with unimaginable speed once they go viral.

So how do you balance communicating the facts when you at the same time risk steering fear? Are there ethical obligations to communicate all available research or the  opposite – should researchers be obligated to hold back certain kinds of information in the interest of public health, and the interest of the individual? Communication in public health is central, and reflecting on how to deal with risks should be a requirement for any public health researcher or professional (and for journalists too!). The web’s role in this is tricky. It is important to get the facts out there – and try to illustrate the proportion of risk, but the web also provides a fora where you can find confirmation of the risk of almost anything you like.

The discussions at Science Online didn’t give answers to how with deal with risk, and there most certainly is no magical solution. But the discussion triggered reflection, which should be required by all public health professionals when they communicate, whether to the public, to a journalist, at decision maker etc.

And as an end note: I did decide to go ahead with the lasic surgery – after carefully evaluating the risks and interpreting the doctors attitude and behavior. So in April, when I am without glasses, I will hopefully be able to say that it was worth the risk 🙂


Blogger – a hero or villain?

In Raleigh, NC! And ScienceOnline2012 starts in just a few hours. Yeah. During my trip here from Copenhagen, yesterday I was in many ways confronted with one of the topics which will most definitely be mentioned in today’s talks – blogs.

As if the airline knew that at least two people on their flight were heading to #Scio12, the inflight magazine opened up with the article “How to make a food blog”. Glorifying the blog as something every food lover should have. Interviews with food bloggers from across the world, who have made a name for themselves – though blogging. In the article the blogger is definitely in the hero category. (Couldn’t help thinking a similar thing should be done just focusing on blogging scientists and researchers from different fields – and it should figure in exactly an inflight magazine too!)

On the second flight, the inflight entertainment system offered the movie “Contagion”. A film about a flu pandemic causing deaths all over the world at extreme speed, followed by general panic and chaos amongst the population. One of the drivers of the panic and anger is a blogger (played by Jude Law) who doubts the intentions of the government and the pharmaceutical industry in stopping the disease from spreading. In addition, he claims to have found the cure for the virus by some homeopathic treatment, which people end up committing crimes for in their attempt to get it. All through the film, the blogger is the villain and a problem for the authorities and who in the end gets his (well deserved?) punishment.

It was interesting to see these two perspectives on blogging. I look forward to spending the day with lots and lots of bloggers, tweeters etc. (heros as well as villains and all those in between). I have a feeling it will be a blast (as a participant of previous ScienceOnline conferences told me at the bus stop yesterday). The Tweeting have definitely already begun and I fear a little how to make it through 450 people tweeting at the same time…..