Over the past four decades, there have been a number of significant developments in the way science has been communicated to the wider public. The dominant focus on educational content with a one-way flow of information from scientists to members of the public has been criticised for not taking into account the social and cultural context of scientific knowledge (Irwin, 2009). In contrast, more recent approaches promote dialogue, participation and engagement between scientists, members of the public and other stakeholders.

However, there remains a significant question over these more recent arrangements: to what extent do members of the public desire educational content over dialogic approaches when they engage with the sciences? What do they value in an event where the sciences are involved? To explore this issue further, I investigated nine weekly public open evenings organised by the Institute of Astronomy at the  niversity of Cambridge, UK. Each event typically consisted of a lecture aimed at general audiences followed by questions and answers. Guided observations of the night sky with the local amateur astronomy group followed if the weather was clear. If it was cloudy, staff provided tea and coffee and had informal discussions with the ttendees.

A mixed methods approach resulted in a combination of data being collected. Articipant observation through field notes complemented the collection of both quantitative and qualitative data from questionnaires. Audience demographics were analysed and participants were asked a number of questions relating to their general attitudes towards science outreach events and whether they wished to see more opportunities for dialogue.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Reassessing dialogue
Reflections from an amateur astronomy event

Vickie Curtis   Institute for Educational Technology, The Open University, UK

Over the past four decades, there have been a number of significant developments in the way science has been communicated to the wider public. The dominant focus on educational content with a one-way flow of information from scientists to members of the public has been criticised for not taking into account the social and cultural context of scientific knowledge (Irwin, 2009). In contrast, more recent approaches promote dialogue, participation and engagement between scientists, members of the public and other stakeholders.

However, there remains a significant question over these more recent arrangements: to what extent do members of the public desire educational content over dialogic approaches when they engage with the sciences? What do they value in an event where the sciences are involved? To explore this issue further, I investigated nine weekly public open evenings organised by the Institute of Astronomy at the  niversity of Cambridge, UK. Each event typically consisted of a lecture aimed at general audiences followed by questions and answers. Guided observations of the night sky with the local amateur astronomy group followed if the weather was clear. If it was cloudy, staff provided tea and coffee and had informal discussions with the ttendees.

A mixed methods approach resulted in a combination of data being collected. Articipant observation through field notes complemented the collection of both quantitative and qualitative data from questionnaires. Audience demographics were analysed and participants were asked a number of questions relating to their general attitudes towards science outreach events and whether they wished to see more opportunities for dialogue.

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