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PCST Webinar: New platforms and innovations in science communication by Karina Akopian

6 April 2021

Science communicators have adapted to the global pandemic in creative ways by using new online formats and platforms. In March 2021, five panellists spoke about new ways to engage audiences by going digital.

Panellists highlighted audience accessibility and problems with the digital divide. They suggested ways to encourage critical thinking and help address challenges with the “attention economy”

Heather Doran has adapted an in-person game, The Evidence Chamber, for playing online during the pandemic. This Scottish game invites participants to be part of a fictional jury.  Participants analyse evidence and consult with forensic experts to solve a case.

“We now have more opportunities than ever to connect with people through science communication,” said Heather.

“Anyone can play this online game from anywhere in the world”

Sofia Otero spoke about three science communication projects in Chile and how online projects can give communicators insights into unintended audiences for science communication.

One of these projects, an exhibition called Viaje al Centro del Volcán attempted to answer the question What is it like inside a volcano? The exhibition combined virtual and augmented reality with guided tours. It emphasised open communication and dialogue with scientists.

Guests could share their personal experiences with volcanos, eruptions and earthquakes.

"We expected teenagers, but mostly got elderly people and couples who went on Tinder dates to the metro station in Santiago where the exhibition was held," Sofia said.

Luz Helena Oviedo spoke about her experiences with an interactive science museum in Columbia, as it transitioned to an online platform.

"Our goal was to be there for our audience during a difficult time last year,” she said.

“We wanted to keep the conversation going and create spaces for people to connect".

Parque Explora did that through social media, workshops, videos and even WhatsApp stickers.

However, Luz and her team also had to overcome some challenges as they transitioned into digital environments.

"We had to think more deeply about our role as mediators and what the visitor experience looked like in virtual spaces. We also thought about how to deal with the digital gap, and we are fortunate that museums have the capacity to adapt to situations like this pandemic".

John Cook is passionate about combatting science misinformation and has made this the basis of Cranky Uncle, an online game to teach critical thinking.

"The most important aspect of Cranky Uncle is gameplay that invites people to practice critical thinking," John said.

"As you practice critical thinking, you get better and quicker at it. Spotting logical fallacies becomes second nature".

John continues to improve Cranky Uncle and is now creating classroom activities that allow teachers to use the game in schools.

The final panellist, Matthew Shribman spoke about his work with the AimHi online school and its mission to improve education and make it more accessible.

"Science has become an opinion in the avalanche of content created by media giants and it’s hard for people to discover simple and important truths", he said.

Matthew believes that the worlds of science communication, schools, TV and digital media will converge, creating a space for millions of people to learn online.

“Teachers will need to become charismatic tour guides of information rather than top-down disseminators of knowledge in the future,” he said.

"Humanity is becoming more and more separated from scientific truths and it is important for teachers and science communicators to unite to change the situation for the better".

Matthew said that the proportion of intellectual role-models has decreased since the 18th and 19th centuries. He called for more science role models and links to connect people to them.

Know your audience

The experts’ take-home messages emphasised knowing your audience and promoting digital products to engage a wider net of people than the “usual suspects”.

"Digital or not, we need to go where the audience is, and spend as much time on promotion as we spend on creation," Sofia Otero said.

Panellists agreed that complex problems require multidisciplinary solutions. They recommended using multi-disciplinary collaboration to effectively address that audience’s needs (don’t do everything yourself).

Their final piece of advice was to look at what others do for inspiration and existing solutions. Keep trying out and sharing new and innovative practices.

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