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Engaging Science And Engineering Graduate Students With Informal Science Education

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Measuring Success of Graduate Program Components

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.540.1 - 14.540.9

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Paper Authors

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Wendy Crone University of Wisconsin, Madison

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Raelyn Rediske University of Wisconsin, Madison

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Steve Ackerman University of Wisconsin, Madison

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Sharon Dunwoody University of Wisconsin, Madison

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Engaging Science and Engineering Graduate Students with Informal Science Education

Having effective interactions with public audiences about science and engineering topics is challenging. Many training workshops, boot camps, and courses have tried to address this by training professional scientists and engineers using a variety of strategies; unfortunately, the literature on the effectiveness of these approaches is sparse. We present assessment and evaluation results from a course, “Informal Science Education for Scientists: A Practicum,” taught to graduate students in science and engineering- related disciplines in Spring 2008. This course provides a structured framework and experiential learning on informal science education for the graduate student participants during a semester-long experience. The iterative nature of designing an effective informal science education product and the importance of front-end, formative and summative evaluation are stressed throughout the course. The emphasis is placed on having students use a scientific approach in the evaluation of their product to determine if it was effective. Our results show positive outcomes related to changes in student perception of their communication skills, changes in student perceptions of audience, changes in student perception of their evaluation skills, and increased student understanding of the iterative nature of design processes.


The past few years have seen calls to encourage and support scientists who leave the lab to explain science and their research to the public. Recent, growing research on the public understanding of science, science literacy, and science communication, are driving scientists and educators to articulate an increased need for people to be better informed about science1,2. At the core of this movement are nationwide surveys that tell us we are a scientifically illiterate public2,3.

The goals that have been offered for promoting a scientifically literate society include benefits to both individuals and government1,4. As science and technology become the dominant engines for economic growth in the world, a better-educated citizen is able to increase his/her own status by being prepared for this new market; once a county’s citizens reach this point, of course, the country itself secures an enhanced place in the market. Especially in democracies, better-educated citizens can ethically decide on future scientific paths and technological uses5. In addition to the benefits to the public, scientists themselves benefit from having a better-informed population. Scientific funding depends on public understanding and support; indeed scientists have an obligation to report back to the taxpayers who fund their work6,7. Fundamental to all is the notion that science can help explain the beauty and grandeur in how our world works.

All this research and interest to counteract and fix the dearth of scientific knowledge in society has led to calls to make sure a more accurate picture of science reaches the public2,8. Efforts and initiatives to increase the public’s understanding of science, enhance science literacy, and/or improve public attitudes to science span the entire human lifespan, from elementary school to adult television viewing and informal education at zoos and museums. One avenue to improve the public understanding of science that has begun to blossom, again, is direct communication between scientists and the public. Who best to explain what they do, how their research matters, and the excitement of science than scientists and engineers? However, in general, scientists and engineers need training to learn how to talk to and engage non-specialists9,10.

A few programs have been developed to provide science communication training to practicing scientists/engineers and scientists/engineers-in-training. However, it can be challenging to convince professional scientists and volunteers to embrace the idea that they need to develop a special skill set in

Crone, W., & Rediske, R., & Ackerman, S., & Dunwoody, S. (2009, June), Engaging Science And Engineering Graduate Students With Informal Science Education Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas.

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