Outside the box

Author: Susan Hamel – University of Otago, New Zealand

Jesse Bering – University of Otago
Lloyd Davis – University of Otago

The practice of teaching science communication via distance education has not been well-researched although there are many programs offered online. This research investigates selected distance education programmes taught by, or in association with, universities—Including MOOCs, professional development courses, standalone papers, and programmes that confer qualifications.

The online education sector has grown rapidly in the last two decades buoyed by the expansion of information and communication technologies. The need for science communication has also grown, driven by rapid advances in the disciplines of genetics, biomedicine, physics, space and information technology. Distance education—with its capacity for accessibility, collaborative learning, asynchronous communication and reflection—represents a powerful tool for teaching science communication to both students and busy professionals. Although online programmes have proliferated in the 21st century, they have not been studied to any significant degree.

Our research began with a comprehensive search of the Internet to determine which programmes and papers were being offered. The programmes chosen for further study met two conditions: they were presented by (or associated with) accredited universities and delivered in the English language. We asked instructors and administrators of the selected programmes to complete a ten-question survey, accessible online through Survey Monkey. Respondents provided nominal and ordinal data about their associated programmes, including the number of instructors, student enrollment, when the course was first offered and the type of qualification offered. These data were collated and combined with details about the programmes to create a snapshot of science communication as it is taught through contemporary distance education.

This snapshot shows that science communication taught by distance education is growing and changing in scope, with papers, programmes and professional development courses choosing to emphasize differing aspects of this discipline. Our results hint at likely best practice, which is the next step in this ongoing research.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Visual talk
Theme: Society
Area of interest: Teaching science communication