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Cases for Teaching Responsible Communication of Science

In order to communicate well with public audiences, young scientists and engineers need to learn basic communication strategies such as how to avoid jargon and how to use narrative to convey complex information to non-specialists. But in addition, scientist-communicators need to be equipped to meet the challenges of communication ethics they will encounter. For example, how can scientists contribute their knowledge on controversial topics without engaging in advocacy? How can they demonstrate the relevance of their work without hype?

The overall goals of this three year project are (a) to deepen our understanding of the challenges scientists confront when addressing public audiences and (b) to develop, test, and disseminate teaching materials based on nine real cases to prepare STEM graduate students to make wise communication choices. Secondary goals are (a) to disseminate the teaching cases to other relevant audiences, including STEM undergraduates and students in Communication majors at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, and (b) to develop a website exploring the rewards and challenges of science communication, aimed at STEM graduate students. The evaluation provides primarily formative information in developing a series of case studies that include in-depth role-play that invites students to take on different ‘characters’ with differing perspectives of communication choices. By project end, nine cases will be developed, tested, and disseminated.

We pilot tested the initial three cases in three different classes at Iowa State University and in a variety of classroom settings with external institutional partners. As a preliminary test of the cases, we used two cases in an honors seminar on science communication organized and taught by the project’s ISU Principal Investigators (Jean Goodwin, Department of English, Michael Dahlstrom, Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, and Clark Wolfe, Department of Philosophy). Thorough pre- and post-testing of students helped us refine our survey instruments prior to implementing them in subsequent years with approximately fourteen external partnering institutions. The results of student pre- and post-surveys and instructor surveys also provided information to revise and complete the draft cases and allowed for wide dissemination through national case banks, on our website, and through other appropriate means. The rest of the cases are in development and testing at this time.

Publications and Presentations

Goodwin, Jean; Dahlstrom, Michael F.; Kemis, Mari; Wolf, Clark; and Hutchison, Christine. “Rhetorical Resources for Teaching Responsible Communication of Science.” Poroi 10, Iss. 1 (2014): Article 7. Available here
J. Goodwin (3/19/14). Science Communication Ethics: The Case of the Iowa Climate Letter. Conference on College Composition and Communication. Indianapolis, IN.
J. Goodwin (11/20/13). Funded collaborations between scientists and rhetoricians of science/technology/medicine. American for the Rhetoric of Science & Technology. Washington, DC.
J. Goodwin, M. Dahlstrom, C. Wolf, M. Kemis, C. Hutchison (8/15/13). Cases for teaching responsible communication of science. In Science Communication Ethics: A Theory-Based Approached: Proceedings of the Third Iowa State Summer Symposium on Science Communication, Ames, IA.
J. Goodwin, M. Dahlstrom, M. Kemis, C. Wolf, C. Hutchison (5/31/13). Workshop: Cases for teaching responsible communication of science. Third Iowa State University Summer Symposium on Science Communication. Ames, IA.
C. Wolf (10/25/12). Ethics in Science Communication. University of Northern Iowa, College of Humanities, Arts, and Sciences Lecture Series. Cedar Falls, IA.

This evaluation is supported by the National Science Foundation under Award No. 1237495.

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