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Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments (2016)

Chapter: 6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda

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Suggested Citation:"6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21790.
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CHAPTER SIX

Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda

Informed by the research described in the previous chapters and by a review of best practices, the committee developed a framework for the design of chemistry communication activities and identified key areas for future research. This chapter first discusses a design framework as an immediate step toward more effective chemistry communication. Second, the chapter identifies additional research needed to test the framework, address key unanswered questions about communicating chemistry, and provide evidence to guide continued improvement in chemistry communication.

A FRAMEWORK FOR COMMUNICATING CHEMISTRY

Throughout, this report has emphasized the potential of chemistry communication to reach a variety of participants, the challenges to reaching this potential, and the need for research-based guidance to improve the effectiveness of chemistry communication events. The committee examined the fundamental concepts relevant to chemistry communication from three fields of research: informal science education, science communication, and formal chemistry education. Based on its review of this research and its examination of recent successful communication experiences, the committee created a five-element framework for developing and implementing effective public communication activities for chemistry. The framework consists of the following:

Element 1: Set communication goals and outcomes appropriate to the target participants.

Element 2: Identify and familiarize yourself with your resources.

Element 3: Design the communication activity and how it will be evaluated.

Element 4: Communicate!

Element 5: Assess, reflect, and follow up.

Application of the framework will enhance the effectiveness of individual communication experiences while also providing the data needed to identify approaches that lead to effective

Suggested Citation:"6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21790.
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informal chemistry experiences. This framework is designed to be simple and flexible so that it can be applied to a wide range of communication events in informal settings. It draws on the principles of informal science learning and science communication that were discussed in Chapter 4.

Element 1: Set Communication Goals and Outcomes Appropriate to the Target Participants

The first step in designing an effective chemistry communication event and in evaluating the event is to identify goals that are appropriate to the participants, the place, and the culture (NRC, 2009). As discussed in the previous chapter, because communication events are intended to affect the participants in some way, project goals are typically specified in terms of participant outcomes. Clarifying the project goals provides a focus for the communication project; without such a focus, the project may be ineffective. For example, one long-time science exhibit developer was working with colleagues to create a museum exhibit under a tight deadline. The team had hired an evaluator because it was required as a condition of funding, and the evaluator asked each team member to review a stack of images and identify those that best represented the exhibit content. Team members’ choices diverged widely because they had not, at the outset of the project, discussed the exhibit’s goals. The exhibit designer reflected, “Instead of ‘Ready, aim, fire’ it was ‘Ready, fire, fire.’ Unfortunately, the exhibition never really jelled—although it did open on time!” (Rachel Hellenga [Bonney et al., 2011, p. 4]).

To assist chemists and their collaborators (e.g., informal learning and science communication experts) in clarifying appropriate goals for the communication activity, the committee developed a set of guiding questions (see Box 6-1).

As described in Chapter 3, chemists engage with different types of participants in a number of different ways. Perhaps they have an opportunity to speak at a local Rotary Club meeting or to host a booth at a science festival, or perhaps they are working with a science museum to develop a series of Saturday morning science activities for kids. Perhaps they have been invited to contribute to an article for a local newspaper or to be interviewed on a radio show. Whatever the activity or program, the first question to ask is, “Who are my participants?” Considering this seemingly simple question follows the principle for designing effective chemistry communication opportunities from Chapter 4:

Use knowledge of the participants to identify clear and specific goals and target outcomes for the chemistry communication experience.

This question is at the core of effective design because it puts the participants and their needs or goals first, an approach shown to support effective science communication (Fischoff, 2013; NRC, 2009, 2014; see also Chapter 4).

As noted in previous chapters, when considering participants’ needs, recognize that there

Suggested Citation:"6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21790.
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is not a single “public” that engages in informal science learning, but rather many publics (Burns et al., 2003; McCallie et al., 2009). If the chemistry communication event targets a particular group, the chemist should examine the motivations and interests of that group. If the activity seeks to engage multiple groups, consider whether these groups have similar interests.

It is also critical to consider one’s own goals: Why do you wish to reach a particular group? Are your goals relevant to the interests of participants? If the goals of the chemist differ from the interests of participants, the chemist will need to either change the communication event goals or develop a method to draw participants with relevant interests. Often, participants are “constructed” by the type of communication event; that is, interested people are the ones who attend (Delborne, 2011). Strategic communication event planning may involve seeking out participants with interests relevant to the chemist’s communication goals. In fact, participant-centered goals and the chemistry communicator’s goals can be easier to align if the chemist is in a position to strategically select the participants.

As an example, consider the interests of these two groups attending a talk on water chemistry: members of a local science hobbyist group interested in reducing pond algae in town parks and citizens in a town recently affected by an industrial chemical spill into a waterway. Although the chemistry subject matter may be similar, the interests of the hobbyist group and the citizen group will probably differ widely.

The event designer should map out as much known information as possible to match the

Suggested Citation:"6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21790.
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focus of the event with the interests and knowledge of the anticipated participants. Specific questions to ask include What will they find interesting, relevant, or engaging? How can I find out what is relevant or of concern to them? What prior knowledge will the participants have? For example, they may have technical expertise from formal education or training or may have some familiarity with the topic from Internet searches1 or reading Wikipedia entries. Considering these questions leads to the second design principle for effective informal chemistry communication:

Use understanding of participants to make the experience engaging and positive.

Once information about the participants has been acquired, the event designer’s goals can be investigated. These goals are generally framed as outcomes for participants, although they may also include longer-term societal impacts. As discussed in the previous chapter, two frameworks (Friedman, 2008; NRC, 2009) can assist in clarifying these outcomes. When specifying project outcomes, chemists will need to identify the relationships between participant group, goals, and venue. One can develop a goal first and then seek an appropriate venue, or vice versa. Whichever is identified first, the developer must have these three elements well described and in accord with each other to achieve the desired outcomes.

Element 2: Identify and Familiarize Yourself with Your Resources

Once the goals and outcomes have been identified, the developer must identify the available resources. Some questions to answer are shown in Box 6-2.

One of the best ways to access resources is to partner with others. For example, a developer may initially choose a readily available auditorium as the venue but then realize this location limits the activities that can be planned, such as chemistry demonstrations and hands-on activities. Partnering with a science center, however, might allow the developer to safely and

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1 As noted in Chapter 4, 60 percent of Americans cite the Internet as their main source of science information.

Suggested Citation:"6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21790.
×

effectively implement these activities. With written events, such as magazine articles or blogs, a university or company public information office might provide support.

Benefits of Collaboration

Collaborations are invaluable for communicating chemistry in informal settings, as few individuals or organizations have all the knowledge, skills, access to participants, and other resources needed to develop successful activities. Collaboration has been characterized as

a mutually beneficial and well-defined relationship entered into by two or more organizations to achieve common goals. The relationship includes a commitment to mutual relationships and goals; a jointly developed structure and shared responsibility; mutual authority and accountability for success; and sharing of resources and rewards. (Mattessich and Monsey, 1992, p. 42)

Collaborations—between chemists and experts in science communication, informal science learning, and chemistry education—not only support communication events but also (perhaps more importantly) build a community of practice that shares common goals and effective practices for communicating chemistry. Communities of practice, as defined by Lave and Wenger (1991), are “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” The scale of such communities can vary; the field of informal science learning comprises multiple communities of practice that share common commitments to engaging participants, encouraging them to interact with natural and designed phenomena, providing portrayals of science, and building on learners’ prior knowledge and interests (NRC, 2009, pp. 297-298).

Collaborations are especially valuable in communicating chemistry. Communicators in public information offices and staff members in informal learning settings often have little knowledge of chemistry and even less knowledge of current chemistry research. Chemistry researchers have limited knowledge about learning in informal settings. Thus, there are potential benefits for both parties. As Daniel Steinberg notes (in Crone, 2006, p. 1),

science centers and museums, already accustomed to dealing with a variety of audiences, have staff trained in the communication of science concepts. They are well situated to assist facilities in meeting communication goals. The relationship is beneficial for both partners. The researchers gain greater visibility and reach a bigger audience, and the science museum gains effective and interesting public programming that can help boost attendance.

Collaborations not only link chemistry experts with informal learning or science communication experts but also provide venues for the informal chemistry learning event. For example, public information officers may have contacts at newspapers, magazines, or websites that are appropriate vehicles for written materials by chemists. Other vehicles include lec-

Suggested Citation:"6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21790.
×

tures, demonstrations, programs, hands-on activities, theater performances, forum discussions, exhibits, and so forth. These vehicles might already exist or might be created by the team of collaborators for a specific activity. Sometimes a vehicle results in a collaboration. For example, a university chemist might work with an informal educator from a science museum to take an activity developed by the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE Net)2 to an after-school program; NISE Net is an existing vehicle that links research scientists with informal learning educators.

Though tours are possible, members of the public do not usually visit scientists’ research labs, so locations for informal chemistry communication are needed. Science museums and science cafés (often held in a pub or a coffee shop) are ideal settings. These spaces are supported by personnel who can provide guidance on effective ways to use the facility. Collaborating with an organization that can provide an appropriate venue reflects another design principle for effective informal chemistry learning from Chapter 4:

Use the nature of the experience to engage learners.

As described in Chapter 4, settings and program designs that encourage participants to think, play, and interact with one another, with the communicator, and with the materials and content tend to generate the excitement, wonder, and surprise that make the learning meaningful to them.

Collaborations may be created in the process of seeking a key resource: funding. Such collaborations are often developed as principal investigators address the Broader Impacts criterion in National Science Foundation (NSF) proposals. This criterion requires an evaluation of how well the proposed research advances discovery “while promoting teaching, training, and learning” and “broadening the participation of underrepresented groups” (NSF, 2016). A chemist might meet this criterion with little funding by bringing lab materials to a science museum to provide a communication experience. But, if the chemist wants to build an exhibit, commission a play, or conduct a summer science camp, additional funding will be needed and can be included in the proposal.

Another useful partner for a chemist is an evaluator with knowledge about informal education. As discussed in Chapter 5, evaluation can provide valuable feedback before or during implementation of an event or after, if the event will be repeated or if the chemist plans to do something similar in the future. Many universities have communication or education faculty with expertise in assessing the effectiveness of communication activities.

In sum, developing successful chemistry communication events benefits from collaboration that integrates the following:

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2 See http://www.nisenet.org [accessed June 12, 2015].

Suggested Citation:"6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21790.
×
  • scientists with knowledge of chemistry;
  • experts with knowledge of science communication and informal learning;
  • vehicles for communicating chemistry: materials, activities, programs;
  • informal venues for communicating chemistry;
  • financial resources or funding; and
  • expertise in evaluating informal learning.

Six different individuals representing six organizations are not necessarily needed; it is often possible to obtain the components with a smaller number of institutions. For instance, a university researcher could bring the knowledge of chemistry, materials from the laboratory, and funding from an educational budget to a partnership with a science museum. The museum may be able to provide an informal learning expert, a location and participants, and a staff evaluator with knowledge of evaluating informal learning. Sometimes all of the components are found in a single institution, but the event may require collaboration between individuals.

Developing and Sustaining a Successful Collaboration

Although collaborating with (for example) a science center clearly offers benefits to chemists wishing to develop informal learning events, it can also pose challenges, as discussed in Chapters 2 and 4.

A guide from NISE Net offers useful information to address such challenges (Crone, 2006). Based on recent research and practice in science communication, the book provides advice on establishing and sustaining successful informal learning collaborations. It outlines strategies to create effective partnerships and presents guiding questions to help prospective partners determine if the proposed alliance is strategic. Excerpted below are some of the guide’s recommendations for successful collaboration. Individuals and organizations can establish and sustain successful collaborations by doing the following (Crone, 2006, p. 10):

  • “involving a cross-section of members, representing all the interests of the collaborating partners;
  • learning about the other team members’ jobs and their background and expertise;
  • developing a collegial relationship involving mutual respect, understanding, and trust;
  • defining clear roles and guidelines for making decisions;
  • promoting open and frequent communication;
  • being willing to compromise and remaining open-minded;
  • defining attainable goals and objectives;
  • encouraging a shared vision among the partners;
  • ensuring that the project has sufficient funds, staff, materials, and time.”
Suggested Citation:"6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21790.
×

Collaborating with organizations can also provide chemists with access to professional development sessions to gain experience in communications, informal science education, interactions with media, and other such fields. Ideally, a chemist would develop the ability to effectively communicate science to nonscientists long before beginning a professional career. However, undergraduate chemistry students get limited experience in communication; typically, their communication experience focuses on presenting their research to other chemists. Although many chemistry majors do participate in communication activities, training to effectively communicate with the public is uneven at best.

Graduate students would also benefit from training in communication with nonscientists. A recent American Chemical Society report (ACS, 2012) recommends that graduate students should be able to “communicate complex topics to both technical and nontechnical audiences, and to effectively influence decisions.” However, few graduate schools provide such education, and most of the current chemistry workforce graduated before any such courses were available. Therefore, most chemists would benefit from professional development to improve communication skills, such as the Chemistry Communication Leadership Institute (NRC, 2011) and other training programs described in Chapter 2.

Element 3: Design the Communication Activity and How It Will Be Evaluated

Taking the first two steps in the communication framework—establishing the goals of a communication event based on the participants’ needs (or finding participants based on the event goals) and identifying resources to achieve the targeted outcomes, perhaps via a collaboration—provides a strong foundation for the third step: planning the event and its evaluation. At this stage, the chemist should consider how to engender trust and confidence among the participants and should identify the types of demonstrations or interactions that can best achieve the goals of the event. The chemist must test any demonstrations in advance, promote the event, and make practical arrangements (see Box 6-3).

Building Trust

Building trust between chemists and participants is an essential dimension of any effective communication activity and can be a communication goal unto itself. In general, public confidence in the leadership of the scientific community is high (Smith and Son, 2013). Efforts to build trust may help to overcome the potential communication barriers in chemistry (see Chapter 4) and to maintain the high confidence level Americans have in the scientific institution.

Trust has three primary dimensions: confidence, integrity, and dependability (Hon and Grunig, 1999). Public perception of a scientist’s competence and warmth also contribute to trust (Fiske and Dupree, 2015). Scientists may be most trusted when they communicate about

Suggested Citation:"6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21790.
×

scientific information, as opposed to policy (NRC, 2014). But, effective science communication activities often focus on the science most relevant to the decisions people face (Fischoff, 2013), and students are attracted to chemistry when they encounter topics relevant to their lives (Glynn et al., 2007). Therefore, chemists must balance the benefits of engaging participants by focusing on their concerns—which often means focusing on policy issues—with the potential costs of eliciting political, cultural, or social “baggage” related to those policy issues.

Dr. Katherine Rowan, an expert on climate change communication, proposes that it is possible to overcome the barriers associated with difficult topics and to earn the confidence of participants by first conducting listening sessions to learn about participants’ views, concerns, and values (Rowan, 2013). Information from such listening sessions, which could be conducted as part of Element 1 of this framework, can be used to design a communication event that aligns with participants’ interests and needs, which will generate their trust. In addition, conducting a test of the event, as discussed subsequently, might uncover additional political, social, or cultural issues that could limit participants’ engagement and learning, and could inform strategies to address those issues.

A chemist’s institutional affiliations may influence how the public perceives some topics presented by the chemist (Critchley, 2008; Scheufele et al., 2009). A survey conducted in 2000 found that approximately one-third of respondents had an unfavorable view of the chemical

Suggested Citation:"6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21790.
×

industry, which was viewed less favorably than nine other science-related industries (NSB, 2002). Thus, building trust requires not only that chemists engage with members of the public, but also uphold research integrity and be transparent about their affiliations and motivations for communicating.

Designing Event Components

When identifying specific components of the communication event (e.g., visual aids, exhibits, game modules, demonstrations), the chemist should first consider the goals identified in Element 1. The components should be designed to advance the goals. If the goals include learning chemistry concepts, the chemist must consider the participants’ prior knowledge and any potential barriers to learning. As discussed in Chapter 4, the abstract nature of molecular interactions, difficulty with the relationship between submicroscopic structures and macroscopic effects, and a lack of fluency with the tools of representation and symbolism in the field can be obstacles to understanding chemistry’s real-world applications. At the same time, the research discussed in that chapter has identified several strategies for informal chemistry learning that could contribute to the design of components: The use of multiple linked representations to communicate a single concept is likely to help informal learners grasp it. Analogies and visual representations, such as animations and simulations, help novices understand abstract ideas and phenomena that cannot be directly observed.

The collaborations formed in Element 2 might facilitate the design of a component by bringing knowledge to the project. Science communication and informal science learning experts can facilitate the design of the overall communication event and of individual components and can sometimes identify specific components. For example, experts in informal science learning or science communication might know of a hands-on chemistry experiment that has been shown, by research or evaluation, to be effective (i.e., to advance one or more of the targeted goals for individuals who are similar to the planned participants); the chemist could simply adopt the experiment or could modify it to increase its alignment with the upcoming event’s goals, participants, and venue. In addition, partnering with informal science educators and science communication experts will help ensure that the overall event design follows the research-based principles identified in Chapter 4.

Testing the Event

Testing a prototype of the chemistry communication experience helps to ensure that it will meet the needs and interests of participants. Crone (2006, p. 15) argues that “[t]o be truly visitor-centered, the development process for museum exhibits and programs must be iterative, with cycles of prototyping and evaluation.” Developers of informal science exhibits have found that watching visitors use and react to a working prototype of a particular component helps them gauge visitors’ enjoyment and interest, test the physical and ergonomic aspects of

Suggested Citation:"6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21790.
×

the component, and adjust any signage or other text to ensure that directions or information is appropriate for the participants (Crone, 2006). Other methods to measure participants’ reactions to a prototype include focus groups, written surveys, and monitoring how much time they spend with individual components of an overall experience.

To plan for testing (formative evaluation) and evaluation of the final event (summative evaluation), the chemist should reflect on the questions presented in Box 6-3 and develop an evaluation plan, as discussed in the previous chapter.

Practical Arrangements

Designing and implementing effective chemistry communication experiences is a complex process involving the characteristics and interests of the participants, the event goals, the location, the duration of the event, and other factors. The chemist should attend to these practical matters. For example, because participation in informal events is often voluntary, it is important to promote the event to potential participants. Publicity via communication channels that are used and trusted by the potential participants (e.g., a hometown newspaper, a museum website) will probably attract more participants than publicity using other communication channels (e.g., an advertisement in a national newspaper).

Element 4: Communicate!

With a plan in place, resources identified, goals clearly stated, and needs of the participants identified, it’s time for the experience! During the activity or program, the chemist should keep in mind the plan for the event and should note participant reactions. Additional resources can be suggested to participants. This is shown in Box 6-4.

The chemist should maintain an awareness of whether the plan is working and adjust as needed to achieve the desired outcomes. Because engagement and interest are desired outcomes at all communication events, the chemist should observe whether participants

Suggested Citation:"6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21790.
×

appear engaged and take action if needed. For example, if a chemist conducting a demonstration notices that some participants appear bored, he or she might stop to ask those participants questions or invite them to come forward and assist. The chemist should also consider whether the plan to engender trust (part of Element 3 of this framework, described previously) is succeeding. If not, the chemist may need to interact differently with participants to increase the focus on their needs, values, and concerns.

To supplement such informal “gut checks,” the chemist, possibly with the help of a professional evaluator, should carry out the evaluation plan during the communication experience. As noted earlier in this chapter, evaluation can best enhance the effectiveness of an experience when it is integrated into all phases of design, development, and implementation. During the communication event itself, the chemist (and possibly the evaluator) should use both formative and summative evaluation to gather systematic information about participant outcomes (see previous chapter for further discussion). For ongoing communication experiences, findings from the formative evaluation can be used to make corrections. For one-time activities, findings from the summative evaluation can guide the design of similar experiences in the future.

Although participants may become engaged and interested in chemistry topics through an experience, they will need time and repeated exposure to gain conceptual understanding or scientific skills related to the topics (NRC, 2009). Recognizing this, the chemist should suggest resources to the participants for further reading, engagement, and learning, including Internet sites with accurate, relevant information.

Element 5: Assess, Reflect, and Follow Up

As discussed, summative evaluation to determine whether desired outcomes were achieved provides critical information that can be used to modify future, similar events or iterations. Reflecting on the results and modifying based on what is learned are part of the cyclic nature of program development.

The committee recommends that chemists follow this research-based framework when designing and implementing chemistry communication experiences. Because the framework includes evaluation integrated throughout the process of design and implementation, its widespread use will generate the data needed to more clearly identify the most effective approaches to chemistry communication experiences. However, accumulating and drawing lessons from such data can be difficult because scientists, informal educators, and professional evaluators use a wide range of assessment methods to measure participant outcomes, often tailored to a particular communication project or a particular medium (e.g., television versus print; NRC, 2009). Evaluation reports focus on outcomes and are typically written for and shared with stakeholders and not widely disseminated. Research, in contrast, examines not just what happens (i.e., outcomes) but how it happens (i.e., the cognitive and affective processes in par-

Suggested Citation:"6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21790.
×

ticipants’ minds). Research carried out to generate knowledge is published in peer-reviewed journals as well as in other media (Bonney et al., 2011). Therefore, evaluation must be supplemented with research to guide the field of chemistry communication. Ideally, evaluators, researchers, and collaborators will work together to address the questions and issues discussed in the following section.

KEY AREAS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH

As part of its task, the committee was asked to consider options for future research to advance the understanding and effectiveness of chemistry communication. In considering the research that supported the development of the framework, a few opportunities were identified to strengthen the research base on informal and formal learning related to chemistry. The committee also noted opportunities for collaboration across organizations and institutions to support the implementation of the recommended framework.

Research on Public Perceptions and Understanding of Chemistry

More research is needed on science communication and informal science learning specific to the field of chemistry. Additional research should explore the role of communication in informal environments in advancing participant engagement, interest, learning, and other desired outcomes in chemistry. To address questions of funders and policy makers, such research should examine not only the short-term outcomes among participants in individual experiences, but also the longer-term effects on society, such as changing public perceptions and understanding of chemistry. Longitudinal studies are needed to track participant outcomes over time as they engage in multiple communication experiences, because extended time and exposure are required to develop conceptual understanding in chemistry. Individual studies should address such questions as the following:

  • What is known about the perceptions and understanding of chemistry among different subgroups within the public, including underrepresented minorities?
  • What techniques are most effective for enhancing participants’ understanding of chemistry and chemical institutions in the context of broader social and political discussions?
  • Are there specific science communication or informal learning activities that help people open up toward chemistry and help push aside preconceived notions?
  • Does communicating chemistry in informal environments foster engagement, learning, career interest, or other desired outcomes among participants from underrepresented groups? Is the experience more effective if the communicator is a chemist also from an underrepresented group in chemistry?
Suggested Citation:"6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21790.
×
  • To what extent are instructional design principles that have been shown to enhance the effectiveness of chemistry learning in formal environments useful and relevant for designing chemistry communication experiences in informal environments?
  • What are the effects of chemistry appearing in media stories? Do print and online media platforms such as newspapers, radio, television, websites, and social media affect public perceptions of chemistry differently from one another?
  • What is the effect of chemists themselves, and the approaches they use to interact with publics, on perceptions of chemistry? For example, how can research on trust in science be applied to guide chemists in building relationships with participants through chemistry communication activities?

Digital Media for Chemistry Communication

The use of digital media and tools for communicating and learning about science, including chemistry, is advancing rapidly. However, research on the effectiveness of these tools for communicating science is limited. Available research focuses primarily on the role of computer simulations, animations, and other digital tools (like mobile phone apps or games) in engaging students in the classroom and does not answer questions about communicating chemistry in informal settings. The variety of new tools and of media with different capabilities and their use in different types of social or learning environments raises questions about both tools and contexts, such as the following:

  • What is known about the effectiveness of digital tools for chemistry communication in informal environments?
  • To what extent are findings about the use of digital tools in formal environments relevant and applicable to design of digital tools for use in informal environments?
  • How does the use of educational technology to create virtual environments (where learners can make observations and connect them with the underlying principles of chemistry) affect engagement, learning, and other desired communication outcomes in informal environments?

Research on science communication in informal environments has not kept pace with the very rapid rise of digital tools, in particular online media and social media, as a means for communicating about science, including chemistry. The committee identified a lack of understanding of the use of social media in chemistry communication as a major gap in the current research evidence. Little is known about the extent of participation, or about measurement of the outcomes of participation, such as engagement in chemistry or learning of chemistry knowledge. Some specific questions needing further research include the following:

Suggested Citation:"6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21790.
×
  • What is known about whether, and to what extent, participants in social media discussions about chemistry develop engagement in chemistry, learning of chemistry concepts, or other desired outcomes?
  • To what extent have new social media platforms changed overall approaches to science communication and informal science learning? What are the lessons for communicating chemistry in informal environments?
  • Is the popularity of a website or other digital media platform used to communicate science related to desired outcomes for science communication in informal settings?
  • How can public engagement in chemistry discussions via social media best be measured and promoted? For example, how does the number of hits on a podcast from the Chemical Heritage Foundation compare with the IFL Science3 website’s 40 to 70 million users who either interact directly with the IFL site or follow IFL tweets or Facebook posts from the site?

Addressing these questions will require interdisciplinary collaboration between chemists and social science experts on empirical approaches to communication. To support such collaboration, funders would need to engage scientists across multiple disciplines. For example, NSF would need to engage scientists across multiple directorates, including the Mathematical and Physical Sciences (Division of Chemistry), Education and Human Resources (Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings), Computer and Information Science and Engineering, and Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences.

Chemistry Education and Research Policy Questions

Research is needed to explore how current policies guiding chemistry education and training, research work, and funding influence the extent and quality of chemistry communication activities, and how these policies might be changed to provide more support for communication activities in informal settings. Studies would explore such specific questions as the following:

  • How do the current training, professional development, and working arrangements of professional chemists affect their motivation to conduct public communication activities?
  • What educational or professional development opportunities are needed to help chemists develop knowledge and skills in informal science communication and learning, and what is known about their effectiveness?

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3 See http://www.iflscience.com [accessed June 12, 2015].

Suggested Citation:"6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21790.
×
  • Are the newly emerging public communications courses and fellowships within chemistry education and professional development successful in developing the communication skills they target?

RECOMMENDATIONS

The committee presents the following recommendations, synthesized from the evidence and analyses presented in this report:

Recommendation 1: Chemists should apply the proposed Framework for Effective Chemistry Communication to guide the design, implementation, and evaluation of chemistry communication experiences. In using the framework, chemists are encouraged to collaborate with experts on empirically based approaches to science communication, informal learning, and chemistry education.

Recommendation 2: Chemistry professional and industrial societies should encourage the use of the recommended framework by their members. These organizations should also facilitate or create avenues for the aggregation, synthesis, translation, and dissemination of research on the evaluation of and effective practices for communicating chemistry.

Recommendation 3: The National Science Foundation and other sponsor organizations should support research that examines the specific relationship between science communication, informal learning, and chemistry education through programs such as the Advancing Informal STEM Learning program (NSF, 2014). Such support should focus on topic areas where research is most needed to enhance the effectiveness of chemistry communication, in particular the following priority areas:

  • public perceptions and understanding of chemistry;
  • digital media for chemistry communication; and
  • chemistry research and education policy, including professional development opportunities.

Recommendation 4: Chemists and experts in empirical approaches to science communication, informal learning, and chemistry education should collaborate to study chemistry communication in informal settings. Research collaborations should focus in particular on the priority areas listed in Recommendation 3.

Suggested Citation:"6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21790.
×

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Suggested Citation:"6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21790.
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Suggested Citation:"6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21790.
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Suggested Citation:"6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21790.
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Suggested Citation:"6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21790.
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Suggested Citation:"6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21790.
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Suggested Citation:"6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21790.
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Suggested Citation:"6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21790.
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Suggested Citation:"6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21790.
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Suggested Citation:"6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21790.
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Suggested Citation:"6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21790.
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Suggested Citation:"6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21790.
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Page 104
Suggested Citation:"6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21790.
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Page 105
Suggested Citation:"6 Communicating Chemistry: A Design Framework and Research Agenda." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21790.
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Next: Part B: COMMUNICATING CHEMISTRY: A FRAMEWORK FOR SHARING SCIENCE »
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Chemistry plays a critical role in daily life, impacting areas such as medicine and health, consumer products, energy production, the ecosystem, and many other areas. Communicating about chemistry in informal environments has the potential to raise public interest and understanding of chemistry around the world. However, the chemistry community lacks a cohesive, evidence-based guide for designing effective communication activities. This report is organized into two sections. Part A: The Evidence Base for Enhanced Communication summarizes evidence from communications, informal learning, and chemistry education on effective practices to communicate with and engage publics outside of the classroom; presents a framework for the design of chemistry communication activities; and identifies key areas for future research. Part B: Communicating Chemistry: A Framework for Sharing Science is a practical guide intended for any chemists to use in the design, implementation, and evaluation of their public communication efforts.

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