Improving Science Communication Skills
About this study
Translating scientific results, conclusions, and recommendations into language easily understood by non-experts is a critical skill for scientists and science learners.
In short, science communication is a critical area of development for science education.
This project developed and evaluated a suite of scenarios that can be used as real-time role-plays that enhance communication skills.
Through these role-plays, learners can gain experience in realistic and challenging situations where they need to rapidly respond in an uncertain environment, and effectively communicate with a range of stakeholders.
Communicate the quake
Communicate the Quake is a complex role-play in which students take on roles as geologists, seismologists and emergency managers during a simulated earthquake event situated in Greymouth, New Zealand.
The core activity is a 2-5 hour face-to-face role-play, in which students respond to, manage and mitigate harm from the impact of a large, regional earthquake, and work together to communicate the scenario to the public and specific stakeholders.
The role-play activity is supported by pre-activities which are designed to prepare students for the scientific, emergency management, and science communication tasks which are played out in the scenario.
During the role-play, there are four distinct parts which can be used as individual activities:
Part 1: town hall meeting Part 2: media release, radio bulletin and press conference
Part 3: panel discussion Part 4: debrief
A customised set of Google Earth files shows students the infrastructure, geology and other important information of the region, allowing them to make decisions based on real-life data.
It is best suited to medium-sized (12-40) upper division undergraduate or postgraduate courses with support from several facilitators (instructors and research staff in seismology, active tectonics, engineering, emergency management, and natural hazards).
Assessment for the module is typically done through preparation activities (i.e., critiquing of media releases, presentation of an earthquake hazards map) and on-the-day peer- and self-evaluation of performance (via rubrics) following the role-play.
A detailed instructor manual is provided (SERC website, above) which walks the staff through the process of organizing and implementing the role-play.
- Find out more about Communicate the Quake: An interactive earthquake role-play used to teach communication skills
Communicate the quake increases student communication confidence independent of previous levels of confidence
Using the SPCC instrument, we found that students from the US had statistically higher pre-scores than NZ students. This indicates that students’ backgrounds may influence their communication confidence.
The average change (i.e. post- minus pre-SPCC) was positive and statistically significant. This indicates that Communicate the Quake is successful at increasing students’ confidence when communicating.
Additionally, these changes were independent of students’ pre-scores, meaning that the SBRP is effective in changing confidence levels regardless of where they begin.
The SPCC changes we observed over the course of a single, multi-hour intervention were on par with changes observed in the literature for interventions that occur over much longer time frames.
Communicate the quake shifts participant perceptions of crisis communication to more expert-like perceptions
Using the PCC instrument, we compared participants’ perceptions of crisis communication to those of experts (academics, emergency managers and science communicators). Participants showed statistically significant positive shifts (i.e. had more agreement with experts).
Several factors appeared to influence the level of change achieved, such as students’ nationalities, their year of degree programme, and the SBRP team (CDEM or SAG) in which they were placed.
The PCC instrument is made up of 49 individual statements on different elements of science communication best practice.
Analysis of the statements showed that there were some best practices in which most student groups agreed with experts (high perceptions) and others which they disagreed with experts (low perceptions).
More importantly, there were several topics with which experts struggled with (i.e. they gave predominantly neutral responses, with distributions leaning towards agreeing or disagreeing) that coincided with mixed and low perceptions from the student participants.
These topics were: comprehensiveness, showing the scientist’s emotions, political influence/agenda, use of formal language, and use of graphs and plots.
The statements for which the emergency management professionals disagreed with the student groups: the ‘why’ of the crisis, discussing past crisis scenarios, and the communication of probabilities.
These differential topics are potentially important good practices which the research community should continue to explore and understand.
Next steps: bringing communicate the quake to the professional emergency management community
In 2016, we were funded by the Earthquake Commission and QuakeCoRE to bring the results of our research on the SBRP to practising geoscientists, engineers, and emergency management professionals in the field.
Three workshops were organised and facilitated by Jacqueline Dohaney:
- Risk Communication in Context: Crossing the Disciplinary Boundaries (Christchurch, November 17, 2016)
- Communicating your (geo) Science (Wanaka, November 29, 2016)
- Dimensions of Risk Communication: Systems, Scale and Dynamics (Wellington, December 9, 2016)
A fourth workshop will be held in Auckland in early 2017.
Completed Project Update
This completed project has had an impact both in and beyond the contributing organisations as well as being externally recognised with two awards for related work on one of the wider suite of role-play simulations.
Read more on what has occured since this project was completed in the latest project update.
- Dr Erik Brogt (contact project leader), University of Canterbury
- Jacqueline Dohaney, University of Canterbury
- Dr Brendon Bradley, University of Canterbury
- Vivienne Bryner, University of Otago
- Dr Dan Hikuroa, Nga Pae o te Maramatanga
- Dr Emma Hudson-Doyle, Massey University Joint Centre for Disaster Research
- Steve Glassey, Mercalli Consulting and University of Canterbury
- Dr Darren Gravley, University of Canterbury
- Professor David Johnston, Massey University and GNS Science Joint Centre for Disaster Research
- Dr Ben Kennedy, University of Canterbury
- Dr Jan Lindsay, The University of Auckland
- Dr Mark Quigley, University of Canterbury
- Dr Thomas Wilson, University of Canterbury
- Ako Aotearoa $139,000 (excl. GST)
- Joint organisational contribution $139,000 (excl. GST)
Completion: September 2016
- Dohaney, J., Brogt, E., Wilson, T., Hudson-Doyle, E,. Kennedy, B., Lindsay, J., Bradley, B., Johnston, D. and Gravley, D. (2016). Final report: Improving Science Communication through Scenario-based Role-plays. Ako Aotearoa: Wellington.
- Dohaney, J., Brogt, E., Wilson, T., Hudson-Doyle, E,. Kennedy, B., Lindsay, J., Bradley, B., Johnston, D. and Gravley, D. (2016). Summary report: Improving Science Communication through Scenario-based Role-plays. Ako Aotearoa: Wellington.
- Dohaney, J., Communicate the Quake: An interactive earthquake role-play used to teach communication skills. Retrieved from Starting Point Teaching Entry Level Geoscience. (Communicate the Quake is a detailed instructor’s manual which walks educators through the process of organising and implementing a complex role-play during a simulated earthquake event).
- Woods, R., (2014). Auckland Students practise for the ‘Big One’ in Impact, 53, 4.
- Dohaney, J., Hudson-Doyle, E., Brogt, E., Wilson, T.M., and Kennedy, B. (2015) Scientists Perceptions of Communicating During Crises. American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2015, San Francisco, California, U.S.A. Abstract #ED43C-0881.
- Dohaney, J., Wilson, T., Bradley, B., Brogt, E., Kennedy, B., Hudson-Doyle, E., & Johnston, D. (2016). Documenting natural hazard risk communication needs, challenges and innovations through participatory engagement. QuakeCoRE Annual Meeting, Wairakei, New Zealand.
- Dohaney, J., Brogt, E., Kennedy, B., Wilson, T.M., Lindsay, J.M. (2015). Training in crisis communication and volcanic eruption forecasting: Design and evaluation of an authentic role-play simulation. Journal of Applied Volcanology. Special Issue: The Application of Volcanology Research to Emergency Management. Volume 4, Issue 1.
- Brogt, E., Wilson, T. Kennedy, B., Dohaney, J., and Jolley, A. (October 2014). Geoscience and Geohazard Education Research at the University of Canterbury. Presentation at 2014 The Geological Society of America (GSA) Annual Meeting. Vancouver, British Columbia.
- Dohaney, J., (October 2014). Strategies and perceptions of field note-taking: Insights from a geothermal field lesson. Presentation at 2014 The Geological Society of America (GSA) Annual Meeting. Vancouver, British Columbia.
- Dohaney, J., Brogt, E., Wilson, T., & Kennedy, B. (2014). Assessment of communication performance in simulated volcanic crises. Oral presentation at the Cities on Volcanoes conference, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, September 9-13, 2014.
- Dohaney, J., Brogt, E., Wilson, T., Kennedy, B., Fitzgerald, R., & Lindsay, J. (2014). Simulating a volcanic crisis to teach students emergency management, volcanic forecasting concepts, and communication skills. Oral presentation at the Cities on Volcanoes Conference, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, September 9-13, 2014.
- Brogt. E, and Dohaney, J. (July 2014). Improving science communication skills in science/engineering education through scenario-based role plays. Presentation at the Ako Aotearoa / Teaching and Learning Research Initiative Tertiary Research in Progress Colloquium IV, Wellington.
Dohaney, J., Wilson, T.M., Brogt, E., and Kennedy, B. (2016). Lessons in communication: bringing communication training and research to geoscience academics and professionals. Geological Society of America Annual Meeting, At Denver, Colorado, USA, Volume: 48, No. 7. (Talk)
Dohaney, J., Brogt, E., Wilson, T.M. and Kennedy, B. (2016). The influence of prior experience and demographics on students’ confidence in communicating science. GeoSciences 2016, Wanaka, New Zealand. Geoscience Society of New Zealand. (Talk)
Brogt, E. and Dohaney, J. (2015) Improving science communication through scenario-based role-plays. Wellington, New Zealand: Ako Aotearoa National Project Fund symposium, 31 Aug - 1 Sep 2015
Brogt, E. and Dohaney, J. (2015). Preparing geoscience students to effectively communicate science. Auckland, New Zealand: Tertiary Education Research New Zealand annual conference, 25-27 Nov 2015.
Dohaney, J., Brogt, E., Wilson, T.M., and Kennedy, B. (2015). What does science communication mean to you? A comparison of expert and student responses. In: MacKay, R., Savage, M. and Wilson, C. (eds). Abstracts, Geosciences 2015, Wellington, Geoscience Society of New Zealand Miscellaneous Publication 143a. p. 33-34.
The report from this project is published under the Creative Commons 3.0 New Zealand Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike Licence (BY-NC-SA/3.0-NZ). Under this licence you are free to copy, distribute, display and perform the work as well as to remix, tweak, and build upon this work non-commercially, as long as you credit the author/s and license your new creations under the identical terms.