Presentation Title

Science literacy can save democracy

Streaming Media

Submission Type

20-minute Presentation

Abstract

Communicating complex ideas is difficult, yet the ability to clearly articulate and communicate is essential for a democracy to work well. In an age of gaslighting and fake news, the integrity of basic concepts is threatened and lost. This is true in science, where complex ideas such as climate change and evolution have been politicized for years. Here, I present how developing science literacy allows students to appreciate how scientific issues relate to their own lives in the context of community. Developing science literacy in an authentic social context creates agency and is a transferable skill that can promote advocacy.

Start Date

5-23-2019 3:00 PM

End Date

5-23-2019 4:15 PM

Description

The challenge of communicating complex ideas to diverse audiences has been conceded as the integrity of scientific theories has been put into question. The Alan Alda Method of science communication effectively trains professionals to fluently relay complex information and become better communicators. The method assumes a trickle-down effect, from expert to non-specialist to disseminate scientific understanding that leads to science advocacy. My approach is bottom-up, leading the non-specialist to science advocacy through teaching literacy. Developing science literacy allows students to appreciate how scientific issues relate to their own lives in the context of community. This creates agency and empowerment that transcends intrinsic motivation. Here, I present how developing science literacy with an authentic social context is a transferable skill that can be used to promote advocacy in students. I will discuss a case study from my introductory biology class, in which students participated in science literacy projects that were tied to their local communities of origin. To generate a sense of purpose and an authentic learning experience, students chose a scientific bill from their home state government websites, studied the scientific background of the bill, and practiced transferring knowledge by writing an opinion article. Topics were diverse; opioid addiction, elder care, mental illness, environmental regulation and science education to name a few. Students submitted their OpEd articles to local newspapers around the country and self-reported when their articles were published. Of the 43 student submissions, 7 (21%) OpEd articles were published within two weeks after submission in 3 different states (CO, MA, NY). A post course survey was administered to measure the students’ perceived impact of the assignment on their understanding of science, and their feeling of having a personal stake in the political process as a measure of political engagement. Students identified that writing the opinion articles as both the favorite and most challenging aspect of the project. Science literacy improved. All students identified it was easier to write over time, and 76.5% thought their writing had improved during the course. Science advocacy also improved. While 58% of students voted in the 2018 midterm elections, 71% (including both registered and non-registered) reported that they were more likely to vote in next election. Providing an experiential learning experience that connects students with their local communities nurtures a transformative experience. I propose that science literacy when applied in a political and social justice context can lead to sustained advocacy.

Comments

I've spoken at conferences on topics including The Power of Observation, building an interdisciplinary course in bio and art, and the use of the scientific method as a course design tool. Please find my TEDxUnion talk on teaching here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpCH2fwbGiw

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May 23rd, 3:00 PM May 23rd, 4:15 PM

Science literacy can save democracy

Communicating complex ideas is difficult, yet the ability to clearly articulate and communicate is essential for a democracy to work well. In an age of gaslighting and fake news, the integrity of basic concepts is threatened and lost. This is true in science, where complex ideas such as climate change and evolution have been politicized for years. Here, I present how developing science literacy allows students to appreciate how scientific issues relate to their own lives in the context of community. Developing science literacy in an authentic social context creates agency and is a transferable skill that can promote advocacy.