I attended the 3rd Annual Science, Engineering, Communications & Outreach Conference at Engineers Ireland two weeks ago. It was a very interesting event with a range of international speakers commenting on a variety of topics. The full webcast of the event is available to view on the Engineers Ireland website.

There were some interesting insights shared at the event such as the Rose Report’s recommendation that primary school students graduate with a knowledge of IT (which will be a huge challenge in Ireland given the lacking of technology funding in our education system) and the changing role of teachers from simply being a distributor of information to that of a moderator or facilitator for the ideas that students bounce back at them.

What really got me thinking though was the presentation on the Dutch approach to promoting science and technology to secondary school student. The presenters pointed out that they had identified that students could be grouped into different subsets ranging from young people who were passionate to subjects like maths and chemistry to those who will never show any interest and opt for other careers. One of the comments made highlighted why our approach to science education is wrong and why we need to completely change the way we teach it. There are also clear similarities with communications strategies and why breaking down the audience into different groups with similar behaviour is so important.

One of the presenters pointed out that scientists or technologists rarely are politicians, as a result important policies governing these sectors are made by people with little understanding of the subjects, often resulting in poor decisions. The fact that the education system takes a one-size fits all approach to students within the system is detrimental in some ways. It simply does not recognise that some people will never be interested in science or technology subjects and effectively puts them off them for life. You will then often hear scientists complain about how important achievements in different fields are rarely recognised by the general public, whether it’s in the media or in government.

The shift that needs to occur is a rebalancing of the system so people’s varying aptitudes are recognised. For example, rather than simply focusing on mathematical theorems or definitions, the subject would also incorporate aspects of other fields which students would be better suited to. For example, students (primarily in earlier stages of the education system) would learn about scientists and the important cultural role they played in a similar fashion to their history subjects. In later stages once students have an opt-out of the subject, more focus could then be put on the practical elements. This would result in less negative reinforcement about the perceptions of science and technology as it would become more accessible as this balanced approach would mean students could play to their strengths.

There are clear benefits to this approach which can be applied to communications strategies, particularly for public information campaigns. By recognising that subsets with different behaviour exist, you can tailor tactics to engage individual groups making the overarching strategy much more robust than the one size fits all approach.

One Response to “Takeaways From 3rd Annual Science, Engineering, Communications & Outreach Conference”  

  1. 1 Diarmaid Mac MathĂșna

    This is really interesting – I’ve just gotten a copy of the Top 10 Tips for Science Communication that were brainstormed at the event and put them up on my blog http://www.sciencecommunicationreview.com. They make for interesting reading!

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Piaras Kelly
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