Communicating Science

Communicating Science


Communicating Science

We use the power of communication to translate research and innovation to the public so that they may understand the natural environment and help create environmentally sustainable communities. We support projects and programs that enable public participation, collaboration, conflict resolution, environmental campaigns, social marketing, rhetoric and discourse.

Social Media Science SWAT Team 

Three social media pros, four University of Rhode Island undergraduate interns, 30 years of tick research, and one @TheTickguy and his team aim to prevent tick-borne diseases — like Lyme disease — by engaging diverse audiences via new media: blogging, newsletters, relevant social media platforms, search engine optimization, blogger/media relations, and live events.

Smashing traditional internship models, the Harrington School’s Social Media SWAT Team leveraged digital and social media to squash ignorance about the disease-carrying, scary, and hard-to-look-at tick. With the social media pros as their mentors and strategic thinkers, these paid URI student-interns took on social-media agency work.

Professor Tom Mather of the Tick Encounter Research Center sought help from the Harrington School to boost its brand awareness via social media. It was a bold experiment: could undergraduate students learn about social media for science communication and deliver measurable results?

With leadership from social media expert Suzanne McDonald, over the course of 4 months, a team of undergraduate students who formed the SWAT team gained 890 new social media followers, created a year’s worth of “Ask The Tick Guy” blog posts, regionalized e-newsletters, boosted visits to the TERC site via Pinterest 664%, Facebook 190%, Twitter 103%, and 689 visitors from various guest posts on existing blogs between April 1, 2013 and September 1, 2013. Traffic to the TERC site increased by 234% during this time period (April 1, 2013 to September 1, 2013) from nearly 83,000 to nearly 277,000, compared to the same dates a year prior. Percentage of new visitors increased by 3.4%. Google is now increasingly favoring the TERC website — referrals rose by 444%. Traffic from Bing and Yahoo! are also up by 49% and 55% respectively.

Thanks to the work of the Harrington School’s Social Media SWAT Team and Dr. Tom Mather for helping create real-world learning experiences that use social media for science communication.

Science Communication Programs in Higher Education

Professor Pat Logan of the Department of Communication Studies has created a database, analysis and supporting materials to examine how science communication is taught in communication, writing and science curricula at 108 research universities.  More than 100 courses are identified under the theme of “communicating science,” but only five departments teach three or more science communication courses. Read the report here. Few programs explore the relationship between how science communication may inspire public action on issues like climate change, post-fossil fuel energy sources, and other issues. Research and teaching might address:

  • Why the nature of science is not understood by the public
  • Pragmatic alternatives to the specialized vocabulary of science
  • How the culture of science can include a focus on public communication and advocacy.

Ocean Tales: The Ever-Changing Coast

What happens when a group of soil erosion graduate students meet up with undergraduate students from the Harrington School of Communication and Media? This fascinating short documentary chronicles the unpredictable and authentic learning experience of young scientists and young communicators — before, during, and after Hurricane Sandy wreaks havoc on the South Coast of Rhode Island.

This special learning experience was created through a collaboration supported by the URI Provost’s Technology Initiative by students enrolled in Roy Bergstrom‘s FLM 445 course. They were supported by Dwight Coleman, Director of the Inner Space Center and his colleagues at the Graduate School of Oceanography. This project is part of the Communicating Science research cluster.