3.2 Partners in Science: Education's Role in Connecting Science and Society

Tuesday, 8 January 2013: 8:45 AM
Room 13AB (Austin Convention Center)
Rajul Pandya, UCAR, Boulder, CO; and T. Eastburn, R. Haacker-Santos, R. Russell, and B. Hatheway

Intensive public engagement in science, which means inviting communities to partner in every step of a scientific research program from defining the research question to applying the results to community priorities, is an effective strategy for bridging the gap between science and society. This type of engagement will help diversify science, ensure the use and usability of our science, help buttress public support of science, and encourage the application of scientific results to policy. In addition, it offers opportunities to tackle scientific questions that can't be accomplished in other way, it is demonstrably effective at helping people learn scientific concepts and methods, and it offers communities additional tools for advancing their priorities. For all these reasons, the strategy of doing scientific research in partnership with communities will become increasingly common. This talk will explore how we can encourage, prepare, and support scientists and the public for this collaborative approach to science.

To learn about preparing scientists for this type of research, we will use several examples of collaborative community-oriented research as case studies, including a recently completed project on disease and public health in Africa and the professionally evaluated experience of two summer interns in Southern Louisiana. In both cases, we learned that scientific expertise in a discipline has to be accompanied by a reservoir of humility and respect for other ways of knowing, the ability to work collaboratively with a broad range of disciplines and people, patience and enough career stability to allow that patience, and a willingness to adapt research to a broader set of scientific and non-scientific priorities. We also learned that direct instruction in participatory methods, mentoring by community members and scientists with more participatory experience, and explicit articulation of the goal of working with communities were essential.

We will also explore how science educators can encourage, support, and prepare community members for this collaboration with scientists. In addition to the case studies already mentioned, we will draw from three other sources: our teacher-professional development program in which practicing and pre-service teachers work in teams to develop usable classroom resources with scientists serving as “on-call” consultants, our tour and exhibits program in which we interact with over 8000 students and public visitors to explain and discuss atmospheric and related sciences, and our web resources and workshops where we leverage internet-based technologies. From these experiences we've identified several roles for science educators including engaging new and diverse communities and brokering scientist-community partnerships, preparing scientists for community interaction by helping frame and present existing research, educating scientists about community values, norms and practices, helping community members learn the scientific concepts and processes, connecting interested community participants to career pathways, and ensuring broad and representative community participation by leveraging informal and formal educational settings. In keeping with the theme of collaboration, we have found partnering with community-based educators essential for identifying common concerns and conceptions, tailoring materials for specific audiences, addressing the unique and varied constraints and opportunities of formal and informal educational settings, incorporating local knowledge, and helping ensure that we engage families in addition to individuals.

In spite of all this, there is much more to learn about these collaborative approaches, and the principal goal of sharing these strategies is to spark a conversation about the ways we prepare scientists and the public to work together in an increasingly collaborative scientific enterprise.

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