February 27, 2014 by Dr. G
Click on the hashtag #Scio14 to view all of my posts from ScienceOnline Together.
Today was the official kick-off of ScienceOnline Together, three days of conversation about conducting, sharing, and communicating science on the web. Approximately 400 people have come to the McKimmon Center of NC State University, each bringing a different perspective, a different experience, and different learning/networking goals. Just this morning, I have met librarians, high school teachers, aquarium educators, and more. I am in the minority at this conference as a faculty member in the geosciences (in fact, I have yet to meet another person with a geology background)!
As with the other ScienceOnline conferences, the nametags are unique. Each person has a puzzle piece, and we are challenged to find seven other people that have puzzle pieces that will fit with ours to create a rectangle. What a clever networking tool! I’m going to be curious to search for completed puzzles on Twitter with the hashtag #scioPuzzle.
Breakfast was provided at the McKimmon Center, and then we jumped right in to the morning plenary, or what is referred to as the CONVERGE session. The idea of CONVERGE is to bring everyone at the conference together at the start of every day to listen and to be inspired – and this morning did not disappoint. With the overarching theme of Changing Challenges into Opportunities, this morning’s speakers were Dr. Meg Lowman (California Academy of Science) and Rebecca Tripp (Univ. of Maine). The two presented on “Wheelchairs and Water Bears in the Canopy.” Dr. Lowman was incredibly inspiring, starting with background information on underserved populations in science, especially people with mobility limitations. Approximately 10% of students in universities have a physical disability, but only 2% of the STEM workforce have mobility challenges. Dr. Lowman talked about her research in the canopy of tropical rainforests, noting that going up in trees (the vertical movement) can be much easier than bringing students in wheelchairs over rugged terrain. Dr. Lowman runs a summer NSF-REU program for students to study Water Bears (or Tardigrades, as I just learned about today) up in the trees – literally! Rebecca spoke to the group – from her wheelchair. She shared how she became paralyzed seven years ago and confined to a wheelchair, but by being given the opportunity to lift herself in to the canopy of trees… I was so moved to hear her say that “it was so freeing, and I know that nothing can hold me back unless I allow it.” Truly inspiring, both of these speakers. Dr. Lowman then left us with some challenges: (1) feature role models where available; (2) include stories of citizens w/disabilities; (3) cover stories that value underserved audiences; and (4) to advertise her NSF REU summer program so that even more students with mobility limitations can engage in tree canopy research.
I then went to a session titled “What is Science Literacy?” The quick summary is – I don’t have an answer to this question. David Ng from the University of British Columbia started the session with a story about a discussion he had with an elementary school-aged student on unicorns. When he was asked, “are unicorns real?”, he was able to answer with evidence. Then he was asked “could unicorns be real?”, and he was able to use technical facts to answer. Finally, when asked, “could unicorns leap over a rainbow in a single bound?”, he said he needed to then start bringing in the culture upon which science is framed and presented. The audience had many discussion points on this topic (not unicorns, but mermaids did come up). One person said that the movie Finding Nemo has served as a great outreach tool for engagement at aquariums – what David called getting those outside the [science] choir interested and engaged. Others shared their own stories about how a direct experience with science at a young age created the engagement and excitement for science. The last question/comment in the session was a thoughtful (someone even said “painful”) one – are we trying too hard to create scientific literacy? Is this what we really should/need to be doing?
During this session, Perrin Ireland from NRDC engaged in her science scribing. I saw her do this at ScienceOnline Climate, and I’m still just as fascinated with her work! Check out how she documented this session below.
Lunch was then served with a wonderful Lebanese buffet. The afternoon will be spent in more sessions and hoping I don’t reach my saturation point before the end of the day…