Merging science communication and service learning to advance transdisciplinary undergraduate education
As scientists our ability to effectively communicate our work to broad audiences is increasingly important as more outlets for communication, including social media, emerge. However, formal science communication training is rare and although opportunities at the graduate level are growing, very few opportunities exist for undergraduate students. We developed a course at Northern Kentucky University, a metropolitan university of 16,000, for undergraduate environmental science students that focuses on science storytelling. Students work directly with local community partners to produce pieces of science communication that are relevant to the mission of the organization. Project proposals are co-produced with community partners, and students work collaboratively to produce and edit projects. The course is structured around three learning modules: photo, radio, and film. Through this experience students learn the basics of photography, filmmaking, and producing radio. Focus is also placed on developing “transdisciplinary competencies” which Derry (2005) describes as abilities and attitudes, in addition to disciplinary training, that students need to acquire in order to succeed in transdisciplinary work. Such skills include collaboration, communication of complex issues to diverse audiences, critical thinking to advance evidence-based arguments, and self-directed learning.
The combination of a transdisciplinary course topic – science communication – and service learning proved to be one in which both content and transdisciplinary competencies were successfully developed throughout a semester of collaboration with local organizations. The transdisciplinary topic allowed for content and training from visual arts, digital media, and communication. Service learning afforded students the opportunity to apply newly acquired transdisciplinary content to complex situations, developing competencies that allowed them to successfully frame communication problems, design solutions, and negotiate digital media. In this talk we will present the successes and challenges of the course, planned revisions, and future goals to bridge transdisciplinary and service learning. One key challenge we address is defining transdisciplinary competencies for a pedagogical situation that are relevant to modern workforce needs and assessing student progress in their acquisition.