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Perrin Ireland’s Blog

Science Scribe: Capturing the ScienceOnline Conference in Drawings

Perrin Ireland

Posted February 13, 2013 in The Media and the Environment

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I see science in pictures.

I learned science by drawing it and, these days, I participate in science conversations all across the country to visually capture the content, emotion and intent of the discussions. It’s called scribing, graphic recording, and mostly, doodling. I am a science scribe.

A couple of weeks ago I traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina to scribe the ScienceOnline2013 conference, an annual gathering of scientists, bloggers, journalists, science artists, videographers, museum curators, and others. Standing at an easel in the front of the room, I listened and I captured what I heard with images.

It’s an experience I highly recommend. The images that emerged in my scribes represent not only the ideas, the ingenuity, and the talent in the room, but also the heart, passion and self-reflection of the science communicators who came together during these special three days in Raleigh. Here's a slideshow of this year's scribes:

I particularly enjoyed scribing the more playful sessions, the ones where participants were pushed to get creative. Scientific Storytelling moderators Jeanne Garbarino and David Manly led the group in a “Pitch Us Your Narrative” exercise, and some of the heartiest, most delightful, off-the-cuff retellings of favorite life and science memories managed to stumble onto my foam core as a result. Sessions that presented ways to improve science writing by modeling the work on other literary genres made for titillating scribes: Maryn McKenna and David Dobbs’ “What Science Can Learn From Crap Novels” session, in which they quoted and referenced genre novels that are definitely not crap, resulted in images of ships sailing iceberg laden waters and people dangling off cliffs. The science fiction session with Annalee Newitz and Jennifer Ouellette, two new blog crushes of mine, was juicy and, I thought, content-rich. Gamechangers was a lot of fun as well: two young but seasoned gaming proponents talked shop with scientists and teachers about how to integrate games into curriculum and how to use them to evaluate student understanding of science. This session inspired my favorite scribe of the conference.

The #sciencescribe tag got a bunch of good play this year. Some really fabulous doodlers—students from my  Science Scribe 3.0 workshop, students from last year’s workshop and renegade doodlers alike—joined in on the sharing. My goal for this conference was to empower everybody to try on their visual thinking cap a little more often. Scribing is an open source tool for learning, communication, creativity, and memory enhancement, and it deserves to go viral.

It was a year for self-reflection at ScienceOnline. I am not alone in wanting science communicators to have more active engagement with the science of science communication. There’s an incredible body of research that explores how the media, our communities, and our cultural upbringing affects the way general audiences experience science, and communicators can use that information to drive better public understanding of science. Even though this conference is making a place for learning, practicing and applying new science communication skills, participants are still wrestling with many of the typical pitfalls and perils of science communication.  Next year, beyond text, beyond blogs, how can we take this conference to the next level?

I believe that part of the answer may be found in the kind of work I do. And in the coming weeks and months, I will look forward to sharing that with all of you.  I hope you’ll follow me, and my Science Center colleagues, on our new Twitter handle @NRDCscience, and stay tuned for more musings on science and science communication on this blog.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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