No Jargon Spoken Here: Communicating About Science

Excerpt from Grecourt Gate, News and Events for the Smith College Community
May 3, 2017

“You can’t pick up a newspaper these days without seeing articles about policies informed by scientific research.. as scientists, we are trained to speak in jargon and not to think about our audience. Bottom line: we need to become better communicators.”

For his course, [James] Lowenthal (quoted above) used a curriculum developed by Stony Brook University’s Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science that harnesses theater techniques to help scientists learn how to make their work more accessible to non-scientists.

Students began the Smith course without knowing that their research on one of three astronomy-related policy issues—global climate change, light pollution and contested mountaintop observatories—would also involve theater games and videotaped interviews.

They quickly rose to the challenge, says John Hellweg, Smith professor emeritus of theatre, who helped lead the class through improvisations such as playing an imaginary game of catch and competing in a storytelling relay.

“Improvisation work is vigorous and skill-building,” Hellweg says. “The students were curious and engaged and they jumped right in.”

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