Last week (Feb 26 – March 1) the 8th Annual ScienceOnline Together Conference took place in North Carolina. Thanks to the support of TERRA Research Magazine and OSU’s Environmental Health Sciences Center, a watch party was held on the OSU campus allowing for virtual attendance and participation (no need to wait in a TSA screening line!). The focus of the conference was to explore how the World Wide Web is changing the way science is shared, communicated, and interpreted. There were an incredible number of sessions of interest to science communicators that use a variety of web formats including outreach, blogging, and social media. Participants spanned scientists, students, journalists, and educators. A sampling of the session topics included: Communicating the Process of Science, Healthy Online Promotion, How Psych Research Can Inform Effective Communication, and The Role of Social Media in Science News Reporting. Tips, tricks, insights, stories, best practices – all were shared in efforts of helping others build new skills and effectively communicate their research or science program on the web. As the conference progressed, there was a flurry of activity on Twitter. I believe at one point the conference was trending as people live-tweeted the sessions with #scio14 or #sciox. It was hard to keep up with everything coming in on TweetDeck!
My role with the watch party included support during the session on “Social Media as a Scientific Research Tool”. David Shiffman, graduate student and blogger for Southern Fried Science, led the discussion from Raleigh, and presented ways that social media could be used in research on topics such as disease outbreaks, natural disasters, and public policy. The discussion evolved into questions about ethics, privacy, and accurate interpretations of qualitative content. As someone studying social science and qualitative research methods, I appreciated hearing comments about the increased access to social media data (such as status updates or tweets on a particular topic) and presuming “expertise” in human behavior and perceptions based on brief content analysis. It was suggested that if you are trained in the natural or physical sciences, it is useful to collaborate with a social scientist to reach a more accurate interpretation.
It is great to these conversations are happening and to see a community that is eager to organize and push forward on the evolution of science communication. Watching these sessions made me reflect on the power of language and the theorists we reference in the Free-Choice Learning Lab. Frequently we cite the work of psychologist Vygotsky with regards to cognitive development coupled with social interaction and language as a semiotic tool. If he were alive today, I sure he would be interested in the science of science communication and how we as humans use social engagement and tools like social media as a method of increasing the numbers participating in discussion.
I’m looking forward to seeing how SciOnline Together Conference evolves for the 2015 session in Georgia.