Jose A Amador, Laboratory of Soil Ecology and Microbiology, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI and Elizabeth A Miles, Writing and Rhetoric, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI
Communicating science effectively to the general public is an essential - and difficult - aspect of being an environmental scientist. Undergraduate science communication courses are generally limited to “translating” published research papers for a hypothetical audience. We describe a team-taught undergraduate course that provides students with authentic experiences dealing with science and the public. Using a problem-based learning approach, students with little or no background in limnology or water quality learn the basics of these disciplines by evaluating a long-term water quality data set for Boone Lake in Exeter, RI. Working in small groups, they are asked to identify potential water quality problems, their causes and potential solutions. The students present their findings to the Boone Lake community in a public meeting, where they have an opportunity to learn about the resident’s knowledge of their lake, level of understanding of the science of water quality, and their particular concerns regarding the sources of - and solutions for - problems in their lake. The students are asked to conduct a needs assessment prior to producing a media campaign – billboards, brochure and short videos – to further educate the residents of Boone Lake about what they can do to address the problems identified in their public presentations. These materials are presented to the Boone Lake community at the end of the semester, and used by the community association to promote water quality through online and more traditional outlets. Student reflections midway and at the end of the semester indicate that analyzing and communicating real data to help a real audience address real problems transformed their learning experience.