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GlobalWG 5.4 – Education Initiatives for Schools and Media



Chair: David Secko
Concordia University, Montreal, Canada

Research Problem and Objectives

This project recognizes the need to develop educational resources as first step in creating a suitable environment for further public engagement activities in the new technology of DNA barcoding.

iBOL activities need this educational base to avoid the risk of an undernourished environment for wider public discussion of the project’s results. Accordingly this activity has three components: a barcoding module for students; public perception and media; and the engagement of science journalists.

The science of barcoding involves the integration of genetics with traditional taxonomic approaches. Curricula for students in Canada and abroad have life science modules on the diversity and distribution of life.

The GE3LS team will develop a barcoding module with the nationally and internationally renowned Let's Talk Science, a non-profit organization focused on science literacy and educational programming.

Pedagogically speaking, the module will take the form of experiential learning where students are given a problem to solve using barcoding technology. With the assistance of Let's Talk Science, an appropriate educational jurisdiction will be identified - for example, Ontario - to develop the basic concept of the module before adapting it to other provinces.

Let's Talk Science has other highly regarded web-based programs, such as CurioCity, designed for 13-17 year olds.

A national education advisory panel that includes representatives from ministries of education and teachers’ associations from five provinces can provide feedback on the iBOL program. The experiential learning component can then be broadened into a nationally networked collaboration of, or competition for, students focused on a common problem, for example local evidence of invasive species.

A proposal under review with the MacArthur Foundation to develop a digital media library will stimulate the creation of a networkable social media library using Web 2.0 interactive technologies.

Use of genetic resources can be implicated in unethical exploitation of genetic resources just as much as it can be viewed as an important tool to end biopiracy. GE3LS researchers will analyze how biopiracy is represented in the media and perceived by the public. An international sweep of media and internet sites will create data for a study on genetic resource prospecting issues in general, and where barcoding relates to these. This systematic study will enable researchers and users of barcoding to understand how their science and technology is perceived.

This understanding draws importance from past GE3LS research that suggests public perceptions greatly influence attitudes about new science and technology and the public support they receive.

Lastly, barcoding offers a suite of direct (e.g. consumer protection) and indirect (maintenance of biodiversity) benefits, but the science and technology still needs to be communicated effectively to the public, most frequently via science journalism. While the above content analysis may indicate static aspects of whether effective communication is occurring, it is the science journalists on the ground that are the key active communicators.

The GE3LS team will therefore join forces with the newly minted Science Media Centre of Canada (SMCC) to develop a science communication strategy directed at science journalists, the public and decision-makers in federal and provincial governments. This strategy will assist the strategy of developing forms of science communication that allow non-specialists to meaningfully keep apprised of scientific advancements, assess the appropriateness of research, and make choices relevant to perceived personal risk and public policy.

Milestones and Deliverables

For the program delivery to schools:
– An agreement will be struck with Let's Talk Science to co-develop web-based modules and a potential competition, design work will begin.
– The program will go from design to pilot and testing before being introduced provincially and nationally.
– The media content analysis study will be patterned after previous studies and will generate reports and peer reviewed publications for iBOL and more broadly in two back-to-back cycles.
– The continuous collaboration with SMCC will focus on briefings of science journalists and other target audiences with the intention of having regular communication with above groups.

Research Team

David Secko, Concordia University
iBOL designate
Robert Hanner, University of Guelph
Invited team members
Bonnie Schmidt, Let's Talk Science
Peter Calamai, Science Media Centre of Canada


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