Bultitude, Karen

UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies is an interdisciplinary centre for the integrated study of science's history, philosophy, sociology, communication and policy, located in the heart of London. Founded in 1921. Award winning for teaching and research, plus for our public engagement programme. Rated as outstanding by students at every level.

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Staff books include:

Bultitude - Introducing Science Communication spacerAthena Swan Bronze Award


HPSC3033 Communicating Science in Digital Environments

Digital Communication

This module is open to students in all departments, especially STS, Natural Sciences and Human Sciences. Students should consider HPSC3003 (Term 1) in preparation, although there are no pre-requisites for the course. In 2014/15 this will be a Term 2 course. Specific timetable information is available via the UCL Common Timetable.

This module focuses on creative and exciting contemporary approaches to communicating scientific topics via digital means. Teaching focuses on new media and online communication mechanisms, for example podcasting, blogging, social media and/or Citizen Science approaches. Existing global patterns of Internet use will be explored, including both demographic and device-oriented trends (such as the rise of mobile Apps). Students will critique contemporary examples of projects that utilise digital environments, as well as develop their own ideas. Across the module practical opportunities to explore the various techniques will be balanced with conceptual models of effective communication.

There are no pre-requisites for this module and there are no expectations of existing skills levels (especially no required programming skills) prior to starting the course.  We will cover all necessary skills and content within the module, although obviously an interest in communicating scientific topics, and especially via digital environments, would be advantageous.

The drop-down menus below contain further information about the course, including specific details relating to student feedback and recommendations relating to the most recent time this course ran (2011/12).

Learning Objectives

Primary learning objectives

By the end of the course, students should be able to:

  1. demonstrate effective communication and engagement using digital technologies
  2. demonstrate an ability to navigate a wide range of digital technologies as they relate to science communication and engagement
  3. offer insightful analysis of digital tools for science communication
  4. relate case studies in digital communication to particular analytical and interpretative themes in science communication
  5. evaluate the effectiveness of digital technologies for particular communication tasks, including novel ones
  6. reflect on the purpose, relevance, and effectiveness of communication via digital media

Secondary learning objectives

By the end of the course, students should be able to:

  1. demonstrate research skills appropriate to Year 3 STS modules
  2. demonstrate time and project management, working to tight deadlines
  3. demonstrate independence and initiative in project work

Teaching Style

 This module is taught in 'workshop' format, with each session containing a mixture of mini-lectures interspersed with set tasks and discussion of key issues.  Previous students reported particularly appreciating the interactive nature of the workshop sessions, including the use of problem-based learning approaches incorporating student-led elements.  Additionally, specific ‘preparation tasks’ are set each week that feed into the session content and build on the elements required for the assessments.  Former students noted that this approach worked well to keep them focused and up-to-date with their reading/research elements.  

Student Feedback

The general feedback (collected via anonymous student evaluation questionnaires) was extremely positive. No common issues were identified in students' comments, and the average score across the course (for structure, teaching delivery, interest and workload) was 4.82 out of 5.  

Summary of 2012 student feedback

Quotes from previous students describing the course include:

  • Lots of practical experience from course convenor helps to keep it up to date & lively.
  • Lots of resources made easily available – reading list makes them very easy to find and use
  • Plenty of opportunities to discuss assessment / get feedback etc.


#1: Case Study Analysis 

1,800 words, 30%

The first assessment consists of a critical analysis of an existing contemporary example of scientific content being communicated in one or more digital environments.  Your analysis should be written in essay format and should include:

  •  Identification of the target audience(s)
  •  Analysis of how successfully the intervention has reached that audience
  •  Key strengths and weaknesses
  •  Recommendations for further improvement or extension of the chosen example

It is crucial that you draw on existing evidence to support your arguments. This evidence should include specific details from within your chosen case study, but must also include comparisons with wider theory and practice. A list of suggested case study examples will be provided on Moodle, from which you can choose one to analyse further.  It is also possible to select your own case study for further analysis, however please ensure that you discuss your selection with the course tutor in advance in order to ensure that it is appropriate.  Case studies suggested in 2011/12 included:

  • I'm a Scientist, Get me out of Here!  (online discussion event between scientists and school students)
  • Science is Vital (grassroots political campaign to maintain the government's science budget)
  • Polymath Project (collaborative maths wiki project)
  • the Naked Scientists (science podcast and radio programme based in Cambridge)

#2: Digital Environment Communication Strategy 

20-minute group presentation, 30%. This weighting will be broken down into 15% for the pitch itself, 10% for the subsequent Q&A and 5% for your contributions during other students' pitches, i.e. participation in the panel interviews (e.g. through asking questions and contributing peer feedback).

A short list of potential scenarios will be provided on Moodle that will present realistic situations where digital media communication may be useful to communicate scientific concepts.  You should treat the given scenario as a client briefing, where you are providing a professional service providing advice according to their stated needs. Within your group you should prepare a proposed strategy for your chosen scenario, outlining which digital media tools you believe are relevant (and why), and how they should be implemented. You will also be expected to recognise and identify any existing support structures or potential partners to assist in overcoming such limitations, as well as mechanisms for judging the success of your strategy should it be implemented.  As always, you should draw on specific evidence to justify your choices throughout your strategy. Students will also be involved as members of the interview panel for other students' presentations as well as delivering their own pitches (on different scenarios).

Note that the chosen scenario must be different to that covered in the new media project component (assessment #3 below).

#3: New Media Project 

Written / digital submission of up to 2,400 words (or equivalent ) in total, including both the new media output and the explanatory narrative piece, 40%

Your final assessment is to produce a digital output (e.g. a blog, wiki, podcast, mobile phone App or design for a new Citizen Science project) that communicates scientific concepts to a specific target audience.  You can choose what sort of output you wish to create, as well as the scientific content and target audience(s) involved.  Note that although there will be some elements for design, the main focus will be on the content of your output and how well the project matches to its target audience ­ so allocate your time accordingly and don't get distracted by over-developing the design component. You should provide a short narrative piece to accompany your new media project which outlines elements such as who the target audience is, what key message(s) you were attempting to communicate, how you would attract an audience, how it would be evaluated etc. Obviously this narrative will need to include clear justifications for the various choices made throughout, based on both literature and practice.

Page last modified on 23 mar 16 20:39 by Karen Bultitude

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