While the focus on how the rapid progress of science and technology can as well contribute to human and environmental sustainability, it is equally important and adequate to understand how the public perceive the meaning of sustainability via means in science communication [1
]. Science communication is an area of practice and research that continues to experience steady growth in the amount of activities, courses, and practitioners in the field during the past two decades. While it remains, and continues to be, a widely-researched topic, science communication has varying definitions and applications in different fields and countries. Since the 1990’s, the dominant model of science communication research and practice has shifted from deficit models towards engagement models [3
]. However, some practitioners still perceive science communication as a one-way (e.g., deficit model) delivery of knowledge from scientists to the public, or the expert group to the knowledge “deficit” group, respectfully. The current study adopts a much broader definition as suggested by Burns, O’Connor, and Stocklmayer, who integrated various elements of a two-way (e.g., engagement model) communication model, and defined science communication as “the use of appropriate skills, media, activities, and dialogue to produce one or more personal responses to science” [5
] (p. 191).
Science Edu-Communication emerges as a model utilized for new production and research avenues in recent science communication progress [6
]. A consistent pursue of both science communication and science education on promoting public understanding of science has been found by scholars [7
]. In this vein, developing a scale for “Science Edu-Communication (SEC)” as an instrument and framework is the goal of this study, which aims to quantitatively and qualitatively measure the purpose, features, means, methods, and effects of science edu-communication in interactions with the public. More specifically at this early emerging stage of SEC, it is needed to evaluate its effectiveness via personal perceptions toward SEC.
Recently, significant reviews within the UK have recognized four key factors that increased the need for science communication with the public [11
]: (1) The public’s reduced trust in scientists, mainly derived from scientists’ increased reliance on funding from industrial and private sources, possibly influencing them to promote the goals of special interest groups; (2) The public placing a lower value on “Big Science” (i.e., larger-scale scientific projects that are generally funded by national governments, such as the Large Hadron Collider) [12
], resulting in increased difficulty in justifying significant financial investment; (3) Advanced technology has created unparalleled conveniences for the public to not only consume knowledge but also contribute personal opinions regardless of their factual validity [13
]; (4) “Democratic deficit” [14
], meaning an ostensibly democratic government has lost the public’s trust by not fulfilling democratic principles [15
], appearing in the process of decision-making regarding science and technology policies [11
In response to the demands of science communication, there are several primary approaches to engage the public with science. Bultitude summarized these in three categories: (1) Traditional journalism, such as newspapers, magazines, TV, and radio, that inform audiences of contemporary high-profile issues, but tend to resort to the one-way deficit-model of focused communication; (2) Live or face-to-face events and settings, such as science museums, science festivals, and public lectures, that allow scientists more control of content and reduce third party distortion of communication, but only reach a limited audience; (3) Online social media that encompasses both one-way and two-way communication depending on the platform and the audience’s preferences, and can reach a large potential audience with significantly less time and space limitations [17
]. Moreover, social media (e.g., Facebook special interest group in science) help promote, moderate and mediate the public with science with positive impact [18
However, one important question is: “How do we know whether science communication is successfully delivering something of value to the public?” Jensen pointed out the importance of science communication in an evaluation stating [19
“High-quality impact evaluation that is judiciously employed, skilfully conducted and effectively shared can provide a basis for practitioners to discover what aspects of science communication initiatives are working, in what ways, with which audiences and why.”.
Considerable amounts of science communication studies have been conducted to analyse the effectiveness of various science communication methods. For example, Koolstra introduced a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods to analyse the publics’ opinion of the image of science and scientists [20
]. Levine and his colleagues utilized a mixed-methodology to evaluate science communication regarding health issues using an online platform, “MyPlate” [21
]. Baram-Tsabari & Lewenstein developed a pre- and post-instrument to evaluate scientists’ public communication skills in writing [22
]. Although considerable numbers of science communication evaluations have been developed, the methodology and conceptual basis of these particular initiatives is challenging to develop well, multiplying the difficulty of coherently evaluating science communication [23
]. This situation may restrict the advancement of science communication practices, quality and their effectiveness [19
Burns et al. provided an outcome-based framework to define science communication from an audience’s perspective called the AEIOU framework (the vowel analogy): Awareness of science (A); Enjoyment or other affective responses to science (E); Interest in science (I); the formation of science-related Opinions (O); and Understanding of science (U) [5
]. For the current study, these metrics form the most important components of the SEC scale used to analyse audiences’ responses regarding a science communication activity or experience. As Wu and colleagues introduced a research trend in Science Edu-Communication (SEC) [6
], the current study sought to establish and validate a conceptual framework using dimensions of the AEIOU framework for effective evaluation of science communication experiences.
5. Discussion and Limitations
The survey from this study was administered to 121 students from Taiwan. “Awareness”, “Enjoyment” and “Interest” constructs satisfied the conditions of reliability and validity as analysed through explanatory factor analysis, showing that the scale (SEC-AEIOU) is a valid and reliable instrument. The analysis revealed that the three-factor structure (AEI) accounted for 55.39% of the total variance, and the overall Cronbach’s alpha of the scale was 0.82. Next, the primary factor loading of each item was 0.5 or above, which supported the three-factor structure. In terms of the “Understanding” construct, the results of the t-test indicated acceptable item discrimination, with an overall Cronbach’s alpha of 0.61 for the scale.
As for qualitative analysis of opinion, the coding table (Table 4
) was submitted to experts to confirm content validity. The amount of “Common concept” and “Scientific concept” present in participants’ answers was then calculated and compared. The results implied that participants had successfully formed scientific concepts regarding earthquakes and natural disasters. This may result from participants’ prior interest in taking the Environment and Communication course described in the study. However, this result could also be traced back to the influence of media and educational efforts in Taiwan, a country that encounters multiple natural disasters on a frequent basis (e.g., earthquakes, typhoons, volcanoes, and climate change). As a result, the concepts of earth science and natural disasters (37.9%) frequently appear in Taiwanese media and textbooks [59
]. The assumption in our study that Taiwanese people should be familiar with earth science-related issues is consistent with what the participants revealed in their “Opinion” portion of the survey.
Specifically, in Taiwan, TV news helps audiences understand science and triggers discussion of scientific issues [66
]. Earth science and natural disasters are usually discussed in Taiwanese news channels. According to Chen, weather news and broadcasts occupied 17.35% of TV programs from nine TV stations, second only to drama programs in 23.32% [67
]. Participants have great opportunity to access information regarding earth science/natural disasters, and learn some scientific concepts from weather news and broadcasts. In addition, in 2004, the Ministry of Education in Taiwan issued the “White Paper on Disaster Precautions Education” to enhance curriculum involving natural disaster knowledge and precaution skills. Especially in the field of earth science, some outstanding science educational efforts have been carried out in recent years. A regional Quake-Catcher Network (QCN) server in Taiwan was built to promote citizen seismology [68
]. Liang, Chen, Wu, Yen, and Chang operated the Citizen Seismologists in Taiwan Project (CSTaiwan), which was designed to make recorded QCN seismic data useful in classrooms, and to elevate the quality of earthquake science education [69
]. The current study showed that participants have already formed earth science and natural disaster related scientific opinions, which to an extent reflects the positive outcome of current educational efforts in the field of earth science and natural disasters.
However, the results on Opinion were rather similar from participant to participant and tended to resemble each other. Other divergent perspectives or topics, such as earthquake engineering, man-made disasters, geography, etc. were rarely mentioned. The media should have the ability to frequently and prominently expose various perspectives to the public, so that audiences will consider other important issues for discussion [70
]. In addition, the Taiwanese educational system mainly stresses learning material and content that are related to high school curriculums or university entrance examinations [71
]. This phenomenon could be another reason for the limited range of opinions observed in the current study. Though critical opinions were aroused, it is still essential to discuss why other concepts were absent or went unmentioned, and deliver an appropriate strategy to craft a better science communication environment to learn from in the future.
While the science edu-communication scale using AEIOU constructs measures participants’ experiences with science communication, it may also be directed to the participants’ experience toward science education in a broader sense (i.e., citizen/public science education). Literature has recently increased attention towards research linkages between science communication and science education, emphasizing shared goals and avenues for collaboration [6
]. Moreover, special editions of several journals or issues and the emergence of more journals (beyond Public Understanding of Science
and Science Communication
) have started to advocate for the need to research and practice science communication and science education together, such as: 2015 special issue on “Bridging Sci. Educ. and Science Communication Research
” in Journal of Research in Science Teaching (JRST)
; 2014 special issue on “Understanding the Public Understanding of Science: Psychological Approaches
” in Educational Psychologist
, the emergence of International Journal of Science Education, Part B: Communication and Public Engagement
since 2011; Journal of Science Communication (JCOM)
since 2002; Journal of Science & Popular Culture
starting in 2017; and the emergence of Public Communication of Science and Technology (PCST) Network
. These journals and mediums discuss the overlap of science communication and education and contribute to a similar goal.
Although various evaluations of the impact of informal science projects on scientific knowledge and attitudes have been published [72
], most literature has been devoted to studying the context of science museums [74
], zoos and aquariums [76
], and other settings removed from the formal classroom. The need to develop an instrument to evaluate the current and increasing blend of science education and science communication is becoming more commonly discussed. The current study suggests that the AEIOU framework can be utilized to understand various science education and communication activities and the effects they have on individuals at a more granular level.
However, limitations due to the inconsistent format across the AEIOU items (i.e., AEI were in Likert scales, O in open-ended question, and U in true-false question), may result in lower applicability in different or more flexible circumstances and/or with larger amounts of participants. Moreover, it may hinder the capability of researchers in analysing all of AEIOU as a combination of “attitude” variables when conducting statistical procedures and generalizing the results. To improve this concern as further development of SEC scale, while the definition of “Opinion formation” is shaping, reconstruction, or reconfirmation of one’s position toward certain scientific-related issues, we may transform content-specific open-ended question items in the current study to survey-type of items, such as “I am used to have my own position in scientific-related issues”; or “I understand why there are different scientific reports in the media that are polarized or different in position”. As for “Understanding”, while the definition is focused on understandings of the scientific procedure, personal preferences, content, or social factors involved in science communication, the true-false question items may be transformed to survey-type of items such as “I can understand new scientific concepts or key terms based on today’s science communication environment”; or “Science news or social media articles should demonstrate educational purposes”.
Additionally, since the scientific concepts in OU were formulated based on Taiwanese media and textbooks [59
], it is recommended that further research be carried out using situationally based scientific concepts in appropriate domestic contexts. Furthermore, each AEIOU construct is not simply a single unitary construct, but rather consists of a large number of sub-constructs. Given that the major goal in the current study was to profile a framework for inclusive evaluation of science communication, the study mainly emphasized the larger scope of AEIOU rather than detailed sub-constructs. Further research may consider detailed sub-constructs as adding more value to the AEIOU dimensions of science edu-communication scale.
The present study sought to depict a picture of science communication outcomes from personal responses of awareness, enjoyment, interest, opinion formation, and understanding toward science. More importantly, this framework for science edu-communication (SEC) may be also considered as an effort to depict public understanding toward how science and technology can contribute to human and environmental sustainability. It may serve as a starting point for science communicators, educators, and institutions to develop a systematic and standardized evaluation procedure, and improve the quality of future and current science communication activity and evaluation. It is hoped that the proposed AEIOU construct may provide an educational metric of benefit to the field of science education in a broader scope (citizen/public science education). In other words, this construct hopes to support a robust framework to facilitate the trend of bridging science communication and science education.