Category Archives: meetings

At the Sea Level Rise Summit

We’re currently halfway through the 2013 Sea Level Rise Summit in Fort Lauderdale. I have a poster up at the meeting about the coastal dynamics of sea level rise project (or Ecological Effects of Sea Level Rise in the Northern Gulf of Mexico/EESLR-NGOM).

On the Coastal Dynamics of Sea Level Rise...

On the Coastal Dynamics of Sea Level Rise…

After having listened to and interacted with a wide variety of people from the sciences, communication, law, politics, and public health, the highlight of the day has to be stepping out of a car downtown on the way to the evening’s reception and nearly missing going ankle-deep into a puddle of seawater rising up through a storm drain. South Florida has a major problem with sea level rise and salt water intruding into the cities-so much so that on a completely rainless day with no wind, a high tide can push water up through the grates. So this was a perfect illustration of the challenges that this region faces in the future.

Impressions from NARST

Earlier this week, I attended a conference of the National Association of Research in Science Teaching. I wasn’t presenting anything (missed the submission deadline), but it turned out to be fairly worthwhile. I ended up only attending two days of the conference, and focusing primarily on the digital tools/informal science sessions. I did get the chance to chat with a few people about my work and make some connections, which is always nice.

Here are just a few impressions from the conference.

  • The digital media tools used for science education seemed to mainly fall into two categories: simulations for teaching science concepts, and simulations for assessment purposes. (This is probably not a very profound observation.) The former seems to be the more ‘traditional’ tools, e.g., using racing games or pinball-esque scenarios to teach about physics. The latter are newer to me, at least, and are significant in that they represent an attempt to get away from multiple-choice tests for testing inquiry. There were some neat ideas from both these general categories.
  • The digital tools for informal learning were more wide-ranging, which you’d expect. There were some cool demos here; two I found interesting were FoldIt (which turns protein-folding problems into crowdsourced puzzle games) and Dancing the Earth (which uses a mixed-reality simulation to teach astronomy concepts).
  • The session that was probably most useful for me immediately was one on problems in teaching evolution. Some of the bigger conceptual issues raised here were: the challenge of linking evolutionary processes at different scales (e.g., population dynamics & speciation), teaching students to differentiate between useful and non-useful types of evidence, and difficulties with reading phylogenetic trees.
  • I also went to a session on philosophy of science, objectivity, and teaching about pseudoscience. Some of the ideas from this session would be useful if I ever did teach science again, since it was more geared toward educators. One presentation in particular stands out, on the subject of teaching science in communities which place a high level of emphasis on traditional ecological knowledge. The presenter tried to lay out a strategy that charts a middle course between immediate rejection or fuzzy acceptance of TEK, by focusing on talking about cultural technologies, rather than immediately comparing philosophies. The idea seems to be to focus on areas where there’s common ground (i.e., observation, testing, and building technologies in both traditional cultures and science), rather than immediately alienating students by dismissing their culture or dismissing science as a specialized way of understanding the world. This is an interesting idea to think about.
  • Finally, trying to present via Skype is just asking for trouble. I attended one session (a digital media session, naturally) in which two presenters were going to present via Skype. Even though everything was clearly set up and working during the break before the session, when it came time to present, something went wrong with the sound on someone’s end. The two presenters ended up being able to give their talks, after much technical tweaking, but this did not go smoothly.

Not quite buried…

Back from the Humanities & Sustainability conference, and embroiled in getting ready for my first candidacy exam this week… My talk went well, and contributed some ideas to the end of session discussion, so that rates a smiley face 🙂 One of the themes of several talks was the importance of metaphor for communicating science and sustainability issues, which is an interest of mine.

Here’s an interesting (unrelated) link, about social networking and social activism: can one help coordinate the other? It’s a good contrast to a few of the texts on my third reading list, which I’ll be starting in on shortly…

Humanities and Sustainability Conference

I’ll be presenting a paper at a conference on humanities and sustainability this weekend. The title is: “Using Photography and Flagship Species to Promote Conservation.” Here’s a summary:

The conservation movement has used photography for many different purposes: from showcasing natural beauty to documenting environmental degradation; from connecting people to small, threatened habitats to showing them how large river systems are affected by drought.  This paper focuses on the use of photography to bring public awareness to flagship species: individual species selected to bring attention to larger conservation issues or to gain monetary support.  While conservation philosophies based upon protecting single species are not considered ideal by conservation biologists, there are some positive aspects to such programs.

This paper explores the rhetorical choices made by conservation organizations in the selection of species to photograph as well as the formatting of photos. Photograph uses vary considerably among different conservation groups who have different communication strategies.  The examples presented in this paper will concentrate on a subset of conservation photography, portraiture, which is a very useful tool for single-species-based conservation.  If what we need, as humans, is to have a personal connection to the plants and animals that we want to protect, then photography is a very important art.

Photographs are effective because they mediate between our inner & outer realities, helping us reconcile what is with what we think should be.  For the conservation movement, photography is a multipurpose tool, one that goes beyond dry recitations of statistics about coral reef degradation and listings of species that have disappeared from a forest to tug at the heartstrings.  While photography can be used logically, to document ecological changes, it is most powerful when used to make emotional or ethical arguments.  One of the strengths of the humanities is the ability to elucidate such arguments and shed light on why they are effective.

There will be many photos of cute animals (and plants.) No rabbits, though.

AESS Conference: day 3

The final day of the AESS conference began with the session I chaired, about new media and environmental communication. Unfortunately, it was scheduled at 8 am, which contributed to low attendance. But we were still able to have an interesting discussion after the presentations. My focus was on framing environmental issues for websites of environmental groups- using language, links, images, and interactivity to create consistent (and ideally more effective) messages.

The other presenters focused on coopting the advertising format for environmental messaging, and how interactive technologies were used in protests by Peruvian natives to mobilize resistance to privatization of their land. Through these talks, there were a few threads that were similar. These included the ongoing problem of the “digital divide”, the necessity of personal trust in a fragmenting media landscape, and the difficulty of getting through communication “noise” without resorting to spectacle (or alternatively, by creating subversive messages that catch on).

Later in the day, these themes were echoed and expanded in another session I attended on educational applications of networked technologies. I found this session interesting because it gave me an applied perspective on the theory-driven discussions I’ve had in the T&T program. For example, one of the big ideas in online theory centers on a distinction between “digital natives” (the current generation, weaned on electronics) and “digital immigrants” (older folks, lurching unsteadily into the digital realm). The idea is the “digital natives” are 1) both more comfortable with online tools and 2) enjoy using them. In fact, even without considering the digital divide, these educators have found that this is not the case with many of their students. In fact, many of their students are not comfortable with higher-order networked communication, and mainly prefer to use tethered, prepackaged apps (or Facebook, which is a pretty closed environment). So this was a useful counter-perspective to the enthusiasm of some of my fellow T&T students 🙂

Overall, I did enjoy the conference- it was a useful experience and helped me connect with a group of people with different interests than those I usually converse with- which was a good change! I think some of the ideas and concerns even just with digital communication tools (e.g., information glut, breakdown of a culture of expertise, the risk of virtualizing the world) brought up here will be good food for thought in the upcoming weeks.

AESS conference: day 2

So, this is a bit of a review considering that I’ve been home for a few days (though busy, busy the whole time), but I wanted to at least put down some of the highlights of the conference while I have time…and before leaving for Ithaca.

On the first day of the conference, I attended two panels on psychology and ESS (environmental studies & science). These were interesting because several speakers tackled some fairly big issues, like how to make people aware of massive environmental problems without causing them to succumb to despair, and what effects positive emotion in communication have on the audience vs. negative emotions. This is definitely not an area of expertise for me, and I can see how looking further into research on the subject will be useful.

Later, I went to a session bringing together some different perspectives on climate change (which turned into the theme of the day for me, quite unintentionally). Here, several of the presentations had a focus on framing, which made up a large part of my own presentation. The one I found most interesting was by Thomas Eatmon (Allegheny College), who spoke about parallels in risk assessment frameworks between geoengineering and nanotechnology. This was interesting for a few reasons- first, risk is a complex thing to conceptualize in any situation, and it gets much more so when new technology, large-scale technical research, politics, etc. are part of the picture. Second, as Eatmon points out, the environmental community has to a large extent avoided discussing geoengineering, and instead sees it as “taboo”. But as he pointed out, this leaves the subject of framing the geoengineering debate open to industry/corporations- exactly where we are right now. He suggests, instead of framing geoengineering as “climate engineering”, that we view it as nanotechnology (e.g., ocean iron fertilization, aerosolized sulfur)- a much more threatening frame in the public eye, and one which I think does capture the scale of this type of proposal. Other projects, like space mirrors or CO2-capturing gels, are more point-source (or sink, if you prefer) and more easy to discontinue if problems come up. The “nanotech” parallel seems to be a good thing to bring up for the former category of proposals.

The last session I went to was a grab-bag of sorts for the student presentation competition. There were some interesting conceptualizations brought up in this session of environmentalism and social liberalism (definitely not always connected) and ideas about wilderness environmentalism vs. “environmentalism of the poor” (tied to making a livelihood from the land and social justice). Throughout this conference, I was reminded that “environmental studies” is often a very separate realm from ecology, which is where my background is. I’m sure some of the things I was picking up on were pretty basic to environmental studies folks, but hopefully this makes what I have to contribute potentially new & useful as well.

AESS conference: day 1

I’ve been attending the AESS conference in Portland, seeing some interesting talks and participating in some thoughtful discussions. My session is tomorrow, bright and early at 8 am. Here’s my talk abstract:

“Strategies and tactics for environmental communication in the online realm”

Traditional environmental outreach uses two types of communication: large-scale mass media outreach to large segments of the population, and local-scale dialogue-based outreach that approaches problems at the community level.  While large-scale outreach can influence public opinion over large geographic distances, it is difficult to translate changes in opinion into meaningful local action.  For local-scale outreach, the opposite is true.  As an alternative to these two models, many environmental organizations turn to the Internet to create a new dialogic space for large-scale public outreach efforts.

Website creators have to take into account many aspects of a website in order to effectively project an environmental message to its intended audience.  These include low-level tactical features like accuracy and timeliness of information, usability, and artistic design, as well as high-level strategic features such as the overall framing of the organization’s message.  Message framing is particularly important because it should drive the overall narrative of the website and guide lower-level tactical decisions.

This presentation will explore and show examples of the tools available for framing environmental communication in an online new media setting, and discuss how they differ from traditional mass media framing tools.  For websites, the four key elements that can be used for framing the organization’s overall message are language, links, images, and interactivity.  While language and images are important parts of traditional mass media, links and interactivity are to a large extent unique to online media.  Links and interactivity also help build the desired dialogic online space for public outreach.

Off to Portland

I’m off to the Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences conference in Portland, where I’ll be chairing a session on new media and environmental communication. I’ve never chaired a talk session before, so we’ll see how this goes! This conference has a discussion-heavy format (in contrast to the 15-minute presentation, 5-minute question format I’m used to), which should give us some good time to talk over some interesting ideas.

Here’s the abstract for my session:

New networked and interactive Internet tools offer “green” communication possibilities and challenges that can be very different from those posed by traditional media. While traditional environmental communication strategies can sometimes be effective in this new realm, relying only on traditional methods can prevent groups from utilizing the full potential of new media. Even in traditional media, new approaches offer the potential to radically change the communication landscape. This session will explore new features and characteristics of the changing communication landscape, such as new participatory tools that can help create environmental change from a local perspective or create a new dialogic space for large-scale public outreach efforts, and creative new uses of traditional communication formats.  While new technologies allow the rapid dissemination of “green” ideas and messages, using these tools thoughtfully is the most effective way to take advantage of them.

Should be a fun and interesting meeting!