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PWR 91JSA: Communicating Science in Public Spaces

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Dr. Stonaker discusses the course PWR 91JSA.

From the fossil dinosaurs of natural history museums to the hands-on experiences of the Exploratorium, science museums offer rich opportunities for the general public to learn about diverse scientific topics. Science museums, and other public spaces that highlight scientific concepts, like zoos and botanical gardens, are open to people of all ages, allowing for multi-generational learning. They also have the ability to create interactive exhibits that encourage visitors to experiment with the process of science in ways that might not be possible in traditional classroom settings. Additionally, many science museums have web and social media presences that allow them to engage with the general public beyond just those that visit the physical museum space, allowing for broader community engagement.

In this course, well go behind the scenes to see how exhibits, both physical and virtual, are designed and built. We will have guest lectures from museum curators and exhibit designers, and we will take field trips to experience first hand how science can be communicated in public spaces. Using this information, we will then design and build exhibits to be displayed on campus or with a community partner. This quarter, students will develop exhibits for the Arizona Garden on campus with the goal of helping visitors to the garden engage with the space in a more meaningful way. For example, students could develop an exhibit about convergent evolution among cacti and other succulents or one that describes the ecological role that cacti play in desert ecosystems. Students could also develop exhibits that encourage nature journaling, nature writing, or other ways of interacting with the garden beyond just observation.

Annotated list of major assignments

Exhibit Pitch: For this assignment, students will state the goals for either a physical or virtual exhibit, describe how they plan to distill complex information for a general audience within the exhibit, and discuss potential challenges in creating the exhibit. This assignment could take the form of a brief written proposal or a short oral presentation.

Exhibit Mockup: For this assignment, students would provide a mock up of their physical or virtual exhibit, detailing the overall goals and design and providing the specific text and images for the exhibit display. Accompanying the mockup would be a short written memo where students reflect on the choices they made for the exhibit and how those choices incorporate principles for effective exhibit design.

For both assignments, students would be able to work individually or in pairs / a small group.

Prerequisite: WR-1 requirement or the permission of instructor

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP)

Course Feature: Science Communication Track. Cardinal Course certified by the Haas Center.
This course does not fulfill the WR-1 or WR-2 Requirement