Monday, February 27, 2017

Communicating Science through Storytelling

"What is the difference between information and wisdom?" Morgan Heim, film producer turned professor, asked the class. We sat silently trying to formulate a coherent answer. "Now I know what my students feel like," one of the professors in the room joked.

Scientists are typically focused on the information they are able to gain to better understand our world. From collecting data to conducting experiments, they are constantly charged with gathering and processing information. Yet some of this can be lost in translation as they try to communicate their findings to the larger public. The Storytelling for Scientists video workshop, February 16th - 18th, was a three day boot-camp style event that offered scientists and other communicators tools to effectively tell their story through film.

Jane Zelikova and Morgan Heim, producers of the film End of Snow, led the workshop. End of Snow was an EPSCoR funded project that focuses on the effects of climate change in the Rocky Mountain Region the University of Wyoming calls home. A short from the film, The Snow Guardian, spent a few weeks at the top of National Geographic’s what to watch list, was featured in the Atlantic Magazine and was seen on CNN’s Big Idea. It has enjoyed over 2 million views since launching in December. After the success of their creative scientific collaboration, Jane and Morgan came back to the University of Wyoming to host a workshop to help scientists also begin using film to express the key concepts of their science.

Workshop participants ranged in experience and expertise. There were scientists, communicators, faculty, and students that were eager to learn more about video storytelling.
Sarah Konrad works on narration for her film in the Wyoming Public Radio studio.
Attendees learned how to develop a science story, how to capture and edit footage, and how to add narration to their films. Time was spent in the classroom learning techniques and then applied out in the field, the workshop’s boot camp design allowed for participants to learn a new technique, practice it, and then go out and apply it in a real world filmmaker setting.

Participants worked in small groups to produce a short 1-2 minute science film. Each group was assigned a topic at the beginning of the workshop. Topics included the language of science, women in science, odd science couples, and a day in the life of a scientist. Participants were able to receive direct feedback from Jane and Morgan as they went through the process of creating their own films.

The workshop was concluded with a screening party where groups could share their final products with the class. The 8 hour days paid off when participants could see the power and effect these films had on others.

In a world filled with information, scientific storytelling can allow us to impart wisdom.

Now scientists across UW have developed the skills needed to use video as a medium to not only better communicate their research, but to also show others why their research matters. An example of the final product from one group, Women in Science can be seen here

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