22 February 2021
By Laura Guertin
March 2020 may have marked the closure of gates to physical spaces for science engagement, but it also opened the portal to new social spaces to keep the science conversations going. This is exactly what happened to my institution and a local arboretum, where an existing partnership that relied upon on-site programming found a new way to continue and grow our collaborations.
The outcomes of pandemic restrictions I view as a light switch. At my university, we made a shift to remote instruction, tapping into our existing online technology tools and course management systems. So the lights were still on, just dimmed from not being able to see each other face-to-face. Yet several public gardens and arboreta had their light switch completely turned off, not ready to provide virtual public programming. In essence, their connections to their members and the greater community were unplugged.
Fortunately, one of my colleagues in the Communications department and an undergraduate student researcher very quickly were able to establish a virtual link for science education. By selecting individual podcast episodes around a particular theme and creating listening lists, we started a podcast discussion group open to members of the campus, the arboretum, and the greater community. Posted online with discussions questions (https://tinyurl.com/onlinepodcastclub), participants had two weeks between our gatherings in Zoom to share their thoughts on topics ranging from water to world biomes to citizen science.
We pulled in over 30 different individuals when we ran the program during the spring and summer months. All were able to adapt to Zoom quickly and felt they could contribute effectively. In addition to the desire to learn, we were surprised to see how our conversations shifted from the “what” of science to the “what can we do”. Hearing that the discussion participants wanted to know more about advocacy for science was an unexpected outcome but rewarding for us organizers, and a confirmation on the importance of keeping the science conversations going, even in new formats and with new people.
For a detailed breakdown of how you can carry out your own themed podcast discussion program, please see our article in the Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America.
-Laura Guertin is a Professor of Earth Science at Penn State Brandywine and an alumna of the AGU Voices For Science initiative.