Elpiniki PAPPA, Department of Educational Sciences and Early Childhood Education, University of Patras, Greece
Dimitrios KOLIOPOULOS, Department of Educational Sciences and Early Childhood Education, University of Patras, Greece
The need for public understanding of science was recognised the last decades by policy makers and scientists. Numerous science communication practices have been arisen to target different groups of people. However, most of the times, science communication activities refer to the so-called “general public” and set no clear goals. The ignorance of the users’ science communication media and of their characteristics (e.g. knowledge, common practices, past experiences) significantly reduces the effectiveness of such efforts. Moreover, the absence of activities’ expected results hampers the effectiveness of evaluation and reinforces studies based on opinion rather than research approach that offer little insight into the impact or value of an activity.
In our study, we aimed to investigate the conceptions that designers of science festival (SF) activities have regarding their audiences, their goals setting, as well as the epistemological and pedagogical approaches that they adopt when participating in such a framework. To this direction, we analysed and assessed the design process of activities presented in a SF interactive exhibition environment. Athens Science Festival, a well-established and popular Greek science festival was used as a case study. In addition, a semi-structured interview was developed based on the “science mediation” theoretical framework proposed by Guichard and Martinand.
A qualitative analysis of data revealed the different patterns of communication techniques as well as the profile of designers, based on the epistemological and pedagogical approaches they used. Interestingly, although most of the interviewees set as their primary goal that visitors learn or understand a scientific subject, they chose communication techniques aimed at impressing the public and not at understanding. Furthermore, through the interview it is revealed that the main target audience of a SF interactive exhibition were school population and families with children, a feature that designers did not consider when designing their activities.
We suggest that these findings could be used to improve the way that scientific knowledge is communicated and presented in a SF interactive exhibition setting. The results of this research may also have practical implications into the improvement of activities’ design taking place in a SF, as well as into their overall organisation contributing to better public understanding of the communicated scientific content. Finally, the research approach and methodology we used in this study can potentially enable the systematic and research-based evaluation of such activities.