The following points are excerpted and summarized from the written portion of Shannon Gilley’s M.F.A. thesis, entitled, “Sci-Candy: Principles of Animation-Based Learning and the Next Wave of Science Education.” Mr. Gilley summarizes what he learned about interacting with academics while producing the computer animated video, “Geothermal Energy: Enhancing our Future.” These concepts provide a foundation for a successful collaboration. There are a wide variety of organizations and individuals, target audiences and instructional goals, fields of science and delivery platforms, all of which will adjust the flow of production. Forward-thinking and nimble researchers and designers will continue changing the culture of communicating new knowledge.
1. Knowledge must be co-produced.
It is essential to involve a scientist who is engaged in, or understands, the research being conducted and is willing to engage in educational outreach. If the designer is to create an effective learning tool, he/she must understand the material well enough to explain it to the target audience; this understanding will ideally come from the direct involvement of a subject matter expert (SME).
2. Scientists can maintain credibility among peers.
Scientists may perceive communicating with laypeople as a distraction from important research, or as potentially having a negative impact on their professional credibility. Talking to elementary school children, for example, may appear to be far removed from the metrics by which academics are judged, including peer-reviewed publications and conference presentations. Considering, however, the link between educational outreach and government grants, as well as the value of the ‘citizen scientist,’ it seems reasonable for the researcher to be directly involved in communicating with groups closer to the academic level (such as the media, policymakers, and other educated adults). During the production of “Geothermal Energy: Enhancing our Future”, Jeffrey Bielicki, Assistant Professor of Energy Policy at the Ohio State University, stated:
“The scientist seeks to remain ‘true’ to the principles of the science and engineering. Materials that are developed must be acceptable to peers … otherwise they will be discounted and the scientist may get a bad rap in his/her community. So the materials that are developed must balance peer acceptance with the ability for laypeople to understand it.”
The designer must help researchers maintain credibility among their peers by preserving the authenticity of the science while crafting a message that is digestible by, and engaging to, a particular audience of non-experts. In so doing, the designer maintains credibility for him/her self.
3. The scientist and designer must both consider the existing knowledge base and level of interest of non-academics.
The target audience and desired learning outcomes must be clearly defined at the outset. The end goal may not be to impart full understanding of a phenomenon or process, but perhaps instead to raise interest or add to the policy dialog. The appropriate amount and type of information will vary according to the goal. A learner can become quickly overwhelmed, and to achieve meaningful learning it is important to work with the viewer’s prior knowledge. The scientist may feel an intrinsic desire to convey a lot of detailed information, but the complex systems must be appropriately simplified, or portrayed metaphorically. Such choices support, rather than counteract, the achievement of the desired result, as long as they do not betray the accuracy of the science.
4. Trust and learn from each other.
Researchers will be better than designers at assuring the scientific integrity of what is being communicated, and designers will be better at creating engaging multimedia. While differences in instructional and creative opinion may occur, the interaction of expertise can facilitate the process of creative production. Bounce ideas off each other. Researchers will likely gain some design-oriented thinking, and designers will likely become more knowledgeable in the subject matter, and grease the wheels of future collaboration.
5. Follow an established production pipeline.
A seasoned lead designer/animator who understands how to usher a project from concept to completion is a critical member of the production team. Once the scientist and designer understand the target audience and desired instructional outcomes, time frames and budgets should be discussed. The team should work together to develop a template (usually a script, then a storyboard, and eventually an animatic) all of which should be handled carefully to avoid unexpected issues later on. A producer or similar senior team member may handle project management, although a smaller project may not require (or have financial support for) such involvement. Milestones should be defined for the scientist to review the work in progress and provide feedback. Proposed changes should be considered in conjunction with their impact on time, budget, and scientific integrity. Adjustments are inherent to any creative process, but they may affect delivery and the potential for them to arise should be considered during when schedules are planned. As with scientific knowledge, producing animations requires a lot of time and effort, and the designer should set a clear review structure around which additional changes and their impacts can be discussed in a constructive manner.
6. Involve a distribution expert.
In order to be effective, the completed work can not merely exist, but it must reach its audience. Media relations experts can promote the work through press releases, technology managers can put the work on appropriate web sites including social media, and so on. Multimedia learning tools can be used to garner interest among other academics as well, as an attention-gaining alternative to “poster presentations” at science conferences. An involved communications staff is useful in helping these labor-intensive projects achieve their desired result, as only a small number of researchers and designers are savvy self-promoters.
7. Multiple learning groups can be served, but this may require additional experts.
Designing educational materials for K-12 students should involve an expert in curriculum design. Those trained in pedagogy and with experience with students at particular stages of development will be better suited to assess the efficacy of a message for those groups. The designer, working without such input, risks missing the mark when translating a message for younger groups. It may be the case that creating learning tools for younger audiences may be successfully launched after the ‘mature’ learning tools have been generated, by separate organizations that include instructional designers.