Science Communication

Ideas Congress

One of the goals of the Ideas Congress (ICON) Transdisciplinary classroom is to encourage students to develop skills in science communication. This is essential if they want to learn how to better communicate across disciplines, with community partners, and with the public.

To achieve this goal we often task the students with activities to challenge their communication skills, to consider the words and language they use, and to better understand the audiences they are trying to reach. In the latter case, understanding an audience is necessary to frame not only the language and lexicon of a message but also the medium in which that message is delivered.

Our first assignment this semester was given the title Graphical Representation of Vocational Information. The title was chosen intentionally to obfuscate the assignment, preventing any go-getters from getting an early start, and also to demonstrate how big words could be used to make even the simplest idea confusing. In fact, you may be reading this and wondering what Graphical Representation of Vocational Information actually means.

In short, we asked the students to draw their discipline.

The catch: no words, no numbers, no letters, no obvious discipline related symbols. The goal: the students were asked to present their discipline in a way that the audience would look at the image and know exactly what the student was studying. Of course, this would mean that the students would have to get into the heads of people outside of their discipline to try to understand how they might view what they do, and then use this to their advantage to relay their message.

Yesterday the students submitted their drawings. During class we posted every picture and then had all students wander around to document what they thought each discipline was. Additionally, we asked the students to take a photo of the part of the image that they felt was instrumental in relaying the message.

Of course, we didn’t want the students to simply design their messages for their peers. We wanted them to speak more broadly to people off campus. And with that, I leave you the following link so that you too can become an active member of the class. By clicking on the link below you will begin a very simple survey that will present 8 random drawings from the class. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to record the discipline you think the image represents.

click here to launch the survey


Student grades are determined based on the number of students who correctly identify the discipline, and how well the students used their canvas. Feedback from the survey is used only for instructional purposes and is not used in the determination of grades.  

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