Westminster College – BIO 300 B Syllabus

Science Outreach: Public Understanding of Science


BIO 300 B

3 Credit hours; Tier III

Prerequisites – BIO 110 and BIO 112

Hannah Alexander –Visiting Associate Professor Dept. of Biology and Environmental Studies

Hannah@scienceandme.org; 573.529.4020; CSC 220

Michael Amspoker, Professor, Dept. of Biology and Environmental Studies

Mike.Amspoker@westminster-mo.edu; x5274; CSC 225C

Fall 2011 – CSC 227

Tuesdays and Thursdays 8:00-9:15 AM


This course/workshop is aimed at promoting public understanding and appreciation of science.  The students will develop presentations that increase awareness of the impact of science on many aspects of our daily lives, and will deliver them to adult audiences around the community.

The presentations will highlight the role of scientific research in advances in medicine, the food we eat, the hi-tech items that we use, the way we approach aging problems, environmental management and more.  Talks will emphasize that these accomplishments are all the results of the cumulative work of many scientists all over the world, who work to understand basic phenomena, to share their knowledge between different scientific disciplines, and to help translate that knowledge to the pharmacy, the bedside, the food industry, the farming industry, the factories, urban planning and government policies.

Through the process of preparing the presentations – in class, and with assistance from a faculty mentor outside of class – the students will gain the necessary scientific knowledge related to their subject of choice, learn to integrate material and concepts, and present them in a manner adequate for non-scientific audiences.  Delivering the presentations should enhance the students speaking skills, and discussions in class following each presentation will reflect on the effectiveness of the talks.

Course requirements

Preparation of a presentation and a handout*

Preparation of an Instructional Document (see below)

Delivery of the presentation to the class

Delivery of the presentation in three venues and submission of presentation reports

Complete all Homework Assignments

Attendance is required.

*  Final presentations, handouts and instructional material will be handed to all class members on a CD, at the end of the course.

Reading materials

PDF version of all articles will be posted on Moodle.

Book:  Persuasive Messages: The Process of Influence by William Benoit and Pamela Benoit (Select chapters will be posted on Moodle).

Past years’ topics and handouts can be found on the website at http//www.scienceandme.org.

Course plan and broad calendar

The course will be divided roughly into 3 parts:

Part 1 (weeks 1-5):  Choosing topics; building the presentations and class discussions on science outreach related issues.

Part 2 (weeks 6-10):   Delivering the presentations to the class, and analyzing their effectiveness.

Part 3 (weeks 12-16) – Delivering the presentations to audiences in their venues and analyzing the experience to improve the presentations.  Switch class presentations (see Below).

In the first two parts of the course every session will start with each student reporting on their progress in the process and on issues that arose while trying to build the presentation, explaining how they solved them or asking for class input.

Part 1 (weeks 1-5) – Building the presentations

In building the presentations, students will need to exercise creative approaches and ideas about how to present their material, particularly to an adult, lay audience, and how to generate presentations and handouts that are simple, clear and aesthetically pleasing. 

Week 1, class#1 – Thursday 8/25/11

*  Introduction

*  Sign up for presentation dates

*  Syllabus

*  Choose topic/title – A list of topics will be provided, but students are encouraged to suggest their own.  Suggested material will be available in the library (reserved shelf).  Topics are due by 9/1/11.   Mentors will be identified for each student once their topic is chosen.

Homework assignments #1 and #2

Week 2, class #2 – Tuesday 8/30/11

*  Where is everyone in the process?  Here is the time to share thoughts, concerns, and ideas about your topic.

*  Discussion: How to depict the role of science in different presentation topics.

The discussion will be based on homework assignment #1.  Each student will present one of the topics that they developed for the homework assignment, and will discuss with the class additional ways to show basic science involvement in this issue, as well as anticipated misconceptions.

Week 2, Class #3 – Thursday 9/1/11

* A sample “Science and Me” presentation: Antibiotics, molds and drug resistant bacteria – Why won’t penicillin cure my Flu? Hannah Alexander.

In the ensuing discussion, we will point out good points, as well as points in need of improvement, and will assemble a detailed “Presentation Guideline” to be used in your own presentations.

Homework assignment #3

Week 3, Class #4 – Tuesday 9/6/11

*  Where is everyone in the process?

*  Presentations of Science Outreach related papers 1-3 (Homework Assignment #3), and discussion of the relevance to the course.

Week 3, Class #5 – Thursday 9/8/11

*  Presentations of Science Outreach related paper 4-7, and discussion of the relevance to the course  –  Continued from last class.

Homework assignment #4

Week 4, Class #6 – Tuesday 9/13/11

Movie – Naturally obsessed.

Week 4, Class #7 – Thursday 9/15/11

Science – The what, the where, and the how. Presentation by Hannah Alexander

Homework assignment #5

Week 5, Class # 8 – Tuesday 9/20/11

Persuasive message chapters.


Part 2 (weeks 5-10) – September 22 – October 27

Sharing presentations with the class

The student will deliver their presentations to the class.  Discussions in class following each presentation are aimed at reflecting on the efficacy, interest and impact of the talk and the handout in a positive and constructive manner, which will allow the speakers to improve their presentation.

Preparation of Instructional Material

The presentations prepared in this course will become part of the “Science and Me” program, so that they can be used in the future, and possibly by other presenters.  To enable this, each presentation will be accompanied with an instructive document that will detail the approach to the subject, the main points the speaker wanted to make, a figure legend for each slide and a list of sources used.  The details of this document will be discussed in class.

All presentations are due by the end of the second part of the course via email to alexanderh@missouri.edu, and will be posted on Moodle.  Each student will be assigned another student’s presentation, and will practice to deliver part of it in class in the third part of the course.

Part 3 (weeks 12-16) – November 8, December 8, 2010

Delivering the presentations to audiences in their venues and evaluating the presentations; Switch presentations in class.

Students will be encouraged to go to at least one presentation in pairs.  The student speaker and the visiting friend will report on the presentations, relay their experience with the audience, and discuss ways to improve the presentation before their second session.

A presentation report will be emailed to Hannah@scienceandme.org after each presentation.

Switching presentations

Based on the instructional material, students will present part of fellow students’ presentations in class.

Public Understanding of Science course – grade scale

Preparation of presentation, and tri-fold brochure       – 35 %

Deliver presentations in 3 venues*                              – 30%

Instructional material and cover document                   – 15%

Homework assignments                                              – 20%



Some of you will have to present next semester.  A grade of “incomplete” will be given, and will be changed promptly after you finish all presentations.

Academic Honesty

All faculty and students ate required to follow the College’s Honor Code, the

ADA policy statement, college-wide policies prohibiting harassment and discriminations, the College Duty policy, and the Emergency Procedures.  These policies and procedures can be found in the Faculty Handbook, Appendix R (hardcopy and on the Westminster College website), the Faculty Advisor Handbook and the Student Life Handbook.

Class procedure

1.   Attendance is mandatory.  If you have a conflict, please get in touch with me before class

2.  All homework assignments will be emailed to Hannah@scienceandme.org

the night before their dues date.

Comments (using “track changes”) will be returned via email.

3.  No cell phones or email in class.

Public Understanding of Science Fall 2011-WM

Homework assignments

All emails should be emailed to Hannah@scienceandme.org the evening before they are due in class.

8/25/11            Assignment #1  — Due 8/30/11.

How to emphasize the role of science in various topics.

Read: “Curiosity Driven Research” by R.V. Moody  (posted on Moodle).

Choose two different potential topics for presentations and brainstorm ideas about how to highlight the role of science, and basic scientific research, in these topics.  Briefly (1-2 paragraphs) summarize your ideas and email Hannah@scienceandme.org).

8/25/11            Assignment #2  —  Due Thursday, 9/1/11

Choose your presentation topic and title.

9/1/11              Assignment #3 —  Due on 9/6 and 9/8

The vast literature about science outreach and public understanding of science examines these issues from many different viewpoints:  Is it necessary? Who should do it? Why is it important to scientists? Why is it important to the larger communities? What do people like to hear about? Can they understand it? How does the public perceive science and scientists, and more.  Many of these points are represented in the group of papers you are given.  All papers are posted on Moodle.

Each student will be assigned a paper and will prepare a short 5-8 minute presentation to the class about the paper’s main take home points.  Be prepared to lead a short discussion in class about why (how) this study is relevant to as we prepare and present our topics.  Papers 1-3 will be presented on Tuesday 9/6, and papers 4-7 will be presented on Thursday 9/8.

Note:  This series of presentations will be followed by Homework Assignment #4

9/8/11              Assignment #4 – Due 9/15/11

Editorial – Based on the papers that were presented in class, write an editorial to a scientific journal, or a letter to the daily paper, or a letter to a legislator (or any other forum that you choose) making a case for science outreach, and suggest possible programs for science outreach to the public.

9/13/11            Assignment #5 – Due 9/20/11

Read Chapter 1 and 2 in the “Persuasive Messages” book – The Importance of Persuasion, and The cognitive approach to Persuasion. (The chapters can be found on Moodle).

Persuasion is a process in which a source (persuader) uses a message to achieve a goal by creating, changing, or reinforcing the attitudes of others (the audience).  In order to make the audience comply, you need to appeal to the audience’s self interests, and make them want to help you deliver the message.

Keeping your topic in mind, and based on the discussion in these two chapters, please comment on your goals for the talk, and about ways in which you think you can appeal to the audience’s self interest.

TBA                Assignment #6 – Instructional document

The goal is that the presentations prepared in this course will become part of the program, so that they can be used in the future, and possibly by other presenters.  To enable this, each presentations needs to be accompanied with an instructive document that will detail

The goal for your talk (what would be the main points the audience takes home).

The approach to the topic

Misconceptions have encountered, or you expect the audience to have around this issue.

Detailed description below each slide, stating what you intend to say, and highlight the main points of the slide

Resources you used.

12/1/11 – Assignment #7

In order to help next year’s students, please prepare

1.  A guideline for a good a presentation

2.  A guideline for a trifold brochure.

TBA – Assignment #8 – What did I learn from talking to lay-adults?

By now you have presented your talk at least once.

Please write a short summary of your experience talking to adults in the community.  Describe your impression of the interaction, and comment on how well you were received, the level of understanding and participation, your feeling about how much they enjoyed your talk, and any special comments you got from the audience.

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