Posts from April 2013


Over at StoryCog side-project, it’s Pendulum Week! Be sure to visit for your daily dose of swing-based inspiration.

(Yes, we know this is a bit weird. Roll with it, we’re still exploring what we want to be: feedback welcome!)


Another unapologetically out-of-context quote from Matterson’s article at the BSA:

“Those providing informal learning tend to be driven by their passion and creativity. They evaluate their activities, but the evaluations tend to be locally derived, formative and not linked to research. […] It seems that practitioners can best be characterised as craftspeople, operating through a model of apprenticeship, observation and audience approval. This contrasts with the ‘professional’ tradition whereby formalised mechanisms are developed to record knowledge and train new and existing entrants.”

One of my problems with UK science communication is that it’s managed largely by scientists, who are highly trained to recognise and value only things they can categorise and/or measure.

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

I’m a film-maker. I’m proud to be a craftsman. When behind the lens I delight in the play of light over form; as a director I seduce my presenters into delicate subtlety and nuance, and I obsess over individual edits to a level of finesse my clients will never notice. I’m never satisfied, and it’s always the next film which might reach the standards I set for myself.

My point in the previous post was intended to be: if we aim for science to be a cultural activity, we have to engage with the language and practices of culture. The objectives of cultural activities are rarely ‘learning outcomes’, they’re often far less tangible.

This is why I’ve always been wary of the ‘evaluation is the only true measure of success’ line of thinking. Evaluation is tremendously important and valuable, but it doesn’t capture everything. It doesn’t always tell you if something’s plain shit.

[—edited for clarity, 11/4/2013]

I am not an ‘educator’

One of things I rather like about the UK STEM engagement scene is that we haven’t started using the US phrase “Informal Science Education.” I’ve tremendous respect for education, but the word doesn’t capture all of what I’ve been doing for the last twenty years. So I get a little worried when I read articles like that by Clare Matterson at the BSA site.

Amongst a few sweeping statements (“Those between five and 16 years old are well served”?), these phrases occur in consecutive paragraphs:

“We need a basket of ‘killer facts’ to show that informal learning is not a ‘nice to have’, but a critical component of effective science education.”


“Adults are under-served, suggesting that messages about the cultural importance of science to adult society are neglected.”

Hang on: we’ve gone from ‘informal education’ to ‘learning’ to (what appears to be) ‘formal education’, and now to ‘culture’. Which is it?

We’re not going to progress the cultural aspirations of science by using the tools of formal education to measure that progress.

[—edited for clarity 11/4/2013]


StoryCog is a communication consultancy and film production company; see more about us here, or explore the links above left. The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors, though they're quite likely to represent the company's position too.


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