Carol Oliver

Carol OliverUNSW Sydney | UNSW · Australian Centre for Astrobiology

· PhD, MSciCom
  • 1
  • 36
  • About
    Research items
    Dr Carol Oliver ‘s key research interest is in science education in the digital space especially at university level but also at primary and high school levels. Her grant track record includes $2.9m for the establishment of The Mars Lab located at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney. Other grants totaling $2.63m for informal high school education projects were completed in October 2014 and mid-2013. More information at and at
    Research Experience
    Jun 2008
    Senior Research Fellow
    • Senior Research Fellow
    • My research interests are in public scientific literacy, the effectiveness of informal learning projects in formal high school learning, and the role of employability skills in the education pipeline.
    Aug 1994 - Jan 2002
    University of Western Sydney
    • science journalist
    • Science journalist for the science faculty; helped set up and run SETI Australia (now defunct).
    Jan 2004 - Mar 2008
    University of New South Wales
    Field of study
    • science communication
    Jan 2001 - Jan 2003
    Central Queensland University
    Field of study
    • science communication
    Current institution
    UNSW Sydney | UNSW
    Current position
    • Deputy Director
    Top co-authors
    Awards & Achievements (6)
    Grant · Jul 2013
    Australian Maths and Science Partnerships Program (Smart Science Initiative $1.64m)
    Grant · Sep 2012
    Broadband Enabled Education and Skills Services Program (Mars Lab, $2.9m)
    Grant · Feb 2010
    Australian Space Research Program (Pathways to Space $987,574)
    Grant · Jan 2007
    Australian Schools Innovation in Science, Technology and Maths ($119,500 co-investigator)
    Grant · Jan 2002
    Fulbright Symposium 2002 ($20,000)
    Projects (1)
    The objective of the proposed research is to measure the effectiveness of informal science education (ISE) activities in achieving their objectives, that is, to increase overall interest and engagement in science, knowledge and understanding of scientific content and processes and its relevance to society, and attitudes towards science. ISE activities vary in style, format and participant involvement from one-way transmission of knowledge from scientists to the public, to interactive, participatory events where there is an exchange of ideas and knowledge between the public and scientists. Therefore, the research will also seek to identify the types (style and format) of activities that are most effective at achieving the objectives of ISE. The research will seek to answer the following research questions: 1. Does participation in ISE activities change participants’ attitudes towards and perceptions of science? More specifically, does it: a. increase their trust in science and scientists; b. increase their understanding of the nature of science (how science is practiced); c. improve their opinions on its relevance and value to society? 2. What types of ISE activities are most effective at changing participants’ attitudes towards and perceptions of science (if any)? 3. Are we preaching to ‘the choir’, and if so, does that matter?
    Research Items (36)
    What evidence is there that any public communication of astrobiology is effective in changing or influencing the understanding, attitudes and perceptions of science? In 2001, Sless and Shrensky pointed out that the evidence of the effectiveness of science communication in general is about as “… strong as the evidence linking rainmaking ceremonies to the occurrence of rain”[1]. In 2017, very little has changed and there have been very few attempts to formally measure the success of public engagement activities—such as public talks, science cafes, interactive events and festivals— against clear indicators of success. We report on a pilot study of four science education and outreach activities held at the Museum of Applied Arts and Science in Sydney, Australia. Pre and post questionnaires containing validated Likert-scale items were used to measure participants’ trust in science and scientists, their understanding of scientific practice, and their opinions on its relevance and value to society. A total of 46 pre and post surveys were matched. The results show that after the event, participants demonstrated more positive attitudes and an increase in trust, but a decrease in understanding of scientific practice. The results of this pilot study suggest that the way we are communicating science is misleading the public’s perception of science as absolute, instead of the evolving endeavour that it actually is. We argue that we need to change the way we communicate science—including astrobiology—by focussing more on revealing how science is practiced and being more open about the way conclusions are reached, in order to increase the public’s understanding of scientific practice. We also argue that increasing the public’s understanding of scientific practice is key to understanding science itself and to increasing trust in science and scientists. The results of this pilot study will inform further research into the effectiveness of science education and outreach at achieving objectives, as well as identifying the types of activities and formats that are most effective at achieving these objectives. References: [1] D. Sless, and R. Shrensky (2001). Science Communication in Theory and Practice, 97–105.
    The rise of social media has transformed the way the public engages with science organisations and scientists. ‘Retweet’, ‘Like’, ‘Share’ and ‘Comment’ are a few ways users engage with messages on Twitter and Facebook, two of the most popular social media platforms. Despite the availability of big data from these digital footprints, research into social media science communication is scant. This paper presents a novel empirical study into the features of engaging science-related social media messages, focusing on space science communications. It is hypothesised that these messages contain certain psycholinguistic features that are unique to the field of space science. We built a predictive model to forecast the engagement levels of social media posts. By using four feature sets (n-grams, psycholinguistics, grammar and social media), we were able to achieve prediction accuracies in the vicinity of 90% using three supervised learning algorithms (Naive Bayes, linear classifier and decision tree). We conducted the same experiments on social media messages from three other fields (politics, business and non-profit) and discovered several features that are exclusive to space science communications: anger, authenticity, hashtags, visual descriptions—be it visual perception-related words, or media elements—and a tentative tone.
    Background Much has been written about the need to increase inquiry-based learning opportunities in high school science curricula, authenticity of the science experiences and student interest in science. The literature points to the need to engage students in authentic, inquiry-based science experiences in order for them to understand the true nature of science beyond the classroom (Abd-el-Khalik et. al., 2004, Walker, 2007, National Research Council, 1996: 23). However, it is difficult to reproduce such truly open-ended science experiences in the science classroom or lab. Fergusson et al (2012) suggest that astrobiology outreach activities can influence young people’s interest in science and their understanding of the nature of science. Oliver (2008) also suggests that student and teacher contact with real research is crucial to understanding how science is actually practiced. Method We present a double blind study aimed at understanding the effectiveness of supporting school science curricula with appropriate astrobiology outreach opportunities that are authentic in nature, hands-on, connected to practicing scientists in the field, and student-centred but also pedagogically scaffolded via structured Project-Based Learning in combination with Question Formulation Technique. To test this idea we used a working lab, the Mars Lab, and a Project Based Learning (PBL) program, Project Mars, which runs over five to six weeks. Project Mars, is run in tandum with Mars robotics and science researchers and schools via the Internet using a novel approach to engaging students and their teachers in looking for evidence of past or present life on Mars. Students had the opportunity to develop their own questions and from those to devise missions on a 140 square metre Mars Yard and carry those missions out in teams by driving one of three research-grade Experimental Mars Rovers from their classroom supported by a range of unique digital tools and video-conferencing. We report on the results from a study with two Australian high schools – one in the city and the other a country school – in integrating the benefits of authentic astrobiology outreach experience with formal science learning. Results Two researchers independently found the teachers and a substantial number of the students reporting increased understanding of the nature of science and interest in science as well as perceived improvement in employability skills. The study provides compelling evidence that combining student-centred, inquiry-based approaches with authentic astrobiology research opportunities for students can produce positive outcomes for both students and science teachers in the context of the formal learning environment.
    The 30 year decline in young people undertaking science in senior secondary school includes a decline in Earth Science study. The Mars Lab is a federally funded two year partnership between the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney University, and the University of NSW, which delivers direct and practical learner engagement with contemporary science and engineering. The project makes a unique range of experiences and learning objects, including a 140 square metre scientifically accurate replica of the Martian surface, and three experimental Mars Rovers, accessible to Australian school and university learners. Classroom learning modules, developed and refined in partnership with teachers from multiple schools across three states, engage young Australians in authentic learning challenges related to the search for evidence of life on Mars, and the technologies which enable that search. Progressive educational approaches, and unique digital tools and software, activate learners to work collaboratively in planning scientific missions to investigate the rocks and geological features in the Mars Yard. They then connect to the Mars Lab from their classroom, via web interface and video conference, and carry out missions by controlling rovers and operating scientific instruments. Evidence, including photographic images and instrument data, is captured for post-mission analysis and interpretation. This presentation illustrates the development and implementation of the educational materials, including the unique digital tools and software, during the project’s pilot phase. Results and challenges are explored through case study examples. One classroom learning module, Project Mars, which employs the Project Based Learning approach, is highlighted.
    Question - what are the roles of science resource centres in improving science education in South Africa?
    I can only say from my experience what the roles should be in terms of primary and high school students. I lead a long-running partnership between the University of New South Wales in Sydney, the University of Sydney, and our biggest science museum in Australia, the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. We have found that the most effective role of the informal learning via our Mars Lab project is in value-adding to the formal learning needs of the Australian science curriculum. We provide the opportunity for a range of authentic science learning experiences, including Project Based Learning. Students can plan missions in our 140 square metre Mars Yard and carry out those science missions using our research Experimental Mars Rovers and virtual science instruments that use data from the Curiosity mission currently on Mars. These students do not need to visit the Powerhouse to undertake this work - they can, and mostly do, undertake driving the missions via the Internet from their classrooms.…
    Question - Which are the most effective ways to do vocational guidance for students selecting science careers?
    I note I mistyped the link to the Mars Lab! It is
    Question - Can anyone assist with a problem with a list of teaching strategies and methods applied in stimulating psychology course students to activity?
    Anthony, I agree with you. Project Based Learning combined with Question Formulation Technique also adopts a learner centred approach. Not only does it engage the student with the instructor's goals and expectations, but also engages students with the transversal (employability) skills such as teamwork, critical thinking and problem solving. With class peer review included the resulting presentations of work can then be included in an e-portfolio of achievement to eventually include in post-graduation resume. Maybe these techniques are something, Patryk, that your students might want to evaluate?
    Question - Which are the most effective ways to do vocational guidance for students selecting science careers?
    Congratulations on CyberCity Harry. Do you have any data on the effectiveness? Rolando, my experience with the Mars Lab at <> indicates that bringing students into contact with authentic science and engineering works. Maybe there are programs similar to CyberCity and the Mars Lab in your own country that are designed to bring in this element of authenticity and also to engage students directly with technologists, computer scientists, scientists and engineers. I'm interested in how well these programs work (obviously including my own!)
    The firsteducationprojectfundedundertheAustralianGovernment'sAustralianSpace ResearchProgram(ASRP), Pathways toSpace wasauniqueprojectcombiningeducation, sciencecommunicationresearchandresearchinastrobiologyandrobotics.Itdrewupon the challengesofspaceexplorationtoinspirestudentstoconsiderstudyandcareersin scienceandengineering. A multi-facetedprogram, PathwaystoSpace providedhands-onopportunitiesforhigh school anduniversitystudentstoparticipateinrealisticsimulationsofaroboticMars explorationmissionforastrobiology. ItsdevelopmentwasacollaborationbetweentheAustralianCentreforAstrobiology(Univer sityofNewSouthWales),theAustralianCentrefor FieldRobotics(UniversityofSydney), thePowerhouseMuseumandindustrypartner,Cisco. FocusedonstudentsinYears9-10(15- 16years ofage),thisprogramprovidedthemwith the opportunitytoengagedirectlywithspaceengineersandastrobiologists, whilecarryingout a simulatedMarsmissionusingthedigitallearningfacilitiesavailableatthePowerhouse Museum. Asapartoftheirprogram,thestudentsoperatedroboticmini-roversinthe PowerhouseMuseum's MarsYard, ahighlyaccuratesimulationoftheMartiansurface, whereuniversitystudentsalsocarryoutthedevelopmentandtestingofexperimentalMars rovingvehicles. Thisaspectoftheprogramhasbroughtrealscienceandengineeringresearch intothepublicspaceofthemuseum. As theyundertooktheeducationprogram,the studentsparticipatedinaresearchstudy aimedatunderstandingtheeffectivenessoftheprojectinachievingitskeyobjective encouragingstudentstoconsiderspace relatedcoursesandcareers. Thispaperoutlinesthedevelopmentandoperationofthe PathwaystoSpace projectoverits3-yearfundingperiod, duringwhichitmetandexceededalltherequirementsofitsASRPgrant.It willlookatthegoalsoftheproject, therationalebehindtheeducationandsciencecommunicationsresearch, thechallengesofdevelopingsuchamulti-facetededucationprojectin collaborationwithseveralpartnersandtheresultsthathavealreadybeenachievedwithint he study.
    Abstract There is concern in many developed countries that school students are turning away from science. However, students may be choosing not to study science and dismissing the possibility of a scientific career because, in the junior secondary years, they gain a false view of science and the work of scientists. There is a disparity between science as it is portrayed at school and science as it is practiced. This paper describes a study to explore whether engaging in science through astrobiology outreach activities may improve students' understanding of the nature and processes of science, and how this may influence their interest in a career in science. The results suggest that the students attending these Mars research-related outreach activities are more interested in science than the average student but are lacking in understanding of aspects of the nature of science. A significant difference was detected between pre- and posttest understandings of some concepts of the nature of science. Key Words: Science education-School science-Creativity-Nature and processes of science-Attitudes-Astrobiology. Astrobiology 12, xxx-xxx.
    Pathways to Space is an education and research project designed to encourage students in Years 10-12 to consider university studies in science and engineering by exposing them to real robotics and astrobiology research undertaken in a simulated Martian landscape. It was the first education project funded in the Australian Space Research Program. In this paper, we report on the progress of the project through the end of its first year of operation (July 2012) presenting the high school student outcomes to date, as well as the tertiary education and research outcomes. The paper also looks at the project's public interaction with visitors to the Powerhouse Museum and the prospects for its long-term sustainability beyond the cessation of ASRP funding and includes a discussion of the significance of the high school education outcomes.
    Pathways to Space: Empowering the Internet Generation is a possibly unique research and high school/higher education multi-partner project led by the Australian Centre for Astrobiology at the University of New South Wales and based at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. Research is carried out in a 140 square metre Mars Yard and robotics lab in the public space of the museum, where undergraduate and doctoral research is carried out and high school students, supported by Thinkspace, the museum’s digital learning studio, plan and execute a rover mission to Mars. The partners also include the Australian Centre for Field Robotics at the University of Sydney and Cisco. The project won almost a million dollars from the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education in 2010 and was launched in 2011. The digital backbone of the project involves a Cisco TelePresence (TP) HD system and high bandwidth to the museum via AARNet. This digital outreach allows students to fully engage with researchers around the world. In addition, the project has learned to use the TP as a television studio to deliver content remotely via the NSW Connected Classrooms and to engage with other locations using standard video systems and Cisco’s Jabber software where no video system exists at the end user. The success of the program has spawned an international collaboration with the NASA student research project, the Mars Student Imaging Program (MSIP), and US schools. In April the project attracted a visit from the head of NASA, former astronaut and present Administrator Charles Bolden. The teachers of the students from four Sydney schools taking part in MSIP report that their students are now more confident and mature in their understanding of science compared to their peers who did not take part.
    There has been a steady decline in the number of Australian students studying science at the senior high school level. By the time students reach this point in their education, when they can choose whether or not to continue to study science, many have already decided that science is not for them. It is possible that students in the junior high school years may be gaining a false view of the world of science due to the disparity between the way that science is portrayed in schools and "real" science. A study is being undertaken to explore whether engaging in real science through outreach activities may increase students' understanding of the nature and processes of science, and whether such activities may heighten students' interest in science and potentially lead to an increase in the number of students studying science at the tertiary level. The study examines three astrobiology-related outreach programs, two in Australia and one in the US. The features of the programs are described and results from the Australian research carried out to date are presented.
    If Australia is to develop a world-recognised space science community, we should be preparing our future space scientists now. However, decreasing student interest in school science means fewer students are studying science at university. There has been a steady decline in the number of Australian students studying science at the senior secondary level. By the time students reach this point in their education, when they can choose whether or not to continue to study science, many have decided that science is not for them. This paper examines the issues impacting on the current state of school education and the potential to impact on space science research. The disparity between school science and "real" science is discussed, along with the possibility that students in the junior secondary years may be gaining a false view of the world of science. The paper also describes a study to explore whether engaging in real science through outreach activities may increase both students' and teachers' understanding of the nature and processes of science through the lens of space science, and whether such activities may increase students' interest in science and influence intentions to study science in the future.
    What can we learn about life on Mars from ancient rocks in Western Australia and recent discoveries made by a string of Mars orbiter spacecraft, a polar lander and two rovers?
    The majority of adults in the US and in Europe appear to be scientifically illiterate. This has not changed in more than half a century. It is unknown whether the Australian public is also scientifically illiterate because no similar testing is done here. Public scientific illiteracy remains in spite of improvements in science education, innovative approaches to public outreach, the encouraging of science communication via the mass media, and the advent of the Internet. Why is it that there has been so little change? Is school science education inadequate? Does something happen between leaving high school education and becoming an adult? Does Australia suffer from the same apparent malady? The pilot study at the heart of this thesis tests a total of 692 Year Ten (16-year-old) Australian students across ten high schools and a first year university class in 2005 and 2006, using measures applied to adults. Twenty-six percent of those tested participated in a related scientific literacy project utilising in-person visits to Macquarie University in both years. A small group of the students (64) tested in 2005 were considered the best science students in seven of the ten high schools. Results indicate that no more than 20% of even the best high school science students - on the point of being able to end their formal science education – are scientifically literate if measured by adult standards. Another pilot test among 150 first year university students supports that indication. This compares to a scientific literacy rate of 28% for the US public. This thesis finds that the scientific literacy enterprise – in all its forms – fails scrutiny. Either we believe our best science students are leaving high school scientifically illiterate or there is something fundamentally wrong in our perceptions of public scientific illiteracy. This pilot study – probably the first of its kind – indicates we cannot rely on our current perceptions of a scientifically illiterate public. It demonstrates that a paradigm shift in our thinking is required about what scientific literacy is and in our expectations of a scientifically literate adult public. In the worst case scenario, governments are pouring millions of dollars into science education and public outreach with little or no basis for understanding whether either is effective. That is illogical, even irresponsible. It also impacts on the way astrobiology – or any science – is communicated in public.
    In 2006 the $6.4m Victorian Space Science Education Centre in Melbourne, inspired by the vision of two science high school teachers, opened its doors for business. In New South Wales there has been a commitment to including more space development in the science curriculum, and space science is included in state and territory curricula. Among universities, a number offer space science as a major, while at least one, La Trobe University, offers a full space science undergraduate degree. Universities also offer initiatives to high school students and the public that are space science related. Museums, special interest groups (and other too) offer a wide number of opportunities in informal education and outreach in space science. Almost all education and outreach opportunities have direct or indirect association with international space agencies such as NASA and the European Space Agency in some way. This paper reviews the state of space-related education in Australian high schools and universities, in three education-oriented ventures, and the outcomes being achieved in these programs. The paper reviews informal space related education and outreach in Australia, some of which touches formal education programs. A comparison is made between space science and astronomy education and outreach and conclusions drawn.
    Adult science illiteracy is widespread. This is concerning for astrobiology, or indeed any other area of science in the communication of science to public audiences. Where and how does this scientific illiteracy arise in the journey to adulthood? Two astrobiology education projects have hinted that science illiteracy may begin in high school. This relationship between high school science education and the public understanding of science is poorly understood. Do adults forget their science education, or did they never grasp it in the first place? A 2003 science education project raised these questions when 24 16-year-olds from 10 Sydney high schools were brought into contact with real science. The unexpected results suggested that even good high school science students have a poor understanding of how science is really undertaken in the field and in the laboratory. This concept is being further tested in a new high school science education project, aimed at the same age group, using authentic astrobiology cutting-edge data, NASA Learning Technologies tools, a purpose-built research Information and Communication Technology-aided learning facility and a collaboration that spans three continents. In addition, a first year university class will be tested for evidence of science illiteracy immediately after high school among non-science oriented but well-educated students.
    New information technologies have evolved from space exploration—3-D visualisation ‘lenses’ and a growing suite of tools that allow access to exploration, analysis and interpretation of often complex information by a range of end users including the public, communicators, and policy makers. These tools have only become viable in the past year or two with the combination of the availability of inexpensive, but powerful, personal computers and widespread use of the Internet. A new study group under Commission 6 has been established, entitled ‘Future Directions of Space Exploration Education’, to build a Virtual Global Space Exploration Education Portal (VGSEEP) to open this revolution to all audiences, not just students. This paper describes the initial stages of VGSEEP. The NASA Learning Technologies suite of ‘lenses’ and tools will be demonstrated: World Wind, a 3-D globe that provides insights into our planet from space and almost down to ground level; the Virtual Field Trip that explores at ground level in 3-D; the Virtual Lab, which allows a range of samples to be examined via a virtual light microscope and/or a Scanning Electron Microscope and What’s the Difference?, which allows users to manipulate information in a multi-graphical interface.
    A 2005 international field trip to a key Mars analogue site in Western Australia was used to create a hi-tech education resource for use internationally. The NASA-Macquarie University Pilbara Education Project aims to engage high school students and the broader general community with `science in the making'. A team of educators and communicators, including a US documentary TV crew, joined 25 geologists, microbiologists, geochemists and other experts on the field trip to the Pilbara. The education team captured scientists debating different interpretations of what appears to be the best earliest evidence of life on Earth 3.5 billion years ago in situ. Initially the project was designed as a curriculum product, but difficulties in a range of areas persuaded researchers to chart a different course. While still maintaining high schools as a primary audience, designers refocused on the possibilities outside of the school gates and beyond. The paper describes the prompt for the project, its design and the impact of testing it with end users -- the students and their teachers -- in Australia and the UK.
    A 2005 international field trip to a key Mars analog site, the Pilbara region in Western Australia, was used to hone a new co-developed NASA-Macaquarie University Virtual Field Trip tool aimed at taking high school students and the broader general community into the field. A team of educators and communicators, including a US documentary TV crew, joined 30 geologists, microbiologists, geochemists and other experts examining in situ 3.5 billion year-old putative microbial structures known as stromatolites. The education team captured the moments of ‘science in the making’ for delivery into the public domain via a virtual reality environment in which the user can move around freely with the scientists. The NASA-Macquarie University Pilbara Education Project uses an immersive 3-D, multimedia and interactive Virtual Field Trip tool, developed in collaboration with NASA Learning Technologies. It also and employs other ‘lenses’ and tools already developed by NLT, including World Wind, Virtual Lab and What’s the Difference? We hypothesize that increasingly rapid developments in technology could eventually make dramatic changes to the high school science classroom from the outside in – by the students themselves, who are already comfortable with new technologies.
    A Virtual Field Trip project has been developed in collaboration with NASA Learning Technologies to allow students, internationally, to accompany scientists on a field trip to the Pilbara region of Western Australia to debate the relevance of ancient structures called stromatolites, to the origins of life on Earth and the search for life on Mars. The project was planned with the aim of exposing high school students to `science in the making', including exposure to the ongoing debate and uncertainties involved in scientific research. The development of the project stemmed from both research-based and anecdotal evidence that current science education programs are not providing secondary students with a good understanding of the processes of science. This study seeks to examine the effectiveness of student use of the tools to increase awareness of the processes of science and to evaluate the effectiveness of the tools in terms of student learning. The literature reports that there is a need for learning activities to be conducted within meaningful contexts. The virtual field trip tools create an environment that simulates key elements in the scientific process. Such an approach allows students to learn by doing, to work like scientists and apply their learning in an authentic context.
    It is generally accepted that the majority of adult public audiences are scientifically illiterate. Regular US and European surveys [NSF, 2002; Eurobarometer, 2001] indicate public audiences are ill-equipped to either integrate science content into their worldview or to understand what constitutes science. Why does adult science illiteracy remain ubiquitous in spite of several decades of improvements to science communication and science education aimed at increasing science literacy? [Borchelt, 1998; OFT, 2002] We looked at this problem in 2003 after an experience involving 24 16-year-old students from 10 Sydney high schools in a ASA-Macquarie University science research expedition. It indicated most of the 24 students, at the beginning of the project, lacked even a broad insight into how science is really done. In addition, the students seemed to be unaware that science knowledge is only as good as the best current interpretations of the natural world and on the reliability and sensitivity of tools that are used to examine it. These aspects seem basic to adult science literacy, but were clearly missing [Oliver et al, 2004]. It may also be a widespread, international issue [Gregory and Miller, 1998]. The reaction of the students to their learning experience on the project was so encouraging - two changed their minds about ending their science education in Year (Grade) 10 - that we decided to undertake a larger high school science project to open a new science learning experience to many more students and to explore the hypothesis that, for whatever reason, adult science illiteracy may begin in high school. Early results on the NASA Macquarie University Pilbara-Mars Science Education Project involving 87 students from seven high schools suggest similarities to our findings with the 2003 project.
    While efforts are made to inspire teachers in astrobiology, a recent education project suggests that there may be reason to question this strategy if it excludes the possibility of inspiring high school students directly. A recent project at the Australian Centre for Astrobiology in collaboration with the ICT Innovations Centre, both located at Macquarie University in Sydney, showed a practical change in attitudes towards science in at least one third of a student group as a direct result of participating in a real science mission. Further the whole group—24 Grade 10 students from ten high schools in the suburbs around the university—used the three separate in-person days and the virtual environment created for them to come together as a social group with the common interest of astrobiology. In written evaluation and a half-day of verbal evaluation, the students expressed other interesting opinions, including unanimous agreement that the actual research environment of science was a surprise to them in a number of respects. Here we describe the students’ project, in which they worked alongside ACA scientists in developing their own astrobiology experiment on a NASA mission to the deep ocean to examine black smokers—hydrothermal vents near the ocean ridges—in the latter half of 2003. The written and verbal evaluations of the project are described and discussed in relation to other innovative projects.
    Public and media reaction to the Mars mission in December 2003 and January 2004 suggest that non-Internet based media was insufficient in quenching public demand for immediate information. A billion hits were recorded on the NASA web portal (Platt and Jacobs 2004) in the four days during the landing of the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit – equivalent to around four hits for every man, woman and child in the US. It perhaps reflects a growing trend in the use of the Internet as an immediate news source and that the Web is emerging as a new mass medium for science news. This is in line with the National Science Foundation finding that shows a growing number of the public use the Internet as their primary source of science news (NSF, 2002). A similar picture exists in Europe (Eurobarometer 55.2, 2001). And in the UK the major science communication report “Who is misunderstanding Whom? says the mass media should not be regarded as it is, but as it will become (Hargraves, 2000). This paper examines the Internet communication strategies of NASA and ESA for the Mars missions compared to the response of the Internet-based news organisations such as CNN,, and What are the implications for the public communication of astrobiology if the opportunity exists for direct contact with a range of audiences far greater than is possible via the mass media – and without the process of interview and interpretation of science news by a science journalist?
    Astrobiology is a new multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary space science emerging in a fast technology, information rich age. At the same time, the once-clear boundaries between formal and informal science education, outreach and mass media science communication have been blurring and merging to the degree that information is flowing back and forth across all four fields addressing multiple audiences and in multiple settings. It suggests the power to communicate astrobiology effectively to the wider community is seated in an approach that recognizes and embraces the connection between all four types of science communication. This paper describes a new Science Communication of Astrobiology Focus Group to be proposed shortly to the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI), and open to a broad internal, external and international membership. The paper also explores the reasons why such a group is necessary, including the need to understand the web of interdisciplinary communication processes taking place. The expectation is that research papers and specific practical projects will result from that understanding, with the clear objective of raising the visibility and understanding of astrobiology nationally and internationally.
    The Australian American Fulbright 2002 Symposium: Science Education in Partnership was held in parallel—in partnership— with the scientific meeting of the IAU 213 Bioastronomy 2002 Symposium: Life Among the Stars. In practice, the two meetings modeled partnership between educators and scientists, both professional events interacting while maintaining individual goals. Leading scientists attending the IAU meeting participated in the Fulbright with presentations based upon their work and their experiences. Educators and scientists interacted on how their work impacts science education and strategies for building direct connections between scientists and classrooms. Educators attending the Fulbright Symposium attended a number of scientific presentations in IAU meeting as well. A major issue in science education is teaching science in a way that is relevant to the student. Partnerships between scientists and teachers can provide real-life scientific research experience in the laboratory and the field for teachers and students. These partnerships enhance the quality of both teaching and learning, and engage students directly in projects and curricula that lead to a better understanding of the nature and practice of science. Scientists are often engaged in the development of new curricula as a part of the education and public outreach programs affiliated with research programs. Participants explored the similarities and differences between the approach to this endeavor in Australia and the US. Partnerships between all the professionals involved—scientists, teachers, and writers—creates an opportunity for innovative, cutting-edge research to reach the classroom. The excitement of seeking new knowledge, exploring the unknown, can motivate students to pursue science studies in high school and beyond at the university. Oral papers, posters and workshops presented the results of partnerships between scientists and educators in Australian and the USA as well as opportunities for future partnerships.
    One of the challenges in teaching science to secondary students in Australia is to make it relevant and exciting. This challenge has been taken up by scientists and science educators at the University of Western Sydney, Macarthur and science teachers in the south-west area of Sydney. In 1996 and 1997 over 20 science teachers introduced and evaluated a range of materials from the Life in the Universe science curriculum produced by the SETI Institute. These materials provided stimulating activities that motivated student interest in the search for extra-terrestrial life in the Universe. This paper describes the approach taken by two teams of science teachers in developing two teaching units based on the new NSW 7-10 Science syllabus. The units use SETI as a context. The Stage 4 (7-8) unit explores how life may be detected on Mars or other planetary objects in our solar system, and the Stage 5 (9-10) unit explores the nature of our universe and the possibility of extra-terrestrial intelligence beyond our solar system. The first phase of the project resulted in the publication of both units on the NSW Department of Education and Training and the UWS Macarthur web sites. A second outcome has been the production of Internet resources that gives science teachers access to up-to-date scientific research in bioastronomy. It is envisaged that the units and supporting resources will provide a framework for adapting two books from the Life in the Universe series for use in Australian schools in the year 2000.
    The University of Western Sydney Macarthur has attached two 4.2 Million channel spectrometers to two beams of the thirteen beam 21cm cryogenically cooled receiver on the 64m Parkes Radio Telescope in Australia. Called Southern Serendip, it is a piggyback SETI experiment with a 0.6 Hz resolution, a 1.7 sec integration time, and an instantaneous coverage of 2.5MHz on both beams. This is sufficient to cover all expected Doppler shifts of radio beacons transmitted near the neutral HI frequency in our own galaxy. This paper summarises and introduces the project.
    The ``Declaration of Principles Concerning Activities Following the Detection of Extraterrestrial Intelligence,'' an informal agreement among SETI researchers about procedures to be followed in case of the discovery of a extraterrestrial signal, provides guidance regarding what to do in the event of a SETI success. It does not, however, suggest a method for implementing those procedures. Experience on four occasions since 1996 involving initially promising signals has shown that misinformation is easily generated about SETI results, and is difficult to dispel. The excitement and demand for information that would accompany a detection will almost certainly make the orderly sequence of events described in the ``'Declaration'' impossible. We present in this paper a so-called Immediate Reaction Plan, a pragmatic scheme for disseminating information about a SETI signal. The IRP involves outfitting the small number of scientists and other experts involved in SETI research with a plan for keeping one another abreast of developments surrounding a detection. Specifically, the IRP addresses the matter of (1) deciding the ``trigger point'' at which a signal appears sufficiently real to be announced (2) how experts can be rapidly appraised of the particulars of the detection, and (3) how the expected flood of inquiries from both the media and the public can be handled. Such a plan will satisfy two important needs: (1) the dissemination of accurate, consistent information and (2) assurance that there is no hidden information being kept from the public.
    In late October, 1998, the BBC in London ran a story that a possible SETI signal from the nearby star EQ Pegasi had been found by an UK amateur astronomer using his company's 10 metre satellite tracking dish. The BBC is routinely monitored by the world's media for news and interesting pieces, creating the potential for the EQ Peg story to be published more widely. Events unfolded quickly, revealing no signal, no amateur and no prior deliberations on how to deal with a hoax quickly and effectively. This paper addresses four basic areas. First it records the sequence of events and responses to the EQ Peg hoax. Second it examines appropriate strategies, used in several fields, which have provided the best possible outcome in the public arena when rapid response is demanded. Third it combines the EQ Peg experience with Copyright © 1999 by Carol A. Oliver, Helen Sim and Seth Shostak. Published by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Inc., with permission. Released to IAF/IAA/AIAA to publish in all forms those strategies to gain insight into what we might learn. Finally, and based on the first three steps, it offers possible SETI-specific planning for similar hoax and genuine mistake cases in the future.
    In January, 1998, the first ever international SETI conference in Australia was held at UWS Macarthur. The highly successful Scientific and Cultural Aspects of SETI in the 21 st Century was co-hosted by the SETI Australia Centre, the SETI Institute and CSIRO's Australia Telescope National Facility. Feedback from conference participants has been positive, particularly in the provision of a forum to prompt healthy debate on the scientific and cultural issues of SETI. This paper discusses the benefits of the conference and its success, but specifically focuses on the attendant planned media event that lasted the course of five days at an intense level and continued at a lower level for some weeks afterwards. The intensity was such at times that pressure on interview subjects and SETI Australia personnel was substantial, yet represented only in small part what will probably happen in the media if SETI succeeds. Copyright © 1998 by Carol A. Oliver. Published by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Inc., with permission. Released to IAF/IAA/AIAA to publish in all forms There were differences between the fast and furious pace of reporting and the more orderly and, in some cases, more accurate media coverage SETI Australia has come to expect. This may be important since the initial tone of the news to the masses via the media of a SETI success will almost certainly colour public perception of the story and subsequent reports. The conference itself, the media coverage and opportunities flowing from these aspects in encouraging an informed public profile for SETI are also discussed.
    Scientists dislike the media. They always get it wrong, embroider or invent the facts, miss out important detail. But it works in reverse. The media find scientists hard to work with. Scientists rarely explain anything simply, have little appreciation of the needs of a journalist, and provide few, if any useable quotes. While there are exceptions, this scenario is at the heart of SETI's media communication problem. Like it or not the media are the appointed messengers to the general public. How can SETI make the message more to its liking? This paper looks at the mostly positive coverage of SETI's work in Australia, and examines the lessons that might be learned.
    For Dr Bobbie Vaile there wasn't a minute to lose, even though, as she admitted to one television reporter while sitting by her favourite radio telescope at Parkes, some days were not so good.
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