I’m a scientist main aim is to create a dialogue between school students and scientists. Students see that scientists are normal people, learn that science lessons relate to real life, and become more enthused about science. Scientists develop their communication skills, gain a fresh perspective on their work, and find out what young people think about science and the role of scientists.
The specific objectives of I'm a Scientist from March 2012 until March 2015 were to run at least 140 zones (700 scientists, 1,000 teachers & 45,000 students), to evaluate the project throughout, involve different funding partners and develop revenue generation.
Summary of activity:
We ran 140 zones with 642 scientists, 769 classes and 15,888 students taking part. 21,000 questions were asked, and there were 333 live chats where scientists and students wrote over 100,000 lines of live text. £27,500 was distributed to the zone winners to spend on science communication. We’ve secured funding to run the event from partners including the Institute of Physics, Royal Society of Chemistry, The Genome Analysis Centre, and the Science and Technology Facilities Council.
Being online, we can gather webstats to measure scientists and students’ activity. We send feedback surveys to teachers, students and scientists, and collect the quotes and comments they leave during the event. We also analyse question keywords and popular topics in the live chats. Using all this, we produce short summary evaluation reports for each zone about.imascientist.org.uk/category/zone-reports/
In the last three years, we’ve also evaluated key aspects of the project, like how I’m a Scientist affects students attitudes to science, or to what extent taking part in encourages scientists to do more outreach. We post results at about.imascientist.org.uk/category/evaluation/
What went well:
1. I’m a Scientist has gone from 30 zones per year in 2012, to 54 zones in the 2014/2015 school year.
2. I’m a Scientist is a public engagement boost for scientists: scientists did on average 39% more outreach activities in the year after taking part.
3. I’m a Scientist gets students enthused about science: the more activity on the site, the more positive the change in attitude.
4. Students ASK about cancer, animals, and life and CHAT about science, scientists and their work.
What was learned:
1. Visits from tablets and mobile devices have increased from about 8% to nearly 50% since we built the site in 2010. We need to adapt the site design so mobile users get a better experience
2. Teachers frequently pass on responsibility for organising the event to another teacher, move school and change their email address. We need to improve our teacher database to use the school as the unique identifier.
3. Most of the scientists taking part come from academia. We need to diversify our recruitment process to get more scientists from the private and public sector on board
Top tips and advice for others
1. Experiment with your format, you might find unexpected benefits. We have shown that I'm a Scientist is also effective for primary school students, for whom we ran specific zones for the first time in March 2014. Zones also open to the general public show promise, although are dependent on much wider and dedicated promotion.
2. Build your activity’s scarcity value. We used to grow the event in line with the number of teachers applying to take part. We gave them all the classes they requested, and with some drop out it meant some zones were not as busy as expected. In 2014/15 we have increased the number of teachers applying beyond our capacity. This has meant restricting the number of classes per teacher, and has resulted in a lower drop out rate and more student accounts being used as the teacher value the opportunity more.