Meet the gene machine
The overall aim of the MGM project was to stimulate debate about the personal, social and ethical issues raised by advances in medical genetics. This was to be achieved through a schools-based activity disseminated nationally by a network of trained science centre presenters and creating a CPD workshop for teachers to link with the event and trigger more regular classroom discussions on similar topics.
Summary of activity:
Led by the Science Communication Unit (SCU) based at The University of the West of England, Bristol, UK, the project ran in partnership with 8 UK science centres throughout the UK:
At-Bristol, Bristol. Centre for Life, Newcastle. Glasgow Science Centre, Glasgow. Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI), Manchester. Science Oxford, Oxford. Techniquest, Cardiff. Thinktank, Birmingham. W5, Belfast.
The event format comprised 3 distinct elements; a mini-drama, facilitated debate and continuing professional development (CPD) workshop for young people aged 13-18 and their teachers.
The evaluation procedure was designed by the Science Communication Unit, in conjunction with Sarah Jenkins of Jenesys Associates. The evaluation employed a multi-method approach, using quantitative and qualitative techniques to fulfil the following criteria:
1.Measure how the event raises awareness amongst students.
2.Assess the capacity of the event to generate engagement on science-society issues.
3. Determine the project's effectiveness as a science communication event.
4. Monitor the implementation and success of the CPD workshops.
In addition, the evaluation sought to consider any legacy the Meet The Gene Machine project would have, within the limitations set by the point at time in which this report has been produced.
What went well:
1. The MGM project reached 10,455 secondary school pupils and involved 498 teachers in CPD workshops.
2. More than 60% of the student audience enjoyed the mini-drama element as it was both informative and entertaining.
3. Over 60% of the students enjoyed the discussion as it was also interesting, informative, entertaining and participatory.
4. 7 of the partner science centres that took part in the 18-month UK roll-out of the MGM project planned to continue delivering the show either in house or as an outreach activity after the project had ended and there has been interest by non-partner science centres to receive MGM training so that they too can deliver MGM.
What was learned:
1. Drama is an effective way to engage young people with a number of the challenging ethical and social implications of science.
2. Creating a supportive environment for science centre presenters to develop and incorporate acting techniques in such activities has broad benefits.
3. The scripting of such dramas can include a good level of scientific information but must be wary of the constraints and confidence levels of presenters to communicate these aspects clearly.
4. Facilitated discussion activities are inspiring and informative, in addition to being popular with young people and teachers alike.
5. Targeting mixed ability groups within a discussion presents its challenges but encourages students with differing levels of experience and confidence to contribute their views.
6. CPD activities are beneficial for teachers, but must be planned and recognise the difficulties of marketing to this sector. They provide a key opportunity for science centres to form strong partnership with teachers within their Local Education Authority.
7. Providing a central training and resource opportunity for individual science centres to utilise and develop is a key technique for shared learning, innovation and sustainable approaches to science communication across the sector.