Video class 2014, Thanksgiving Week

This pilgrim is sad because he can’t work on his video.

Here we are in Thanksgiving Week for the 2014 SciFund Challenge video training class, which is officially a week off for our course. Unofficially though, please do keep working on your videos and giving comments to the videos of others. Happy Thanksgiving! [Read more...]

Video Class 2014, Week Three

Unfortunately, no 3D movies for Week Three of the class. No space aliens either.

Unfortunately, no 3D movies for Week Three of the class. No space aliens either.

Welcome to Week Three of the SciFund Challenge 2014 video training class!

Last week, we looked at planning our videos and adapting our narratives to the visual medium of video, using storyboards. This week, we’ll start shooting scenes from our storyboard. To do that we will be thinking about principles in audio recording and cinematography that you can use to make your video feel more professional.

This week you’ll be doing the following:

  1. Recording some of the video and audio that you have planned out in your storyboard.
  2. Adding that video and audio to the storyboard video that you created for last week, which you’ll upload to the class Google+ page for comments.
  3. Giving comments to the videos of others.
  4. Taking part in a one hour group discussion, via Google Hangouts.

Recording high quality audio

Before we get to your specific assignment for the week, let’s first talk about some of the elements of compelling video. The most compelling part of the video isn’t the visual stuff at all – it’s the audio. As we have mentioned earlier, your potential audience might well put up with poor quality video. They certainly won’t put up with badly recorded audio. But just how do you record good audio? There are three critical components: use a microphone, record in a quiet space, and read your script in an even tone. Please watch the following short video for a demonstration of these three points.

Another important factor in good audio is positioning your microphone correctly. Please watch the following short video for some tips in lavalier microphone placement (the kind of microphone being used in this class).

The language of cinematography (lighting and composition)

Lighting

Taking the time to think about lighting your images (moving or still) will make the biggest difference to their quality. As the saying goes; beginners worry about equipment and professionals worry about lighting. Before we get into how you can best use available light (we’re assuming you don’t have a 3-point lighting kit), we should first understand about the different types and qualities of light sources:

  • Direct light: When lighting a scene for a photo or video, light can be categorized into two main types; direct and indirect. Direct light lands on your subject from mostly one direction. Some examples of direct light sources are a bare light bulb, an open flame, and the sun. Generally, a direct light source is small (physically, or because it is far away, like the sun). Direct light makes hard shadows (defined edge, and dark), and increase contrast. They can be used for specific tasks, like separating the subject from the background or to add mood and drama to a scene.
  • Indirect light: Indirect light is scattered, or diffused light that is landing on the subject from many different directions. Indirect light makes for softer shadows (lighter and have less defined edges). A film maker can modify a direct light source into an indirect one by increasing the surface area of the source. This can be done by bouncing a light off a white wall or ceiling, or by placing a diffusing material in front of the light (without creating a fire hazard). The larger the increase in surface area, the softer the light becomes. When clouds cover the sun, the cloud effectively becomes a new indirect light source, diffusing the sun’s powerful direct rays. Notice on a cloudy day, how there is generally less contrast, and that everything seems more evenly lit.

What does this mean for you? For taking video (or photos) of people, soft, large light sources are generally more flattering than direct light.  If you need softer light on your subject, think of ways to increase the size of your light source, relative to your subject. You can bounce a lamp off the wall, or white poster-board. If you need to take any shots outside, these considerations will help you decide what weather might be best to shoot in. We can’t all wait around for the right weather conditions like Ansel Adams, but we can choose to shoot in open shade when we are forced to shoot on clear, sunny days. Also take the time of day into account. Early morning light, especially during winter months is extremely flattering and soft, due to the angle of the sun in the sky, and diffusing effects of the atmosphere. Notice that sunlight around 12-3pm on a clear day is not only uncomfortable to work in, but creates some unflattering, downward pointing shadows on the face. Direct lights do have their place though, if used carefully and sparingly. Direct light can separate a subject from your background when used as a hair light, and they can add drama and contrast to your subject, or the background.

Composition 

The rule of thirds

The rule of thirds has been used for centuries, in all visual art forms to draw people’s attention to certain areas of an image. If you split your image into thirds horizontally and vertically (making 9 sections), you will find that when you place your subject at an intersection of these lines, the frame feels more aesthetically pleasing. The frame will begin to feel as if the subject naturally belongs there, rather than being randomly or centrally placed. Although we might not be conscious of it, the rule of thirds is something that most of us have come to expect from a good image, despite the fact that we might not have heard of the rule of thirds before.

But wait a minute, this sounds like an very formulaic way to go about a creative process doesn’t it? Like most “rules” in art, it is a rule that can to be broken…sometimes. The careful and willful breaking of the rule of thirds can be used to strongly emphasize something in your story. If you have diligently applied the rule of thirds to every part of your video until the very end when you announce you have found the answer to life, suddenly breaking away from the rue of thirds may help emphasize what you are saying. What you don’t want is for your rule breaking to cause distraction, so if you’re going to break the rule of thirds, do it carefully.

Top tip: You can apply the rule of thirds to almost any type of visual media. It could help improve your slide presentations or even figures and science visualizations.

Background 

Now that we have figured out how we are going to frame our subject, it’s time to consider the background and setting. Ask yourself what setting would be most relevant to your story, while also bearing in mind the considerations for audio above. The background should be relevant, but not distracting. When you have found your setting, it’s not a crime to tidy a few things or move the position of some items in order to get a well balanced shot. Take a test shot with yourself in the scene and take a look before you start for real.

Shot size

How close your subject is to the camera has a subtle effect on the meaning of the shot. Wider shots where the subject is smaller in the frame give more context and place the subject in the scene. It’s a visual way of saying ‘this is where the subject of this shot does the thing I’m talking about’, which is why the background should be relevant. On the other hand, closer shots where the subject fills most or all of the frame says ‘pay attention to this detail’, either visually in the case of B-roll, or verbally if it’s a shot of someone talking. Most movies and television shows use a combination of wide and closer shots of some scenes to help progress the story. This doesn’t mean that you need to show a wide and close up of everything in your video, but it might be useful to have the other shot size recorded, in case you need it later. It would be a good idea to at least record your A-roll at two different shot sizes.

Angle

The final consideration when composing your shots. The angle you choose to shoot from also influences the meaning of a shot. Looking down on a subject can be a more flattering angle but can also make them appear vulnerable, or small. It can make the audience feel more disconnected, like they’re watching from the perspective of a security camera, or some etherial, floating being. This is why the best photos of pets and children are taken when the photographer gets down to their level, rather than shooting from above. Conversely, shooting up at your subject can make them appear important or powerful. This is why sports stars and celebrities are shot from a low angle sometimes, but it’s not always too flattering.  The most neutral level to shoot from is at eye level. It says ‘we are equal, and I have something to tell you’. We realize that the Gorillapod isn’t tall enough to reach eye level on its own, but it is certainly versatile enough to attach to the back of a chair, stick, cabinet, or a friend’s tripod to get the phone to the hight you need. Don’t let the limitations of the equipment dictate the mood of your video.

Imagine that you have shot something at eye level with your subject facing directly to the camera. Now change the angle of the shot in the horizontal plane (keeping it at eye level but moving around your subject) by about 45 degrees. Also change the shot size, either move the camera further away or closer to your subject than it was before. Reshoot the same scene with your subject still looking where the camera used to be. If you cut between these two shots in the edit, it gives the illusion that you shot the scene with two cameras.

It also allows you to cut chunks of the narrative out if the scene is too long or contains too much information, without cutting to other B-roll. This is something that most audiences don’t even realize when watching movies, and they shouldn’t. It gives the illusion that the content of the two shots occurred at exactly the same time, when in fact they came from two different takes. Some people assume that it must have been shot with two cameras, but in many cases, movies and television shows are still shot with only one camera. For this reason it might be a good idea to shoot your A-roll at more than one shot size and angle. Bear in mind, that for this to work, the two shots should be recorded one after the other to avoid continuity issues. But you might be surprised to know that what the subject says in both takes does not have to be identical in order for this trick to work.

Assignment for the week

The last thing we asked you to do for last week was to build a video of your storyboard. This video consisted of series of a title slides describing what the individual shots would be in your final video. We also asked you to include, in this video of your storyboard, an audio track consisting of you reading your script. If you are still working on this assignment, it’s no problem, as this week’s assignment builds on the storyboard video from last week. To see a video by us describing how to do the tasks for this week, please check out the following video (you’ll also need to familiar with our iMovie editing video from last week):

Task 1. What we would like you to do, for this week, is to first shoot some of the shots that you described in your storyboard. How many shots should you complete? You don’t have to get it all done, but at least shoot your A roll (the more shots, the better though). For most in this class, the A roll will consist of you talking to the camera, reading your script. What we would like you to do is to record yourself, talking your way through your entire script. In order to make this video less artificial, imagine yourself talking to a friend who is right behind the camera (even better: have an actual friend behind the camera). You don’t have to recite your script perfectly in one take! You can make as many mistakes as you want while recording, since you can edit all of the mistakes out in iMovie. Just be sure that you have at least one good version of every sentence in your script. We would like you to record two versions of this shot: one where the camera is directly in front of you and one where the camera is set at an angle to your body (say roughly 30 to 45 degrees). For the latter shot, look straight ahead as you record, even though the camera is off to the side. The reason we want you to do these two versions of your speech is that you can cut between the two shots (while editing) to cover mistakes.

Task 2. As a second task for this week, integrate your A roll (and any other shots you have completed) into your video storyboard from last week (using iMovie). In order to edit together a seemingly-perfect version of you reading your script, you can use two techniques. First, you can switch between the two camera angles of you reading your script, using the second camera angle to cover the part that was flubbed in the first camera angle. Second, you can edit the mistake out of a single camera angle. The edit point will be obvious, as you will see a jump in the video. But you can disguise this edit point, by overlaying a bit of a b-roll (either an image or video) over the edit point.

Task 3. Upload your video to the Google+ page for the class, so that others can give you comments (be sure to tag your video as Week Three). Please give comments to the videos of at least three other participants in the class.

Task 4. Let’s talk about how the week is going through an hour discussion, via Google Hangouts (please sign up for one section this week).

We’ve gone non-profit!

It brings me great pleasure to announce that the #SciFund Challenge is now officially a not-for-profit organization. After two years of planning and careful execution we’ve finally received our IRS approval. Now the REAL fun can begin. scifund-nonprofit

What does this mean for scientists?

You may have already assumed #SciFund was a non-profit organization. So if that is the case, in the very near term not much will change from an outside perspective. Currently we are running the #SciFund Videography course, and have just completed our Intro to Outreach course. In 2015, we will be running these classes again and have plans to create a few more based on your feedback. In the long-run we envision a whole suite of courses that build on one another, a #SciFund University if you will.

We will also be continuing our progress in the realm of crowdfunding. One of the benefits of going the non-profit route is that funders will be able to receive tax deductions for contributing to #SciFund projects. This will be a slower process to undertake as we will look to host a few campaigns as proof-of principle. Eventually all #SciFund crowdfunding campaigns will be eligible for tax deductions. In the meantime, we will still host group crowdfunding rounds, offer the same advice and support that we always have, and continue to raise significant funds for scientific research.

One other role that you will play in #SciFund is the ability to volunteer. As we build programs, courses, and crowdfunding rounds we will need additional help to scale. If you’ve participated in a past course and would like to pay it forward contact us about volunteering. There will be a lot of roles to fill and we could use your help!

What does this mean to the public?

Our efforts have always been focused toward public outreach and engagement. This will NEVER change. Our classes and crowdfunding rounds help you, the scientist, to connect with your audience to deliver the message you want to deliver. As we build the #SciFund Challenge we hope to train you with more ways to make this connection. So as you hone your outreach campaign, the more the public will benefit. Needless to say, being able to train more scientists will dramatically increase this result. Having a larger public impact will not only increase science literacy but also help you in future fundraising, conservation, policy making, and educational efforts.

What does this mean for SciFund?

SciFund has always been powered by the people. Without the scientists, supporters, partners, and general public there would be no #SciFund Challenge crowdfunding, no #SciFund courses, and no #SciFund community. But prior to this moment, #SciFund was only organized and maintained by a few people, in their free time, who are dedicated to making outreach more accessible to scientists.

Now #SciFund can be more.

#SciFund will be able to grow. We will be able to pursue funding for activities, grow the community, develop new programs, and host more crowdfunding rounds with new incentives for funders. Additionally, it will allow us to focus more attention and time on the core activities that make us a unique organization.

The #SciFund Challenge was originally a small joint effort between Jai Ranganathan and Jarrett Byrnes. It has always been organized by them in their free time, which allowed us to grow naturally and slowly. Now the needs of the science community demand that #SciFund grow as an organization to be a fully supported and self sufficient entity. Now #SciFund can be bigger than they ever imagined.

Will you #SciFund?

Video Class 2014, Week Two

As this guy knows, the key to effective storyboarding is a very big board.

As this guy knows, the key to effective storyboarding is a very big board.

Welcome to Week Two of the SciFund Challenge 2014 video training class!

Last week, we focussed on how to convert our science into interesting narratives. This week: how do we turn those narratives into compelling visual stories? To do that, we’ll be using a standard planning tool for film making, known as storyboarding. Also this week: script writing!

This week you’ll be doing the following:

1. Putting together a storyboard and script for your video, which you’ll share to the class Google+ page for comments.

2. Giving comments to the storyboards and scripts for others in the class.

3. Taking part in a one hour group discussion, via Google Hangouts. The more of the class assignment you can get done before your group discussion, the better off you’ll be. At the least though, please get a draft of your script completed before your group discussion

On with the show! [Read more...]

Video Class 2014, Week One

You'll be raising your arms in triumph at the end of Week One.

You’ll be raising your arms in triumph at the end of Week One.

Welcome to Week One of the SciFund Challenge 2014 video training class!  With this class, we have two goals. One: to build our ability to tell compelling stories through video. Two: to help our classmates to build their video abilities. So let’s get started with both!

The center of good video is having a good story. But how do we craft a clear and compelling story from our science? That’s what we’ll be focussing on this week.

The focus of this week is a communications technique called the Message Box. This technique was developed by COMPASS, a fantastic organization that provides communication training to scientists. I can tell you from personal experience that their training workshops are incredible. COMPASS has permitted us to use their materials and I would personally like to thank them for their generous assistance, particularly Nancy Baron and Liz Neeley. Nancy has written an amazing book, Escape from the Ivory Tower, from which we’ll be reading a chapter this week (more on this below).

This week has a five part structure:

  • Part 1: Get started with the class.
  • Part 2: Read about the Message Box and prepare a version of it for yourself.
  • Part 3: Practice using the Message Box with a class partner.
  • Part 4: Record yourself giving an elevator pitch and upload video to Google+ page for class.
  • Part 5: Give feedback to the videos of others.

Things to do first (which will make more sense if you read Parts 1 and 3 of the instructions):

  1. Sign up for a discussion section.
  2. Put your name down on the partner spreadsheet.

[Read more...]

Syllabus for 2014 video training class

The SciFund video class will require less equipment than this. And will hopefully have a fewer explosions than a Michael Bay film.

The SciFund video class will require less equipment than this. And will hopefully have fewer explosions than a Michael Bay film.

The first SciFund Challenge video training class starts next week and we are excited! Here’s our syllabus.

SciFund Challenge Class: Video Outreach 101 for Scientists

Course instructors: Elliot Lowndes, Jai Ranganathan, Anthony Salvagno
Course dates: November 2-December 13, 2014 (six weeks, with one week off for Thanksgiving)

This short course is intended for researchers that are new to science outreach through video, but are interested in getting started with it. The philosophy of this class is that three factors tend to keep scientists from doing video outreach: a lack of knowledge, a lack of experience, and a lack of a community that supports outreach. The purpose of this class is to do something about all three of these things.

In this class, we will be putting a focus on communication and community-building between class participants, emphasizing face to face communication (using tools like group video conferencing with Google Hangouts).

At the end of this class, class participants should have:

  1. An understanding of how to communicate their science in a manner that is compelling to a general audience.
  2. A basic comprehension of the key elements needed to make a short film, such as storyboarding, script writing, editing, and lighting.
  3. Some confidence to get started with video outreach.
  4. A completed short video (5 minutes at most) about their research.

There are five weeks in our short course and a specific plan for each week. At the beginning of each week, or shortly before, you’ll receive the plan and assignments for each week. Here is the overall plan for the class, week by week:

Week 1 (November 2-8): Crafting your message
We’ll work on the tricky challenge of how to create a compelling message out of the often-hard-to-explain research that we do. The focus of the week will be a technique called the Message Box. Developed by COMPASS and roadtested by hundreds of scientists, it is a proven method for shaping science messages. We’ll be working on these tasks both individually and in groups.

Week 2 (November 9-15): Script writing and storyboarding
This week will center on planning out our videos. How do we convert our science messages into compelling visual stories? This is where a planning tool known as storyboarding comes in, which we’ll use for our science videos.

Week 3 (November 16-22): Lighting and sound
How do we use lighting and sound to produce videos that people will actually want to watch? That’s the focus of the week and we’ll also start shooting scenes from our storyboards.

Thanksgiving Week (November 23-29): Off

Week 4 (November 30-December 6): Editing
This week will be all about editing our separate shots into a cohesive whole, using iMovie editing software. We’ll also touch on where to find images, sound, and video that you can legally use in our own videos.

Week 5 (December 7-13): Wrap-up, color correction, and sound effects
In the last week, we’ll make the final edits to our video. We’ll also talk about the basics of color correction and sound effects.

Twitter Chat Storify

If you’ve never experienced a Twitter chat, it can be quite overwhelming. There are so many conversations happening simultaneously and it quickly becomes difficult to keep track of them all. Luckily there are tools that help organize those tweets and preserve them. One such tool is Storify which I use to catalog today’s Scifund Twitter chat. If you had issues keeping up, missed the chat, had to leave early, or would just like to re-experience it then you are in luck…

This is for you:

2014 Outreach Class: Week Five

Going strong through the finish line, SciFund-style.

Going strong through the finish ilne, SciFund-style.

Welcome to week five of the SciFund Challenge outreach training class for scientists. This is our last week, sadly! But the fun doesn’t stop here, as there are lots of SciFund classes coming, as well as other ways to keep participating. Apply for our free video class, which starts next month!

This week, we’ll be working on our elevator pitches, as well as planning for our science outreach futures. The workload this week is lower than usual, as many are still working on their Ignite talks from last week. If you want more to do though, not to worry! We have a special optional exercise for you. So, here’s the game plan:

  1. Finish up your Ignite talk and practice with a partner (use #SciFund hashtag on Twitter to find a partner).
  2. Learn about elevator pitches and record yourself giving one.
  3. Put your pitch video on the SciFund wiki and comment on the pitches of others.
  4. Make a public pledge about your science outreach plans.
  5. Talk about your science outreach plans in a group discussion section.
  6. Twitter: live group discussion

Part 1: Ignite talks. If you haven’t yet finished yours and practiced with a partner, please do so. If you are looking for a partner, please do post a note on Twitter and the Google+ page for the class.

Parts 2 and 3: elevator pitches. An elevator pitch is a compelling and short speech (two minutes or less) about your research intended for someone who isn’t in your field. Think of it as what you might say to a member of the public who you just met. As a first step, please read this short article in Nature that discusses how to give an elevator pitch. The article features Nancy Baron, who wrote the book chapter about the Message Box that we read in week two. The article should seem very familiar, as we have covered in depth many of the topics discussed there (stay away from jargon, etc.).

Once you have read up on elevator pitches, please prepare a two minute pitch about your own research. As you put your pitch together, remember all that we have covered in this class about effective communication (your Message Box, remember your audience, etc.). Although you are welcome to make brief notes, it is a terrible idea to actually write out a full script. Written language is very different than spoken language and nothing is more excruciating than hearing someone recite a script.

Please record a video of yourself giving your elevator pitch and upload the video to Youtube (please see step 8 from week one’s instructions for reminders how to do this). Hopefully, you will find a big difference between this video and the one you recorded at the beginning of this class! Here’s a pro tip for being more animated while recording video: imagine yourself talking to a person who is just behind the camera. Please post your YouTube video on the class’ Google+page and include a link to your week one video in that post (please mark your post with the category of Week Five).  See the Google+ page for the class for an illustration. Please comment on the videos of at least three other class participants.

Part 4: your science outreach future. The purpose of this class is to give you the tools and community you need to actually get started with science outreach. So, let’s get started! Please make a general plan for your science outreach activities for the next six months. As you are planning, think of all of the activities we have done in this class, along with the awesome outreach stuff others in the class are already doing. So that we all can know what we are planning, please write your outreach plan on a Google document that I posted on the Google+ page for the class (under the category of Week Five). A key reason we want you to write your plan down, where others can see it, so that we can hold each other accountable. As part of that, we’ll be publicly posting these outreach pledges on this blog.

For those of you who are considering blogging, you should know that we’ll be starting shortly a series of group blogs right here on SciFund Challenge. All of you are welcome to start a blog, which we’ll be prominently featuring. We have two requirements though! First we want you to pledge, for the blog as a whole, to post at least once a week. That is, the blog should have a new post at least once a week (which is easier to do when there are multiple people behind the blog). And the second requirement is that there be more than one person behind each blog. If there are other people in the class who you have found interesting, you are encouraged to team up with them for a group blog (you can find each other easily, as all of your contact information is on the google+ page for the class). Note though that people who are blogging with you don’t need to be part of this class. Please get a hold of me, if you’d like to sign up for a group blog on SciFund Challenge.

Part 5: discussion sections. Please sign up for a discussion section for this week to talk about your outreach plans.

Part 6: Twitter. There have been a lot of questions over the past several weeks from class participants about Twitter. What do you do with it, exactly? One thing that Twitter can be very useful for is group discussions. To give you a sense of the potential value of a Twitter discussion, we’ll be doing a live Twitter chat this week on Thursday, October 23 at 4 PM Pacific (UTC−8). For an hour, beginning at 4 PM, we’ll be using the #SciFund hashtag on Twitter to talk about our outreach plans, as well as anything else about the class that comes up. So, please do participate by tweeting with #SciFund at that time!

New #SciFund-supported paper!

Jet fuel from algae!

Fuel from algae! Will the wonders of #SciFund science every cease?

I am incredibly excited to announce that a new scientific study partially funded through SciFund Challenge crowdfunding has been published.

Dr. Stephen Herbert is a professor in the Department of Plant Science at the University of Wyoming. He was also part of our very first round of science crowdfunding, way back in November 2011. His crowdfunded research has just been published in the Journal of Applied Phycology.

His research focuses on environmentally-friendly fuel – in particular, fuel made from algae. Algae might just be the ultimate renewable resource. There are lots of issues to be solved though before algae-fuel ends up at your local gas station. One problem is that large-scale harvesting of algae for fuel is still very expensive. In the research that was just published, Dr. Herbert – and his co-author Dr. Levi Lowder – detail a new method of genetic engineering for algae that shows huge promise for bringing those harvesting costs down.

You can check out the paper in the Journal of Applied Phycology here. A bunch of SciFund-supported research papers have been published and you can see the full list here.

And definitely take a look at Dr. Herbert’s crowdfunding video back from 2011!

Incredible science outreach!

No Squidtoons, YOU are fabulous.

No Squidtoons, YOU are fabulous.

So the 2014 SciFund Challenge Outreach 101 class is in the final dash to the finish! The best part of the class for me has been learning about all of the amazing science outreach programs that class participants are already conducting. Here are just some of the incredible things that scientists in the class are doing.

Getting kids excited about robotics

Juan Pablo Carbajal, a physicist at the University of Gent, runs a nonprofit – Dwengo – that gets kids excited about getting involved in robotics. Dwengo has such an inspiring mission: to give every child the chance to build a robot before the age of 18. Check out their video:

 

They Blinded Me with Science

Nichole Bennett, an ecologist at the University of Texas-Austin, is behind the They Blinded Me with Science radio show. It is an awesome weekly science radio talk show featuring guest researchers and science news. You can find it on 91.7 FM KVRX, if you’re in Austin, Texas. Not in Austin? No worries: Nichole has got you covered. You can listen over the internet. And check out an episode right here:


Because Nichole cannot be limited to just one communication medium, she also runs a free outdoor science lecture series in Austin: Science under the Stars! So, next time you are in Austin, go get some outdoor science.

Screen Shot 2014-10-18 at 11.18.39 AM

These sharks are checking you out.

Squidtoons: incredibly awesome science comics

Garfield Kwan, a marine biologist at the University of California-San Diego, is the artistic genius behind Squidtoons. Seriously, this is the best science comic series I have ever seen. You owe it to yourself to take a look.

Talking about conservation

Nathan Johnson, a marine biologist at Texas A&M at Galveston, is a contributing author for the blog BioDiverse Perspectives. It is a really incisive graduate student-run blog that discusses biodiversity and conservation research.

Talking about teaching science

Mirjam Glessmer, an oceanographer at the Hamburg University of Technology, runs a blog: Adventures in oceanography and teaching. How do we teach oceanography – and science more generally – in an interesting way? That’s what Mirjam deals with in her blog, which is crammed full of tips and techniques for those looking for ways to engage their students.

Zen & Ant’s tips for Ignite and blogging success

This bird knows the deal about outreach (click the links in the post to find out why).

This bird knows the deal about outreach (click the links in the post to find out why).

So, my fearless co-instructors for our Outreach 101 class (Zen Faulkes and Anthony Salvagno) have been giving great outreach advice lately on social media. In case you missed their thoughts, I thought I would do a round-up via blog post.

This week’s topic for the class is Ignite talks and Zen recommended a great blog resource for quickly creating a great Ignite talk.

Ant, who happens to be an ace graphic designer, wrote a fantastic blog post about how to develop a killer presentation.

And lastly, once you get an outreach program going as a scientist, how do you keep it going? There is no one better than Zen to answer this question, given that his blog NeuroDojo has been going for well over a decade. Zen was a moderator of a session last year at Science Online on the topic of “Blogging for the Long Haul.” Check out the video of the session here or a Storified version of the session here.

2014 Outreach class: week 4

#SciFund scientists: the podium awaits!

#SciFund scientists: the podium awaits!

Welcome to week 4 of the SciFund Challenge outreach training class for scientists! Last week we focused on delivering our message through blogging. This week we’re going to jump right into the deep end and have you work on public speaking. We are going to use a very specific format called an Ignite talk. Before we go any further, a big tip of the hat to microbiologist Dr. Siouxsie Wiles, who developed the material for this week’s exercise.

This week’s exercise has five parts:

Part 1: Watch a few Ignite talks.
Part 2: Prepare an Ignite talk.
Part 3: Practice your Ignite talk with a class partner.
Part 4: Talk about the experience of preparing and delivering your Ignite talk in group discussion sections
Part 5: Keep going with Twitter.

First off, let me start by saying: Don’t panic!

Preparing talks is usually a very time consuming affair for scientists. This exercise is not like that in any way.

So what is an Ignite talk? Ignite events are organised by volunteers and give participants the opportunity to talk to the public about something they are really passionate about. The catch is, they only have 5 minutes to do it in! Ignite’s motto is: “enlighten us, but make it quick”! Each participant brings 20 slides to accompany their talk; each slide advances every 15 seconds, whether the speaker is ready or not! This is what makes the format so challenging but rewarding.

Part 0: Finding a partner

We’ll be working with a class partner this week. On the Google+ page for the class, under the category of “Week 4″, you’ll find a table where you can find other class participants to partner with. Sign up on the table before doing anything else, as it may take a little bit for you and a partner to connect.

Part 1: Getting started with the Ignite format

Start by watching a few Ignite talks.
I really like Hillel Cooperman’s Ignite talk on Lego and Dianne Stronks one on smiling. And here is microbiologist Dr.Siouxsie Wiles, cheating a little doing a related format called PechaKucha where you get 20 slides for 20 seconds (so a whole 1 minute 40 seconds extra), but you get the idea.

Part 2: Preparing an Ignite talk

Think of an Ignite talk as a 5 minute monologue with timed visuals. To prepare your talk you will need to decide on a topic, prepare your 20 slides/images,and then  map out what you are going to say to accompany each slide. Again, don’t worry: you can do this exercise in a relatively short period of time.

As always with science communication, the first task in this exercise is for you to identify your audience. The more specific you can envision your audience, the better.

Once that is done. start by watching the following great Ignite talk on how to give an Ignite talk by Scott Berkun, while Cory Forsyth also has some great tips:

Choose your slides carefully. They can be informative (but avoid long quotes and complex diagrams), symbolic (back up the point you’re making) or decorative (an attractive screen to speak in front of). Try to avoid the situation where you’re trying to explain the slide, as that eats up your 15 seconds really quickly. Last but not least, be creative. 15 seconds per slide equals about 2-3 sentences, depending on how fast you gabble! If needed you can duplicate a slide (so the same image is on screen for 30 seconds).

Let me repeat, don’t panic! And don’t spend a week trying to get your slides together. You can do that when you do one for real!

To save preparation time, don’t write out a speech for your talk. At most, write out a word or phrase per slide to remind you of your points. This actually will make for a better presentation anyway, as hearing someone read a written speech is usually rather excruciating (written speech is very different than spoken speech, a point often forgotten by speakers).

Whatever program you use to prepare your slides, please save your file in Powerpoint format and be sure that your files don’t contain animations (read on to learn why).

Part 3: Getting some practice

Don’t worry, we aren’t going to insist you go out and give a real Ignite talk, but trying it with an audience is best. So, for part three of this week, we’ll be pairing off with another class participant to practice our talks. If you haven’t done so already, on the Google+ page for the class, under the category of “Week 4″, you’ll find a table where you can find other class participants to partner with. Try to find a partner who is not in your field. By Friday, please connect on your own with your partner to do your Ignite talks with each other, via Google Hangouts.

But how do you share your slides with each other on Google Hangouts? Read on!

1. The first step is to upload your Powerpoint file to Google Drive, which is Google’s version of online storage. But how do you get to Google Drive? Here’s one way. If you open your gmail account in a browser, the top left of the screen should something like the picture below (minus the big white box below the grid icon). If you click on the icon though, the white box should open up. Among the icons, you will find Drive. Click on the Drive icon.

Finding Google Drive. Click image for bigger version.

Finding Google Drive (click image for bigger version).

2. Now that you are in Google Drive (see picture below), click the white arrow in the red box (upper left of your screen) to upload your presentation. Once your presentation is uploaded, click the box to the left of the file name (again, see picture). Press the More button at the top of the screen (also in picture), followed by “Open with” > “Google Slides”.

Using google drive (click image for bigger version).

Using Google Drive (click image for bigger version).

3. Your presentation should open in a new tab or window, within Google Slides. Under the File menu of Google Slides, click “Publish to the web…”.

4. In the “Publish to web” box that opens (see picture below), select “every 15 seconds” in the “Auto-advance slides:” box. Click the blue Publish button.

Publish to the web box (click  image for bigger version).

Publish to the web box (click image for bigger version).

5. The “Publish to web” box should now show a text box that contains a long web link (see picture below). Copy and paste that link into a new browser window.

Getting the link for your slides (click image for bigger version).

Getting the link for your slides (click image for bigger version).

6. Your slides should appear in the browser. To play your slides, move your mouse over your slides in the browser window. You should see a series of controls appear in the lower left of the browser window (see picture below). One of those controls is a play button. Press the play button to play your slides. They should auto advance every 15 seconds.

Playing your slides

Playing your slides

7. When you are in a Google Hangout with your partner, you can present your slides to your partner by sharing your screen (the relevant section in those instructions is “Use the Screenshare app”). You should share just the browser window that contains your slides.

8. When you are listening to your partner’s presentation (and thinking of feedback), keep one question in front of your mind: is this presentation compelling for the intended audience? As before, keep an eye out for for jargon and double-meaning language!

Part 4: Group discussions

Once you and your partner have done your Ignite’s, let’s talk about it! We have scheduled a series of Google Hangouts for facilitated group discussions for the end of this week. You can sign up for a hangout on the Google+ page for the class.

Part 5: Twitter

Let’s keep rolling with Twitter, being sure to use the #SciFund hashtag so we can find your tweets.

Send at least three tweets about the Ignite talks you watch for inspiration.
Send at least three tweets telling us how you found the process of preparing or delivering your Ignite talk.

Where to go next:

If you fancy going out and getting some experience of public speaking, there are plenty of places you can start. Check out your local museum and see if they run a science cafe/cafe scientifique series. Or try local community groups, like Rotary, University of the 3rd Age (U3A) and Zonta. But for a real thrill, check to see if there is a local chapter of Ignite, Pecha Kucha or NerdNite in your town.

Good luck!

New FREE outreach training class for scientists: intro to video

The SciFund Challenge video class: your ticket to fame and fortune Spielberg-style.

The SciFund Challenge video class: your ticket to fame and fortune Spielberg-style.

UPDATE: We maxed out on applications for the video class, so registration is closed early. Not to fret though, as we’ll be doing this class again. If you would like to be the first to know about our new classes, sign up for our e-mail list.


SciFund Challenge is offering yet another outreach training class for scientists! This one is all about learning to make short videos!

Scientists, do you want to learn how to tell the public about your science through video? Do you want to have the skills to put together short videos that are compelling to general audiences?

But how do you get started with video? Join the SciFund Challenge community for our free online course aimed at helping scientists get started with video. Over 5 weeks, we’ll demystify the business of communicating science through video and equip you with the tools and confidence you need to get started. Plus, at the end of the class, you’ll have completed a short video about your research (perfect for your website or YouTube).  [Read more...]

Outreach Class 2014: Week Three

SciFund blogging: even more hearts and smiley faces than usual!

SciFund blogging: even more hearts and smiley faces than usual!

Welcome to week 3 of the SciFund Challenge outreach training class for scientists! Last week we focused on crafting our message. This week we’ll develop skills to deliver that message through blogging. This week’s exercise has five parts: A) take a look at a few science blogs, B) write a blog post, C) comment on others’ posts, D) talk about the blogging exercise in a hangout, and E) keep going with Twitter. As a small note, for those of you with your own blog, please do the blog exercise as we suggest and not on your own blog. [Read more...]

Outreach Class 2014, Week Two

Welcome to week 2 of the 2014 SciFund Challenge outreach training class for scientists! How do we craft a clear and compelling message from our science? That’s what we’ll be focussing on this week.

[Read more...]

New science crowdfunding article in The Lancet

The Lancet logoMedical journal The Lancet has a new article on science crowdfunding. It includes several quotes from co-founder Jai Ranganathan:

“Whether a project got funded or not really had very little to do with the project subject, it had everything to do with interest for the scientist and them engaging the public with their science”, says Ranganathan.

This quote echoes one of the major lessons we have learned from analysing the results of three rounds of #SciFund Challenge projects. we are also pleased to note that a modified and improved version of the paper is now in press in PLOS ONE. In the meantime, you can read an earlier draft of that paper here at the PeerJ pre-print server.

The article is not simply about crowdfunding medicine, but is more about the role that crowdfunding might play in getting research projects off the ground in days of contracting federal funding across the board.

Outreach Class 2014, Week One

What would YOU do in Week One?

What would YOU do in Week One?

Welcome to Week One of the SciFund Challenge outreach training class!  With this class, we have two goals. One: to build outreach skill levels. Two: to build a sense of community among class participants. So let’s get started with both!

For this week, we’ll be diving into the opportunities and pitfalls that outreach presents for scientists. We’ll also get started with Twitter, Google+, and video. [Read more...]

Scientists talk about their outreach experience, 2014

Note: this post is part of week 1 of the 2014 SciFund Challenge outreach training class for scientists.

What does doing outreach mean for scientists? Who better to ask than the researchers who regularly connect to the public with science. Below you’ll find a series of videos from scientist communicators talking about their outreach experiences. The videos are short, each lasting from two to seven minutes.

Sarah Klain, University of British Columbia
Sarah has actually experienced the outreach horror story that every scientist fears. Namely, her outreach efforts unexpectedly boomeranged around in a way that directly threatened her research program. Sarah talks about this experience as well as why she still does outreach.

Phil Plait, Bad Astronomy
Phil is one of the best-known science communicators around today, as evidenced by things like his extremely-highly-read Bad Astronomy blog and his quarter million Twitter followers. Here, he talks about his science outreach journey. Be warned! Phil is funny.

Caitlin Kight, University of Exeter
Caitlin has a wide outreach presence, from radio to blogs to general science writing. She talks here about her outreach career and the challenges of combining that with her research career.

Jai Ranganathan, SciFund Challenge
Jai is the author of this blog post and he enjoys writing about himself in the third person. Here he talks about why science outreach is critical to the future of science funding.

Alex Warneke, San Diego State University
Alex is one of the science bloggers at Deep Sea News and is deeply passionate about science communication. Here she talks about how and why she makes time for science outreach.

Siouxsie Wiles, University of Auckland
Siouxsie is a very visible presence in science outreach and not just because of her pink hair. Among the many science communication activities with which she is active, she blogs, podcasts, is involved with animation, and speaks on radio and television. In this video, Siouxsie describes how she started on her outreach path and her one negative outreach experience.

Syllabus for 2014 outreach training class

Godfather Part 2 poster

The second SciFund outreach class: just as epic as the Godfather, Part 2. There is somewhat less crime associated with our class, however.

The second SciFund Challenge outreach training class starts next week and we are excited! For those of you following along at home, here’s our syllabus.

SciFund Challenge Class: Outreach 101

Course instructors: Zen Faulkes, Jai Ranganathan, Anthony Salvagno
Course dates: September 21-October 25, 2014 (five weeks)

This short course is intended for researchers that are new to science outreach, but are interested in getting started with it. The philosophy of this class is that three factors tend to keep scientists from doing outreach: a lack of outreach knowledge, a lack of outreach experience, and a lack of a community that supports outreach. The purpose of this class is to do something about all three of these things.

In this class, we will be putting a focus on communication and community-building between class participants, emphasizing face to face communication (using tools like group video conferencing with Google Hangouts). With 161 class participants sprinkled all over the world, this is going to be an scheduling challenge, but we can do it.

At the end of this class, class participants should have:
1) an overview understanding of the many ways that scientists are connecting to the public with their science
2) an understanding of how to craft a science message compelling to general audiences
3) a little bit of experience with a wide range of outreach tools
4) the beginnings of their own outreach community
5) an outreach plan for the future

There are five weeks in our short course and a specific plan for each week. At the beginning of each week, or shortly before, you’ll receive the plan and assignments for each week. To give you a taster, here is the overall plan for the class week by week:

Week 1 (September 21-27): Getting started
We’ll start with group discussions about what are the barriers that stand between you and outreach. We’ll also get started with video production and Twitter.

Week 2 (September 28-October 4): Crafting your message
We’ll work on the tricky challenge of how to create a compelling message out of the often-hard-to-explain research that we do. The focus of the week will be a technique called the Message Box. Developed by COMPASS and roadtested by hundreds of scientists, it is a proven method for shaping science messages. We’ll be working on these tasks both individually and in groups.

Week 3 (October 5-11): Blogging
We’ll put our finely-crafted science messages to work, with our introduction to blogging. The focus here will be on messaging that is intended for non-specialist audiences and, as before, we’ll be doing this individually and in groups. If you are nervous about public blogging, not to worry. Everything we do here will be on a private blog that only class participants can see.

Week 4 (October 12-18): Public speaking
We will practice public speaking with each other, via group video conference calls. We will be using a very specific type of short public presentation, called an Ignite talk.

Week 5 (October 19-25): Your outreach future
Each of us will be coming up with an outreach plan for our future. We’ll also be practicing our elevator pitch with each other in group discussions.

There is a whole world of science outreach methods (podcasts, etc.) that we won’t have time to specifically practice in this class. However, we’ll be providing links to this greater world of outreach along the way to class participants.

FREE outreach class for scientists is back!

UPDATE (SEPTEMBER 2): Registration for our class has closed early. We have received over 170 applications in a week and we want to make sure that we don’t have more course participants than we can handle. We have more outreach training classes coming over the next few months and you can sign up for our e-mail list to keep informed.


Just like Doctor X, the SciFund outreach class is returning to a (computer) screen near you.

Just like Doctor X, the SciFund Challenge outreach class is returning to a (computer) screen near you.

The SciFund Challenge outreach training class is back, by popular demand!

Scientists, do you want to tell the public about your science? At a time of slashing cuts to science funding, maybe you want to explain to the public why your field deserves public support. Maybe you want to set the record straight about misconceptions the public holds about your field. Or maybe you just want to finally be able to explain to your friends and family what it is you actually do at work.

But how do you, dear scientist, get started with your outreach? After all, most researchers don’t have any experience or training in connecting the public with their science. That’s where SciFund Challenge comes in.

Join the SciFund Challenge community for our online course aimed at helping scientists get started with outreach. Over 5 weeks, we’ll demystify the business of communicating science and equip you with the tools and confidence you need to get started.

[Read more...]