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RL #024: Hands-on: Gamification in Archeo-Tourism

This Oikoplus Reading List is not about a specific issue in the field of Science Communication and Research Dissemination, for once. This Oikoplus Reading List is about one of our own projects.

In the past two years we have learned a lot about archaeology through the participation of our association Sustainication e.V. (a quasi subsidary of Oikoplus) in the Interreg project ArcheoDanube. And about the exciting challenge of using archaeology to develop sustainable tourism concepts. 

After two and a half intensive project years, ArcheoDanube will come to an end in 2022. In mid-November, the Closing Conference took place in the Slovenian city of Ptuj. The different institutions involved in the project from 11 countries of the Danube Region presented the results of the project. These include not only Guidelines for Local Archeo Plans as a vehicle for sustainable archeotourism, but also concrete local pilot actions in which the concept of Archaeological Parks was and will be tested.

But what does ArcheoDanube have to do with science communication and Oikoplus? Well … plenty. Because embedding archaeology in tourism concepts requires the commmunication of research results – adapted to a specific place and specific target groups. The Sustainication/Oikoplus team was able to contribute to the project not only by writing an e-handbook on archaeological site management, but also by participating in three think tank workshops evaluating Local Action Plans in Szombathely (HU), Pilsen (CZ) and X (HR). 

Digital Tools for ArcheoTourism Gamification

And: We have developed a mobile app. The app ArcheoTales for Android and iOS, which was developed together with the Graz-based company Softwaregärtner, allows visitors to archaeological sites and museums to be sent on digital scavenger hunts. This allows cultural tourism providers and operators of heritage sites to offer didactically and playfully prepared content to different target groups. And visitors can experience the exhibition in the form of a puzzle game at their own, individual pace. Here, visitors communicate via mobile app with fictional characters in a mass-ger interface. 

Another digital tool developed in the ArcheoDanube project is Yesterday-Today-Tomorrow. It is specifically aimed at cities and municipalities that have cultural heritage and archaeological sites and are looking for assistance in creating a tourism concept in the form of an archeopark. 

In the ArcheoTales project, we have been able to learn an immense amount about archaeology and the cultural history of the Danube region, visit wonderful places with cultural tourism treasures, and meet fantastic colleagues from 11 countries. In the process, we made new friends and learned what good science communication can do in a field that was completely new to us – and how much fun it is to do it.

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RL #023: To the point: presenting scientific content

July and September are conference months in Europe. During the day, the sun is pleasantly high and outdoor and indoor areas can be used without much extra effort. The mood is good, almost exuberant. At most universities, teaching has either just ended or not yet begun. It is holiday time and depending on the place and interest, some add 2-3 days to the conference. There are others who come sooner. Besides the pleasant setting, however, conferences are also those moments in a scientific career when you need to generate attention for yourself and your scientific work. In a highly fluid context, you get to know your closest allies, your co-authors, and future superiors. In order to do this, however, you have to convince them with your ideas. And that means, above all, getting to the point. This is exactly what this reading list is about.

Photo by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash

Getting to the point: English as a twofold barrier

To get to the point means first of all to leave out everything unnecessary. No details but only what is most important for your argument should be articulated. Synonyms are ‘to say something clearly’, ‘to be frank’, ‘not to hide something’, ‘to be clear’, and ‘to express yourself unambiguously’. Not that easy when much of the communication is in a foreign language. In Nature’s career column, Roey Elnathan 2021 (paywall) called for broad-based mentoring programs for aspiring and experienced scientists who publish in foreign languages. According to Elnathan’s, precision and accuracy cannot be achieved otherwise.

But English is only the current lingua franca of science. In the video podcast Languages in Science by MetodieStrategie, Timothy E.L Douglas explains that we have already experienced Latin, German, and French as scientific languages since the 17th century. He speaks for the European-Western and international science community. Most recently, Douglas says, science has become more linguistically diverse again.

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

Another important point Douglas makes in the podcast concerns the target audience. And here, it seems, native English speakers often find it most difficult to adapt their own language skills to the community. As with writing readable academic texts, knowing your listeners and readers is a prerequisite. They define the framework for the infamous point to which we should bring our argumentation. Complaining at a high level?

I am designing a presentation. So what should be brought to the point?

In short: everything! The introduction, your research question, and, if available, your hypotheses. The methodology. The visual material and your argumentation. No detail that is not needed, no subordinate clause too much. Short sentences delivered at speaking speed, not reading speed, with pauses for breath. Because many present their arguments in combination with text, images, and visualized data, here a reminder: get to the point!

First of all, it should be noted that diagrams, graphs, and also photographs are permissible for communicating knowledge and content within peer groups. At least, that is what Laura Perini argues in Visual Representations and Confirmation (paywall). The images and visual representations that Perini classifies as for the science community are thus unlike the images representing science that the Max Plank Society, for example, offers for sale. They have no point, but aesthetic value? Again, the question of the listeners applies. A picture to trace the history and context, a map to locate, and a graph to show statistical distributions. To keep the latter clear, here are a few meaningful visualizations and the University of York’s DIY Wiki.

Photo by David Pisnoy on Unsplash

Focus on your particular interest: Get feedback, collect ideas and suggestions, forge alliances

Last but not least a tip; a suggestion. After my own first experience on the conference floor, I quickly realized that I sometimes don’t get the kind of feedback I would need. But if your presentation was an argument to the point, then you can expect the same from your listeners. Give them a question to ask. Share what has been on your mind since your last learning and invite them to think along with you. Your own needs should be brought to the point as well. Because only when you return from your conferences with good discussions in your pockets will you find the motivation for preparing for the upcoming conference summer.

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RL #016: Minecrafts’ large chicken collider and curiosity in research

In this Reading List, we look at how curiosity in science is political and how it sets standards for science communication. I start with the computer game Minecraft. After finding curiosity, we move on to a few Good Reads that address the connection between curiosity, science, and politics. The Reading list closes with some remarks on the links between explorers’ urge and science communication. Have fun reading!

Motivation unlimited: the large chicken collider

With 235 million copies sold, Minecraft is the most widely distributed computer game in the world. The aim of the game is to combine cube-shaped raw materials and use them to construct buildings or similar structures. The players mine stones and wood, search for oil, fire, and else. They explore a reference system quite similar to the real world. And indeed, Minecraft offers chemistry courses for both, the real world and the Minecraft universe. Study chemistry by combining resources in Minecraft. Why not?

In Minecraft, the day lasts twenty minutes sun always rises in the East. To understand the physics underlying the combination of resources, users created science experiments within Minecraft. Rob Schwarz has compiled five of these in a blog post on Stranger Dimensions. The most significant of all experiments: the large chicken collider. Much like CERN in the real world, the chicken collider intends to reveal what is the smallest possible block size in Minecraft.

Screenshot of the large chicken collider in Minecraft. Watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0XN00Wy7Rs

Curiosity and the unexpected

What inspires knowledge are the results of the efforts of a thought process. And to communicate the results as well as the underlying curiosity, communication is of particular importance. In Culture, Curiosity, and Communication, Nigel Sanitt explains why communication is the only constant in a science otherwise built on sand. The communication Sanitt refers to is both, stimulating and limiting. Those who poorly communicate research curiosity will face incomprehension and prohibition. Let me expand a little.

On the political dimension of curiosity, Dan M. Kahan et al. demonstrated in a 2017 study published in Political Psychology that information processing driven by scientific curiosity counteracts politically motivated information processing. In other words, people with research curiosity distance themselves from and question political narratives. Their results are not of immediate use to politicians. Furthermore: scientifically curious people appreciate unexpected results. They are less eager about confirming the status quo.

After the successful collision of two chickens in Minecraft’s quantum collider, they vanish: neither the usual raw nor a roasted chicken remain. What remains are feathers only. Did the chickens turn into energy? Was one of the two chickens an anti-chicken in its combination of raw materials? As the results of the experiment spread, the community begins to theorise. The game physics of Minecraft becomes subject to doubt. Would that be possible in an authoritarian Minecraft?

Curiosity in science

It is clear that curiosity has an effect on science. What triggers curiosity and how can we exploit it are not. In the Forbes online edition, Diane Hamilton gives an answer to the first of the two questions: fear, assumptions, environment, and technology trigger curiosity. A Wharton University podcast with astrophysicist Mario Livio reveals: “Curiosity has several kinds or flavors, and they are not driven by the same things.” Curiosity is everywhere and for everything; it only needs inspiration and nurturing.

Curiosity varies in form and intensity. Sometimes it is restricted.

Supporting or suppressing people’s curiosity is the key to success. However, when talking about curiosity in the context of science communication, this means communicating empathically, writes Elaine Burke. Why, should people be interested in your research? In addition to that, you should focus on relatability. Allow your audience to relate.

Coming to an end I return to Minecraft. Understanding how curiosity works in science, Minecraft remains a mishmash of completed, abandoned, and never-started projects. Ten years ago, the large chicken collider succeeded in reaching people and inspired them to question the Minecraft universe. Regardless of the topic, therein lies the aim, but at least the mission, of good science communication.

The mystery about the smallest possible block size in Minecraft remains unsolved.