Science Communication (IPS*3000)

Code and section: IPS*3000*01

Term: Fall 2019

Instructor: Joanne O'Meara


Calendar Description

This course focuses on developing the skills required to communicate science for non-specialist audiences. The principles and practices of public speaking and writing will be explored, employing a variety of media. Through multiple oral and written assignments, students will explore tailoring their message for various audience-types.

Pre-Requisites:  2.00 credits in PHYS at the 2000 level or higher
Restrictions:  PHYS*4300

Course Description

This course focuses on developing the skills required to communicate science for non-specialist audiences. The principles and practices of public speaking and writing will be explored, employing a variety of media. Through multiple oral and written assignments, students will explore tailoring their message for various audience-types.



Tuesdays and Thursdays 8:30 am to 9:50 am McKN 232


Mondays 2:30 to 5:20 pm MacN 415

See the semester schedule below for more details – there will not be laboratories every week. 

Instructional Support

Instructor: Joanne O’Meara
Office: MacN 323
Extension: 53987

Teaching Assistant: Samantha Buck
Office:  MacN 401
Extension: 53840

Course Objectives

  1. to become familiar with the literature in a focused area of interest
  2. to improve analysis skills through critical reading of research or popular literature
  3. to practice and improve oral presentation skills, tailored to a specific audience
  4. to practice and improve written communication skills, tailored to a specific audience
  5. to work collaboratively and constructively in a group to incorporate presenting and writing skills in a science communications project


Assessment % of Final Grade
Classroom engagement 15%
Speaking assignments 25%
Writing assignments 20%
Final Project 40%

Classroom Engagement (15% of final mark)

The engagement mark will be determined based on the individual’s degree of involvement in activities and discussions during class and laboratory time, as well as through asking questions and providing constructive feedback for classmates. Students who are unable to attend a regularly scheduled session for medical or other reasons should inform the instructor in advance. Unexplained extended absences and/or failure to engage in class sessions will affect your overall grade in the course.
Assignments will be set weekly. These assignments will include reading, viewing, or listening to relevant materials for our in-class discussions, writing assignments, presentations, as well as work related to your group project. Multiple opportunities to practice writing and presenting will be provided to ensure skill development. It is critical that you complete all such assignments, particularly those related to preparing for in-class discussions. Your engagement mark depends strongly on your informed participation in discussions, for which preparation is key. The schedule for the semester is included below; please refer to this schedule regularly and consult Courselink for updates throughout the semester. Late submissions of assignments will be penalized 10% per day for a maximum of 5 days overdue. After 5 days, the assignment will be given zero unless academic consideration has been granted (see below).

Speaking Assignments (25% of final mark)

You will complete 3 presentation assignments during the semester. More details will be provided as the semester progresses.
  1. Informal 3 minute presentations of your chosen topic – 5%
  2. Podcast (paired assignment) – 10%
  3. Video explanations (paired assignment) – 10%
The due dates are provided in the table below.

Writing Assignments (20% of final mark)

You will complete 2 writing assignments during the semester.
  1. Written pitch for a story in Science Corner for the Guelph Mercury-Tribune 
    (400 - 500 words) – 5%
  2. Full story for Science Corner (Guelph Mercury-Tribune)
    (750 words) – 15%
The due dates are provided in the table below.

Group Project (40% of final mark)

Students will work in groups to develop a science communication project that showcases the writing and presenting skills they have developed during the course. In discussion with the course instructor and teaching assistant, each group will propose and develop their own project to present to the Guelph community at the end of the semester at our STEM week events hosted at the Guelph Civic Museum (November 25 to 29). Specifically, the museum is promoting this week to local elementary schools as a destination for class field trips, focusing on the Ontario science curriculum for grades 6/7/8. This project is in lieu of a final examination and is worth a significant portion of your final grade - planning for this project needs to begin as soon as possible. The laboratory sessions during the semester will be used to prepare for our role in STEM week at the museum.

NOTE: 5% of your grade on this project will come from the timely submission of a clearly laid out proposal, with all group members identified. The proposal is due at the end of the laboratory session on Monday Oct 7th.

Course Policy on Group Work:

Group members will be assigned the same grade for these assignments. Students should notify the instructor/teaching assistant as soon as possible if any issues with distribution of effort occur, so they can be resolved prior to the submission of the assignment. If the issues persist, the instructor may request each group member submit a distribution of effort (DOE). The DOEs may be used by the instructor to adjust the grade of individual group members where the DOE between group members is not balanced.

Proposed Schedule

Week In-Class Sessions (McKN 232) Laborartory Sessions (MacN 415) Assignments/Deadlines
1 (Sept 9-13) Tuesday Sept 10 & Thursday Sept 12
Introductions, course structure, general discussion of the goals of science communication.
Monday Sept 9
No lab this week
See Courselink for any required viewings/readings before class.
2 (Sept 16-20) Tuesday Sept 17 & Thursday Sept 19
The Art of Presenting
Monday Sept 16
Field trip!
3:30 to 4:30 pm at the Guelph Civic Museum … more details in class.
Have an idea of a topic and your target audience for your presentation in week 3 for our in-class activities this week. (You will have the chance to practice.)
See Courselink for any required viewings before class.
3 (Sept 23-27) Presenting exercise #1
Informal 3 minute presentations of your chosen topic for your specified target audience 
(half the class will present on Tuesday, half the class will present on Thursday) 
Monday Sept 23
No lab this week
This exercise is worth 5% of your final grade.
4 (Sept 30-Oct 4)
Tuesday Oct 1
Storyboarding, scripting, podcasting workshop
- Jacqueline Kreller-Vanderkooy from the Digital Media Lab in the library 
Thursday Oct 3
Monday Sept 30
- organize into groups
- choose topic/grade level for theme
- brainstorm ideas for hands-on interactive displays for visiting elementary school students
5 (Oct 7-11)
Tuesday Oct 8
Video production workshop
- Jacqueline Kreller-Vanderkooy 
Thursday Oct 10
Video production
Monday Oct 7
- a detailed proposal is due at the end of this laboratory period, including budget

Group Project Proposal Due – Monday Oct 7

Your proposal is worth 5% of your final grade.

6 (Oct 14-18)
Tuesday Oct 15
Thursday Oct 17
- science through storytelling
Monday Oct 14
No lab this week
7 (Oct 21-25) Presenting exercise #2 
(half the podcasts will be aired on Tuesday, the other half will be aired on Thursday)
Monday Oct 21
- continue work on group projects
This exercise is worth 10% of your final grade.
8 (Oct 28-Nov 1) Tuesday Oct 29 &
Thursday Oct 31
Discussions – science in print, pitching a story
Monday Oct 28
No lab this week
See Courselink for readings/audio clips
9 (Nov 4-8) Presenting exercise #3
Video presentations
(half the videos will be viewed on Tuesday, the other half will be viewed on Thursday)
Monday Nov 4
- continue work on group projects
This exercise is worth 10% of your final grade.
10 (Nov 11-15)

Tuesday Nov 12 
No class

Thursday Nov 14
Discussion – personalizing the impersonal

Monday Nov 11
No lab this week
Writing assignment #1 – story pitch
Due Friday Nov 15
(This exercise is worth 5% of your final grade.)
11 (Nov 18-22)
Tuesday Nov 19 & Thursday Nov 21
- what have we learned?
- course evaluations
- dress rehearsal for STEM week
Monday Nov 18
- final session for group project preparation
12 (Nov 25–29) Tuesday Nov 26 & Thursday Nov 28
Monday Nov 25
No lab this week
STEM Week at the Guelph Civic Museum
This exercise is worth 40% of your final grade.
Fri, Dec 6     Writing assignment #2 – full Science Corner story – DUE
This exercise is worth 15% of your final grade.

This schedule is tentative and subject to change. Consult Courselink regularly to remain up to date with the course activities and deadlines/due dates.

Learning Resources

  • Trust Me, I’m a Scientist – Daniel T. Willingham, May 5, 2011, Scientific American
  • Nine Tips for Communicating Science to People Who Are Not Scientists, Marshall Shepherd,, Nov 22, 2016
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson & Richard Dawkins discussing the importance of style as well as content, November 22, 2006. Originally recorded November 5-7, 2006 at Beyond Belief: Science, Reason, Religion and Survival, La Jolla, CA. (WARNING – coarse language at the very end)
  • Six Principles of Sticky Ideas – Dan Heath, 2008 World Creativity Forum, excerpt
  • Words, Words, Words, blog post by 4 gravitons (aka Matt von Hippel, post doc at PI) Dec 9, 2016
  • Nine Ways Scientists Demonstrate They Don’t Understand Journalism, Ananyo Bhattacharya, Jan 17, 2012, The Guardian
  • Why Be a Character?, Michelle Nijhuis, essay in “Escape from the Ivory Tower – A Guide to Making Your Science Matter” by Nancy Baron (ISBN-10: 1597266647)  See Courselink for a pdf copy of the essay for discussion.

This is not a complete list – Courselink will be updated regularly with your pre-class preparation materials.

University Statements

Email Communication

As per university regulations, all students are required to check their e-mail account regularly: e-mail is the official route of communication between the University and its students.

When You Cannot Meet a Course Requirement

When you find yourself unable to meet an in-course requirement because of illness or compassionate reasons please advise the course instructor (or designated person, such as a teaching assistant) in writing, with your name, id#, and e-mail contact. The grounds for Academic Consideration are detailed in the Undergraduate Calendar.

Drop Date

Students will have until the last day of classes to drop courses without academic penalty. The deadline to drop two-semester courses will be the last day of classes in the second semester. This applies to all students (undergraduate, graduate and diploma) except for Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Associate Diploma in Veterinary Technology (conventional and alternative delivery) students. The regulations and procedures for course registration are available in their respective Academic Calendars.

Copies of Out-of-class Assignments

Keep paper and/or other reliable back-up copies of all out-of-class assignments: you may be asked to resubmit work at any time.


The University promotes the full participation of students who experience disabilities in their academic programs. To that end, the provision of academic accommodation is a shared responsibility between the University and the student.
When accommodations are needed, the student is required to first register with Student Accessibility Services (SAS). Documentation to substantiate the existence of a disability is required; however, interim accommodations may be possible while that process is underway.
Accommodations are available for both permanent and temporary disabilities. It should be noted that common illnesses such as a cold or the flu do not constitute a disability.
Use of the SAS Exam Centre requires students to book their exams at least 7 days in advance and not later than the 40th Class Day.
For Guelph students, information can be found on the SAS website.

Academic Integrity

The University of Guelph is committed to upholding the highest standards of academic integrity, and it is the responsibility of all members of the University community-faculty, staff, and students-to be aware of what constitutes academic misconduct and to do as much as possible to prevent academic offences from occurring. University of Guelph students have the responsibility of abiding by the University's policy on academic misconduct regardless of their location of study; faculty, staff, and students have the responsibility of supporting an environment that encourages academic integrity. Students need to remain aware that instructors have access to and the right to use electronic and other means of detection.
Please note: Whether or not a student intended to commit academic misconduct is not relevant for a finding of guilt. Hurried or careless submission of assignments does not excuse students from responsibility for verifying the academic integrity of their work before submitting it. Students who are in any doubt as to whether an action on their part could be construed as an academic offence should consult with a faculty member or faculty advisor.

Recording of Materials

Presentations that are made in relation to course work - including lectures - cannot be recorded or copied without the permission of the presenter, whether the instructor, a student, or guest lecturer. Material recorded with permission is restricted to use for that course unless further permission is granted.


The Academic Calendars are the source of information about the University of Guelph’s procedures, policies, and regulations that apply to undergraduate, graduate, and diploma programs.


Please note:  This is a preliminary web course description. The department reserves the right to change without notice any information in this description.  An official course outline will be distributed in the first class of the semester and/or posted on Courselink.