CIRCL perspectives offer a window into the different worlds of various stakeholders in the cyberlearning community — what drives their work, what they need to be successful, and what they think the community should be doing. Share your perspective.
Aaron Dubrow is a Public Affairs Specialist with NSF’s Office of Legislative and Public Affairs (OLPA). Although Aaron covers a wide range of topics for NSF, his “beat” includes cyberlearning research projects. Aaron wants researchers to know that they have an important role to play in outreach efforts.
What does OLPA do?
OLPA communicates information about the activities, programs, research results and policies of the National Science Foundation. The Office employs a variety of methods to communicate the value of NSF’s research to everyone from the general public, to policymakers, to other researchers. The Office also seeks to inspire scientists to communicate the results of their own research.
What are examples of the kinds of communication approaches you employ?
We publish press releases, feature stories, news briefs and produce video series, radio documentaries and special reports. Much of our content is published on the NSF.gov website and on Science 360 – a website and mobile and iPad app that provides easy access to engaging science and engineering news from around the nation. We also communicate through social media channels, featuring news about NSF-funded researchers and their discoveries. Content is either produced by NSF or gathered from scientists, colleges and universities and NSF Science and Engineering Centers.
What role does social media play in OLPA efforts to “get the word out”?
Social media is an important part of OLPA’s outreach. The NSF Twitter feed has more than 700,000 followers, and, relevant to the cyberlearning community, the Computer and Information Science and Engineering and Education and Human Resources Directorate feeds each have several thousand. The NSF Facebook page has more than 300,000 Likes. Social media is a great way to bring some visibility to a project and disseminate information about a paper, website, or a new product or tool. We have also started using Pinterest, Tumblr, YouTube, and blogging sites such as Huffington Post. (Aaron recently wrote a cyberlearning-themed Huffington Post article, 7 Cyberlearning Technologies Transforming Education.
How can cyberlearning researchers engage with OLPA?
Researchers can always contact me directly by email with important milestones or publications that may be effectively promoted through NSF outlets. They should also reach out to the PR professional at their University or in their departments, who are always excited to hear about the great work coming out of their home institution and with whom we work closely. Researchers should also think about ways that they can promote and communicate their work through local or domain-specific networks as well. It is critical for researchers to share information about their work with the public to help build an understanding of where federal funding goes and the kinds of impacts it can have. NSF has even published an interactive presentation for NSF-supported researchers who want to learn more about communicating about science called Science Communication Toolkit for Principal Investigators.
Do you have any advice specifically for Cyberlearning researchers considering ways to share information about their work?
It is important for NSF and researchers themselves to carefully consider the language they use when promoting cyberlearning projects. Cyberlearning funding is sometimes highly-scrutinized, and the value of research in this area can easily be misunderstood by the public and news outlets. A prime example is games for learning. While those in the cyberlearning field understand that games can be extremely valuable tools for children to learn scientific concepts, it’s critical to keep in mind that the public may be less understanding of their value. The research community can highlight how learning sciences principles informed their design and the distinctive quality of the resulting research findings. Increasing outreach and communication to legislators and the general public is a great opportunity to spread understanding of the value of the NSF-funded cyberlearning research that this community does so well.