By Angelena Lufrano
December 10, 2018
In 2014, Dr. Amy Schmitz-Weiss of the School of Journalism and Media Studies and Kevin Robinson of the Department of Geological Sciences were awarded a grant from the Online News Association (ONA) to fund their research on air quality in San Diego. This cross-disciplinary project partnered journalism and geology students with inewsource to examine and report San Diego’s air quality using hand-made sensor technology.
“The findings ended up getting published on the inewsource website,” said Dr. Schmitz-Weiss. “It allowed readers in San Diego to know exactly what the air quality was in their neighborhoods at that point in time, based on the specific areas our students visited.”
Dr. Schmitz-Weiss also conducted pre and post-story surveys to learn how reader knowledge was impacted about air quality in San Diego.
“We found that readers noticed a difference in their learning and understanding of air quality in San Diego after going through the news coverage,” said Dr. Schmitz-Weiss. “Readers thought that using sensor technology was a great way to be aware of the environment around them. They wanted to see more types of those stories being done about the environment in San Diego. For us, as researchers, this told us that there are ways in which stories can be told in a community that can be done differently than how we may normally think of doing them.”
An interdisciplinary project such as this, partnering geology and journalism students, is the first of its kind for both the School of JMS and the Department of Geological Sciences.
This year, Schmitz-Weiss and Robinson were offered another grant from ONA to continue the research they started in 2014. In addition, they were also offered funding from PSFA’s Project for the Public Good, which supports projects that include research, students and community partners.
With this new funding, Schmitz-Weiss and Robinson hope to integrate the same type of interdisciplinary study between journalism and science into a curriculum made for San Diego high schools.
“Having interdisciplinary studies start in high school makes it a seamless transition for students,” said Dr. Schmitz-Weiss. “It makes it normal and exactly what they’re going to do when they start their careers. Put simply, we don’t work in silos. The more we can introduce children up to high school and college-aged students to interdisciplinary experiences, the more informed and nuanced professionals they will be in whatever field they decide to go into.”
From the science perspective, integrating journalistic skills into scientific reports will also allow science students to better communicate their findings to the public.
“Attitudes toward science develop early,” said Robinson. “Interdisciplinary perspectives can help a diverse group of learners find a jumping spot and begin to embrace and communicate why science is important. There is a great opportunity right now to influence the design of educational programs to be more holistic. The goal is to have more people in society feel connected to the world of science and also to feel more empowered to communicate what they know.”
Schmitz-Weiss and Robinson will conduct focus groups this month with San Diego high school teachers to talk about interdisciplinary education between journalism and science. In the spring, those same teachers will be invited to participate in a full-day workshop to go through the curriculum as if they were a student. Ideally, those teachers will be able to implement that curriculum into their classes in Fall 2019.
“Interdisciplinary education provides different insights, different perspectives, and different knowledge sets that allows for people to come together and identify new things,” said Dr. Schmitz-Weiss. “Realizing there’s commonalities between different disciplines that we didn’t realize or notice before, can help to make each discipline better. Scientists can do their jobs better and journalists can do their jobs better.”
For the students involved in the original project, the cross-disciplinary curriculum opened doors to the field of science journalism as a career.
“Our JMS students told us at the end of the semester how much they enjoyed the experience because it gave them a different sense of understanding journalism from a science perspective,” said Dr. Schmitz-Weiss. “The possibilities they have for careers in journalism by thinking differently about science, and in turn how science students had a different perspective about journalists. Ultimately, they learned how scientists and journalists both tell stories, just in different ways.”
The content within this article has been edited by Lizbeth Persons.News List