The activities described in this case study were delivered through the School-University Partnerships Initiative (SUPI). Funded by Research Councils UK, SUPI involved 12 universities working in partnership with local schools, with coordination support from the NCCPE. SUPI projects aim to develop more effective engagements between researchers and school pupils, and to inspire a broader range of pupils to develop inquiring minds by engaging them in a diversity of exciting hands-on research related activities.
This case study was written by Richard Holliman, Gareth Davies and Simon Kelley (Open University), and Mark Russell (Denbigh Teaching School). It outlines events from the ‘Open Lectures’ strand of activity, organised jointly by the Engaging Opportunities project, which is a collaboration between The Open University (OU) and The Denbigh Teaching School Alliance (Milton Keynes), and the OU’s Faculty of Science. The Open Lectures run alongside a framework of three other types of activity: open dialogues, open inquiry and open creativity. You can find out more by following the Engaging Research blog.
The Open University and The Denbigh Teaching School Alliance.
Science Matters is a programme of lectures for schools, organised by the Open University in collaboration with the Denbigh Teaching School Alliance. The lectures introduce pupils to different aspects of the physical and environmental sciences through a series of short, informative, entertaining talks.
The primary audience was secondary school students from the Denbigh Teaching School Alliance, whilst a live webcast opened the event to other schools and members of the general public.
- To illustrate diversity in disciplinary backgrounds and the ways that scientists conduct their research.
- To demonstrate different types of career where scientific training plays a central role.
- To illustrate the different stages in a scientific career and that these choices are equally open to women and men.
The Science Matters programme of lectures built upon the seasonal lectures run by the Faculty of Science at the OU. In December 2013 Professor Tim Blackman, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research, Scholarship and Quality) introduced four illustrious speakers to a packed lecture theatre.
- Dr Clare Warren, Senior Research Fellow, talked about ‘Sweat, mud and leeches: A day in the life of a geologist in the Himalayas’
- Andrew Norton, Professor of Astrophysics Education, explored ‘Exoplanets and how to find them’
- Frazer Bird, a Postgraduate Research Student, discussed going ‘Back to the future: using proxy data to assess environmental change’
- Janice Ansine, Project Manager, spoke about her work on ‘iSpot: your place to share nature
After the talks, the four speakers returned to the stage for a panel Question and Answer session.
The 2014 talks, featuring David Rothery, Encarni Montoya, Geraint Morgan, and Jessica Barnes, are available from the OU’s ‘Stadium’ site.
A pre- and post-survey strategy was used for those attending the lectures (both directly in the lecture theatre and via the webcast), which can be downloaded below. The speakers and a group of students from Denbigh Teaching School were interviewed about their experiences, in order to help develop the activity for the following year.
Keys to making it work
- Developing a programme of four shorter, 10-minute lectures to illustrate diversity in the sciences, represent scientists at different stages in their careers, and demonstrate some of the roles that scientists undertake.
- Having a dress rehearsal to ensure that the talks were pitched at the right level.
- Opening the event to wider audiences with a webcast.
- Building in robust evaluation, so that the organisers knew what had worked well and what to tweak when they repeated the event in 2014.
The OU SUPI team are grateful to the lecturers in the 2013 and 2014 Programmes: Andrew Norton, Clare Warren, Frazer Bird, Janice Ansine, David Rothery, Encarni Montoya, Geraint Morgan, and Jessica Barnes. They would also like to express thanks to the organising team for the lectures, including: Diane Ford, Janet Goss, Kate Bradshaw, Keith Hamilton and The OU’s Audio Visual Team. The 2013 and 2014 Science Matters Lectures were jointly funded by RCUK and The Open University.
The team that organised and delivered the 2013 Science Matters School Lectures. Back row, l-r: Janet Goss, Diane Ford, Gareth Davies, Andrew Norton, Janice Ansine, Simon Kelley and Tim Blackman. Front row, l-r: Frazer Bird, Clare Warren and Richard Holliman. Photo: Kate Bradshaw