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This week Dartmouth formally partnered with the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, Stony Brook University, in our efforts to teach scientists how to better communicate their science to the public and to each other.   To celebrate the establishment of this partnership, Alan Alda visited Dartmouth as a Montgomery Fellow, along with Elizabeth Bass, the Director of the Alan Alda Center.  Their approach uses improvisational exercises to teach scientists how to be aware of their audience, make a more direct connection with their audience, and understand the language that is needed to make that connection.

Last spring, Nancy Serrell (Director of Science and Technology Outreach) and three Dartmouth faculty took one of the Center’s courses.  This motivated Nancy to bring this approach to teaching communication to scientists at Dartmouth.  This term, Nancy, Christian Kohn (Lecturer in the Department of Theater), Gifford Wong (a graduate student in the Department of Earth Sciences), and I are teaching the result of her vision – a graduate course in Communicating Science that is modeled on the courses and workshops offered at the Center at Stony Brook.  Mr. Alda taught our class during his visit.  He also taught a Master Class to Dartmouth faculty, and visited two undergraduate classes while here, among other activities during a jam-packed two-day visit.  (I think he also attended the Homecoming Bonfire on Friday night.)

Here are a few photos from his leading the Master Class with faculty and our graduate class.

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Me talking to Mr. Alda before he led my Introductory Biology class.
Conversation with Alan Alda
Alan Alda leading undergraduates in an exercise.
Leading undergraduates
Alan Alda leading undergraduates in an exercise.
Leading undergraduates
Alan Alda leading undergraduates in an exercise.
Leading undergraduates
Alan Alda leading undergraduates in an exercise.
Leading undergraduates
Alan Alda speaking to Dartmouth Communicating Science class.
Alan Alda
The Dartmouth Communicating Science class playing improv volleyball with coach Alan Alda viewing.
Improv volley ball
Alan Alda coaching Jane Lipson & David Kotz in playing vocal mirror.
Vocal mimicing
Alan Alda speaking to Dartmouth Communicating Science class.
Alan Alda
Alan Alda coaching a game of improv volleyball
Improv Volleyball
Faculty pulling an imaginary boat out of a swamp.
Move a boat
The Dartmouth Communicating Science class physically mirroring one another with coach Alan Alda viewing.
Mirroring
Alan Alda coaching Dartmouth faculty playing imaginary tug of war.
Tug of War
Alan Alda coaching an improv exercise.
Alan Alda coaching
Alan Alda coaching two graduate students in an exercise.
Preparing for an exercise
The Dartmouth Communicating Science class physically mirroring one another with Alan Alda coaching.
Mirror the body
Alan Alda speaking to Dartmouth Communicating Science class.
Discussing communication
Alan Alda coaching two graduate students in an exercise.
Coaching graduate students
Gifford Wong and Philip Fernandez being coached by Alan Alda before vocal mirroring.
Vocal mirroring
Alan Alda coaching two graduate students in an exercise.
Vocal mirroring
Alan Alda giving Phil Fernandez his audience during a round of Change Your Audience.
Change your audience
Phil Fernandez speaking to his Audience with Alan Alda thinking of what Phil's next audience will be.
Change your audience
Jessica Trout-Haney and Zach Hamaker being coached by Alan Alda before vocal mirroring.
Vocal mirroring
Alan Alda coaching two graduate students in an exercise.
Vocal mirroring
Our Science Communication Class 2013
Our Science Communication Class
Alan Alda coaching two graduate students in an exercise.
Coaching graduate students
Some of Dartmouth's and Stony Brook's collaborators in Communicating Science.
Some of us
Some of Dartmouth's and Stony Brook's collaborators in Communicating Science.
Some of us

He also gave an outstanding public lecture (see a description in the Valley News here) that made many excellent illustrations about how scientists can convey the richness and complexity of their science in a language that people can understand.  He also pointed out how the process and mechanics of communication is a two way street, that scientists need to use language that the general public can understand, and find a way to make that science personal for the listener or reader.  This decidedly does not mean “dumbing down” what we are trying to convey in any way.  It means finding a language that people outside the scientist’s small cadre of colleagues can understand.  In fact, when a scientist becomes really good at communicating, she or he is able to present all the complexity and nuance needed but in a form and language that people can understand.

Nancy, Chris and I (along with many other faculty at Dartmouth who are also involved in this endeavor) look forward to learning from the folks at Stony Brook, contributing our own insights and experiences to them, and working together to help scientists become better communicators, especially with the general public.

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