I was wondering, what should be the next post about. I have many ideas what I want from this site, but most of them is quite long and needs some research to back it up with sources. And we are still at the introductory part at this point.
I am constantly trying to increase my knowledge about various topics by reading and doing online courses. One of the course work gave the idea.
We had to write a short article, explaining something complex and scientific to a child. And as I was reviewing other submission, then it hit me what is wrong many times, when experts meets outsiders. When you study something for long years, sometimes decades, work in it, applying your knowledge and mostly only talk with people who work in the same field, we tend to forget how to explain our work and field of work/study to “outsiders”. And there goes the problem.
My teacher always taught me to start explaining complex topics from the basics. Assume that your audience has absolutely zero knowledge. And this is what I apply every time, I talk to people about my field, explaining something scientific to an “outsider”.
We must remember that when we started, we knew nothing. We had years to build our knowledge, and in the meantime others built their knowledge about something we probably know the basics or not even that.
I currently live with a 5 years old child. Since my life mostly circles around my work and my interests, we talk a lot about science. He is 5, bilingual, what means his vocabulary is smaller than a multilingual’s would be. And still, I am able to explain to him science. He understand and explain it with his own word now, what is the solar system, planets, evolution and many other. Firstly, because I explain it simple. And secondly, and this is equally important, he asks questions.
When I teach, I always encourage everyone to ask question. No one reads minds, that is why we should start from the basics, but the audience should participate too. They can tell, that “yes, I know that”, so we can jump a level up, or “I don’t understand that, please explain it” and then we can explain certain terms or anything really. I am the one who usually trains the team and I can proudly say that my team has the widest knowledge among the company’s employees. They can answer any question asked, related to the topics and that is because they ask questions all the time.
No one should feel ashamed for not knowing something. And no one should be scolded for not knowing something.
We learn with different speed. For some people, learning and processing new information is easy, for others, it is harder. We should adjust accordingly. Of course we don’t always have the option for that, like school classes with too many children or university lectures. But since with the internet scientist can communicate with non-scientist, there should be enough time for explanations.
But we can only answers questions which are asked.
So, if you are a scientist, and expert in a field:
1. Please keep it simple and have patience. Appreciate people who has a will to learn.
2. Make your audience feel comfortable to ask question. So they don’t feel like “I shouldn’t ask this, because it seems basic knowledge and I feel embarrassed for not knowing it”.
3. If you have a website with commenting option, you are responsible for the admin role. Like a teacher who needs to interfere if there is a problem in behaviour among your students.
If you are an “outsider”:
1. Try not to attack and question every word. If you have a question, you can ask it politely.
2. Be patient with your fellow students. Your level of knowledge might be different.
Being a scientist or a science educator, the keys are: Keep it simple. Be patient. Encourage people to ask questions.
For everyone: Enjoy it. Science is amazing and our world and beautiful. Science helps you to understand it and discover its beauty even more.
The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge. (Thomas Berger)