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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits 8 Media It’s 7:00 pm on a Sunday evening, and you have just returned home from a long day at the local aquarium. Your family saw many exotic fish and read about their behaviors on signs posted near their tanks. You also watched an IMAX® film that showed some of these fish in their natural habitats. Now that you are home and relaxing, your daughter wants to see more fish, so she asks to watch the Disney/Pixar film, Finding Nemo. Afterward, you decide to sit down and watch some television before going to bed. One channel is showing The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, a Hollywood film inspired by the career of Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the great science filmmaker. Meanwhile, upstairs, the long-running news program, 60 Minutes, is on another channel showing a segment on vacationers diving into ocean waters to observe sharks up close and personal, as well as the consequences of invading their territories. This segment intrigues your son, so he goes to the 60 Minutes website to see a long list of people posting their comments on the show’s content in real time. It is unlikely that a family would be able to find this many opportunities to learn about aquatic life on a single day, but that should not downplay the fact that science learning in informal environments is often connected with various forms of media. Television documentaries, entertaining portrayals of science and nature in film, Internet websites, printed news stories, and online communities provide opportunities to communicate science content to individuals. These materials are often accessed voluntarily, making them an important part of science education in informal settings.
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits A CONTEXT AND TOOL FOR SCIENCE LEARNING “Media” can mean many things and take many forms. It can refer to the content of a printed story or a broadcast image. It can refer to the technology used to convey a particular form of information (e.g., television, newspapers, museum signs). It can be modified to indicate the affordances of a particular medium: “interactive media” or “targeted media” or “mass media.” The field of media studies ranges from critical analyses of the content of particular story forms, through quantitative correlations of content analyses and public opinion, to detailed analyses of eye movements while interacting with websites. Traditional scholarly distinctions between “mass media” and “interpersonal communication” have in recent years been challenged by the need to create new perspectives that account for the interactions among these approaches. In the context of science learning, however, the existing literature remains largely tied to older forms of analysis, dividing reasonably well into the traditional categories of “mass media” and “interactive media.” It is also important to acknowledge that media may be used differently across social contexts. For example, a television documentary created for home viewing may also be shown in classrooms, as part of a museum display, or in a computer-based learning environment. In order to assess the effects of media on science learning, one must consider the ways in which they are appropriated and used across different informal settings. In this chapter, we begin with summaries based on the traditional categorization of mass media. We then move on to suggest ways in which newer modes of analysis might shed light on learning science in informal environments. What tools exist, and how can they be made available to the public? How can individuals and groups access and leverage the knowledge of others through media? How can individuals and groups make their own insights more broadly accessible? We limit our analysis to areas in which research attends to learning outcomes and to issues of emerging or pressing interest in the field (such as new technological tools employed for educational purposes and the pervasive influence of digital technologies in everyday life). PRINT MEDIA Although print media has the longest history, few studies have explored the specific effects of print on science learning. Many studies have identified the content of science books (both popular books and textbooks), magazines, including science specific magazines (such as Popular Science or Scientific American), and newspapers, making claims about the scientific quality and promotional or ideological effects of the content (Bauer, Durant,Ragnarsdottir, and Rudolfsdottir, 1995; Bauer, Petkova, Boyadjieva, and Gornev, 2006; Broks, 2006; Burnham, 1987; Dornan, 1989; Hansen and Dickinson, 1992;
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits Haynes, 1994; LaFollette, 1990). Few of these claims, however, have been subjected to empirical testing. Other studies have explored the production of printed media, focusing on the opportunities and constraints that shape their media content (Burnham, 1987; LaFollette, in press; Lewenstein, in press; Nelkin, 1987). Particularly in the area of risk communication (the study and development of communicating the health implications of particular behaviors) some studies have examined the effects of particular print presentations of scientific information on individual perceptions of risk (Singer and Endreny, 1993; Walters, Wilkins, and Walters, 1989; Weiss and Singer, 1988; Wilkins and Patterson, 1990) In general, these studies have found that media do influence participants’ perception of risk related to events (hazards, natural disasters) that may have immediate consequences for them. However, individuals’ long-term considerations about these issues remain unaffected. This literature has also demonstrated that the social context in which stories are presented (e.g., the overall patterns of news coverage, the degree of trust that exists between readers and governmental or corporate institutions involved in the risk story) are typically more influential on participants’ perceptions of risk than the genre of individual stories (e.g., whether they are sensational or measured and analytic). In recent years, political scientists and other scholars concerned about political communication have tried to correlate public opinion about scientific and technological issues with media coverage of such controversies as nuclear power, biotechnology, and nanotechnology (Bauer and Gaskell, 2002; Brossard, Scheufele, Kim, and Lewenstein, 2008; Brossard and Shanahan, 2003; Ten Eyck, 1999, 2005; Ten Eyck and Williment, 2003; Gamson and Modigliani, 1989; Gaskell and Bauer, 2001; Gaskell, Bauer, Durant, and Allum, 1999; Nisbet, Brossard, and Kroepsch, 2003; Priest, 2001; Scheufele and Lewenstein, 2005). Although there is evidence that both demographic and psychological characteristics can influence opinion, and claims have been made about the link between those characteristics and exposure to particular media frames (Nisbet and Goidel, 2007; Nisbet and Huge, 2006), the evidence is not yet sufficiently strong to draw conclusions about the effect of particular print media on either broad public opinion or individuals’ particular knowledge (Strand 2) and attitudes (Strand 6). Particular science books are sometimes said to have had influence on the interests and career choices of later scientists, particularly Paul de Kruif’s 1929 Microbe Hunters and James Watson’s 1968 Double Helix (Lewenstein, in press), but little empirical evidence exists to show the direct effect of books on any of the strands of learning.
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits EDUCATIONAL BROADCAST MEDIA Perhaps the most studied area of learning science through media is the role of broadcasting, particularly television, in education. This literature explores the effects both of ubiquitous broadcast media and of broadcast media specifically intended for educational purposes. Television and radio both offer science-themed programming that is broadcast widely and accessible to almost anyone in the developed world and a majority of people in the developing world. Television is present in over 98 percent of households in the United States, Europe, and developing nations (Clifford, Gunter, and McAleer, 1995; Dowmunt, 1993). It has an enormous influence on many aspects of everyday life and is arguably the single most influential means of communication of modern time (Huston et al., 1992; Kubey and Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). Science radio takes the form of weekly 1-2-hour programs and weekly or brief (90-second) shorts on both pubic and commercial radio, most of which are targeted to an adult audience. Program format ranges from hosted call-in talk shows to documentaries and interviews with scientists. Contemporary radio plays an important role in disseminating science news, addressing health policy objectives (e.g., family planning, disease prevention), and, to a limited extent, conveying science through more purely entertainment-oriented programming. While many educators have concerns about the value of broadcast media, especially television (Gunter and McAleer, 1997; Hartley, 1999), it is clearly one of the most accessible sources of information for literate and illiterate populations. Broadcast media are particularly easy to use for children, youth, and adults. Not surprisingly, television is the primary source in the United States for general information about science and technology (National Science Board, 2008). Science- and math-based television and radio programs reach some 100 million children and adults each year. Educational science programming on television, once primarily the domain of the Public Broadcasting System (PBS), can now also be found on several Discovery Channels, the National Geographic Channel, The Learning Channel (TLC), NASA TV, and others. Top-rated educational programming currently includes Zoom (WGBH, ages 5 to 11), Cyberchase (WNET, ages 8 to 12), Dragonfly TV (TPT, ages 9 to 12), and PEEP and the Big Wild World (WGBH/TLC and Discovery Kids, pre-K). … Each of these programs also offers ancillary activities on the web, making pbs.org one of the most popular.org sites and informal resources for learning worldwide (Ucko and Ellenbogen, 2008, p. 253). Since the early days of television broadcast science programming such as Watch Mr. Wizard (Ucko and Ellenbogen, 2008), science programming has increased with the U.S. Children’s Television Act of 1990, which required networks to broadcast educational television programming for children (U.S. Congress, 1990). In 1996, the Federal Communications Commission created
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits new rules to enforce the congressional mandate on children’s television (Federal Communications Commission, 1996). These include requiring television stations to air at least three hours per week of core educational programming between the hours of 7:00 am and 10:00 pm, with those programs being regularly scheduled and at least 30 minutes in length. Broadcasters are also required to explicitly signal when core educational programming is on the air through announcements or graphics displayed on the screen. Historically the evidence of impact of the television shows was largely anecdotal (Newsom, 1952). However, there has been a recent increase in evaluative and scholarly studies of science-related television (e.g., Fisch, 2004; Rockman Et Al, 1996). These studies characterize the impact of science television on children, youth, and adults. While the quality and quantity of research have increased, these studies are extremely hard to locate, as they often exist only in sponsors’ and evaluators’ file cabinets. It is also very difficult to determine overarching findings, as most report on individual programs. However, a few careful syntheses have brought together these studies. Rockman Et Al’s synthesis of research on broadcast media, which was prepared to inform this report, observes (2007, p. 16): Much of this material is fugitive literature, and requests to producers and distributors—and even to some researchers—did not always yield a response. For many of our queries, respondents (both producers and researchers) were unsure as to whether their reports were public documents and therefore able to be shared without permission. Almost all of the reports we obtained were funded by the National Science Foundation. We were not able to obtain research reports on science programming found on commercial radio and television. Programming and approaches to research vary somewhat by the age of the intended audience for a given program. Research on programming for children and youth has typically considered the effects of watching 10 to 40 episodes of a given program, asking participants to respond to questions about the specific science content presented in the program (Strand 2). Evaluations of adult science programs are less extensive, and their designs reflect a basic difference in the structure of the programs. Unlike children’s programming, which typically establishes a conceptual or topical theme across multiple episodes (e.g., problem-solving strategies, the principle of mechanical advantage), adult science education programming generally presents single topics in a given episode of television or radio that are not referenced in subsequent episodes. Studies of adult learning typically use surveys and questionnaires that prompt learners to self-assess knowledge gains (Strand 2) related to particular programs or to recall specific information from a program itself (Rockman Et Al, 2007). There is some evidence that participants develop knowledge of science through television and radio programming; however, it is focused primarily
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits on children. Several popular programs for children and youth, including 3-2-1 Contact, Bill Nye the Science Guy, The Magic School Bus, and Cro, have been shown to positively influence viewers’ knowledge of science (Strand 2) (Rockman Et Al, 1996; Fisch, 2007). Evaluations of adult programs have documented participants’ self-reported knowledge gains and self-reported influence on subsequent behavior. For example, a series of evaluations were conducted by Flagg (2000, 2005b) on two National Public Radio science programs: Science Friday, a call-in show, and Earth & Sky, a series of 90-second shorts. Listeners reported that they learned about science and scientific methods (Strands 3 and 4), sought out more information, and also spoke with peers about what they heard on the program. The studies of adults hint at science learning outcomes. However, as we have observed in other areas, there is no clear documentation or measurement of what participants learned, nor have the self-reports been triangulated with other measures. Considerably less attention has been devoted to practices or the ways in which learners act in the world to advance their understanding of science. Studies of the Magic School Bus, for example, have examined children’s recall of how characters in the program learn. Evaluations of Bill Nye the Science Guy and Square One TV have looked at how viewers themselves use science and mathematical processes. A quasi-experimental study of the impact of Bill Nye the Science Guy found that viewers made more observations and more sophisticated classifications than nonviewers (Rockman Et Al, 1996). In this study, assessment materials (pre and post) were collected from a total of 1,350 children in schools, approximately 800 among the viewing group and 550 in comparison classrooms. The participants were recruited from three urban regions: Sacramento, Philadelphia, and Indianapolis. Results from the pre- and post-assessments showed that students who viewed the show were able to provide more complete and more complex explanations of scientific concepts than they were before viewing. Furthermore, in hands-on assessments, students who viewed the program regularly were better able to generate explanations and extensions of scientific ideas (Strand 2). Several evaluations have examined the impact of radio programs on behavior, in which radio has been the mechanism for communicating public health messages in rural and developing areas. Public health-oriented radio programming typically takes the form of “entertainment-education,” integrating desired health messages (e.g., about water quality, safe sex) into ongoing soap opera-like dramas, shorts, or songs about family planning and safe sex. A group of studies show the wide reach of health radio programming, as well as a connection between the programs and family planning and other health behaviors (Kane et al., 1998; Piotrow et al., 1990; Piotrow, Kincaid, Rimon, and Rinehart, 1997; Singhal and Rogers, 1989, 1999; Valente et al., 1994, 1997; Valente, Poppe, and Merritt, 1996; Valente and Saba, 1998). However, Sherry (1997) urges caution in interpreting these results. Sherry’s review of 17 entertainment-education studies from 8 developing
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits countries found that the evidence supporting the impact of these programs was problematic. The research was based exclusively on high inferential self-reports of impact. It is also hampered by study design issues, including self-selected samples. More recent studies implementing quasi-experimental designs clearly show that health policy-oriented radio programming has a wide reach and supports the impact of programs on family planning behaviors (Kane et al., 1998; Karlyn, 2001). However, the programs did not always reach the target audience. Furthermore, there is no indication that behavior changes are linked to increased knowledge of scientific concepts (Strand 2) or scientific reasoning (Strand 3). They seem to be linked to knowledge of the practical and social implication of contraceptive use and attitudes about the health, financial, and social impacts of unplanned pregnancy. Broadcast science education programs have also shown mixed results in promoting interest in science (Strand 1). Fisch (2004) observed that studies of science television’s influence on children’s interest in science indicate a moderate-sized effect and the Rockman Et Al (1996) study of Bill Nye the Science Guy corroborates this finding. However, Rockman Et Al also suggests that this is a likely underestimate and that a ceiling effect may be to blame for lower than expected posttest scores. Rockman and colleagues observed that their participants, children ages 8-10, already expressed an extremely high level of interest in science, so a pre-post study design may have made it difficult to detect significant changes. Similarly, studies focusing on the effects of educational science programming on gender stereotypes have demonstrated some effect on attitudes (Steinke, 1997, 1999, 2005; Steinke and Long, 1996). However, the study designs precluded identifying long-term effects. Several studies have found correlations between television and radio viewers’ and listeners’ interest in science (Strand 1) and frequency of listening to or viewing science programs. For example, evaluation findings for the short-format science radio series Earth & Sky reported that program appeal and engagement were highest among regular listeners. Similar results were found in the evaluation for Science Friday; frequency of listening was found to be higher among those with higher interest in science and also with enjoyment of the program. However, these are correlations and do not suggest an impact of the program. Whether more frequent listening is the by-product of engagement and enjoyment or vice versa is not explored in any of the studies reviewed. Fisch and colleagues (Fisch, 2004; Fisch et al., 1997) have looked deeper at the organization of programs to discern how presentation of content varies across programs. Fisch (2004) describes differences between educational content (the underlying concepts and messages that a program conveys) and the story line (the interactions between events, characters, and their goals) in telling a coherent story. The interplay of these aspects of educational television may have implications for what viewers learn. Take, for example,
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits an episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy focused on environmental issues related to plants and trees. The science educational content includes how to estimate the age of a tree and concerns related to logging. The story line used to present these topics varied from Bill Nye illustrating a tree trunk and counting its rings to stories from loggers explaining their work. Storyline content, that is the story that presents educational concepts, methods, and messages, can be decomposed into two broad categories—documentary and narrative formats. Fisch et al. (1997) compared the narrative style of Cro with the documentary style of 3-2-1 Contact. They found that, in the narrative format, scientific explanations were broken up and spread among multiple characters in contrast to the more didactic approach of the documentary format. In the narrative format, content was also constrained by the need to fit the setting (e.g., the Ice Age). There are probably learning trade-offs associated with organizing science programming in either a documentary or a narrative fashion. While a documentary format allows for direct explanation of scientific phenomena, a narrative format allows the freedom to break from historical or journalistic commitments. Fisch makes this point by comparing 3-2-1 Contact, an educational program for young adolescents that typically employs a documentary approach, with Cro (pp. 108-109): Where fairly straightforward demonstrations and explanations could be fit into3-2-1 Contact simply by having characters address the audience or host/interviewers directly, these had to be fit into a fictional narrative in Cro, and the fit had to seem natural. Characters in Cro could not suddenly break the “fourth wall” and interrupt the ongoing story to give a lengthy explanation to viewers; rather, such explanations needed to occur in the course of conversation among characters. To seem natural, this often meant that explanations had to be broken up and spread over the course of the story, rather than taking place in a single, lengthy speech. For example, the topic of light and refraction was approached in 3-2-1 Contact through demonstrations of the effects of different-shaped lenses (with a teenage host speaking directly to camera) and a visit to a lighthouse to learn how beams of light are focused to be visible at greater distances. By contrast, Cro approached light and reflection through a story in which the prehistoric characters discovered some shiny, reflective rocks that they dubbed “see-myselfers” (i.e., natural mirrors). Another pocket of research attends to the effects of coparticipation in broadcast media (e.g., watching or listening to programming with others). A series of studies examined the influence of children coviewing educational television with parents and peers and compared their outcomes with those of children who viewed programming alone. These studies suggest that the participation of others in consumption of broadcast media may enhance learning (e.g., Fisch, 2004; Haefner and Wartella, 1987; Reiser, Tessmer, and Phelps, 1984; Reiser, Williamson, and Suzuki, 1988; Salomon, 1977).
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits Reiser and colleagues (1984) conducted a randomized experimental study of adult-facilitated viewing sessions of Sesame Street with 23 white, middle-class children ages 3 and 4. In the experimental group, adults intervened to ask children to name the letters and numbers depicted on the screen. Three days after viewing the program, these children were better able to name the letters and numbers. These findings—although the outcomes are neither science-specific nor particularly complex—suggest that lightly facilitated adult coviewing can support learning. Haefner and Wartella (1987) conducted a randomized experiment to examine the influence of siblings on 42 first- and second-grade children viewing educational programming. In this study, older siblings were 0-6 years older than their siblings. The older siblings were asked to actively explain important plot elements to their younger siblings while coviewing. The researchers found that coviewing did result in some older sibling “teaching.” However, the teaching rarely focused on critical events and did not facilitate children’s interpretation of either child-oriented or adult-oriented programs. In part, this is explained by the kinds of questions that younger siblings asked—typically requests for simple clarifications or elaborations of nonessential events. They also observed that many of the older siblings’ comments were not efforts to promote learning, thus limiting the potential effects. However, the researchers observed that nonexplicit teaching by large-interval older siblings was conducive to understanding. Through these actions, which included laughter and comments, “older children did influence the younger children’s general evaluations of the program characters” (Haefner and Wartella, 1987, p. 165). Findings on coviewing resonate with research reported earlier on family learning in science centers (Callanan, Jipson, and Soennichsen, 2002; Callanan and Jipson, 2001; Crowley and Callanan, 1998; Gleason and Schauble, 2000). Children can access science media programming alone—whether television programming or an interactive science center exhibit—and adult interaction and possibly sibling and peer interactions can enrich and extend their experience and learning. In summary, the literature on science learning from broadcast media is limited but converges on several important insights. First, when children watch science-themed educational television programs regularly, they can make important gains in conceptual understanding (Strand 2) and in their understanding of science processes (Strand 4) (Fisch, 2006; Rockman Et Al, 1996). We should also note, however, that the research relies heavily on conscripted participation. How children choose to navigate science television programming and whether their naturalistic forms of participation result in similar gains are not yet understood. The committee found little inquiry into adult learning outcomes. The evidence of the impact of interaction with other people on learning gains is promising (e.g., Fisch, 2004; Haefner and Wartella, 1987; Reiser
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits et al., 1984, 1988; Salomon, 1977), but it seems to have had little influence on subsequent research. Additional analysis of the watching and listening practices of groups and social networks may offer useful insights into programming features. POPULAR FILM AND TELEVISION Most of the broadcast media discussed thus far are deliberately designed for science education. However, science and scientists also appear in popular television programs, films, and other entertainment media. Representations of science in the popular media have rarely been studied in the context of learning, yet it seems obvious that most Americans are more familiar with fictional scientists like Dr. Frankenstein or the medical staff of ER than recent Nobel laureates (Gerbner, 1987; Weingart and Pansegrau, 2003). As in the case of print media, most studies have focused on the production and content of entertainment films and television (Kirby, 2003a, 2003b). In general, these studies have found no single dominant image of scientists ranging from bumbling buffoons and nerdy social misfits to evil geniuses and high-minded saviors of humanity (Hendershot, 1997; Jones, 1997, 2001; Kirshner, 2001; Sobchak, 2004; Vieth, 2001). Popular films are occasionally used in formal educational settings to illustrate scientific and mathematical concepts (Strand 2). In these cases, educators rely on familiar movies to provide context and motivation for problem solving (Strand 1). For example, the Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (CTGV) used the opening 12 minutes of Raiders of the Lost Ark to engage students in mathematics learning (Bransford, Franks, Vye, and Sherwood, 1989). In that scene, the main character, Indiana Jones, is in a jungle trying to retrieve a valuable statue. Students watched the scene and were asked to plan a return trip to the jungle to look for artifacts that Indiana had left behind. They used approximate measurements from the film (e.g., Indiana Jones’ height) to make calculations (e.g., the relative width of a pit that needed to be crossed) about the return trip. Although the film lacks explicit instructional sequences, mathematical data could be drawn from it to provide students with problem-solving opportunities. Popular films have also been used to complement science education and support student understanding of scientific concepts (Strand 2). The University of Central Florida’s Physics in Film course is designed to give nonscience undergraduate students an engaging introduction to the physical sciences (Efthimiou and Llewellyn, 2006, 2007). For example, one scene from the film Armageddon involves using a nuclear bomb to split an asteroid into two pieces, hence saving the planet from destruction. The scene is used to introduce such concepts as mass, conservation of momentum, energy, and deflection. In the end, students work through the physics to discover that the film’s outcome, two smaller asteroids being deflected away from Earth, is
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits physically impossible. Instead, they learn that the two smaller pieces would strike the planet’s surface a few city blocks apart (Efthimiou and Llewellyn, 2006). An important part of the Physics in Film curricula is helping learners see that science on the big screen does not necessarily correspond to the laws of physics. The same approach has been used in biology and in other fields (Rose, 2003). Many television dramas are also based on scientific concepts, especially medicine (Turow, 1989; Turow and Gans, 2002). Criminal programs like Numb3rs and Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) have received recent attention due to their influence on public perceptions of science. In fact, the term “CSI effect” has been used to describe two different phenomena that result from viewing popular science programming. In one case, the forensic science aspects of shows like CSI are believed to result in jurors increasing their demand for physical evidence in court trials, since this is what they see in fictional television labs (Houck, 2006). For example, district attorneys suggest that jurors now expect advanced technology to be involved in all court proceedings and that DNA testing is required as evidence. There are alarming examples of court cases being dismissed because jurors lack DNA and other physical evidence that appears prominently on CSI and related programs. In one case, jurors fought for DNA evidence despite the defendant’s admission of being at the crime scene (Houck, 2006). This version of the CSI effect demonstrates how viewers may not understand differences between fictional accounts of science and the realities of practice. It also demonstrates the power of entertainment media to teach viewers what it means to do science, as these programs seem to increase expectations of what occurs in court trials. While CSI may occasionally lead to misconceptions about real science, it has also led to positive outcomes in terms of viewers’ awareness of and interest (Strand 1) in forensics (Podlas, 2006). The second interpretation of the CSI effect focuses on representations of scientists. Jones and Bangert (2006) asked a convenience sample of 388 ethnically diverse middle school students to participate in a version of the Draw-A-Scientist Test (DAST, Chambers, 1983) to understand children’s beliefs about scientists. Their results showed seventh grade girls drawing a larger percentage of female scientists than their ninth and eleventh grade female counterparts. Additional interviews with a sample of female and male students found seventh grade girls mentioning CSI, Killer Instinct, and other programs that made forensics look “fun” while including male and female characters as scientific contributors. Although the research design precludes a conclusive finding, the authors propose that middle school girls may have different mental images of scientists than their older counterparts due to their exposure to new programming, like CSI. Unlike many television programs in the past, these shows do not characterize scientists as odd, eccentric people wearing lab coats (e.g., Gerbner, 1987), and they portray women in
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