At Bournemouth University, there is a diverse range of expertise within the Life and Environmental Sciences (LES) Department. Research expertise within the department includes key concepts from microbiology to megafauna – the scope is very broad!
In light of recent events, there has been changes to make everything more virtual. With the University closing and the anticipation of students continuing to work from home, it has been a challenging time for everyone to alter assignments, examinations and make sure everyone can access online lectures. It is in times like these where working as a community is beneficial for everyone.
Professor Genoveva Esteban started an online community for the LES department back in 2014 called the ‘Wessex Portal’. The Wessex Portal is now well established and includes a website and social media platforms to circulate daily posts to the public. I started working as a research assistant on this project in 2016. The portal covers various areas of research on the site, within the department and globally including green projects, Dorset Coast Digital Archive and many more (visit www.wessexportal.co.uk to find out more).
One of the public engagement events I was part of this year was the ‘Family Science Festival’ in Dorchester, which was scheduled to run on the 15th March 2020. I was very excited for this event, as last year it was a huge success, with over 2000 people attending in one day! However, the event was postponed due to COVID-19 outbreak. This was disappointing but it led me to think, why not use and develop the Wessex Portal to share the engaging activities that we would have run! Now we are using the Wessex Portal to not only share the brilliant research that the department is involved in, but also to reach out to the wider community and increase public participation.
I was meant to run a stand on ‘Wildlife Craft Club’ at the ‘Family Science Festival’. This was popular at the festival last year and was a success during the ‘Arts by the Sea Festival’ in Bournemouth last summer too. Some of the activities could easily be developed and posted online, so the craft club is now available on the Wessex Portal ). I am posting daily species colouring and question sheets for school children to participate in, to keep them engaged with environmental sciences concepts when it is particularly difficult to get people engaged with the outside world.
I am incorporating colouring sheets from different stands that we were showcasing at the Festival, including the wonderful world of microbes and the fascinating life cycle of the Atlantic salmon (to celebrate the International Year of the Salmon).
I am really enjoying sharing the colouring sheets online and seeing how creative the public can be. We targeted the activities at school children but have found many others engaging with our posts. Our portal has reached over 10,000 people since we started the online colouring activity! We have had some fantastic feedback with species requests and people ‘discovering’ species that they did not know existed. We are also excited to announce that we have collaborated with the Linnean Society, who have very kindly shared plant species with us and expanded our daily activities.
Quote from a child’s mother:
“My 6-year-old son loved doing the colouring sheet today; he is a self-confessed Nature Detective. He was so excited, and he made sure it was finished before we stopped for an afternoon snack. Thank you so much for the idea“. Anonymous
Katie Thompson is a Research Associate and PhD researcher working on her project ‘African elephant impacts on vegetation’, at the Faculty of Science and Technology, Life and Environmental Sciences at Bournemouth University, England. She is interested in human wildlife conflict and the broader impact this is having on the environment. Her areas of interest are in African wildlife, where her research focuses on ecosystem level conservation (African elephants and insects), environmental education and sustainable development within South Africa and Kenya. Katie has been made a Freeman of the City of London because of her work in Zoology and Conservation.
How has Covid-19 affected your engagement with environmental science? This blog post explores adaptation to the impacts of Covid-19 and social distancing, highlighting how face to face methods are changing to digital formats. For more information on best practice digital engagement, the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) have created a crowd-sourced set of guidelines, available for free.