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Sci Comm | Media Production Blog

Sci Comm

David Inouye & RMBL

researchers in mountains

The Rocky Mountain Biological Lab is one of the world’s premiere, high elevation field sites.
Home to one of the largest annual migrations of field biologists, RMBL provides logistical support for scientists and students, including access to living quarters, research laboratories, and protected research sites. RMBL focuses on the importance of preserving and providing access to historical data about the local ecosystems. As scientists address ever more sophisticated questions about a dynamic world, RMBL is a vital resource for discovering nature’s fundamental ecological and evolutionary processes.

RMBL invests in its people and places, its communications systems, and its physical plant. Scientists take full advantage of the research done by previous RMBL scientists using modern bioinformatics tools. They track the environment year-round using automated sensors. While training the next generation, they develop a comprehensive understanding of biological processes that illuminates all ecosystems. RMBL serves as a unique resource for policy makers who need to understand a changing and complex world.

David Inouye with The University of Maryland has been collecting Phenology data at RMBL for over thirty years. His discoveries regarding the timing of wildflower blooming, specifically the flowering of the Glacier Lilly and the correlation to the migration of broad-tailed hummingbirds, arriving from Central America are helping policy makers concerned with how global climate change is changing ecosystems in both high and low elevation sites.

Global warming is happening faster in the higher latitudes, making these areas more likely to get out of sync ecologically. At the rate things are going, if the snowmelt continues to occur earlier in the spring, bringing earlier flowering, then the mountains will bloom with lilies long before the hummingbirds can finish their migratory journey north.
– www.ecology.com

I produced the following video to celebrate David’s achievements in academia and research.


Sci Comm – Jungle Edition

researchers in jungle

I started the new year of 2015 undertaking an amazing journey that combined three of my favorite passions; travel, video production and communication into a fantastic learning adventure. I was invited by Jane Zelikova to help teach a Science Communication course in Costa Rica. Morgan Heim and I teamed up, teaching storytelling and video production to Master and PhD candidates from around the world. Throughout the ten days spent at the La Selva Biological Research Station, students excelled with the challenge of simultaneously balancing tropical research ecology with digital filmmaking.

Faculty leading the research projects included Dr. Lara Souza, Dr. David Williams and Dr. Steven Whitfield). The research faculty worked closely with students and video instructors. Video messages and stories were crafted by student groups, and were produced with the guidance of seasoned video professionals. We helped students develop their story structures, offering students autonomy of story creation. We shadowed students’ technical production and editing, helping them create finished products that explained each groups tropical ecology research.

Students learned traditional storytelling techniques, like the arc of beginning, middle and end, combined with the tried and true, conflict and resolution setup. Students were taught how to identify and target a specific audience and more specialized science communication techniques included implementing the reverse pyramid and The Message Box created by Nancy Barun.

These specialized communication elements helped the groups develop their research and project message. Developing a clear project scope not only targets the audience and mission of the message, but it also helped the graduate students stay on track as they dealt with data collection and film production in the jungle.

student at La Selva

Students and instructors worked together to successfully overcome the challenges of the tropics which included:
intense rain storms every fifteen minutes
100% humidity
over 130 venomous snake species
sleep deprivation
tree climbing
frog chasing
and, of course
equipment failure.

The communication dynamic between groups was interesting as they navigated research topics while also prioritizing script development, shots lists, storyboards, shooting and editing. An informal lecture style was beautifully supported through hands-on research modules and media production experience.

Students worked in groups of four and were tasked with producing a four minute video explaining their tropical research. They climbed towering trees, scaled canopy walks, collected frogs and pulled dawn patrols, collecting data and filming with Go Pros and DSLR cameras. They initially produced a 30 second silent film to experience the filmmaking process, the planning, visualization and production. Later they produced longer films, documenting their research, incorporating interviews, scripted content and cutaway footage, creating effective and entertaining science communication videos.

They used the Message Box to initially organize their story, gaining buy-in and ownership from all group members. This communication template also made it easy for groups to effectively communicate their story to video instructors and helped each group stay on track while also accommodating changes.

The best learning moment for me as an instructor arrived as I observed group dynamics and communication. Students had to manage and juggle graduate level science while simultaneously producing their video stories. As beautiful and diverse as the jungle is, it is also a somewhat brutal environment to collect data and produce a short film. Extreme humidity, heat and of course massive rain storms were eventually somewhat pleasantly endured, and required unique problem solving strategies and persistence.

A main take away from this tropical research, media communication adventure blitz was that no matter how much planning and organization goes into any project – research or production, the initial plan will change. Experienced researchers and producers embrace change, anticipating and managing the dynamics of change within their group and community of learners. It was a true joy to watch all stakeholders work together, balancing research, production and communication in an amazingly beautiful tropical location.