FACE-TO-FACE VERSUS DIGITAL MEETINGS IN SCIENCE POPULARIZATION INITIATIVES: USEFULNESS, IMPORTANCE OF PROS AND CONS, AND INHIBITIONS TO TAKE PART
Science popularization (i.e., science communication to the broad public) is nowadays conceptualized as participative interaction between laypeople and scientists. Thereby, the possibilities of digital communication are beneficial elements to reach a broad audience. Nevertheless, face-to-face meetings remain important and many initiatives use both, digital as well as face-to-face communication. However, sometimes (like during the COVID-19 pandemic) face-to-face meetings are not possible and the communication has to be switched to a pure digital format. Beyond this background, it is important to understand how people perceive digital versus face-to face communication during science popularization initiatives.
This paper presents an empirical study that aims at a better understanding of school students’ view of different communication formats of science popularization projects. Namely, we investigated the usefulness of various digital tools, the pros and cons of face-to-face versus digital meetings, and the subjective easiness (i.e., low or high inhibitions) to participate in group discussion in dependence of the used communication channel (face-to-face and different digital tools).
The study was conducted in the context of the YES! project that is a science popularization initiative on economics with an annual competition for school children from grade 10. In face of the special situation of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, we interrogated the YES! participants by the help of an online survey on their subjective experiences with face-to-face versus digital meetings during the YES! 2020 competition.
Overall, the results indicate a high desire for at least some face-to-face meetings, even in pandemic times. For digital meetings, the participants estimated video conferences with additional textual chat as the most useful digital tool.
The subjective importance of the pros of face-to-face meetings was judged as very high (absolute level) and was rated significantly higher than the cons of face-to-face, and higher than the pros and cons of digital meetings. Similar, the cons of face-to-face meetings were perceived as rather unimportant (absolute level) and were rated significantly less important than the digital meetings’ pros and cons. The pros and cons of digital meetings were estimated both on a medium (absolute) level of importance. Also equivalent single pros and cons of face-to-face versus digital meetings (e.g., eye contact possible or not) reflected this pattern. This indicated context effects in the sense that the subjective importance of abstract facts (like eye contact during meetings) depends on the communication context with a preference for face-to-face.
The participation in group discussions was most easy for face-to-face meetings followed by textual chat. The lowest easiness was reported for telephone conferences. Interestingly, these findings did not match with the results on the usefulness of digital tools. The open comments showed that the findings on easiness traced partly back to privacy considerations and indicated a relatively high media competence of the participants.
The reported results provide helpful insights into the young peoples’ view of different communication channels. This can serve as basis for future improvements and optimizations of science popularization initiatives.