Ethnographer Takes Communicating Science as Participant/Observation Study

We are excited to be collaborating with Dr. Todd Nicewonger, an anthropologist with an interest in education, in an investigation of our own course, Communicating Science (GRAD 5144).

Currently a project director for destination areas working in the provost’s office, Nicewonger has involved himself in an ethnographic study of the graduate course by taking two roles in the classroom. He is both participating as a student and acting as a researcher, observing what happens in the classroom and taking detailed field notes after each class session, which he will analyze once the course is over.

GRAD 5144, developed by Center for Communicating Science director Patty Raun seven years ago, combines active engagement in theatre improvisation games and exercises with written reflection and discernment. Student narratives and feedback and the growing popularity of the course testify to the value of this approach, and we look forward to learning more through Nicewonger’s research.

Nicewonger’s study stems from an interest in discovering methods for facilitating inter- and transdisciplinary collaborative research and communication across differences. Although the importance of collaborating across disciplines is increasingly recognized, researchers who have not previously worked together and have no experience in working with people from other disciplines may find it challenging and stressful to do so. Nicewonger’s research aims to explore the role that tools from the arts can play in helping researchers learn to connect and communicate more effectively.

“I’m excited about the possibilities for creating really cool interdisciplinary courses with STEM and humanities/social science students using tools from the arts,” says Nicewonger. “I also hope that the insights gained from this study will contribute to the scholarly literature on inter- and transdisciplinary scholarship by examining the role that improvisational learning activities can play in developing collaborative learning and research contexts and methods for effective communication.”

Before coming to Virginia Tech, Nicewonger held postdoctoral fellowships at Parsons The New School for Design, the University of Gothenburg, and the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

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