Course in Communicating Science Effectively

The Integration and Application Network teaches courses in communicating science effectively. We organize one course per year, usually in May, for any interested persons. We are also available to conduct in-house courses by arrangement.


flyer thumbnail Even excellent science only has an impact when it is effectively communicated.

Scientific papers in refereed journals are the currency of documenting the scientific process, however posters, PowerPoint presentations and the web are also essential for communicating new insights and current research to fellow scientists. These skills are readily applied to communicating at various levels – not only fellow scientists, but also resource managers and the broader community. This course provides participants with a science communication toolbox for effectively communicating their own data. At the end of the course, participants will have been introduced to the principles of effective science communication, used hands-on sessions to create their own science communication products, and been introduced to some of the software used in science communication.

good graphics example

Elements of science communication
Appropriate images and graphics are the basis of effective science communication, as they can support the spoken word or written text, justifying and reinforcing key messages. The first task in effective science communication is to collect resources including maps, satellite and local photographs, video footage, tables and figures.


Use and production of conceptual diagrams
The ability to capture main messages and concepts is the basis of effective communication. One tool that aids this process by clarifying thinking, is the production of conceptual diagrams. Conceptual diagrams can be used from ecosystem-scale processes down to detailed processes of nutrient dynamics. Participants will learn how to design and produce a conceptual diagram.

Applied principles of layout design
For posters and science newsletters, excessive text tends to turn the reader away, stopping an opportunity for effective communication. The principle of layout design is to focus on conceptual diagrams and other visual elements supported by extended explanatory legends to capture key messages. Participants will learn the skills to design their own science newsletters and posters.

good layout example

example powerpoint

Oral Presentations
Scientific conferences and other meetings are the forum for discussing the newest ideas and concepts. Therefore being able to communicate orally is essential, and effectively using PowerPoint can assist greatly in ensuring that an audience understands and retains key messages

Course Details


5 October 2017 – 14 December 2017


$ 750.00


Virtual: Thursdays 3:00-5:00 pm US EST

Healthy Rivers for All: setting the course for sustainability with river basin health report cards


Instructors for this course include Drs. Heath Kelsey, Simon Costanzo, and William Dennison, who have on the ground experience working as a team of practitioners to implement report cards in complex and iconic ecosystems around the world, including in the USA, Mexico, Australia, Asia, South America, and the Pacific. Recent projects include report cards for the Chesapeake Bay, Mississippi River, and the Orinoco River. These instructors have been on the vanguard of report card innovation for stakeholder engagement, integrating social, cultural, and economic values, and developing new tools for their implementation and communication.

The Course

Participants will learn the complete process of report card generation, including stakeholder mapping and engagement, conceptualization of ecosystem function, selection of indicators and benchmarks, data analysis, communication of results, and leveraging the report card to make real change. This course will employ a “flipped” or “inverted” classroom, in which lectures will be provided before class time via short YouTube videos. Students will learn how to be a discussion facilitator, rapporteur and synthesis writer to insure the class time sessions are productive. While the bulk of the course will utilize free interactive video software ( Students will obtain foundational knowledge of core theories and practice of scientific synthesis and communication of ecosystem status.

October 5, 2017

What is a report card and why do one?

We introduce the concept of report cards and discuss their structure and purpose in communicating the health of river basins, and those that depend on them, to decision makers and the general public. We also provide an overview of the anatomy of a report card and the conditions, decisions, and steps required to develop one. Students will also be assigned a project to be presented at the end of the course, based on materials covered in the course.

October 12, 2017

Step 1: What is the big picture? Identifying values and threats

The first step in developing a report card is engaging stakeholders to define and describe a river basin. This week we outline the objectives of this step which is to define the values within a river basin that are to be protected and/or restored, as well as define the threats that are causing degradation to those values or impeding their restoration. This sets the foundation for what a report card is built.

October 19, 2017

Step 2: What do we measure? Choosing indicators

The second step of developing a report card is choosing a set of science-based indicators which will be used to measure the health of a river basin. This week we discuss methods and provide guidance on how to choose indicators that measure the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of riverine systems; and the social, economic, management and governance systems that influence river health.

October 26, 2017

Step 3: What is healthy? Defining thresholds for indicators

Thresholds are specific goals, limits, or standards specific to each indicator identified in Step 2. Report card thresholds manifest an agreed upon value or range that, when crossed, indicate a river basin health indicator is moving away from the desired state and towards an undesirable endpoint. This week we discuss methods for choosing thresholds for indicators and provide guidelines for identifying thresholds that can be followed.

November 2, 2017

Step 4: How does it add up? Calculating scores and determining grades

Multiple approaches can be used to assess if an indicator meets or exceeds a chosen threshold. Hence a transparent and defendable methodology for calculating report card scores and grades is required. This week we outline these different approaches and discuss the process of data standardization that overcomes challenges associated with comparing indicators with different measurement scales and units.

November 9, 2017

Step 5: What is the story? Communicating results

In the end, report cards are communications tools. They raise awareness of a river basin, explain the current health and challenges in a way everyone can understand, and create a public foundation to drive and track change. This week we outline how to develop a communication strategy that engages relevant parties throughout the report card development process, and ensures report card findings are disseminated for greatest impact.

November 16, 2017

Stakeholder workshop planning, preparation and facilitation

Now that we have covered what a report card is and the theory behind the steps required to develop a report card, this week we get into the nitty gritty of planning and preparing for the initial stakeholder workshop where the content and design of a report card is developed collectively. The importance of running a successful stakeholder workshop should not be underestimated, as it can make or break the success of a report card. This week we present and discuss facilitation “tips and tricks”, the facilitation team, including the lead facilitator who will be the 'face' of the workshop, and co-facilitators who combine good organization, synthesis, scientific, and creative software skills.


November 30, 2017

Raise the grade

After a report card has been completed and grades have been assigned to indicators and the basin as a whole, a common question is “How do we improve our grades?” This week we present and discuss a range of options that can be used to begin the process of raising grades.

December 7, 2017

Case Studies (Orinoco and Mississippi Rivers)

This week includes presentations on the Orinoco River Basin Report Card in Colombia and the Mississippi River in the United States. Group discussion on the process and lessons learned.

December 14, 2017

Student project presentations

Course summary and presentations by students of project outputs.


Use this form to register for our science communication course.
* denotes required fields

Once you have registered, you will also need to pay for the course (at least one month before the course start date). After you complete your registration, you will have the option to pay online or send us a check. You will also receive a link to the payment system in your registration confirmation email so you can pay at a later date if you wish.

*Please select the course you wish to register for:

*First Name:

*Last Name:

*Company / Institution:


Advisor's Name:

*E-Mail Address:


Street Address:

City / Town:

Postal Box:

Zip Code:

Please describe your primary field of study/research interests:

Please describe your reasons for enrolling in the course:

Please list any dietary requirements:


Course participants MUST come to the course with their own computer with the following software already loaded and configured. If you have any problems please email

Computer Hardware

  • Laptop with wireless internet
  • Computer mouse (not laptop touchpad)

Computer Software

Science Communication Resources and Tutorials

Students are REQUIRED to study all of the following resources:

Choose potential topics and gather resources

Please come prepared with a variety of resources for working on a poster or newsletter.

  • Photographs (e.g. your site, research techniques/methods, organisms)
  • Satellite images of your study site
  • Maps (in vector format, if possible)
  • Data, including graphs and spreadsheets


  • The instructor:student ratio was fantastic - this was the first course where I felt like I actually learned the basics about the software to make my ideas a reality. After raving about your course to my co-workers, I have had several requests from people to ask that you come to Oxford to teach them about Illustrator. I can teach them some things, but I'm not an expert like you guys… Thanks for all of your help. It really was one of the best courses I have ever taken.
  • The only bad thing about this course is now I am considered a guru among my lab and collaborators!
  • Thank you very much, this course was extremely useful (I rank it as one of the most useful courses, if not the most useful course that I have taken in my graduate study).
  • This course is an excellent introduction to improving our science education skills. The nearly equal emphasis between lecture and practice is very helpful.
  • What a group of talented and interesting individuals!!! The IAN group is not only technically impressive but really took care of us food and entertainment wise!!! After five intensive days, my brain was fried but I'm hoping I retain most of what I learned in order to do a few brown-bag lunch presentations to my office staff so we can all benefit.


Course Handbook

Communicating Science Effectively: A Practical Handbook for Integrating Visual Elements

This is a practical handbook on how to communicate science effectively: what effective science communication is, why it is important, and how to do it. It details techniques and principles for communicating in different media — desktop publishing (including posters and newsletters), presentations and websites.

Course Presentations

An introduction to effective science communication pdf icon
Conceptual diagrams: A tool for effective science communication pdf icon
Pointing with Power: Using PowerPoint Effectively pdf icon
Environmental report cards: A tool to integrate monitoring data, engage stakeholders and catalyze actions pdf icon
Publications: Principles of layout design pdf icon

Discussion Forum

Please visit our discussion forum for getting help and sharing ideas for all aspects of science communication and technical software assistance. If you have questions we will be monitoring these forums and will get back to you ASAP.

Image Library

Visit our Image Library to download photos and contribute your photos so we all have a resource for scientific photos of the Chesapeake region (be sure to read the Image Library Guide before posting).