Project Paper for What's the Weather, Heather?

Over the course of the semester, myself and fellow Interdisciplinary Studies have been working on our senior capstone projects. For my project, I needed to create a project that related to not only my major, but something that I was interested in doing. My major, “Weather Journalism” incorporates the disciplines of meteorology and communication. Drawing from the fields of meteorology and communication enables me to be able to construct a scientific news story and be able to connect with those reading the story. With this major, I am able to take what I have learned in meteorology and apply it in writing, broadcasting, and publishing. Being a Weather Journalism major, I am able to work in a variety of fields including broadcast journalism, online journalism, television, and more with a focus in meteorology. It is also important to note how my major involves interdisciplinary thinking. My major is comprised of multiple disciplines that alone would not be as successful. In order to write meteorology articles, I need to draw from both fields. The writing portion would come from communication and what I would be writing about would come from the meteorology discipline. Integrating these fields together involves interdisciplinary thinking in which the articles I generate will be the most successful. 
Image from: Heather Janssen 

In order to put this integration and interdisciplinary thinking into practice, I had to create a capstone project in which I would have to write scientific articles with a meteorology focus. By making use of digital media, I decided to create a weather blog entitled “What’s the Weather, Heather?” The point of this blog was to engage and inform the public about various meteorological phenomena. The weather blog was driven by the viewer’s questions and suggestions. For example, if a person asked a question about thunderstorms, the next blog post I answered that question. My first blog posting was an introduction so viewers could get a sense of what the blog was about and what they would be seeing each week. Every blog post was answering answering questions from viewers. I made use of the textbook Essentials of Meteorology: An Invitation to the Atmosphere to provide images for the blog. This helped the viewers to visualize what I was talking about in a different way. I approached my blog in a manner that would appeal to a general audience. I wanted to do this to ensure that a wide variety could read and be engaged with my blog. 

Another aspect that was important to this weather blog was getting the blog out to an audience. To do this, I utilized the growing popularity of social media. I made use of my own personalize Facebook and the PSU Interdisciplinary Studies group page to share my blog. I also used Twitter with the hashtag #WeatherwithHeather so that I could know when people were asking me questions for the blog. It was another way to see if people were engaging with my blog. Every time I posted a new blog, I posted on these social media site to make sure people knew a new posting was up. I frequently visited my blog to check any new comments and see how many people were visiting my blog each week.

I decided to undertake this project because this blog was something that could be fun and challenging at the same time. Doing the weather blog was a different way to get people involved and learn about the weather. It also applied to my major directly in that I was taking a journalistic approach to teaching meteorological concepts. The point of the blog was not to just to use a bunch of meteorological terms together and call that a blog. This point was to create content in which any audience could read, learn, and enjoy. 

To determine the best way to explore my topic at hand, I used the induction approach as stated in Repko. Using the induction method allowed me to explore and be more open with my topic. Doing this was quite different than what I was use to in that normally what I research is very narrow in nature and aims to confirm or deny something. This was also different in that this project required more qualitative than quantitative research. My methods were not meant to answer a specific question or theory. I wanted to explore multiple questions that I had about this blog and that is why using the inductive approach was best. I observed and explored the possible fields that could be incorporated into my project. Once I narrowed down what fields should be included, I  was able to start conducting my literature search. The induction approach helped me in the beginning stages of my project as well as into my research portion of the project.

This project could not have been completed with one, single discipline. Instead, I looked at the three main disciplines of communication, earth science, and education (science). I decided to research these discipline because they would provide the best disciplinary insights needed for this project.

The communication discipline research helped to provide background knowledge of social media and 
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social networking sites. Research led me to find various definitions of social media and social networks. As stated by Fuchs and Trotter, social media has been “employed in recent years to describe the information, communications, community, and collaboration features of blogs (e.g., Blogger), social networking sites (e.g., Facebook), video hosting platforms and sites (e.g., YouTube), wikis (e.g., Wikipedia) and microblogs (e.g., Twitter)” (113). This statement shows the many ways that social media can be described and why people often get confused by the term. In an article by Boyd and Ellison, they specifically focus on social network sites. They define social network sites as ones that allow individuals to “(1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system” (211). An important statement they made was that each social network site will vary since each are somewhat different in nature. Social network site can help form online relationships and connections (211). This stood out to me in that with my blog, I was trying to establish connections with the viewers and those who commented. Like most social network sites, I focused on growing broadly so my blog would appeal to a variety of people. One of the most notable insights gained from my research was how much social media/social networking sites influence people’s daily lives. Various sites such as Facebook and Twitter are deeply embedded into our daily routine (and even at work)! They have an impact on relationship with people we already know or just relationships online. Overall, looking into the communication discipline provided insights into what are social media/social networking sites, their impacts on society, and what can be learned from these sites today.

I looked at the discipline of Earth Science to further understand what comprises the discipline. Earth science is made up of multiple disciplines including physical geography, geology, and meteorology (Finley, Nam, and Oughton, 1068). This discipline has always been taught as qualitative (“soft science”) (1068). Most research that I found in for this discipline dealt with the teaching of Earth Science. Earth Systems Science (ESS), is “emerging rapidly as a discipline and is being used to replace the older earth science education that has been taught as unrelated disciplines” (1066). Though it is complex in nature, it helps to bring structure and understanding of earth science. ESS relies heavily on the concepts and ideas of systems. These systems are broken down into various categories to understand the makings of earth science. I also researched this discipline in order to see how important it is in society. In an article by Horton, he stated how making society aware of earth science issues and how pursuing research in this field is very important (493). This stressed the need to have knowledge about earth science and the challenges this discipline imposes. 

A third discipline I researched to help me with my project was that of science education. Looking into
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the discipline of education helped me in figuring out the best way to approach writing and how simple and/or complex the blog should be. One of the articles I read provided a different way of approaching science education. Nash talked about treating science as one of the humanities. Doing this gets students to ask questions and brings them to the “lessons” (Nash). Instead of having standard facts and theories, he states that natural curiosity shapes the curriculum (Nash). This helped in students discovering the facts for themselves instead of getting all the answers. Reading this article showed me that letting the viewer’s ask the questions will make the blog more engaging. Another problem with science education is that many are fearful of it. Society has set attitudes about science and this attitude is reflective of why people are fearful (Mallow, 41). People also stereotype scientists as highly intelligent but not very social (42) causing society to be standoffish towards those teaching the science. Most people do not study science so I had to look into ways to approach these viewers. It is important to teach science in that its an important part of our everyday lives and there is so much scientific knowledge available (Jevons, 15). As said by Mallow “science is different from everything else and this difference leads to its great success in solving the problems it has set” (214).

Most of the most surprising things I found from all three of these disciplines was that they involve interdisciplinary thinking. The disciplines overlap more than I was expecting, especially since they are not similar in nature. The research I found for the earth science discipline was interdisciplinary most often stating how it takes more than just scientists to understand the problems at hand. This idea overlapped some with science education that teaching science takes many approaches. The communication discipline somewhat overlaps both of these disciplines that communication is needed in both earth science and science education. When teaching or presenting science to others, communication is heavily involved. Often this presentation is in the form of social media/social network sites in which others can read and learn. These disciplines agreed with one another more than having any conflicts. I was able to establish some common ground in that these three discipline can work together in order to solve a problem. Keeping these discipline separate would have weakened my overall findings and limit what I could have done with my project.

One of my goals with this interdisciplinary project was to take what I have gained from my researched disciplines and integrate them in some way to provide new insights with this blog. One of these insights is that communication via social media/social network and science go hand in hand. In order to effectively teach others about meteorological phenomenons on a social media site, I had to make sure that what I was communicating was done properly. Another insight gained with this project is that social media’s importance in getting science out to society. Making use of social media for this project was great decision. Society will be more apt to want to read and learn about science if it is presented to them in a comfortable manner. As I stated earlier, social media is embedded in our daily lives so it makes sense to use it in order to get people to teach others about sciences (especially earth science). This gets them more involved and excited about science. I saw this with my own blog with those who are not very interested in science. Getting them to ask questions and creating the blog in a way that was more open made non-science people feel welcomed. They were engaged and excited to see a new blog post each week. Creatively approaching science by using social media helped my interdisciplinary project to reach a diverse audience and learn how fun science can actually be. 
Image from: Heather Janssen 
This was my first time tackling a project of this size through an interdisciplinary lens. Previous to this, most of my projects were focused on around a single discipline (either meteorology or communication). This project especially challenged my own bias in the disciplines of meteorology and communication. Having disciplinary knowledge of both of these made it difficult at first to be open towards an interdisciplinary approach. I knew that I tended to agree more so with hard science disciplines (such as meteorology) and steered away from “soft sciences.” With this project, I realized that I needed to be open to both kinds of sciences as well as be free of any bias. It was the research process that helped me to work on this because I was looking at multiple disciplines that would be integrated together. I shifted away from what I was use to (being biased towards the sciences) and opened to what I could learn from the various disciplines.

By taking an interdisciplinary approach to my capstone project, I better understand the importance and need of Interdisciplinary Studies. My weather blog could have taken a disciplinary approach, but the outcomes would have not been nearly as successful as taking the interdisciplinary approach. I have an enlarged understanding of the need of science education in society, especially those who are fearful of science. I know now how to approach writing about meteorological topics to a wide audience from my research. I feel that this blog changes the way of how science is looked at by society. My topic took a positive and fun approach to teaching meteorology by integrating various disciplines. By taking the interdisciplinary approach with my capstone project, I have enlarged my understanding of what it truly takes to be a scientific journalist. 

Works Cited

Boyd, Danah M., and Nicole B. Ellison. "Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship." Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 13.1 (2007): 210-30. Academic Search Premier. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.

Finley, Fred N., Younkeyong Nam, and John Oughton. "Earth Systems Science: An Analytic Framework." Science Education 95.6 (2011): 1066-1085. Academic Search Premier. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.

Fuchs, Christian, and Daniel Trottier. "Towards a Theoretical Model of Social Media Surveillance in Contemporary Society." Communications 40.1 (2015): 113-35. Web.

Horton, Brendan. "Geoscientists Are Not Just Rock Stars." Nature.com. Nature Publishing Group, 3 Dec. 1998. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.

Jevons, F. R. The Teaching of Science: Education, Science and Society. London: Allen & Unwin, 1969. Print.

Lazarus, Steven M., et al. "2012 Unidata Users Workshop Navigating Earth System Science Data." Bulletin Of The American Meteorological Society 94.10 (2013): ES136-ES143. Academic Search Premier. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.

Mallow, Jeffry V. Science Anxiety: Fear of Science and How to Overcome It. New York, NY: Thomond, 1981. Print.

Nash, Ian. "Beyond The Age Of Enlightenment - A Science Education For All." Education Journal 226 (2015): 19. Academic Search Premier. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.

Paquette, Heather. "The Culture Of Connectivity: A Critical History Of Social Media By José Van Dijck." Technical Communication Quarterly 24.2 (2015): 192-195. Academic Search Premier. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.

Rains, Stephen A, and Steven R Brunner. "What Can We Learn About Social Network Sites By Studying Facebook? A Call And Recommendations For Research On Social Network Sites." New Media & Society 17.1 (2015): 114-131. Academic Search Premier. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.

Repko, Allen. Introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies. LA: Sage Publications, 2013.

Schultz, David M. Eloquent Science: A Practical Guide to Becoming a Better Writer, Speaker, and Atmospheric Scientist. Boston, MA: American Meteorological Society, 2009. Print.

Wickware, Potter. "Problem Solving For The Whole Earth." Nature 396.6710 (1998): 493. Academic Search Premier. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.

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What's the Weather, Heather? by Heather Janssen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

1 comment:

  1. Somehow you manage to work your way through the whole rubric in a way that feels completely natural...which is a testament to the communication skills you have developed over your time here at the university! I am not sure if I have ever seen a student who truly embodied two fields the way that you do: your work in meteorology and your work in Communications complement each other so well, and you have done a great job explaining how you connect them through interdisciplinary theory. I know your internship at AccuWeather will be a perfect match for your skills. Just feeling like you have totally used this capstone course to its fullest potential, Heather. Bravo!

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