Clean coal rhetoric: Engaging the public on informal education websites about science and technology
David M. Niedergeses, Iowa State University, United States
Iowa State University . Awarded
Some scientific and technological problems require public engagement. Engagement, defined in this situation as a level of interest or investment that fosters changing attitudes and behavior, can be achieved through informal education websites that present scientific arguments to a general audience. These websites function as boundary objects between the scientific community and the general public, noticeably affecting the audience's attitudes and opinions about the science in question.
This study focuses on several website elements stimulating engagement on two informal education websites that present clean coal technology, an advanced effort to increase the efficiency of coal power while capturing coal power's greenhouse gas emissions. Informal education websites about clean coal technology are challenged to supplant the public's misgivings about coal with acceptance and even excitement.
To examine the ways in which these two websites attempt to engage their audiences and the ways in which those audiences respond, this study uses three methods. The first is a rhetorical analysis of the engaging elements present on the websites. The second is a user survey that collects data about a test audience's response to those engaging elements. The last is an interview process designed to collect further detail about individual survey participants' reactions. Generally, the study found that even if users react negatively to specific website elements, they are often willing to separate that reaction from their response to the information presented. The results suggest that website elements designed to engage the audience might be useful as long as they do not obstruct the audience's access to content they find interesting. The results of the study further suggest methods to refine the study of audience engagement as a goal of online communication.
Niedergeses, D.M. Clean coal rhetoric: Engaging the public on informal education websites about science and technology. Master's thesis, Iowa State University.
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