RAPID: Collaborative Research: Influencing Young Adults' Science Engagement and Learning with COVID-19 Media Coverage
This RAPID was submitted in response to the NSF Dear Colleague letter related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This award is made by the AISL program in the Division of Research on Learning, using funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The major public policy of social distancing relies, in part, on the cooperation of younger and healthier people who may not experience symptoms and can spread the virus unknowingly to more vulnerable populations. Science journalists, who are on the front lines of covering the pandemic, can play an important role in educating millennial audiences about the science behind the virus, how it is transmitted and effective ways to prevent the virus from spreading. This award will help the STEM field better understand how to engage millennial audiences with effective COVID-19 media content and to urgently capture professional knowledge on crisis reporting. KQED and Texas Tech University are suited to rapidly implement a science media informal science learning project targeting millennials and younger audiences in light of their current NSF-funded "Cracking the Code: Influencing Millennial Science Engagement" collaborative research and evaluation project (DRL 1810990 and 1811091). The project team has built a functional research protocol for its media practitioner and academic researcher collaboration, and will apply these new RAPID funds to complement on-going efforts, mobilize the existing team, research protocol, and research tools to respond to the communication challenge of reaching younger adults posed by COVID-19. Content to be created includes: 1) Radio broadcasts - daily news coverage, live talks; 2) A real-time blog - live Coronavirus updates and 3) Social media content on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
The project team will explore the following research questions:
- How could COVID-19 coverage be designed to best inform, engage and educate millennials and younger audiences about the science of virus transmission and prevention?
- What are some best practices for crisis reporting, as journalists respond to both constantly updated information and changing audience needs, that can be used by media outlets (such as advisors PBS Digital Studios, PBS NewsHour, NOVA, NPR Science, and more)?
The research protocol centers around "media testing cycles," which are time-bounded studies (5 months long) exploring a subset of research questions about the effectiveness of KQED's science content (articles, videos, social media posts and radio reporting) at reaching younger audiences. Steps include identifying problems that are suited for empirical examination; formulating plausible competing hypotheses on the nature of those problems and their potential solutions; and crafting study designs calculated to support valid, realistic inferences on the relative strength of those hypotheses. Data will be gathered from COVID-19 audience "chatter" from Twitter and Facebook through Crimson Hexagon, a social media listening platform. In addition to the social media listening, researchers will conduct a thematic analysis of the questions currently being collected through the audience engagement platform Hearken, where KQED has gathered nearly 2,000 questions to date about the virus and lifestyle changes. This data will also help the project team understand knowledge gaps about prevention and transmission of the virus. These two qualitative studies will be conducted concurrently and reported to KQED journalists quickly to inform reporting.
Texas Tech researchers will create a virus transmission and prevention knowledge assessment. This assessment will be validated using a national online survey. The project will examine knowledge differences based on, for example, generation and gender. TTU will examine relationships between performance on this assessment and two relevant measures: science curiosity and ordinary science intelligence. The national survey will help identify what knowledge gaps are present in which audiences. Using this information, KQED journalists will develop "explainers" and other news content, to meet audience needs and to fill knowledge gaps.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.