Education

What is Talk To A Scientist and what does it do

TTAS hosts free webinars on youth-centric topics and activity-based learning modules that feature Indian scientists. 

TTAS hosts free webinars on youth-centric topics and activity-based learning modules that feature Indian scientists.  | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

In the wake of the pandemic, institutions of all hues enthusiastically embraced Internet-based seminars in a bid to stay connected. But, the efficacy of webinars is unpredictable, as it depends on the way organisations put their views across on screens filled with talking heads. Some people, however, have customised this online meeting platform to make it a tool for learning.

Beginning

“We are a pandemic project,” says Snehal Kadam, a Ph.D. student at Hull York Medical School, University of Hull, the U.K., and co-founder of Talk To A Scientist (TTAS). “We started on March 30, 2020, shortly after the lockdown was announced in India. Naturally, all the conversation then, fake and factual, was around COVID-19. We realised that, if we adults were ill-informed, our kids would be even more clueless about this completely new disease. So, we decided to hold a webinar for children to clear the air about COVID-19, and explain the science behind the issue.” The debut event drew 70 children and today, TTAS hosts free webinars on youth-centric topics and activity-based learning modules that feature Indian scientists to explain concepts and interact with students in the six to 16 age-group.

“On our website, we are clear about what we offer. We are careful about our privacy and security settings. We found that kids show up and enjoy science webinars because they are visually appealing. We laugh a lot and loudly during the webinar, which is engaging,” says Dr. Karishma S. Kaushik, physician and academic at the Department of Biotechnology, Savitribai Phule Pune University, and co-founder.

Though TTAS is currently accessible only to children who are assured of Internet connectivity and a personal electronic device, the platform aims to move out to students in smaller cities and from less privileged backgrounds. “The best way to target these large groups would be through the teachers because, even if they don’t have an iPad in every house, the teacher in the rural school will at least have a projector and some form of computer access,” says Kaushik.

Attitude to science

(From left) Karishma Kaushik and Snehal Kadam, founders of TTAS

(From left) Karishma Kaushik and Snehal Kadam, founders of TTAS | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

What kids are looking for in a Science lesson may surprise teachers, says Kadam. “TTAS webinars show children what real scientists look like because we have only seen them as pictures in textbooks, and most of these famous figures are not even alive today. We wanted to give them role models of people they could see and speak to. It has the potential to change how kids view Science. I am sure many children still think Science is about mixing colourful liquids. We want to show that science is much more than that.”

When children started exploring topics beyond the founders’ expertise, the team invited fellow scientists to participate. “We have got such a positive response from the community that now we have a waiting list of at least two months. We have gone beyond Biology; we have talked about Astrophysics, life under the ocean, and so on,” says Kadam.

Platforms like TTAS have the potential to start enquiry-based Science education in India, says Kaushik. “The smartest kid is not the one who knows all the answers but one who asks the questions. We want to present information and make children think, rather than take it at face value.” She also adds that TTAS is, in a way, helping link scientists back to society. “There is no dearth of guest scientists in India who want to participate in our talks. When they do this, they spend time preparing content and at least an hour interacting with the kids about their work. If you think about how Science in the country is financed through taxpayers’ money, it is ultimately these families that are funding our salaries and research. So, in a way, the scientist is engaging with the public and vice versa.”

TTAS has received funding from India Bioscience Outreach for two rounds. A grant from the American Geophysical Union has helped cover the cost of recording the sessions and making them available on the Internet later. “Our model going forward will always be to keep it free for the end-user, though we could use corporate social responsibility (CSR) funding or other sources for later,” says Kaushik.

How it works
Registration for each online session with a valid email address is mandatory
Approved participants will be allowed in through a waiting room monitored by the founders
The meeting room is closed (by the host) 10 minutes after the session begins
Chat between participants is disabled.
For details, visit, https://www.talktoascientistindia.com or email talktoascientistindia@gmail.com


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Printable version | Aug 13, 2022 6:55:32 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/education/what-is-talk-to-a-scientist-and-what-does-it-do/article65752812.ece