module specification

SJ6081 - Science, Technology, Environment and Health Journalism (2017/18)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2017/18
Module title Science, Technology, Environment and Health Journalism
Module level Honours (06)
Credit rating for module 15
School School of Computing and Digital Media
Total study hours 150
105 hours Guided independent study
45 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Coursework 35%   Essay 2,000 words
Coursework 45%   Final project, 2,000 words
Practical Examination 20%   Engagement with class, moderated by contributions to online journal
Running in 2017/18
Period Campus Day Time Module Leader
Spring semester North Friday Morning

Module summary

This module develops professional skills of the journalist in writing about science.  It is both theoretical and practical.
Students will examine historical and current writing about science, look at the role of media in informing public debates and analyse communications issues.  They will cover how scientific research is undertaken, globally and in the UK, and the influence of funding and lobbies (for example on tobacco consumption or climate change).
They will explore how to cover protests, lobbying and direct action, on the one hand, and learn how to extract the information for stories from scientific data, journal articles and reports, on the other. They will take into account the ethics of how to cover health campaigns, from human interest stories to funding disputes and the bottom line.
They will explore, through discussion, presentation and professional practice, links with grassroots organisations, PR and internal comms professionals, viral and social media, human interest stories and running appeals.  They will become familiar with the basic legal frameworks around defamation, confidence and data protection as they apply to research and research protocols.
They will produce original journalistic work, which they must pitch to their classmates and tutor.
Formative assessment will be an essay on the pitfalls and triumphs of science journalism, as emplified in current UK and USA practice.
An overview of media law and ethical considerations will underpin a summative project of practical journalism which will combine original research, in either a series of three short articles or one long article (or multi-media equivalents) and a log of research and contacts.

Module aims

The main aims of this module are:

  • to enhance students' understanding of the historical and social contexts of present UK and international scientific practice and research;
  • to develop students’ understanding and analysis of scientific data;
  • to develop students' professional skills in researching and interviewing a range of subjects;
  • to practice professional skills in writing and visualising scientific stories in different formats;
  • to reinforce students' understanding of the legal and moral parameters of journalism when dealing with scientific matters;
  • to give practice in combining interviews with sources within organisations and from the public with original data mined from research, thus enhancing employability.   


The focus in this module is on extracting stories of public interest from published sources such as databases and scientific publications and making them attractive and comprehensible to journalistic markets, thus developing professional skills.
Scientific research constantly throws up a wealth of information – the journalist’s job is to pre-digest this so that an audience can be better informed. Additionally, students need to develop skills in identifying subject matter and potential readerships, research, interviewing and editing techniques, on-the-spot reportage, and finding original angles and relevant sources for their stories.  Originality of form and multi-media techniques, user-generated content, social media and the interface with PR will all be explored.
Students will consider the constraints on the media and on scientists, from funding to pressure groups, from institutions to audience, from ethics to the law.
The history of science journalism will be examined --- for instance, the battle over cancer and tobacco, Ralph Nader's seat belts, high-cholesterol foods and heart attacks and campaigns over GM crops. Looking at science, journalism and society will highlight campaigning, lobbying and funding.
The nature of scientific research – its disciplines and methods – will be key to understanding, as will a critical analysis of scientific newsgathering from journals, conferences and researchers themselves. The module will aim to create scientific literacy in students, including data journalism and the limits of expertise.
as well as more current debates like climate change, and clinical trials (Cochrane) will be examined as will social media techniques.
A variety of approaches and writing styles will be explored, including video, audio, blogging, visualisation tools and surveys. The disciplines of writing to precise word-length and for specific audiences will be addressed in these contexts. A sensitivity to images and online formats will be important.
Formative assessment will consist of an essay displaying evidence of critical awareness of key ethical dilemmas, while summative assessment will involve journalism based on original research, which must be pitched to the class and tutor and backed up by a log book detailing contacts and sources. Contribution to class will be self-assessed, moderated by tutors’ evaluation of attendance and participation.

Learning and teaching

Teaching methods include lectures, workshops, guest speakers, seminar discussion, screenings and tutorials.  Workshops will focus on producing the professional skills of journalism within class and outside it. Students are expected to attend and must participate.  In seminars, workshops and tutorials they are expected to raise issues, ask questions and seek feedback to enable them to reflect on their practice.
In addition to guided reading, students are expected to read and use new media critically. They should readily use a variety of sources (primary and secondary).
Enhancement weeks will involve guest speakers, field trips and participation in newsdays.
Blended learning will be facilitated through blogs, the virtual learning environment, twitter and photo sites.
Opportunities for pdp will be supported.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module, having completed all the tasks set, students should be able to:

  • Identify the main challenges facing journalistic investigations into scientific, health and environmental matters;
  • Situate journalism within an understanding of British society;
  • Interview a range of sources effectively for their stories;
  • Identify appropriate sources for their stories, within published material of all kinds;
  • Use different formats to convey scientific information to a range of audiences;
  • Create journalistic products which conform to legal and ethical norms.

Assessment strategy

Formative assessment will consist of an essay displaying evidence of critical awareness of a key scientific dilemma (2,000 words); while summative assessment will involve original journalism based on research (three pieces of 750 words each or one of 2,000 or a two-minute podcast or video), a draft of which must be pitched to the class and tutor and backed up by a log book detailing contacts and sources.
Engagement with class will be self-assessed, moderated by tutors from online journal.
All assessments are individual.
Assessment 1 meets LOs 1, 2
Assessment 2 meets LOs 3, 4, 5, 6
Assessment 3 meets LOs 1, 2, 4


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Public Understanding of Science (Sage)
Science Communication (Sage)