• Class Number 4742
  • Term Code 2930
  • Class Info
  • Unit Value 6 units
  • Mode of Delivery In Person
    • Dr Merryn McKinnon
    • Dr Merryn McKinnon
  • Class Dates
  • Class Start Date 25/02/2019
  • Class End Date 31/05/2019
  • Census Date 31/03/2019
  • Last Date to Enrol 04/03/2019
SELT Survey Results

For the public to be able to make informed decisions about important scientific issues, they need to have access to accurate yet understandable information. The best vehicle for this is through the print and electronic media. However very few scientists are trained to communicate effectively with the media, which can make informing the public a difficult process.

This course examines the relationship between science and the media and the cultural differences that often make the relationship difficult. Topics to be covered include an analysis of science-media relations from both the scientists' and journalists' perspective; the style in which science is reported in the media; and how best to present science in the media. This is a skills-based course, the aim of which is to train science students in the production of material suitable for publication or broadcast in the popular media. Students will have opportunities to practice the skills of this course in ‘real life settings’ gaining valuable industry experience and contacts.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

On satisfying the requirements of this course, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

  1. Identify and apply the processes involved in getting an issue into the media
  2. Apply the basics of print media production
  3. Discuss, and where appropriate explain, current issues in journalism
  4. Differentiate the communication needs of various audiences
  5. Evaluate the suitability of topics for different media, and examine and select appropriate background material for a story

Research-Led Teaching

This course encompasses the four main aspects of research-led teaching. There is a focus on research content; the curriculum is structured around the existing body of literature in the field and the core theoretical understandings. Students are encouraged to actively critique and reflect upon the literature in their own analyses of science in the media. This provides students with a sense of the research process and problems as the course examines how the ‘treatment’ of science in the media has changed over time, and how the concept of ‘best practice’ has also evolved. The course also contains a core element of research process, as students are required to undertake their own original research for the majority of the assessment tasks, including for an external organisation.

Required Resources

Students will require access to a computer and the internet to successfully complete this course.

Staff Feedback

Students will be given feedback in the following forms in this course:
  • Written comments
  • Verbal comments
  • Feedback to the whole class, to groups, to individuals, focus groups

Student Feedback

ANU is committed to the demonstration of educational excellence and regularly seeks feedback from students. Students are encouraged to offer feedback directly to their Course Convener or through their College and Course representatives (if applicable). The feedback given in these surveys is anonymous and provides the Colleges, University Education Committee and Academic Board with opportunities to recognise excellent teaching, and opportunities for improvement. The Surveys and Evaluation website provides more information on student surveys at ANU and reports on the feedback provided on ANU courses.

Other Information

Students must complete one only of assessment tasks 3, 4, 5.

Class Schedule

Week/Session Summary of Activities Assessment
1 What is media Related to assessment tasks 2, 3, 4
2 News values & hard news Related to assessment tasks 1, 2, 3, 4
3 Plain English Related to assessment tasks 1, 2, 3, 4
4 Framing Related to assessment tasks 1, 2, 3, 4
5 Communication plans & media releases Related to assessment tasks 3, 4
6 Reporting controversies Related to assessment tasks 1, 2, 3, 4
7 Soft news Related to assessment tasks 3, 4
8 Social media Related to assessment task 1
9 Visual storytelling Related to assessment tasks 1, 2, 3, 4
10 Writing for a youth audience
11 Ethics, society & future of the media
12 Group presentations

Assessment Summary

Assessment task Value Due Date Return of assessment Learning Outcomes
Major Assessment Task 50 % 04/04/2019 28/06/2019 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Writing Assignment 15 % 18/03/2019 01/04/2019 1, 2, 4, 5
Promotion Assignment - Option 1/3 (value 25%) 25 % 02/05/2019 16/05/2019 1, 2, 4, 5
Essay - Science controversies in the media - option 2/3 (value 25%) 25 % 02/05/2019 16/05/2019 1, 2, 4, 5
Feature article - option 3/3 (value 25%) 25 % 02/05/2019 16/05/2019 1, 2, 4, 5
Analysis of material in the media 10 % 25/02/2019 04/07/2019 1, 3, 4

* If the Due Date and Return of Assessment date are blank, see the Assessment Tab for specific Assessment Task details


ANU has educational policies, procedures and guidelines, which are designed to ensure that staff and students are aware of the University’s academic standards, and implement them. Students are expected to have read the Academic Misconduct Rule before the commencement of their course. Other key policies and guidelines include:

Assessment Requirements

The ANU is using Turnitin to enhance student citation and referencing techniques, and to assess assignment submissions as a component of the University's approach to managing Academic Integrity. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the ANU Online website Students may choose not to submit assessment items through Turnitin. In this instance you will be required to submit, alongside the assessment item itself, hard copies of all references included in the assessment item.

Moderation of Assessment

Marks that are allocated during Semester are to be considered provisional until formalised by the College examiners meeting at the end of each Semester. If appropriate, some moderation of marks might be applied prior to final results being released.



Assessment Task 1

Value: 50 %
Due Date: 04/04/2019
Return of Assessment: 28/06/2019
Learning Outcomes: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Major Assessment Task

In groups of not more than four, class participants will undertake science communication consultancy projects for external organisations. Students will meet with the industry representatives to discuss their needs and expectations for their projects. Each group will be expected to develop a work plan with a timeline and to meet all agreed deadlines and objectives. You will also be expected to evaluate how successful you were at meeting the needs of your client and their audience. Further information will be given in class and in discussions with the external representatives.

Your grade for this assessment task will be calculated from four parts; a presentation and your portfolio which is a group mark, as well as an individual progress report and an individual final report (4). Your industry supervisors will also be asked to evaluate your individual and group performance.

Progress Report – 10% - due 4th April (completed individually)

The progress report is a hurdle requirement and must be submitted. It is to be no longer than four pages and should outline your organisation, your task and how you are progressing. You should outline what you are planning to do and any problems or opportunities you may have already encountered, and how you are managing these.

Presentation & Group Portfolio – 25% - due 20th May (group submission)

As a group, present for not more than 15 minutes on what your task was for your industry group. This should be a concise but comprehensive coverage of who you were working for, what their objectives were and how your assignment was helping to meet these objectives, and how successful you were in doing so. You are encouraged to think about the strengths of your work, as well as identify opportunities for further development. Every group member is expected to speak in this presentation. The portfolio should include a brief (up to two pages) summary of your task and the expected deliverables for the organisation then copies of all the materials you produced. The portfolio may be submitted in hard or electronic copy. Only one portfolio submission per group. The portfolio and presentation combined are worth 25%. The portfolio is worth 15% of the final grade. The presentation is worth 10%. Presentation grades will be given separately to the portfolio, and emailed to each group.


Written report – 15% - due 6th June (completed individually) 

An individual submission which provides an in-depth overview of your work throughout the semester. It should not exceed 10 pages at the absolute maximum. Detailed instructions are found in the marking criteria below. You are encouraged to link what you did for your organisation with relevant theories and best practice from the literature.

Assessment Rubrics

Marking Criteria – Progress report (individual)

  • Well written, easy to read, minimal jargon
  • Excellent spelling, punctuation, grammar
  • Structured well including:
  • overview of organisation
  • organisation’s objectives
  • your assignment (and how these relate to objectives)
  • description of your work plan and how you are working towards assignment completion, with reference to evidence/literature as appropriate
  • Any barriers or problems your group has encountered so far and how you are going to address them


Marking Criteria – Presentation & Portfolio (both are group submissions, one per group)


  • Well presented, easy to understand, minimal jargon
  • Excellent spelling, punctuation, grammar on slides or supporting materials
  • Appropriate, well justified approach to task
  • Clear explanation of process and outcomes
  • Honest and fair reflection of the group of strengths and opportunities



  • Can be presented in hard copy or electronically in whatever format makes most sense to convey the information clearly
  • Portfolio should include:
  • No more than two page summary of your task and expected deliverables (if necessary also documenting how those deliverables evolved)
  • any materials produced during the course of work (i.e. web sites, blogs, pamphlets etc) are included. Meeting notes are also acceptable.
  • Excellent spelling, punctuation, grammar
  • Final mark will be influenced by industry representative feedback.


Marking Criteria – Final report (individual)

  • Well written, easy to read, minimal jargon
  • Excellent spelling, punctuation, grammar
  • Structured well including:
  • overview of organisation
  • organisation’s objectives
  • your assignment (and how these relate to objectives) *NB You may incorporate the organisation information from the proposal however any suggested changes from the first assessment should be integrated here.
  • description of process used to develop resources to meet identified needs, including justification of choices based on evidence and literature as appropriate.
  • how successful was your group in meeting identified need? (how will you evaluate success?)
  • Recommendations for future activities based on identified challenges, barriers and opportunities
  • Tables and graphs, if used, are labelled correctly
  • Limitations identified and acknowledged (if appropriate)


Page limit: 

Progress Report – No more than four (4) pages. Final Report - No more than (10) pages. Portfolio – Two (2) page summary max. No page limit for materials produced.


Progress Report = 10%     Presentation (10%) & portfolio (15%) = 25%    Written report = 15%             

Presentation requirements:

Presentation requires visual aids appropriate to topic. Progress and written reports should be in .docx or similar format with clear layout. Portfolio may be submitted in whatever format best suits the presentation of materials produced.

Estimated return date:

Within two weeks after submission.

Assessment Task 2

Value: 15 %
Due Date: 18/03/2019
Return of Assessment: 01/04/2019
Learning Outcomes: 1, 2, 4, 5

Writing Assignment

In this assignment you must choose one recent journal article (published within the last 12 months) and turn it into a news story of approximately 250-350 words. Please also include a 200-300 description of what you did to research and write this story.

Marking explanation

(Detailed rubric available on the class Wattle site)

  • Choosing a suitable topic: Is the paper you have chosen recent and the findings interesting to a general reader? [Think about WHY it is newsworthy and use that to justify your choice)
  • Effective explanation: You need to identify the substance of the research and explain the science clearly, presenting it accurately
  • Appropriate style (upside down triangle): This is your opportunity to demonstrate your understanding of the news style. You need to include the relevant items (who, what, where, when, why and how)
  • Clear expression and flow: This relates to the readability of your writing, whether you have proofread the work, and whether you have correctly pitched the story to the audience.
  • Attribution: Identifying the paper, researchers and their organisation/s (so the reader can track down the source). Any quotes are properly attributed to the speaker and/or the source of the quote.
  • Short and catchy pull out: Taken straight from the news article text, it ‘grabs’ the reader

Assessment Task 3

Value: 25 %
Due Date: 02/05/2019
Return of Assessment: 16/05/2019
Learning Outcomes: 1, 2, 4, 5

Promotion Assignment - Option 1/3 (value 25%)

For this assessment task you will be asked to develop a communication plan and appropriate material to promote National Science Week in the ACT. You can choose to promote National Science Week in its entirety or one particular event. Or, you can choose a different event altogether – please check your event choice with Merryn prior to starting. You are allowed to use whatever merchandise and strategies you see fit, so long as you have clearly identified the resources required in your communication plan. You must CLEARLY identify which media channels you are using. Stating ‘newspapers’ as an outlet is not acceptable and you will be marked down accordingly.

What you must include:

  • A brief overview of what you are going to promote (ie a single event or the whole week)
  • The objective of your communication plan
  • Your target audience/s is/are clearly identified
  • A press release
  • A communication plan
  • At least three (3) of the following - brochures, posters, invitations, postcards, websites, sample tweets, sample content for Facebook posts, blog entries etc.

You are judged on content and clarity of the message, not your design or artwork skills. I look at placement of information and font size and how easily read & understood your materials are, and if they fit their purpose in communicating to their intended audience.

What you are NOT expected to include or do:

  • Provide budgets or any form of itemised costs or staffing
  • Develop a website (a mock up of the front page is fine but nothing more!)
  • Produce and edit a video
  • Actually run the event!

If you are unsure about any aspect of this assessment task please check with Merryn.

Assessment Rubrics

(Detailed rubric available on the class Wattle site)

Work can be presented in any format you choose (hard copy or electronic or a mixture). Grading will be based on:

  • Evidence of understanding (and application of understanding) of how to develop a communication plan. This includes:
  • Setting a clear, realistic objective
  •  Identifying target audience/s
  •  Explicitly identifying appropriate channels for disseminating information to your audience. Simply saying “via print media” of “using the internet” for example is not enough. Which publications? Which websites? Failure to do so will be heavily penalised
  • Appropriateness of promotional materials for identified purpose and target audience
  • This is assessed based on the target audiences and objective you have identified. If you are targeting schools for example, are you using communication channels/organisations that are appropriate to that target audience? You must provide evidence that you have considered where your target audience accesses information or how you can put your information effectively in front of them. Relying solely on mass media is not enough. Think about specific publication types, social media spaces, where your target audience is likely to ‘hang out’ physically and/or virtually.
  • Clarity of key message and how effectively this is reinforced through materials
  • Your key message must be short, relevant and consistent
  • Key messages support/enhance specified objective of the communication plan
  • Quality of press release writing. Aspects considered will be:
  • newsworthiness of release
  • writing style (active voice, inverted pyramid structure, use of quotes, clarity)
  • Correct press release layout

Assessment Task 4

Value: 25 %
Due Date: 02/05/2019
Return of Assessment: 16/05/2019
Learning Outcomes: 1, 2, 4, 5

Essay - Science controversies in the media - option 2/3 (value 25%)

For this assignment you are to choose a scientific topic which has had some coverage in the media (eg, Nuclear power stations in Japan, Carbon pricing, ‘scientific’ whaling). You are then to describe at least four different media items on the topic from different sources and, comparing them with the relevant scientific literature, answer the question 'Has the science of this topic been sufficiently represented in the media to allow the reader/viewer/listener to make an informed decision?'


Elements to consider (but not necessarily an exhaustive list!):

  • The accuracy of the science presented
  • The framing and/or tone of the media items
  • The people quoted in the items
  • The potential agenda of the individual (or organisation) producing the media item


This is to be written in essay style and must include proper referencing style and format.

Assessment Rubrics

Marking explanation

Grading will be based on:

  • Appropriateness of chosen topic and media items
  • How well you focus your essay on the issues of the question
  • Clarity of your argument, supported by examples/literature as appropriate
  • Evidence of ‘wide and critical reading’
  • Correct spelling, grammar and punctuation
  • Proper and consistent referencing

You are encouraged to look at https://academicskills.anu.edu.au which has a section on essay writing. You may also find a generic ANU grading rubric useful; available on https://academicskills.anu.edu.au/resources/handouts/sample-anu-grading-system-and-meaning.


Word limit: 2,500 – 3,000 words in total (leeway of ±10% without penalty)

Value: 25%

Due date and return date to be determined

Assessment Task 5

Value: 25 %
Due Date: 02/05/2019
Return of Assessment: 16/05/2019
Learning Outcomes: 1, 2, 4, 5

Feature article - option 3/3 (value 25%)

In this assignment you are to find a science researcher (from ANU or elsewhere) and interview them about their research. Then find a person who can provide a human interest storyline to illustrate the science. Write the two interviews up as a feature article (approx 1000-1500 words), including one or two illustrative images. You can suggest images, you do not need to take them yourself. You should aim to make your article suitable for publication in a magazine. Please specify which magazine you would pitch this piece for.

Assessment Rubrics

Marking explanation

Grading will be based on:

  • Topic choice: Features require sustained interest from the reader and should be relatively timeless, not relying too strongly on a news item (but can refer to news events).
  • Structure/Storyline: A catchy opening of the story, to grab the reader. The story you have chosen should illustrate the science featured in the article. Your grade will reflect how well you incorporate science in your story and how well you explain it. The story needs to weave throughout the theme (what the feature is actually about). We need to go somewhere in the story, either back to where we started or to somewhere new. Does the feature take the reader on a journey?
  • Interviewees: You need to interview at least two people. These marks are being allocated for the appropriateness of the scientific representative and the choice of the person to run the storyline. You also must attribute your interviewees appropriately.
  • Language: This covers things like readability of the story, whether it is interesting, whether quotes have been handled well, whether information is attributed and whether the document has been proof read.
  • Explain science: Features often go much broader and therefore don’t include a huge amount of science, but the science that is there should be well explained.
  • Image: This assignment does not ask you to take a picture but to make suggestions as you would to an editor if you were submitting the work. You will get more points if you add captions to explain what the thinking was behind an image (particularly for fairly generic images).
  • Pull out: They should be part of the text, snappy, eye catching and summarise some part of the story.


Word limit: 1,000 – 1,500 words in total (leeway of ±10% without penalty)

Assessment Task 6

Value: 10 %
Due Date: 25/02/2019
Return of Assessment: 04/07/2019
Learning Outcomes: 1, 3, 4

Analysis of material in the media

Each week a small number of class participants will present a media item (each) on a scientific topic to the class. It is to be uploaded to Wattle on the Monday of ‘your’ week. ALL class members are expected to read the article on Wattle and contribute to the subsequent discussion by the following Monday morning (9am). The student who provided the article is to facilitate a group discussion online. The post/s made during the discussion should be relatively short (300 words max) but should critically review how the science is presented in the media. You are marked on your ability to critically review the article based on the material covered in class, as well as your ability to facilitate and moderate discussion (when it is your ‘turn’).

ALL class members are expected to read the article on Wattle and contribute to the subsequent discussion. You MUST reply to at least ONE article each week. You do not need to respond to every article posted each week, but you may if you wish. One article is the accepted minimum.

Assessment Rubrics

(Detailed rubric available on the class Wattle site)

Grading will be based on:

  • Appropriateness of chosen article (when moderating)
  • Ability to guide and stimulate discussion (when moderating)
  • Ability to synthesise weeklong discussion into a brief ‘recap’ and conclusion (when moderating)
  • Evidence of applying theoretical understanding to ‘real’ article (when reviewing)
  • Clarity of argument with efficiency of word use (i.e. saying what needs to be said, without being verbose)

You must respond to at least one article each week. Moderators are exempt from posting for their week only. Cannot be completed retrospectively unless prior permission given for a compelling reason.

Academic Integrity

Academic integrity is a core part of our culture as a community of scholars. At its heart, academic integrity is about behaving ethically. This means that all members of the community commit to honest and responsible scholarly practice and to upholding these values with respect and fairness. The Australian National University commits to embedding the values of academic integrity in our teaching and learning. We ensure that all members of our community understand how to engage in academic work in ways that are consistent with, and actively support academic integrity. The ANU expects staff and students to uphold high standards of academic integrity and act ethically and honestly, to ensure the quality and value of the qualification that you will graduate with. The University has policies and procedures in place to promote academic integrity and manage academic misconduct. Visit the following Academic honesty & plagiarism website for more information about academic integrity and what the ANU considers academic misconduct. The ANU offers a number of services to assist students with their assignments, examinations, and other learning activities. The Academic Skills and Learning Centre offers a number of workshops and seminars that you may find useful for your studies.

Online Submission

The ANU uses Turnitin to enhance student citation and referencing techniques, and to assess assignment submissions as a component of the University's approach to managing Academic Integrity. While the use of Turnitin is not mandatory, the ANU highly recommends Turnitin is used by both teaching staff and students. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the ANU Online website.

Hardcopy Submission

For some forms of assessment (hand written assignments, art works, laboratory notes, etc.) hard copy submission is appropriate when approved by the Associate Dean (Education). Hard copy submissions must utilise the Assignment Cover Sheet. Please keep a copy of tasks completed for your records.

Late Submission

No submission of assessment tasks without an extension after the due date will be permitted. If an assessment task is not submitted by the due date, a mark of 0 will be awarded.

Referencing Requirements

Accepted academic practice for referencing sources that you use in presentations can be found via the links on the Wattle site, under the file named “ANU and College Policies, Program Information, Student Support Services and Assessment”. Alternatively, you can seek help through the Students Learning Development website.

Returning Assignments

Assignments will be returned within two weeks of submission

Extensions and Penalties

Extensions and late submission of assessment pieces are covered by the Student Assessment (Coursework) Policy and Procedure The Course Convener may grant extensions for assessment pieces that are not examinations or take-home examinations. If you need an extension, you must request an extension in writing on or before the due date. If you have documented and appropriate medical evidence that demonstrates you were not able to request an extension on or before the due date, you may be able to request it after the due date.

Privacy Notice

The ANU has made a number of third party, online, databases available for students to use. Use of each online database is conditional on student end users first agreeing to the database licensor’s terms of service and/or privacy policy. Students should read these carefully. In some cases student end users will be required to register an account with the database licensor and submit personal information, including their: first name; last name; ANU email address; and other information. In cases where student end users are asked to submit ‘content’ to a database, such as an assignment or short answers, the database licensor may only use the student’s ‘content’ in accordance with the terms of service — including any (copyright) licence the student grants to the database licensor. Any personal information or content a student submits may be stored by the licensor, potentially offshore, and will be used to process the database service in accordance with the licensors terms of service and/or privacy policy. If any student chooses not to agree to the database licensor’s terms of service or privacy policy, the student will not be able to access and use the database. In these circumstances students should contact their lecturer to enquire about alternative arrangements that are available.

Distribution of grades policy

Academic Quality Assurance Committee monitors the performance of students, including attrition, further study and employment rates and grade distribution, and College reports on quality assurance processes for assessment activities, including alignment with national and international disciplinary and interdisciplinary standards, as well as qualification type learning outcomes. Since first semester 1994, ANU uses a grading scale for all courses. This grading scale is used by all academic areas of the University.

Support for students

The University offers students support through several different services. You may contact the services listed below directly or seek advice from your Course Convener, Student Administrators, or your College and Course representatives (if applicable).
Dr Merryn McKinnon
6125 4951

Research Interests

Dr Merryn McKinnon

Dr Merryn McKinnon

Research Interests

Dr Merryn McKinnon

Responsible Officer: Registrar, Student Administration / Page Contact: Website Administrator / Frequently Asked Questions