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26 July 2016 @ 05:28 pm
Cheltenham Science Festival 2016  
As ever, I have got behind on posting about events. I knew the end of May and early June were going to be hectic with trips to Dagstuhl, Bristol and Cheltenham all happening in short order, but somehow things never really let up and it was only last week that I began to think life was beginning to get back to normal a little.

Last year Cheltenham proved to be a major undertaking which swallowed a good part of my time for four to six weeks for, I felt, somewhat dubious returns in terms of actual engagement with the public. This year we were actually approached to participate, rather than volunteering via various contacts which was nice. The Research Councils were jointly sponsoring a marquee with a space theme (the Space Dome) in order to capitalise on all the excitement around Tim Peake.

We took the decision that we would participate for half the week. The Space theme meant we wouldn't have to alter the Lego Rover activity in anyway to make it work with the marquee theme and I thought that three days would actually be considerably easier than six to manage in terms of the number of volunteers required etc. Instead of taking a team of eight people, some of whom only did a few days, I took a team of two. I worked them pretty hard but over three days that didn't actually exhaust anyone. Apart from the discovery that we didn't have enough hotel nights booked, everything went pretty smoothly and the amount of preparation needed in advance was minimal.

I think our stand worked a lot better as well. This was mostly a case of the additional programming work that had taken place over the summer. Thanks to some money from the STFC we'd hired a student to implement the activity on Android tablets, rather than on laptops. But I think the practice we'd had running the activity at various local events during the year meant we were much better at actually moving children at the stand beyond the "drive a robot" stage and into discussions of sensors and programming and so on.

It still cost in the region of a couple of thousand pounds to do, so if we get asked in future we'll have to think about budget and what we get out of it. I think it is fun, is a good experience for the PhD students who help out, and raises our profile as a public engagement activity. I think we did better in terms of actual engagement with science this year, but I find it hard to evaluate how much value we actually deliver in those terms and I continue to think that school visits are more worthwhile on that front. All in all I think the costs versus the benefits are fairly borderline. I certainly think we'd need something more (which might involve broadening our stand to include more of the robotics work at Liverpool or some such) before I'd contemplate putting the resources into a whole week.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/200633.html.