New publication – Transforming tradition: how the iconic Christmas Lectures series is perceived by its audiences

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Photo credit: Paul Wilkinson Photography

Margarida SardoHannah Little and Laura Fogg Rogers conducted research to explore strengths and opportunities for improving the series and modernising the Christmas Lectures. The SCU team has recently published a full paper on the findings: A.M. Sardo, H. Little & L. Fogg-Rogers (2021) Transforming tradition: how the iconic Christmas Lectures series is perceived by its audiences, International Journal of Science Education, Part B, 11:4, 378-393.

The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures are a landmark in the history of science communication. Started in 1825 by Faraday, they continue to be broadcast in the UK every year.

In this paper we explore the characteristics of the audiences for the current Christmas Lecture offerings and investigate how these engagements are perceived by their audiences. This is significant and timely since viewing habits are shifting away from traditional television and even iconic landmarks such as the Christmas Lectures have to adapt to remain relevant to old and new audiences. With today’s changing media landscape, it is important to know who is currently watching, how they are watching, and how they are perceiving the content. This cross-sectional study evaluated perceptions of live audiences, people watching at home via Twitter, and awareness of the Lectures by science-interested audiences. The Lectures play a key role as a traditional cultural event for science enthusiasts and are valued by these audiences for performative identity sharing and valued tradition. However, younger generations are shifting away from traditional television to online videos, and the Lectures must adapt to remain relevant to new audiences.

Photo credit: Paul Wilkinson Photography

While the Lectures themselves may not need changing, the broadcast Lectures as a vehicle to reach young people, or to enhance science capital for non-science enthusiasts, may have to be further thought through. Younger audiences are spending less time viewing traditional television and more time viewing online content, which tends to be shorter and enable interactive online con- versations. If the Ri wishes to extend the reach of its audience for the Lectures, the broadcast format may need to change to feature on channels or media which younger non-science enthusiasts are more likely to watch.

Margarida Sardo, Senior Research Fellow in Science Communication, Science Communication Unit, UWE Bristol.

UWE Repository link

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