Who Am I?
Apart from the existential questions there, I’m Lyle Skains. I am a practice-based researcher in digital creative writing, now focusing on using interactive digital narratives for health & science communications. I am the PI of the Infectious Storytelling project, and a co-I on You and CO2. I have published on the cognitive, creative, and narratological effects of designing interactive digital narratives, as well as contemporary publishing. I recently took up a post at Bournemouth University as a Senior Lecturer in Health & Science Communication, and that is the base for the Playable Comms project.
Aims for Development
I am currently seeking new collaborators across the arts, humanities, and sciences to investigate new projects under the Playable Comms banner. I aim to widen Playable Comms to multiple communication/education campaigns, with a variety of artists (including practitioner-researchers) working with humanities and science researchers to create purpose-built “entertainment-as-education” works to reach specific audiences on topics of local, national, and global importance.
I am embarking on a 3-year targeted research period, enabled by my post as a Targeted Academic Researcher at Bournemouth University, in which I aim to build on my previous small-scale, interdisciplinary, inter-institutional health and science communication through IDN projects. These projects explored the use of IDNs for: improving teenagers’ body image, effecting positive behaviour regarding climate change, and educating patients regarding antimicrobial resistance. In each of these projects, initial data largely consists of researcher observation indicating that reading and writing IDNs is an effective method of educating and positively influencing audiences; corroborating quantitative data, however, is yet to be obtained. Each project has taken an individuated approach to learning through IDNs; by incorporating insights gained from rigorous evaluation of the efficacy of IDNs for health and science communication, I intend to develop a foundational method for implementing IDNs as educational and communication tools for a wide array of audiences and environments.
Thus, I propose controlled trials evaluating several IDN-based health and science communication projects, determining their efficacy across a range of situations and subjects. I intend to expand my current climate change and antimicrobial resistance projects, as well as projects engaging girls in STEM and the general public in art and media produced by underrepresented populations (women, LGBTQ+, people with disabilities, BAME). This will enable evaluation of IDNs as a communication method in secondary schools, NHS patients, young girls, and the wider public, across a range of topics that serve UN Sustainable Development Goals. I will then be able to use the project data to develop a robust protocol for designing and employing IDNs for health and science communication.
These projects are always collaborative and interdisciplinary, incorporating team members from a wide variety of disciplines. I have worked with a chemist, a psychologist, and a special education needs expert on one project; a Romanticist, a microbiologist, and a film scholar on another. This wide interdisciplinary approach enables us to address “big” issues, many of which align with the UN Sustainability Goals, such as climate change education and behaviour contributing to antimicrobial resistance.
For You and CO2 and Infectious Storytelling, I have been the team narrative designer, conceiving and constructing IDNs specifically tailored to the project aims and audiences. On the level of my individual research interests, I create these IDNs as practice-based research into the process of creating purpose-built health and sci-comm narratives: what are the considerations, the limits, the challenges, and the changes that impact the creator and the work itself?
On a wider project level, my background in both science and art enables me to facilitate group interactions and activities, and my experience as a professional writer and editor enables me to fulfil roles as project manager, grant coordinator, and dissemination author.
I started my research career not as a writer, but as a scientist. I got my first undergraduate degree from Texas A&M University (gig ’em!) in Animal Science, and went from there to a funded PhD placement in evolutionary biology at Penn State. I spent time there reviving and replicating DNA from extinct frog species, and making systematic comparative 3-D measurements of hominid teeth.
I loved the science. I didn’t love the lab. I quit, and I started over.
This time I earned my undergraduate degree in Creative Writing at the University of New Mexico, and while working as a professional writer in the medical and entertainment industries, I earned my Master’s in Professional Writing from the University of Southern California. More professional writing and 10,000 miles later, I finally found my place as a researcher: conducting practice-based research on digital narrative design. I earned my PhD in Creative Writing & Digital Media in 2014 from Bangor University, under the amazing tutelage of Prof. Astrid Ensslin and Dr. Eben Muse.
Evolving toward Health & Sci-Comm
In 2018 I was awarded a place on the Welsh Crucible program, which places 30 researchers, with no regard for discipline, in a series of three 2-day residential workshops. The goal is to mix everyone together and see what kind of collaborative, interdisciplinary research projects can emerge. This is where You & CO2 and Infectious Storytelling were conceived.
Collaborating on these projects finally uncovered the niche I’m delighted to fill: designing interactive digital narratives for health and science communication. This niche lets me combine my favourite intellectual interests—science and narrative—into the same project. I get to work with fascinating people who constantly push me to look at the world and my work from new angles, and to do new and challenging things.