Pedagogy in Action > Library > Professional Communication Projects: Training Science Students to Communicate

Professional Communication Projects: Training Science Students to Communicate

Author Profile
This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project

Developed by Colleen H. Fava, Basic Sciences Communication Studio Coordinator, Louisiana State University
and Darrell Henry, Campanile Charities Professor of Geology and Geophysics, Louisiana State University



Science Communications
Industry, public agencies, and professional and graduate school admissions committees are increasingly voicing their concerns about the communication skills of recent college graduates. Program accreditation agencies have begun incorporating professional experience and communication skill development into their learning outcomes matrices. For example, ABET, Inc. (formerly the "Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology") requires development in both areas for accreditation of undergraduate and graduate programs in the applied sciences, computing, engineering, and technology. In addition, faculty members with the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies at MIT attest to the relevance of such curricular changes in their findings from three case studies; the authors state, "The importance of helping students meet the target competencies of professional practice, of teaching effective teamwork and collaboration, and of teaching students to understand and argue with visual data are recognized as widespread needs, and these case studies attest to the possibilities and challenges in meeting those needs." link to article

What is a Professional Communication Project?

A Professional Communication Project is an assignment that asks students to effectively communicate scientific information in a genre that professional scientists are expected to master. For example, scientific posters, conference proposals, and oral presentations.

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Why Teach Professional Communication Projects?

Professional scientists are continuously required to communicate their science to a variety of audiences using a number of modes of communication. Yet, there is traditionally little-or-no training in the manner in which a scientist communicates within a given scientific discipline. However, these skills can, and should be, developed earlier in the formative environment of undergraduate science courses.

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How to Teach Professional Communication Projects

In order to effectively incorporate professional communication projects into a science course, there are several considerations that should be made. Identify authentic, professional communication projects that naturally support your course goals. Do not impose the projects upon the course, but instead allow the projects to grow organically with the content. Think about the science with which you are asking your students to work.

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Examples of Professional Communication Projects

References

"I have added 'real' field research problems in the Communication-Intensive classes I teach, making this work part of the oral and written products in the class that are evaluated for a grade. The real-world aspect of the field problem has clearly focused the student's interest in the field problem and the outcomes resulting from their work. Class performance, as indicated by attendance and good class questions, is better than in classes that I have previously taught without the real field problem aspect of the course.

Students seem excited by the potential outcomes and are clearly working hard to generate a good research paper. One student has asked permission to revisit the field areas (there are two) and acquire more data. Another is working hard in the laboratory to generate numbers sooner than would have been possible, so that the class will have the data from the work available at an earlier time. Another student has asked specific questions about authorship with the expectation that he will be an author. One student who early on was not very attentive now has moved to the front row in the classroom and clearly is working much harder on the material in the course. There are many more class questions and the work in the field was very positive."

– Brooks Ellwood, LSU Professor of Geology & Geophysics, on his modified senior-level Geoarchaeology course.





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