How to Integrate Professional Communication Projects into Existing Courses

At Louisiana State University, the faculty members benefit from a comprehensive Communication across the Curriculum program to assist them in the development of assignments and courses. Faculty work with the college's staff to identify relevant projects, improve instructional practices, design grading matrices, achieve focused feedback, and accomplish general implementation and support for their classes. While this offers an exceptional level of support, this model can easily be adopted by individual members of any academic department.

In order to effectively incorporate professional communication projects into a science course there are several initial considerations that should be made.

LSU Faculty Members & BASC Studio Coordinator form an interdisciplinary team to develop communication projects for undergraduates, May 2009

  1. Identify authentic, professional communication projects that naturally support your course goals. If students are using advanced visualization software to answer a research question or in support of an experiment they are undertaking, perhaps a comprehensive poster or oral presentation using PowerPoint would be an effective means of synthesizing what they have learned.
  2. Do not impose the projects upon the course, but instead allow the projects to grow organically with the content. While all science students need exposure to multiple professional genres, one size does not fit all. It is not useful, for example, to ask students to write an NSF-modeled grant proposal in an introductory lab course. Instead, as students are focused on effective lab-techniques, ask them to maintain a journal detailing their methods and processes and to turn in regular lab reports similar to the documentation you keep for your own research.
  3. Think about the science you are asking your students to work with and answer the following questions about the work you have assigned:
  • Are students conducting simple or complex experiments?
  • Is there the possibility of new discoveries?
  • Is the emphasis on the methods or the results?
  • Are they primarily focused on scientific theory?
  • Are students being asked to make judgments? Incorporate value systems?
  • Is the majority of the research required for the course primary (hands-on student-research) or secondary (scientific literature reviews)?
  • Is there an authentic outside audience for the information the students gather, such as a conference or scholarly journal?
  • Is there a reasonable, imaginary outside audience for the information, such as a granting agency or research program admissions committee?
Specific types of courses lend themselves naturally to different communication genres, as do specific stages of scientific inquiry. The following list of assignments provides examples appropriate to different types of courses.
Most Laboratory courses: Lab journals, processes and methods manuals, safety guidelines

Upper Division Lab Courses:
Scientific posters/poster sessions, peer-reviewed journal articles, conference-style presentations

Theory Courses:
Public audience materials (flyers, brochures, informational posters, public service announcements, documentaries)

Capstone Courses:
Scientific posters/poster sessions, peer-reviewed journal articles, conference-style presentations, grant proposals and annual reports, project plans, review sessions, project-pitch sessions

Research Experiences for Undergraduates:
Scientific posters/poster sessions, peer-reviewed journal articles, conference-style presentations, grant proposals and annual reports, project plans, review sessions, project-pitch sessions See a description of an REU poster session

The most effective assignments are borne out of a genuine consideration of two things. What are the goals of your course? How do these goals fit with your own practice as a scientist?

"The CxC program and Basic Sciences Communication Studio has provided invaluable support for my communications-intensive course: Biological Sciences 3040, Evolution. Professional projects have notably improved both the quality of student communication skills and the degree to which students retain information. Much of this improvement is seemingly related to the nature of my CxC projects, which requires students to write a research paper and create a subsequent scientific poster detailing a scientific response to a common creationist criticism of evolutionary theory.

Scientific writing and poster design have unique sets of requirements and goals; the support provided by the BASC CxC studio is integral to the successful implementation of these projects, because the staff is familiar with the particular details common to effective scientific communication and because they share a contagious enthusiasm for direct, engaging, and effective communication. Interdisciplinary curricular design and instructional support has proven invaluable to the development of an effective learning environment in my courses."

– Bryan Carstens, LSU Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences, on the process of integrating communication pedagogy into the science curriculum.