Why Teach Professional Communication Projects?

"If you cannot - in the long run - tell everyone what you have been doing, your doing has been worthless."
Erwin Schrodinger (Nobel Prize winner in physics),http://www.plainlanguage.gov/resources/quotes/science.cfm

Professional scientists are continuously required to communicate their science to a variety of audiences using multi-modal communication. Yet, there is traditionally little formal training for scientists to develop effective communication strategies within a given discipline. In the past, these skills may have been developed under the tutelage of a mentor or perhaps by trial-and-error in the professional setting. However, these skills can be developed earlier in the formative environment of undergraduate science courses. In addition to student immersion into the professional scientific community, this practice reinforces content-knowledge and enhances the development of commonly agreed-upon core skills we hope all college graduates possess: problem-solving, communication, teamwork, and critical thinking (Billing, 2007).

The integration of class assignments modeled on work which is produced by the scientific community is built on the premise of situational learning, "learning is the act of being socialized into disciplines" wherein students both communicate to learn and learn to communicate (Carter, Ferzli, & Wiebe, 2007).

"The CxC model, facilities, and instructional support have been effective tools for enhancing the communication skills of undergraduate students. Today's technology-driven society requires everyone to be efficient in conveying information in different formats. LSU undergraduates are better suited for professional careers when they are provided the opportunity to improve their communication skills. I have witnessed dramatic changes in the quality of presentations and writing when the students visit the Basic Sciences Communication Studio. I strongly believe they will be better prepared to share information in their future fields.

My personal undergraduate experience had limited presentation-based assignments to help me learn how to be an effective communicator. As an instructor supporting a CxC pedagogical model, I have learned a great deal about presentation execution and design. Further, it has allowed me to demonstrate the effectiveness of communication in multiple formats. I recommend this program to everyone."

– Becky Carmichael, LSU PhD Candidate in Biological Sciences & Graduate Teaching Assistant for Conservation Biology.

This cyclical learning process enables students to achieve:

  • More robust understanding (or mastery) of scientific content necessary to explain a topic
  • Ownership of the data used to communicate the science
  • Development of good, professional communication habits at an early stage
  • An opportunity to practice effective scientific-communication in a supportive environment
  • Integration into the professional communities to which they aspire to belong
  • Collection of high-quality artifacts as evidence of scientific proficiency when applying to research programs, internships, and graduate/professional schools.

"By implementing teaching techniques that get students to put more time into studying, learning, and developing critical thinking skills they will learn more and retain it longer. Assignments that require extensive writing, speaking, and new intellectual activities are extremely effective at getting students to learn.

The ChemDemo service-learning component—incorporated into all of my undergraduate chemistry courses—sends students out to regional K-12 classrooms to teach a 50-minute unit on a thematic set of topics/concepts taught in General Chemistry. These concepts are backed-up and illustrated with exciting hands-on demonstrations that the LSU students use to engage the K-12 students. When the LSU students have to teach concepts they are learning in our lectures at an age-appropriate level they spend a lot of time making sure they understand those concepts in order to teach them to younger students. This is spoken engagement at a very high level. By teaching these concepts they are exposed to an authentic professional community while simultaneously engaged in a highly effective "communicating to learn" exercise.

In support of my own perception of improved-learning, students enrolled in my sections of General Chemistry consistently score 10-percentage-points higher on the department-wide final exam than students enrolled in sections that do not incorporate hands-on professional communication projects."

– George Stanley, LSU Professor of Chemistry, sees improved student engagement and learning through real-world projects in his undergraduate chemistry courses.