Embedding science communication skills in first year biology students using a multi-stage team project

Galea AM, LeBard R and Wilson JE

School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia.

Communication skills, information literacy and the capacity for self-reflection are all highly desirable graduate attributes that can be developed and honed from the very beginning of a student’s university program. But building the optimal learning tasks for achieving these goals in both general and discipline-specific contexts can be very challenging, especially in large first year courses which are typically populated by students with very diverse interests and educational backgrounds. Here we describe the design and implementation of a new team-based learning activity that aims to embed a range of general and discipline-specific skills and capabilities in the students of a large first year biology course at the University of New South Wales, Sydney. The BABS1201 Science Communication Project is a semester-long group task with multiple components. Working in teams of 3 to 4 people, students select a modern biology topic or discovery from an extensive list of subjects that align with the core concepts and themes of the course. For each team, the primary objective is to design and develop a presentation (in any format) that will effectively communicate their subject and its core biological concepts to their peers. The project is scaffolded by several other components, including a scientific literature essay, a project pitch with peer feedback, a project diary, a reflective essay, and peer evaluation. Creativity and innovation are encouraged, acknowledged and rewarded throughout the project. Initial outcomes and feedback from students and staff have indicated that the project effectively engages students with modern biology and permits them to develop, exercise and enhance a range of communication skills.