I think that in typical Biology undergraduate programs a fair bit of thought goes into giving our students opportunities to improve their communication skills as scientists, but in my opinion this is usually limited to communicating with other biologists. Some time is perhaps spent talking about communicating with scientists outside of our field of study or discipline, but I think that we are really falling behind when it comes to teaching the skills of how to communicate with non-scientists about biology. In today’s interconnected and global world, I think that these skills are vital to our students’ future success in whatever career or degree they tackle next.
With this in mind, my goal was to be able to offer a 4th year undergraduate course in Science Communication that would examine the scholarship of this field and give students opportunities to put into practice what they learned. I was successful in getting the course into the departmental offerings for 2018-2019 and the course ran for the first time from January to April 2019. It’s fair to say that a lot of learning took place in our classroom and that it wasn’t limited to only the students.
When I design a new course, I start by identifying course goals and learning outcomes. It’s always a challenge to make these meaningful and flexible without being too vague. For this course, I stated that by the end of the course my students should be able to:
- Understand various scholarship and theory about the field of Science Communication.
- Be able to develop communication plans appropriate for a wide range of audiences.
- Take part in science communication efforts using several modes of delivery.
- Evaluate the effectiveness of science communication presentations.
- Be able to organize themselves as part of a team and plan and deliver effective science communication projects.
- Be able to research, analyze, and synthesize information in order to produce short writing pieces.
- Possess a broad understanding and appreciation for the importance of science communication and be able to serve as ambassadors of science.
I think that during the course we achieved the above outcomes, but to varying degrees. My overarching goal was to drive home the importance of #7 and I think that I achieved that.
In my next post, I’ll talk about how I decided what topics to cover each week and the in-class active learning exercises that I used to teach my students and allow them to put into practice what they were learning each week.