A writing-intensive course improves biology undergraduates' perception and confidence of their abilities to read scientific literature and communicate science

Sara E. Brownell, Jordan V. Price, Lawrence Steinman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

39 Scopus citations

Abstract

Most scientists agree that comprehension of primary scientific papers and communication of scientific concepts are two of the most important skills that we can teach, but few undergraduate biology courses make these explicit course goals. We designed an undergraduate neuroimmunology course that uses a writing-intensive format. Using a mixture of primary literature, writing assignments directed toward a layperson and scientist audience, and in-class discussions, we aimed to improve the ability of students to 1) comprehend primary scientific papers, 2) communicate science to a scientific audience, and 3) communicate science to a layperson audience. We offered the course for three consecutive years and evaluated its impact on student perception and confidence using a combination of pre- and postcourse survey questions and coded open-ended responses. Students showed gains in both the perception of their understanding of primary scientific papers and of their abilities to communicate science to scientific and layperson audiences. These results indicate that this unique format can teach both communication skills and basic science to undergraduate biology students. We urge others to adopt a similar format for undergraduate biology courses to teach process skills in addition to content, thus broadening and strengthening the impact of undergraduate courses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)70-79
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Advances in Physiology Education
Volume37
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2013
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Communication
  • Curriculum
  • Likert-scale surveys
  • Neuroimmunology
  • Primary literature
  • Undergraduates
  • Writing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology

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