Poster Presentation Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Supporting the development of communication skills in capstone units (#307)

Yvonne Hodgson 1 , Julia Choate 1
  1. Monash University, Malvern East, VIC, Australia

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)

 Communication skills are consistently ranked as the primary skill sought by employers, but there is a mismatch between this expectation and employers’ satisfaction with the quality of these skills in graduates.  At Monash University a curriculum initiative in a capstone biomedical science unit involved students working in small groups over the 12 weeks of semester. The groups completed a number of tasks designed to develop communication skills, in the context of research.  Students were tutored and supported by a post-doctoral researcher to complete five assessment tasks: writing a scientific abstract (Task 1), searching the literature on a current issue in biomedical science, then giving an oral presentation (Task 2) and writing a research paper (Task 3), interviewing a research laboratory director, then giving an oral presentation (Task 4) and writing a plain language abstract (Task 5). 

Students were surveyed about the communication skills they thought they had developed during the semester. They identified scientific abstract writing (Task 1 & 5)  as a task that developed their “ability to understand journal articles” (67%).  Tasks 2, 3 and 4 were found to develop skills in, “discussing scientific concepts with others” (70%, 61%, 58%), “working collaboratively with others” (76%, 85%, 85%), the ability to “defend an argument” (70%, 61%, 64%) and their skill in “making oral presentations” (76%, 73%, 70%).  Students indicated that the tasks did not develop communication skills of explaining a research project to outside people and writing scientific reports.

In conclusion, we have designed a series of assessment tasks that develop communication skills, in particular those associated with discussing scientific concepts with others, defending an argument and understanding journal articles.  Our research experience was not seen by students as developing skills in writing scientific reports.  Modification of the assigned tasks should be able to address this issue in the future.

Addressing the theme/s of the Conference (up to 200 words recommended)

 This abstract addresses conference sub-theme 3. One of the Course Outcomes for the Monash Bachelor of Biomedical Sciences, is that graduates will be able to communicate ideas and results effectively to diverse audiences in a variety of formats. We have evaluated final year students’ perceptions of their communication skills improvement in a capstone unit specifically designed to support the development of these skills. Tutors supported student groups to complete assessment tasks designed around communication skills, in the context of research. We provide evidence that this approach can develop students communication skills and that this can be achieved in the context of research.