Designing and implementing a communicating science course for undergraduate science students

  • Eric Jandciu, Faculty of Science, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

    B Dunham, Department of Statistics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

    J Stewart, Department of Chemistry, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

    A Trites, Fishers Centre, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

    In this seminar, we will begin by outlining the backwards design process (Wiggins and McTighe 2005) used to design a new undergraduate course at the University of British Columbia (UBC) called Communicating Science. Next, we will facilitate a group discussion on activities and assessments that could be used to improve students’ abilities to communicate science. Finally, we will show some examples of student work that demonstrate how the course has given students practical communication skills they can use no matter their future endeavours.

    Communicating Science (SCIE 300) introduces students to a variety of methods for communicating scientific information to diverse audiences. Students graduating with a science undergraduate degree may continue on a traditional pathway by completing graduate school in science and ultimately becoming research scientists in industry or academia. Many will choose alternate pathways and become teachers, journalists, politicians, or physicians, to name just a few possibilities. Regardless of the career path, a diverse range of communication skills is required. In addition, for society to make rational decisions based on solid scientific knowledge, scientific information must be communicated broadly and effectively. UBC undergraduate students recognize the importance of these skills, but a majority feel that although communication skills are expected during their degree, they find formal training in these areas lacking. SCIE 300 was developed to address this perceived deficiency.

    The learning goals for SCIE 300 were developed with input from several departments in the Faculty of Science and through collaboration with teaching and learning scholars, educational technologists, and UBC staff with journalism and publishing expertise. There are three overarching learning goals for the course: (1) Communicate scientific information to scientific audiences, (2) Communicate scientific information to non-expert audiences, and (3) Critically appraise scientific information and reporting. Specific lesson-based learning objectives were developed to help students meet the broad learning goals.

    To meet these learning objectives, students are asked to consider how science is communicated to a variety of audiences through carefully designed activities [DeHaan 2005]. For example, when considering scientific audiences, students perform a scientific investigation in groups [Peat et al. 2005]; they create a proposal, draft an outline, and give a conference-style presentation. Individually, they participate in peer review and finally compose a paper in the format of a scientific article. When considering non-scientific audiences, students contribute to a course blog, write in journalistic style and produce their own podcast and video about current scientific research [Lippincott 2007]. Woven throughout the course are hands-on writing activities that address common problems in scientific writing. We also include class discussions on many contemporary issues related to communicating science, such as the role of social media, copyright, and public misconceptions of science and the scientific process.
    To evaluate student attitudes and perceptions of the various components of the course, surveys and focus groups were developed and administered. The responses have been used to make refinements to the course content, activities, and assessments.


    • DeHaan RL (2005) The Impending Revolution in Undergraduate Science Education. Journal of Science Education and Technology 14(2):253-269
    • Lippincott JK (2007) Student Content Creators: Convergence of Literacies. EDUCAUSE Review 42(6):16-17
    • Peat M, Taylor CE and Franklin S (2005) Re-Engineering of Undergraduate Science Curricula to Emphasise Development of Lifelong Learning Skills. Innovations in Education and Teaching International 42(2):135-146
    • Wiggins GP and McTighe J (2005) Understanding by Design. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, VA