New ideas in T&L: September

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This is a new blog from Dr Kelly Matthews (OLT Fellow) who will post regular reviews of current topics in learning and teaching in science.  Kelly’s first paper comes from her own work on science students views of their learning outcomes.

Students’ perceptions of learning science communication: From first to final years

Kelly Matthews

Those of us working in science teaching and learning talk a lot about the Science Threshold Learning Outcomes (TLOs). They are meant to guide how we develop science curriculum and are essential for curriculum leaders. But what do science students think about science TLOs? This is an important question because students are the end-game. TLOs are a guide for us to prepare graduates who are engaged, scientifically literate citizens with the skills and know-how to thrive in life and career.

New research using the Science Students Skills Inventory has explored the views of 635 science undergraduates about science communication skills in the Bachelor of Science degree program. Key findings showed students’ perceptions of the importance of communication skills were higher than the extent to which they saw skills being included and assessed in their degree program. Unsurprisingly, many students reported low confidence.

According to the ACDS website, TLOs are a “framework for development of learning objectives for individual science degrees, which cascades to individual subjects”. This idea of progression across units resonates with Knight’s framework for progressive development of complex learning outcomes where complex skills – like communication – require practice and development over time to reach a high level of competence.

This study mapped students’ responses from all year levels in the science program. Did the research find progressive development for communication skills? Yes and no.

Students indicated progressive development from 1st to 3rd years for written communication, however oral communication showed no clear development across year levels. The key implication of these results is a lack of coherence and regular integration of opportunities for students to learn and practice communication skills across year levels.

An important contribution of this article is the progressive curriculum development framework because it offers a way for us to think and talk about TLOs from first to final years in science programs. The ‘voice of students’ in this study provides a clear indicator about the effectiveness of the teaching and learning of communication skills in the curriculum.

Kelly Matthews, Senior Lecturer in Higher Education
Institute for Teaching and Learning Innovation, Faculty of Science, The University of Queensland


Student perceptions of communication skills in undergraduate science at an Australian research-intensive university in Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education by Lucy D Mercer-Mapstone and Kelly E Matthews.

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