In 2013-14, the university-wide Graduate Attributes (GAs) Project ensured that the development and assessment of the GAs in every faculty were mapped within the programs of study. In the Faculty of Science, as part of the mapping process, the communication skills graduate attribute (GA 6) and the professional skills GA (GA3) were aligned with the Program learning outcomes.
The core first year subjects Principles of Scientific Practice (PSP) and Biocomplexity were identified as the communication skills (CS) milestone subjects to develop and assess CS in the first year of study.
These subjects establish foundational threshold communication standards for the students, including: developing strategies for reading and evaluating the scientific literature; writing scientific reports; using appropriate paraphrasing and referencing skills and practising oral communication skills.
These foundational communication and professional skills are discipline specific and embedded into the core subjects.
Principles of Scientific Practice (PSP)
The design of PSP integrates the teaching and learning of communication skills into first year Science. This first semester in first year (FY) subject is taught using a blended learning approach which enables active and collaborative learning. The dynamic learning environment and carefully scaffolded assessment tasks enhance the students’ learning of the communication skills introduced and developed in this subject.
At UTS, a blended approach means that the subject content is presented in the online pre-work (through interactive online modules), practised and applied in the workshops, and consolidated in the post-workshop activities (Figure 1).
Reading skills are introduced in week 2, speaking skills in week 6 and writing skills in weeks 8 and 9. The online interactive modules on writing unpack each section of a scientific report.
Communication skills are directly assessed through: an employability skills interview; a written scientific report on an experiment conducted in the practicals and a group presentation. The assessment rubrics reflect the emphasis on CS and constitute 50% of each assignment.