The University of Melbourne, Science Faculty

The Science Faculty at The University of Melbourne has introduced three credit-bearing units designed to develop and enhance communication skills at the undergraduate and graduate level. The development of the communication specific curricula was stimulated by funding from an internal Learning and Teaching grant in 2009 to develop and enhance the communication skills of Science graduates at the University.

The units have gradually been scaled up as student numbers have grown and as some Programs have made the units mandatory. The communication units aim to develop the oral, written and interpersonal communication skills of Science students for a range of audiences, contexts and media. The units emphasise the need for students to successfully communicate often complex and technical disciplinary knowledge to lay and peer audiences and in a range of professional, academic and media contexts. Each student’s research or disciplinary focus can form the basis for assessment tasks, which can then further be developed for real-world application such as a conference presentation, a job interview or a grant application.

While the curriculum design can be replicated, the success of the units relies heavily on teaching staff being both disciplinary experts and professional communicators. The combination of specific disciplinary knowledge, skills and experience, with the ability to develop a range of oral and written communication skills and provide personalised feedback to students is essential. The units also raise awareness of the importance of communication skills for further study, getting a job interview and for academic activities including the dissemination and promotion of research across different platforms and for a variety of audiences. The units produce a range of student assessment that includes self, peer and staff assessment across a range of oral, written and interpersonal communication contexts.

The success of the units is demonstrated by increased enrolment, feedback from staff, and regular student feedback. Plans to produce a portable portfolio or equivalent that demonstrate validated and authentic graduate communication skills are being considered.