Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Using Collaboration between English and Biology to Teach Scientific Writing and Communication

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Using Collaboration between English and Biology to Teach Scientific Writing and Communication

Article excerpt

Writing is an essential element in undergraduate education and professional development, particularly for science majors (Huerta & McMillan, 2004; Lankford & vom Saal, 2012). However, although science is an enterprise that comprises both empirical research practices and multidirectional exchanges of discoveries, less emphasis is usually placed on writing and communication in 4-year postsecondary and higher education science instruction (Marusic & Marusic, 2003). This issue remains even though studies have shown that writing in the sciences increases critical thinking (Boice, 1990)--a skill that is essential in science (Bushnell, 2003; Keys, 1999)--where traditional lecture-based teaching is insufficient for that purpose (Kolber, 2011; Moore, 1994; Rice, 1998). Additionally, students often compartmentalize science into "disparate chunks of information" (Lankford & vom Saal, 2012), because they take courses such as genetics, evolution, ecology, cell biology, and so forth, separately (Brown & Benson, 2005). To address these issues, scholars have suggested that science instruction should appeal not only to academic needs but also to broader socioeconomic exigencies, so that students contextualize information beyond the classroom and see how it affects their daily lives and the environment (Eves, Davis, Brown, & Lamberts, 2007; Huerta & McMillan, 2004; Tessier, 2006). This line of thought goes hand-in-hand with advocacy for critical thinking and logical reasoning with research-based writing as an important element in the professional development of undergraduate science majors (Krest & Carle, 1999). Because there should be multiple courses emphasizing disciplinary writing instruction (Holyoak, 1998; Jerde & Taper, 2004), and because science writing helps students learn to think critically and communicate with clarity (Boice, 1990; Holyoak, 1998), the addition of a science writing oriented class may set an ideal background to help guide students toward such curricular objectives. The more developed students' scientific communication and writing skills are, the better they learn about the theories and practices (Glynn & Muth, 1994; Hand & Prain, 2002; Keys, 1999), bringing to mind the adage, "you don't know it until you can communicate it." This article is an explication of a face-to-face English course on scientific communication and writing, a requirement for students majoring in biological sciences.

Interdisciplinary collaboration

Interdisciplinary collaboration helps students develop critical thinking and communication skills (McLaren & Webber, 2009). Interdisciplinary education, particularly cross-disciplinary collaborative teaching, creates an environment for students to contextualize how scientific knowledge is constructed and communicated across fields and beyond classroom boundaries (Millsaps, 2003; Ross & Jarosz, 1978). Writing in the sciences requires construction of logic-based rationalized ideas in the forms of concepts, contentions, doctrines, and hypotheses, while effectively communicating those abstracts succinctly to various audiences (Penrose & Katz, 2010). Thus, at minimum, an interdisciplinary teaching approach can give students experiences appealing to at least two different target audiences (e.g., an English instructor and a biology instructor). Interdisciplinary collaboration also helps instructors learn to speak a common language so that they might address problems together for a diverse class or for larger curricular issues (Millsaps, 2003). However, mutual respect for each other's disciplines is necessary for successful collaborative teaching (Ross & Jarosz, 1978).

Our approach was unique: We were both doctoral candidates from different backgrounds. The primary instructor specializes in rhetoric and composition and usually teaches English writing courses; the secondary instructor specializes in wildlife and conservation ecology and teaches in biology and environmental sciences. …

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