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Developing Communication Competence in Science

Introduction

Communication, both written and oral, is an important skill that every person must possess. Science communication is qualitatively different from other modes of communication. Hence, special attention needs to be given to develop Communication Competence in Science among school and college students. They need to be convinced that the ability to write effectively leads to success in science related careers. In fact, writing precisely is a useful tool that every child must acquire through formal education. By guiding students through well-designed written assignments, science teachers can demonstrate the importance of writing in science and provide opportunities for students to practice effective science communication skills.

 

Benefits of  Communication Competence in Science

Incorporating writing into the science curriculum yields enormous benefits. When students write, they think, forcing them to be active learners. Writing about newly learned principle strengthens their understanding. Writing increases retention and enhances development of science vocabulary. Teacher feedback and interaction with students’ can significantly improve their writing skills. Since teachers have a limited amount of time at their disposal, they must integrate relevant writing assignments into their day to day teaching.

 

Essential Features of Communication Competence in Science

Science writing is different from general writing like travel, stories, skits, etc. Here are the essential features of science writings.

Science writing is objective

Science writing focuses on experimental findings, quantifiable data and verifiable research. Unless specifically requested in an assignment, students are not expected to offer personal opinions in the description. As far as possible they should avoid writing in the first person.

Science writing is logical

The scientific method follows a rational sequence from the development and testing of a hypothesis through the analysis of data and communication of findings. Student writing should reflect a similar logical and orderly sequence.

Science writing is precise

Qualitative statements such as “The results were interesting,” or “The process took a long time,” have no place in science writing. It should focus on quantitative data and include sufficient relevant details.

Enhancing Communication Competence in Science

One of the objectives of science education is to develop science communication skill among the learners. There are many ways that can be utilized to inculcate the skill of science communication among the students. Application of the following ideas, with appropriate management and feedback will strengthen student writing skills while increasing understanding and retention of important science concepts.

 

Provide a writing prompt that requires students to think

Give students an opportunity to think. Give a short period of time at the beginning of the class to summarize what they learned in the previous lesson. A brief discussion must be arranged to discuss their responses before moving to a new topic.

Utilize illustrations and graphics in a different way

Have students write text to accompany and describe visual elements such as graphs or diagrams. Students should analyze graphic material in one or two sentences, as it might appear in a textbook.

Evaluate scientific articles

Have students read selected articles from scientific journals and then organize a group discussion. Teachers can comment on the procedure, trends observed in the data or explain the relationship between the hypothesis and collected data.

Writing Lab manual

Have students describe laboratory work in their own language. This description might focus on general experimental procedures as well as new information and concepts acquired during experimentation.

Evaluate a seminar or a discussion

Have students write a short evaluation of a presentation they have observed. Rather than asking students to simply write a summary, provide several prompts so that students can focus on specific aspects of the presentation.

Consistent integration of writing into the science teaching yields positive results. As you look for ways to incorporate writing, remember that science lends itself to thinking about the unknown as well as the known. Encouraging students to write about their ideas for future experimentation into topics of interest stimulates the higher order thinking skills that are crucial in scientific research.

Field Experiences

Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education (HBCSE) undertook a research study to understand why students from socially backward communities perform poorly in school leaving examinations. Lack of adequate communication skills in written mode was the major cause of failure (Kulkarni and Agarkar, 1985). We tackled this problem by developing general communication skills in three domains: General communication, technical communication and communication in examinations.

General communication

In order to develop skills of general communication one needs to provide the students enough opportunities to engage in communication activities. In the program referred to above, students were asked to narrate the summaries of what they have read during the week. During their spare time we asked students’ to write on the topics of their interest. This appeal led to the writing of essays, poems, skits, etc. Once they realized that they have flair for witting they continued to do so and produced good pieces of written material.

Technical communication

The first-generation learners face problems in handling technical language that is used in science textbooks. In India, a majority of the students study in vernacular languages. Technical terms used in these languages are usually derived from Sanskrit. Although Sanskrit is a mother language of many Indian languages it is hardly used in day-to-day conversations. Students from disadvantaged homes do not have exposure to this language and hence they are unable to decode the meanings of technical terms. In order to overcome this difficulty it is imperative that meanings of sanskritised words are explained through dictionaries of technical terms (Agarkar, 1992). These dictionaries attempt to identify root word along with its suffix and prefix and clarify the meaning of technical terms.

In addition to technical terms scientific descriptions make use of pictorial representation and symbolic language. Students find it difficult to decode symbolic language. Students usually avoid problem solving based on formulae or equations. It is mainly because they have hardly any chance to handle this language in their day-to-day life and the duration of exposure in the school is so short that there is not enough time for the acquisition of the language. Learning of new language demands repetition and immediate feedback. Using the technique of cooperative group learning often helps in this regard.

Communication in Examinations

Examination is a crucial event in the life of students as success in examinations decides which door would open for them. Since the main focus of examinations is on written mode one needs to provide enough attention written communication skills. Many students perform poorly in examinations not because they do not know the content but because they are unable to communicate effectively what they know. They are ignorant of the rules of the game and do not have skills of precise writing. On many occasions they write verbosely for the question that carries a little weightage. On the other hand they give a very short answer to a question that carries higher weightage. Moreover many students struggles with time management during written examination. Analysis of the answer sheets of underachieving students shows that the slipshod writing costs them considerable number of marks.

The present mode of the assessment offers them delayed gratification rather than immediate feedback. In this regard examiners looked at the answer sheets as soon as they finished writing and gave suggestions for improvement. In order to bring their mistakes to their notice we adopted a novel method of assessment by students. We asked them to assess each other’s answer papers by providing a model answer sheet with clear instructions for penalizing for mistake committed. In doing so, they themselves realized that they too loose marks due to slipshod writing in the examinations. These efforts enabled to improve the performance of students in school examination. These efforts play a prominent role for the students who are in the lower performance bracket.

Conclusions and Implications

Communication Competence in Science is an important skill that needs to be developed through formal education. The field experiences testify that the development of precise writing skill enhance scholastic achievement of socially deprived students significantly (Agarkar, 2010). Such efforts undertaken at various levels will lead to the enhancement of precise writing among the children. This aspect is very important to achieve the spread of scientific literacy in the society.

References

Agarkar, S. C. (1992). Dictionary of Chemical Terms, Mumbai: Oxford University Press.

Agarkar, S. C. (2010). Combating learning hurdles arising out of social deprivation, In Yew Jin Lee (ed.) Handbook of Research in Science Education in Asia, Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Kulkarni, V. G. and Agarkar, S. C. (1985). Talent Search and Nurture among the Underprivileged, Mumbai: HBCSE, TIFR.

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