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Discussion Forum
Scientific Skills: Fostering development

The Discussion Forum, Scientific Skills: Fostering development was held at The University of Sydney on Thursday 19 April 2001.

The programme included five short presentations by various academics representing several Australian universities. These 'cameos' illustrated a number of university-wide, faculty and school/department programmes that are being implemented to foster the scientific skills in first year students.

Discussion Forum Report

Invited speakers
Paul Adam, The University of New South Wales
Marjan Zadnik, Curtin University of Technology
Cristina Varsavsky, Monash University
Manjula Sharma, The University of Sydney
Charlotte Taylor, The University of Sydney
Reports from break-out groups
Graphing and data analysis
Generic skills
Communication skills
General discussion

Invited speakers

Paul Adam, The University of New South Wales
Graphing skills, numerical skills and data analysis

Paul is director of First Year Biology at UNSW. Students entering Biology have a very wide range of backgrounds, but many have difficulty with presentation and analysis of data. The new HSC curricula in NSW stress the need to develop skills in this area, but remedial instruction on very simple concepts is still required at tertiary level. At UNSW laboratory classes are used to develop these skills in parallel with illustrating the lecture material.

The new NSW HSC curricula specify generic skills applicable to all the sciences. At the school level, statistics is not included. Essential skills in the area of graphing and data analysis are a form of communication.

Questions raised included: If students tend to think of a skill as discipline specific and not generic: Other issues that need to be addressed are:

Material distibuted
Graphs (from School of Biological Science, The University of New South Wales)
The PDF document available from this page is a tremendous resource. The examples are from biology but the information is applicable to all disciplines.
Science Skills (8.1 and 9.1) from the various NSW Stage 6 science syllabuses. These can be downloaded from the Board of Studies NSW web site.

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Marjan Zadnik, Curtin University of Technology
Presentation and communication skills

In 1994 Marjan developed (together with advice from Alex Radloff and later Barbara de la Harpe) an innovative way of teaching communication skills to Curtin's Physics/Science students. The unit has run every year since then and they now have an impressive set of publications. The unit has been highlighted as best practice in a number of Curtin documents as well as in the Australian Institute of Physics Accreditation of the Curtin Physics Degree. They have also evaluated students' learning and attitudes to the unit and presented talks at a number of conferences as well as having published widely.

There is a mismatch between those skills deemed as "best" by the universities and the skills that are considered necessary by potential employers. The employers stress skills such as communication and being able to work as part of a team. Problems that are encountered when addressing the teaching of these skills within a discipline are:

At Curtin University of Technology, students, in small groups, are given the task of conducting a conference complete with presentations and a proceedings.

Developing science students' communication skills in the context of their discipline: why we should and how we can - PowerPoint presentation

Additional reference
Teaching Communication in Context: Students Develop Their Own Conference in Applied Physics at Curtin University of Technology

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Cristina Varsavsky, Monash University
Generic skills in the context of the scientific method

The Bachelor of Science at Monash University aims to provide a broad, general science education, equipping graduates for employment in both the public and corporate sectors where the emphasis is on generic skills, which include numeracy, data analysis and presentation skills, and the capacity to work in teams. Students are required to undertake two core subjects with an emphasis on developing these skills in the context of science. This talk outlined the new teaching and learning approaches taken in these new core subjects and discussed the challenges that emerged during the implementation of this major change in the science curriculum, and its impact on students and teaching staff.

At Monash University, generic skills are addressed in a new core subject, replacing Mathematics, entitled "The Design of Science" which is based on the scientific method.

The subject helps to develop:

The introduction of this subject was "painful" with all stakeholders having to "move out of their comfort zone". As it was a multi-disciplinary unit of study, difficulties were experienced with the setting of objectives.

After the initial difficulties, the subject was offered again in 2000 with:

Developing generic skills of first-year science students in pdf format.

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Manjula Sharma, The University of Sydney
Tutorial workshops

Workshop Tutorials: A valuable learning environment in pdf format.

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Charlotte Taylor, The University of Sydney
Writing skills

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General discussion

There are two models for the development of Scientific Skills:

Science students don't feel they belong to a unified group - a skills course or integrated skills may be a positive step in achieving unity.

Students need to see themselves as scientists in training. It is necessary to relate science back to ethics and standards - encourage students to view themselves as professional scientists and to join professional societies.

A positive step would be for students to see this intervention as development of skills they will require as professionals rather than remediation of skills they lack.

Other skills that need to be addressed:

Issues that need to be addressed:

Where to now?

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If you wish to be advised of future activities of this group, please contact

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