Storytelling in Science: Using a Familiar Form to Explore a New Discipline

My project was incorporated into HEST-001-06 – First Year Colloquium, which is a required course for all incoming freshmen in the School of Nursing & Health Studies (NHS). This course is designed to help orient students to college life, in general and at Georgetown, as well as NHS by emphasizing an aspect of health science throughout the semester. There were 16 students in my section, representing three of the 4 departments in the school - Healthcare Management & Policy, Human Science, and International Health. HEST-001 is co-taught by one faculty member and one staff member from academic affairs, and over the semester I collaborated on this project with Kelly Grady, EdD. Dr. Grady contributed to designing and implementing this project in our class’ curriculum.

This year I introduced peer-review as a method to enhance the skills of the reviewer via Tracked Changes in Microsoft Word.

A group presentation and final report on a chosen topic served as the basis of peer-review and writing in the discipline. The writing process was broken down into separate phases – 1) in-class individual group discussion on potential topics with instructor (“early discovery”); 2) written summary of at least three sources conveying the relevance to their topic; 3) in-class group presentation; 4) draft of the final report (due at time of group presentation); 5) peer-review - Members within a group were tasked with reviewing one individual’s contribution to the final write-up; 6) final report. The draft of the final report, peer-edits, and a final document demonstrating each member’s contribution was submitted (final report). With Tracked Changes identifying a reviewer and each section being associated with its author, I was able to, in part, qualitatively evaluate an individual’s contribution and process or progress.

My initial goals with this project were to better understand how incoming science majors (freshmen) viewed the role of the practice of writing in relation to the overall discipline and their major and emphasize the shared characteristics of writing in the sciences with other disciplines. In particular, I wanted to use storytelling as a common theme in clear written communication.

Along with my own evaluation of student writing, students responded to a ten question-survey designed to gauge their experience. Four out of 16 students responded. Briefly, students recognize the importance of writing to academic success in their major. All students found the early discovery and draft stage to be helpful in producing their final report, while half of those that responded found peer-review beneficial. Students found overall and assignment-specific benefit from peer-review, as both an author and reviewer. Finally, three of the 4 responders recommended peer-review in their classes.

I learned that I need to provide more structure to these writing assignments and, in doing so, I am not necessarily “giving the answers” to the students. I am learning that being more explicit with my expectations of the students does not necessarily take away from their learning experience or inhibit their ability to “find their own voice,” interpret my expectations as guidelines to work with rather than rules to stringently adhere to.

Also, this course is comprised of multiple, independent sections with shared course objectives. Having discussed my experience from this project, particularly with peer-review and emphasizing writing in the discipline with other faculty members involved in this course, it was revealed that this tool and learning objective are shared interests that are incorporated to varying degrees by these educators. Thus, we have chosen to enhance the overall course objectives with peer-review and a focus on writing in the discipline for implementation Fall 2015. These changes are directly relevant to the ITEL Open Track project with ePortfolios (PI: Joan Riley) associated with the same course.