6.3 Communication skills
As suggested above, presentation matters in the case of undergraduate research more than in most other learning exercises. Student learning as a result of the research process is more sophisticated and it requires a complementary level of communication, either oral or written.
In the case of oral skills one can model expectations and provide formative feedback through class discussions regarding specific components of the research process. For example, students can be asked to provide an oral justification of their research question to a small group of classmates. This provides a good opportunity for students to practise formulating their thoughts in a public forum and to receive constructive feedback that will improve their question (and subsequent research project). Oral communication skills can also be evaluated during one-on-one meetings. Since students must explain the status of their project and their future plans, the tutor can observe communication skills in an informal setting and provide guidance on how such skills may be improved. Summative evaluation can be achieved through presentations to peers and academics.
Research (Lehr, 1995) suggests that an understanding of the revision process is a key component for developing and improving writing. Writing skills can be enhanced when students are required to develop sections of their projects through revision and resubmission. This is likely to help students to improve their arguments and it is also likely to help with two key components with which students often struggle: organisation and grammar. As with the process described for economic analysis, feedback on students’ written communication should progress from nurturing and providing examples of solutions to the point at which they simply point out errors and require the student to develop the necessary revisions. Once again, the one-on-one meetings can help this process because they provides a more collaborative forum for discussing recurrent problems and encourages students to see the value in this formative evaluation of their work and the opportunities that the revision process provides.
Other helpful processes that encourage good writing include the use of grading rubrics and model writing. Signaling expectations through the use of grading rubrics that include sections for both content and communication skill evaluation encourage students to take the communication of content more seriously, especially if they are also required to evaluate their own work using the rubric. While presenting models of good student writing from previous semesters might also help students understand expectation levels, it can provide some students with a crutch leading to papers that are mirror images of the models. A more effective way to use sample writing as a model is to provide a single first draft paragraph along with the multiple revisions that demonstrate the development into a much-improved final version.
In summary, it is important to recognise and provide opportunities for summative and formative methods of evaluation that can occur formally via written evaluations of work and informally during class exercises and one-on-one meetings.