Emily Kan, Department of Psychological Science
At universities across the world, student researchers work for hours to uncover new scientific discoveries. After months and years of hard work, they finally see the fruits of their labor – successfully publishing an article in a top-tier journal. Yet, publishing in a scientific journal is not the ultimate goal. At least, it shouldn’t be.
Has our research impacted practice or policy? Is our research making a contribution to the world?
These questions are too often swept aside by researchers, who are incentivized to churn out publications. Everyone in academia has heard “publish or perish” time and again. However, what good does research do if we cannot make it understandable to the public? If researchers continue to collaborate only with other scholars in their field and publish jargon-filled articles in journals read only by other academics, we are trapping our knowledge in a box. If our research is truly interesting and answers an important question that the world cannot live without, then we need to ensure that it reaches the eyes and ears of changemakers.
To make scientific research more digestible by the public, we should start implementing strategies to teach student researchers these skills in their classes. The question is, what strategies would work best? Perhaps the answer lies in better implementing flipped classrooms. Freeing up more in-class time for students to present their research to peers from other fields could provide valuable practice in making their work more understandable.
The Flipped Classroom
A flipped classroom is characterized by having instructional content assigned as pre-class homework and reserving in-class time for students to engage in problem-solving, apply learned concepts, and learn collaboratively (Findlay-Thompson & Mombourquette, 2014). The primary goal of flipped classrooms is to improve students’ learning and engagement. However, simply “flipping” the course structure of traditional classes is not enough. Flipped classrooms are most effective when active learning strategies such as group activities are implemented during in-class time (DeLozier & Rhodes, 2017).
Importantly, group discussions have been shown to promote learning. In a study, Smith and colleagues (2009) found that being able to discuss and answer questions in groups benefited students not only in their performance, but also in their understanding of the key concepts.
This may translate to improving students’ academic writing skills. That is, using flipped classrooms and asking students to write together in groups may be beneficial not only to their understanding of key concepts but also in how they can more clearly express those ideas.
For example, in a hypothetical flipped classroom setting, students are asked to read four related articles prior to class. Then, in-class, students are asked to gather in groups of three or four to discuss the readings. After the discussion, they are asked to work together to write the discussion section that ties together the main concepts raised by the articles they read prior to class.
This technique not only helps students to better grasp the underlying concepts across different articles, but also to show them that academic writing is a collaborative process. The majority of published articles are co-authored. As such, if the goal of a class is to prepare students for success in research and academia, group writing assignments could be very beneficial for students’ performance. Further, writing in a group encourages students to write clearly and cogently. If group members are struggling to understand what a student is trying to express, this is a cue to them that they need to work on making their writing more understandable. This will be particularly help when students go on to publish research that could be influential for practice and policy.
Smith, M. K., Wood, W. B., Adams, W. K., Wieman, C., Knight, J. K., Guild, N., & Su, T. T. (2009). Why peer discussion improves student performance on in-class concept questions. Science, 323(5910), 122-124.
Matthew Mahavongtrakul edited this post on December 3rd, 2019.