|Ph.D Student||Rakedzon Tzipora|
|Subject||Teaching and Assessing STEM Graduate Students' Academic|
and Popular Science Writing
|Department||Department of Education in Science and Technology||Supervisor||Professor Ayelet Baram-Tsabari|
|Full Thesis text|
To promote their research, scientists are required to employ two contrasting genres: academic and popular science. The academic writing genre, a primary method for communicating with scientists in the field, requires knowledge of the standard research article format and jargon. In contrast, the popular science genre has a journalistic format, and generally avoids overly technical language. Research has shown that while written academic communication is indeed a challenge for graduate students and scientists, writing for the public is also difficult, primarily because of the gap in communication styles and lack of training. Academic writing courses are prevalent in higher education, and popular science communication courses are on the rise. Nevertheless, few assessment measures exist for evaluating students’ writing in academic and science communication courses.
This PhD research investigates graduate science and engineering students’ writing skills in the two genres before and after an academic writing course with a popular science writing intervention. Specifically, I explore whether an academic writing course positively affects students’ academic writing outcomes, and whether a popular science intervention improves students' science communicating skills using the theoretical perspectives of genre theory and sociocultural theory.
The research employs a quasi-experimental research approach, including over 1000 writing samples from 267 students, and data mining of thousands of published texts. The project describes the development, validation and research of two new assessment tools:
(1) Rubrics for assessing advanced English-as-second-language (L2) STEM graduate students’ writing in academic (abstract) and popular science writing (press release). The rubrics were developed based on an academic writing course and science communication intervention module, as well as guidelines in the literature on rubric development.
(2) A computerized jargon identifier, the De-jargonizer. This tool assesses the use of vocabulary and jargon in written texts so scientists and professionals can adapt their message to a lay audience. In the 5 development stages, I compared the rating of the De-jargonizer with other validated programs in the literature, and tested it on students’ work from the Academic Writing course. The final version is an open site rating vocabulary in a text at three levels: high-frequency, mid-frequency, and jargon.
Findings indicated significant improvement in academic and popular science writing as well as improvement in students’ English language proficiency. In assessing jargon, less jargon was found in lay summaries than in academic abstracts written by both students and scientists; however, the percentage of jargon in the summaries exceeded the amount recommended for the public to understand the text.
The main contribution to genre theory is evidence that teaching a contrasting genre in a genre-based academic writing course positively influences the learning of both. In terms of the sociocultural perspective, this work supports the idea that enculturation of ‘talking’ science in academia is clearly dominant, but can be expanded to include other types of science ’talk,’ i.e. with the public. For science communication and practice, this work contributes to writing assessment by adding validated tools lacking in the literature. Moreover, it supports the literature on the effectiveness of science communication training and interventions.