Using Science Communication Instruction to Improve Undergraduate Science Literacy Skills

Angel Kaur
Assistant Professor of Neuroscience
UNC Asheville

Greater scientific literacy in the general population is critical to the United States successfully navigating global crises such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and worsening climate change. With the increasingly significant role played by science and technology in everyday life, building students’ science literacy skill set is of urgent importance to the nation’s continued health, wellbeing, and economic prosperity. This project provides 15 STEM faculty at the University of North Carolina Asheville with the knowledge, skills, and support to implement a broadly-oriented science communication assignment designed to promote students’ science literacy skills. Faculty will participate in a multi-part professional development experience and receive ongoing mentoring support to transform their classroom practices using a novel integration of research-based education practices in order to implement a science communication assignment aimed at a general audience. Project research and evaluation will contribute new knowledge about effective teaching practices that promote student motivation, engagement, science literacy skills, and science communication skills as well as examine how aspects of the proposed faculty development experience and ongoing mentoring contribute to faculty motivation, engagement, and rate of adoption of high-impact teaching practices in the classroom. If successful, this project may serve as a model to increase students’ science literacy skills in STEM and non-STEM courses alike. It has the potential to generalize to other institutions to enhance science literacy and STEM education nationwide.The proposed work is grounded in Self-Determination Theory (SDT) which posits that meeting learners’ psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness can positively impact their intrinsic motivation and psychological wellness, leading to increased engagement, academic achievement, and long-term retention of skills and knowledge. This theory will be applied to both faculty (through the proposed professional development) and their students (in revised target courses). As such, the first goal of this project is to create, implement, and assess a novel, integrative professional development program designed to (a) increase faculty feelings of competence, autonomy, and relatedness to facilitate adoption of teaching practices that promote student engagement and learning; and (b) provide faculty with necessary skills, knowledge, and support to implement a broadly-oriented science communication assignment and promote student feelings of competence, autonomy, and relatedness in order to enhance students’ science literacy skills. The effectiveness of the professional development program will be measured through surveys, teaching observations, and submitted teaching artifacts. The second goal of this project is to assess the impact of the revised course instruction and the science communication assignment on: (a) students’ feelings of competence, autonomy, and relatedness; and (b) students’ science literacy and communication skills. Multiple measures (including faculty self-reports, student surveys, student projects and artifacts, and classroom observations) will be used to assess the degree to which suggested teaching strategies lead to changes in students’ motivation, engagement, and science literacy. The first cohort of selected faculty are beginning their training experience during Summer 2022.


co-PIs Evan Couzo, Jessica Pisano, & Rebecca Sanft, UNC Asheville, Asheville, NC