Researchers develop curriculum to improve communication skills of science majors

Researchers are developing curriculum designed to strengthen the communication skills of agricultural, natural resource and food science graduates

Researchers at Texas A&M University and Prairie View A&M University are developing curriculum designed to strengthen the communication skills of agricultural, natural resource and food science graduates.

Holli Leggette and Theresa Murphrey, faculty members in the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications, are developing seven modules of instruction to enhance the communication skills of Texas A&M and Prairie View A&M students as they prepare to become career-ready.

“Every student who graduates from a college of agriculture across the country needs to have a basic understanding of communication and the knowledge and ability to communicate what they do,” said Leggette, assistant professor of agricultural communications and journalism. “Helping scientists see what a communicator can do for them only strengthens the relationship between an agricultural communicator and a scientist.”

The goal of the study is two-fold: to improve students’ ability to communicate and to give faculty the tools to teach communication principles more effectively.

“We want to improve the marketability of students who graduate from colleges of agriculture,” said Murphrey, whose focus is on instructional design and evaluation.

The project team has created three of the seven modules, which include instruction on effective listening; accurate and concise communication; verbal communication; professional and pleasant communication; written communication; effective questioning; and professional and appropriate communication using social media. This spring, Leggette and Murphrey will begin testing their communication modules in writing and communication intensive courses in the animal sciences, plant sciences, food sciences and poultry sciences at both institutions.

“Communicating accurately and concisely is the same today as it’s going to be in 10 years,” Leggette said. “That’s not going to change, even though the way we use writing may. Although we have seen an increase in the use of infographics and social media, it is all still writing. The platforms and the mediums may change, but the need for communication will not.”

Leggette and Murphrey are using StepStone Software, created by the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, to develop the modules with text, audio, video and interactions for a fun learning experience. Each module is developed with learning outcomes in mind and have built-in assignments faculty can use to measure student learning.

Leggette said that each of the seven modules, written concurrently and congruently, can be delivered as face-to-face, online or hybrid.

“It’s basically a buffet for faculty,” Leggette said. “They can decide which of the seven modules they want to use and how they want to deliver the curriculum.”

“Some faculty have a set of week-long curriculum that they use to teach communications or writing, but others don’t. This has been a relief to many of them because now they have access to research-based, practical curriculum that they can use to teach. They see it as an opportunity to lessen their load and increase students’ access to curriculum.”

The United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture funded the project. Leggette and Murphrey will begin observing students and collecting data this spring, but they are already looking at ways to broaden the reach of the project.

“We are working to modify and expand upon this study to assist high school students before they ever enter college,” Murphrey said. “If students can get this information earlier, it can make an even bigger difference.”

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