Student and Staff Perceptions of Teamwork in GroupWriting for Science Honours

Elizabeth D. Johnson, Reem Al-Mahmood, Alexander G. Maierb

Abstract


Scientific practice is essentially collaborative. Most research publications list multiple authors making
collaborative writing a key skill for scientists. This paper reports the student experience of a collaborative writing task for honours students in experimental science and juxtaposes these with academic scientists’ views on the relevance of these tasks and skills. Honours students were asked to work in groups of five to research and construct a scientific literature review suitable for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Students submitted a piece of individual writing as well as the final group literature review and were also asked to assess the contribution of group members. Students found group work demanding and this appeared to overshadow the experience of collaborative writing. However, at the same time, students strongly agreed that teamwork skills and collaboration were essential for successful research. Interviews with academic scientists involved in reviewing and reflecting on the honours collaborative student writing task post the event highlighted the difficulties of attempting this type of task at honours and the need for a more naturalistic immersive, emergent and organic model of teamwork. This dichotomy between the need for collaborative skills and the difficulty of putting this into practice highlights the need for greater development of teamwork skills in the undergraduate curriculum in preparation for research training. This paper aims to highlight various ‘traditional models’ and ‘riskier’ innovative models that stretch ‘comfort zones’ to inform how best to prepare honours students for the realities of scientific work, writing and practice.

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