Implementation of a Scientific
Literacy Project in a Large First Year
Curriculum Mapping Project – Analysis
of Scientific Writing
• There is a general consensus among teaching
faculty that students struggle with scientific
writing throughout their undergraduate careers.
• Few institutions implement longer (1500+ words)
writing assignments in first year courses.
• In fact, in some programs students arrive at
fourth year having never written a scientific
What prevents us from implementing
writing assignments in large first year
• Lack of resources to mark 500-2000 assignments.
• Training of TAs to achieve consistency and quality in
• Approval/choice of essay topic.
• Teaching students how to do peer review.
• Encouraging good time management.
• Managing an increased email load.
• Mediating personality conflicts within groups; Team
training/group dynamics. Group setup and assignment of
group members; problems when students drop the course
at midterm. Difficulty with fair allocation of grades in
group writing assignments.
At the completion of this assignment,
students were expected to be able to:
1. Search scientific literature databases for peer
2. Understand the difference between peer-
reviewed and non-peer-reviewed articles.
3. Critically analyze those articles.
4. Pull content from multiple sources and
paraphrase/summarize it in a coherent essay.
5. Understand the difference between
6. Reference all sources properly.
7. Plan their time accordingly when completing
UTM: Scientific Literacy Assignment
Week 1: Choose a question
Week 2: Workshop on peer-reviewed vs non-peer
reviewed articles; searching literature databases;
Week 3: Submission of cover page and reference
Week 4: Workshop on Plagiarizing vs Paraphrasing.
Week 5: Submission of outline.
Week 8: Submission of first draft to turnitinTM
Week 9: Submission of final draft.
• Process – 15%
• References – 15%
• Content – 40%
• Communication – 30%
Challenge: How do we train TAs for quality and
consistency, and how do we grade, and give
feedback on, a large volume of assignments?
• Used a detailed rubric.
• TA training workshop prior to the start of
• Assigned a “Top TA” that took the lead on this
specific assignment. This TA acted as a
resource for the other TAs.
• Number of respondents: 440/705 (62.4%)
• (Sample of survey responses on the next 5
4. Please rate your knowledge of what peer-
reviewed scientific journal articles are.
Very Knowlegable Somewhat Not really Not knowledgeable
6. Please rate your ability to use scholar’s
portal and other scholarly databases.
Excellent Ability Good Ability Average Ability Poor Ability
18. Did you find the four-stage submission process (Cover page
and references, outline, rough draft for paraphrasing analysis,
and final draft) was beneficial to learning about the process of
writing a scientific essay?
Yes, it was very beneficial. Yes, it was somewhat No, it was not beneficial.
19. Did the deadlines throughout term help you to
plan your time in completing this experiment?
Yes, the deadlines helped Yes, the deadlines helped No, the deadlines did not
me a great deal to plan my me a little to plan my time. help me to plan my time.
22. Did being able to review your turnitinTM report
increase your understanding of the difference
between plagiarizing and paraphrasing?
Yes, it increased my Yes, it increased my No, it did not increase my
understanding a lot understanding a little understanding
Student Feedback: Suggested
Improvements to the Assignment
• Increase the page limit, as I couldn’t include
all of the interesting information I found.
• See a sample student essay.
• More RefWorks tutorials
Student Feedback - Positive
• ”The best thing I learned about this
writing assignment is working with
peer-reviewed journals and ref works
and the importance of step-step
• “I had the opportunity to inform myself
on autism. I now have a better than
general understanding on the topic.”
• “The concept of peer-reviewed
journals; how to find them and use the
Student Feedback - Positive
• “While researching on various topics, in
order to decide which one to do, I realized
there is a lot more than one side to things
we recognize as 'scientific' facts.”
• “I learned that peer-reviewed references
are more reliable than GoogleTM searches”
• “I didn’t understand the difference between
paraphrasing and plagiarism before”
• “The best thing I learned was that
assignments aren’t as frightening when
they are split up into smaller tasks.”
• “I thought I hated writing assignments. But
now I know I just was afraid of them. Knowing
the process and breaking it into smaller parts
makes it more manageable and <shock>
• “I had no idea about peer-reviewed research
before this assignment. I can’t believe that
newspapers don’t use this as their source.”
Keys to Success… (Success for us was to
complete the literacy project, and have the
students enjoy the project while showing a
gain in understanding/skills).
• Dedicated scientific literacy TA
• The focus was on the process of writing,
rather than the final product.
• Students took ownership of their work.
• Detailed rubric.
• The use of turnitinTM as a learning tool.
• Pre and post analysis of literacy skills.
• Introduce a computer lab on database
searching and RefWorks.
• Additional feedback at each submission stage.
• Mindy Thuna, Science Librarian
• Cleo Boyd, Academic Skills Centre
Ontario Consortium of Undergraduate Biology