Reframing our approach to scientific writing

Thanks to Dr Mhairi Morris, Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Science at DMU for this blog post.

Mhairi and students discussing frames

Mhairi and students discussing frames

 

I was introduced to WritingPAD at a PGCertHE session in the 2014/15 academic year where Julia and Kaye worked with the group to map our journeys. Being a person with that rare blend of scientific analysis and creativity myself, I have a keen interest in using creativity in a scientific context, and so I asked Julia and Kaye to deliver their WritingPAD workshop on my level 5 module, BIOM2002 – Biochemical Disease Processes.

During weeks 4 and 5 of term 1, the creative writing technique of “reframing” was used for the first time with Biomedical Science students to help them with exploring their choice of four topics for the coursework essay.

Marrying up topics taught in term 1 with topics they’d meet in term 2, the reframing exercise helped the students to explore their topics broadly. As a result, the students found themselves focusing on vastly different areas within each topic, since the reframing exercise enabled them to identify an area that was of interest to them.

The students grouped themselves according to the topics they had chosen, then worked together through the reframing exercise and the discussions were facilitated by final year students who had undertaken this module the previous year, but who hadn’t had the opportunity to participate in this workshop.

Completed group frame

Completed group frame

 

The response from the students was overwhelmingly positive. Although unsure at first, by the end of the session they could see the value in the reframing exercise and how it had helped them to explore their topics in a very broad sense. Some students found it difficult to engage, failing to see the value in doing this kind of exercise, and this is likely down to individual learning styles and preferences. However, the majority of feedback was extremely positive, with a selection of comments being included below:

‘It was very useful as it made me think of the various aspects of the topic and now I feel more confident.’

‘Started off with no idea about the subject topic but had a decent understanding by the end!! Enjoyed the group discussion & the music!’

‘It was really helpful as it gave a clear understanding of the topic. Addressed the key issues that we needed to discuss. Having a third year student really helped as she was giving us tips.’

I personally think the students got a lot out of having the sessions facilitated by the final year students. Even if the majority of the conversations centred around topics unrelated to the coursework essay, it provided a valuable space for them to pick up tips from students who had gone before them.

3rd Yr student facilitating workshop

3rd Yr student facilitating workshop

 

What was interesting (to me at least!) was the impact the environment had on the different sessions. Those that were run in warmer, brighter rooms, such as those in Edith Murphy, felt a lot more positive than those that were held in darker rooms such as in Hawthorn. The time and day also felt like it made an impact, with the Friday 9am session being the least “cheerful” feeling session.

Upon reflection, I think using a creative approach in a scientific context holds infinitely more value than is first apparent, and I myself will be using this reframing approach when writing my next research review article.

Dr Mhairi Morris

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