Each week, students attended lectures on a current topic in neuroimmunology taught by an expert and read a recent primary scientific paper describing a critical advance in the field. The principal assignment in the course was the writing of a New York Times “Science Tuesday”-style article directed to a layperson audience summarizing the key aspects of the paper and the implication of the findings. To facilitate the writing process, students discussed the primary scientific paper with each other and with graduate student teaching assistants in a weekly discussion section. The students also received feedback on their article from the teaching assistants and had the opportunity to revise the assignment if needed. Students wrote five of these articles throughout the ten-week term, giving them extensive practice translating complicated scientific knowledge to a more accessible – and jargon-free – summary of the main points of the paper.
For a final assignment, students wrote a New York Times-style article on a broader topic of their choosing in neuroimmunology. We used peer feedback as a way to refine the writing. An additional layer of feedback and revision was a formalized mechanism that we developed for the students to seek and incorporate direct feedback from laypersons, specifically defined as people who have not taken college-level biology. Many students highlighted this exercise as one of their favorites of the class.