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  • Writer's pictureAngelo Sotto

Innovative Teaching Practices: Microteaching Assessments as a Way to Develop Science Communication

Updated: Jun 12

Like the inquiry-guided learning projects (IGLPs) discussed in one of our previous blog posts (link here) serving to introduce students to the critical appraisal of medical literature, the ATLAS Research Lab also has interests in other aspects of professional development, such as knowledge dissemination and translation to a diverse range of audiences. In Dr. Bentley’s graduate-level embryology and teratology course (MSC1008H), students in the professional clinical embryology program at the University of Toronto undertake a series of assessments emphasizing science communication, one of which is the microteaching conference presentation.

Broadly, microteaching is a technique that allows trainees (typically teacher trainees) to review their presentation skills in a focused, but collaborative setting; it is centred on peer evaluations and application of peer feedback [1]. The idea is that a trainee gives a short presentation while being carefully evaluated by their instructor and peers, allowing for concentrated practice while at the same time, scaling down the intricacies of a live classroom (hence the name “micro”-teaching). The trainee will then take their peers’ feedback and apply it to improve future iterations of their presentation and overall communication skills (known as the “teach, critique, re-teach” model). First developed in 1963 by Dwight Allen at the Stanford Teacher Education Program [2], it has since been applied to most clinical teaching development programs and adapted to incorporate multimedia forms of communication such as video recordings [1].

Dr. Bentley’s rendition of this assignment involves exactly just that: students prepare a 9-10 minute recording of a conference-style presentation on a primary research article pertaining to a congenital malformation. No editing of the recording is allowed, so as to best simulate an actual conference presentation. Students are expected to present as if they were the lead author of this research, disseminating information clearly and concisely to an academic audience. Everyone in the class is then involved in watching and evaluating the recording (including the presenter!), so as to compile comprehensive, meaningful feedback that the presenter can use to refine their craft. 

Pictured: A typical student setup for recording the virtual microteaching presentation. No editing of the recording is allowed, and the entire presentation is recorded in one take, to best simulate live presentation dynamics.

This assignment was well-received by Dr. Bentley’s most recent MSC1008 students, and was praised for its relevance, applicability to the field, and the skills it taught them about knowledge dissemination. Taylor Pham, one of these students who completed the assignment in the Winter 2023 session, emphasized how beneficial it was in pushing students out of their comfort zone: “I remember feeling extremely nervous while setting up my camera and choosing the right white button-up top to wear. I was worried that I would look incompetent in front of my peers who would later be watching my video and giving me feedback. [...] But all in all, I found it enjoyable because it was an assignment unlike one I’d ever done in my graduate studies. I think it’s a great way to teach students about science communication and professionalism”. Students also found difficulty in preparing a concise presentation, which the assignment helped them practice: “I had to learn how to condense the information I wished to convey while simultaneously avoiding the omission of critical information,” Taylor further shares. “But it really emphasized the importance of altering the way we communicate our research to ensure that it is received accurately.

Similar sentiments were shared by Saudah Butt, another of Dr. Bentley’s students in the class, emphasizing the importance of impartiality in science communication: “I never realized how hard it would be to communicate scientific knowledge to audiences of different scientific backgrounds without adding my own biases and opinions”. Overall, student feedback from this cohort highlighted how this assignment challenged them to combine conciseness, accuracy, and objectivity in their presentations, all of which are practiced by science communicators at the forefront. Upon reflection, Saudah shares: “I looked over the assignment multiple times to ensure my biases were excluded (as that was a requirement), but even then when I got the graded assignment back, there was a place where my personal opinion was portrayed.” 

Time remains the major limitation for microteaching sessions. In Dr. Bentley’s class, time restrictions that were in place to ensure everyone’s full participation made it difficult to pursue a re-teach of the student presentations. But the hope is that lessons learned during the initial teach-critique session will be applicable to the presentation of other content, and will still equip trainees with the feedback needed to self-improve. Additionally, while incorporation of video recordings in the assessment may enhance its accessibility, some students find it easy to get carried away and be too critical of their performance in this format: “Due to the nature of the assignment being through a video, it made me hypercritical of myself since I would constantly rewatch certain parts,” Taylor shared.

Despite these hurdles, the microteaching model not only is effective at developing communication competencies - it is also advantageous to social learning by reducing trainee anxiety [3], and by instilling a sense of fellowship amongst them. Trainees gain practical teaching preparation, and also receive critical feedback from their colleagues - it also allows them to observe other teaching styles, and provides a collaborative “hub” where trainees can take inspiration from each other.

Beyond the final microteaching assessment, Dr. Bentley utilizes other smaller assignments throughout her MSC1008 course devoted to developing science communication. One such assignment is the Tweetable Thought, in which students summarize primary research articles in the form of a tweet, or a short social media post, to reflect the rise in tweetable abstracts used by many academic journals as a quick-and-easy means of knowledge dissemination. In another assignment called SciComm, students create a form of digital media (ex. blog, podcast, TikTok, Instagram Reel, animation, etc.) to disseminate primary research articles pertaining to teratogens and fetal risk to a community and patient audience, as a way to make medical advice more accessible to the lay public while still maintaining accuracy and objectivity. A unique aspect of these assessments is the creative freedom provided to the students, emphasizing the importance of “making it your own” while still upholding the standards of communication expected from allied health professionals. In reflecting on what she plans on improving, Dr. Bentley shares: “My plans for future renditions of this course include inviting members of the target audiences to provide my students with direct feedback. The assignments that are designed for communication to a non-scientific audience? - I plan to invite community members to engage with the outputs directly and share their feedback. The assignments that are designed for communication to the scientific community? - I plan to invite laboratory teams from across the Institute of Medical Science to provide the students with constructive criticism built from their own experiences as conference presenters and/or attendees. I want my graduate students to improve their skills in science communication, and one of the best ways I can facilitate that improvement is by showcasing their work to a broad range of perspectives”.

Science communication, as an essential vocational practice in the allied health professions, raises the importance of thoughtful assessment design that is aligned with these standards and competencies. “It really goes to show how careful you have to be, and how an outside opinion would be better at ensuring all requirements of the assignment were completed,” Saudah further shares. This is especially important as the abundance of medical information continues to grow in non-academic platforms. These SciComm assignments aim to fill that gap in training, allowing for the trainees to be challenged and apply their skills in a way that is timely and relevant to their respective fields.

More information on the graduate clinical embryology program, offered by the University of Toronto as a Master of Health Sciences in Laboratory Medicine degree, can be found in the University of Toronto’s official webpage.

  1. Remesh A. 2013. Microteaching, an efficient technique for learning effective teaching. J Res Med Sci. 18(2):158-63.

  2. Dalhousie University Centre for Learning and Teaching. 2023. Micro-Teaching. [Internet]. Retrieved from

  3. Peker M. 2010. The use of expanded microteaching for reducing preservice teachers’ teaching anxiety about mathematics. Sci Res Essays. 4(9):872-80.


1 Comment

Alexander Smith
Alexander Smith
Apr 27

I advise those who have a MacBook this article, there you can find a suitable application for working with videos, it is often necessary when you teach remotely, for example, I have prepared a whole basic course in C++ with homework.

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