Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title An Institution-wide Approach to the Skills Curriculum
Originator Frank Harris
Department Learning Centre, Cheltenham & Gloucester College of Higher Education, PO Box 220, The Park, Cheltenham, GL50 2QF, UK
Tel. +44 (0)1242 532867
Fax +44 (0)1242 532810
Email fharris@chelt.ac.uk


Outline:

At C&GCHE, two transferable skills modules comprise a compulsory element of the first year undergraduate programme. The skills curriculum is centrally planned and co-ordinated, although the delivery of the skills modules has become more devolved to academic departments in order to ensure that skills are developed in an appropriate subject-specific manner.

Context:

The Undergraduate Modular Scheme at C&GCGE serves some 90% of the College's undergraduate population. Its flexible structure allows extensive opportunities for choice and permits students to shape their programmes to meet personal interests and career aspirations.

A major distinguishing feature of the Scheme is the compulsory programme of skills modules undertaken by students during their first year. This aims to provide students with transferable skills which will help them to succeed while at the College and also in their post-College careers. For example, time management is a skill which is valuable to students who have to organise their time and plan their working routines, as well as in the workplace.

Main features:

At the inception of the Undergraduate Modular Scheme in 1990, it was decided that there should be a pair of institution-wide, compulsory generic skills modules which first-year undergraduates should take as part of their studies. However, in response to both staff and student evaluations, academic departments have taken increasing responsibility for the delivery and assessment of the skills modules. Extensive customisation of the skills programme has occurred, ensuring that students have come to appreciate the relevance of the skills now that they are developed in the context of the various subjects and disciplines.

The skills which are developed in customised form by the academic departments include those which are set out below, although there is considerable variation in emphasis from subject-to-subject, depending upon the particular needs of the students and the nature of the discipline being studied. In geography the curriculum is delivered by a combination of lectures and small group tutorials (9-12 students).

Organisation skills
Time management and planning
Original information-gathering including non-book sources

Writing skills
Word processing, drafting, editing, revising
Selecting appropriate writing styles
Writing for different purposes, including note taking
Planning and presentation of written projects
Bibliography presentation

Evaluation skills
Self-assessment and evaluation skills
Assessment of the reliability of source material

Communication skills
Oral communication and listening skills
Handling numerical data
Graphicacy
Working in groups
The modules are split into two themes: during the first module the students work through an institution-produced skills handbook, with a discipline-specific supplement containing relevant material and assignments; during the second module each department offers a selection of six-week options, with students choosing two options from across the institution. Geography-related six-week options have included: These options have attracted students from other disciplines within the College.

Evaluation:

The major benefit from our institution-wide approach is that it provides a structured framework which ensures that all students receive a good grounding in transferable skills. The success of the programme, however, has depended upon the fact that, although compulsory, departments are given considerable freedom to design customised skills workshops which relate closely to their subject modules. Such a clear focus means that the value and relevance of the skills being developed is brought home to the students in an effective way. Similarly, teaching staff in the Department of Geography & Geology are more enthusiastic about teaching on a skills programme where the benefits in terms of student learning are directly observable and relevant.

Key advice:

Keywords

Skills curriculum
Skills modules
Transferable skills

This is one of the case studies which appears in the GDN Guide "Transferable Skills & Work-based Learning in Geography"


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