Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title Discrete Modules in Transferable Skills
Originator Brian Chalkley
Department Department of Geographical Sciences, University of Plymouth, Drake Circus, Plymouth, PL4 8AA, UK
Tel. +44 (0)1752 233531
Fax +44 (0)1752 233534


This case study illustrates a form of curriculum design which occupies a mid-way position between the centralist, institution-wide model and the highly devolved pattern of spreading skills across the whole geography curriculum. At the University of Plymouth there are discrete geography skills modules but they are designed and delivered by geography staff.


The Plymouth department has a long-standing commitment to skills teaching which was given further momentum in 1990 when the department received an 8,000 grant from the Enterprise in Higher Education initiative (EHE). Through part-funding a temporary lectureship, this bought some teaching relief for a small group of permanent staff who used the time to prepare skills teaching materials. The skills curriculum took on broadly its present form in 1993 when the University went through semesterization and modularization. Since that time the structure and organisation of the skills curriculum has been as shown below. Plymouth has a large geography department and each of the three modules is regularly taken by over 150 students.

Skills Module One

Introduction to transferable skills

Study skills

Writing skills

Word processing

Basic statistics

Skills Module Two


Laboratory skills

Skills Module Three

Verbal presentations

Group work

Career skills

Main features:

The three modules operate in sequence, one in each of the first three semesters of the students' three-year course. Each module occupies one-sixth of the full programme of work in its semester and for single honours students each one is compulsory and must be passed. In each case, all or most of the teaching is undertaken by geography staff. This gives the modules credibility with the students and helps to ensure that there are good links with the 'mainstream' geography curriculum. Students can therefore see the modules' relevance both to their geographical studies and to their long-term careers. The links to the rest of the curriculum are reinforced by the fact that although the principles of, for example, effective writing are taught in a skills module, much of the practice takes place elsewhere in the geography curriculum. Moreover, there are deliberate areas of overlap between the skills and the geography modules in order to ensure that the skills programme is not seen as something separate or completely different. Indeed, the graphicacy and laboratory skills module in particular contains sections which might reasonably be described as 'discipline-specific'.

The actual teaching is undertaken by a variety of methods including lectures, tutorials, a CAL exercise, projects and specially-prepared skills handbooks. The careers section (covering interviews, letters of application, etc.) is successfully taught on a joint basis with staff from the University's careers unit.


Staff opinions were initially mixed and at the outset there was considerable opposition from a group of colleagues who argued that "this isn't geography". Such views have faded as the scheme has now been operating successfully for five years.

The student reaction is generally positive: they welcome the fact that they are acquiring skills which are relevant to the world of work. They appreciate that by listing these modules on their CVs they can provide evidence that they have taken and passed courses in a range of skills which employers value.

In many areas, such as graphicacy and word processing, there has been a definite improvement in the standard of the students' work. However, the same cannot be said about the quality of the students' use of English. Clearly, some skills are more easily improved than others! We are now looking at ways of increasing the amount of student guidance and feedback on writing skills.

Key advice:


Chalkley, B. (1995) Compulsory modules in transferable skills: the Plymouth approach, in A. Jenkins & A. Ward (Eds.) Developing Skill-based Curricula Through the Disciplines: case studies of good practice in Geography, SEDA Paper 89, pp. 27-34.


Skills modules
Skills programme
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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