Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences
||An Integrated Approach to Skills Teaching
||Andrew Honeybone and Jenny Blumhof
||Department of Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Natural Sciences, College
Lane, Hatfield, Hertfordshire, AL10 9AB, UK
||+44 (0)1707 284512
||+44 (0)1707 285258
This case study illustrates how transferable skills can be embedded within a geography module.
As part of a case study of Mediterranean environments, which comprises a four-week block within a second year module, an attempt is made to develop students' transferable skills by integrating the development of such skills with the academic content. This means that in carrying out the required geographic task, students will necessarily have to use a range of transferable skills and those skills are explicitly addressed in a series of skills workshops and in a final evaluation session.
The development of transferable skills within this case study forms part of a co-ordinated programme of skills development within the degree programme as a whole. A skills map or matrix is used as a principal means of co-ordination. This identifies where skills development takes place in each module and adjustments are made as necessary to ensure that all the required skills are covered and progressively developed through the three taught years of the degree. Each student is given a specially prepared Skills Folder to support his or her individual skills development. This approach to skills development was in part facilitated by the Enterprise in Higher Education initiative and also by funding from the University's own Learning Development Fund.
The case study adopts a problem-based learning approach in which students, working in small groups (normally three or four) are asked to prepare a poster on a Mediterranean problem of their choice. In carrying out this assessed task there is a 'need to know' about certain transferable skills such as investigative skills, teamwork, time management and visual presentation. Without these skills, students cannot undertake the task successfully.
A variety of forms of class contact are used. Firstly, there are introductory framework lectures which outline the task and provide a basic introduction to key geographical characteristics and environmental issues in the Mediterranean region. Secondly, there are subject workshops during which students work in groups on their chosen problem and tutors are available to offer assistance as required. Thirdly, there are skills workshops in which explicit attention is focused on the development of transferable skills which the students have already started to use in their group work. Fourthly, there is a poster presentation session during which peer groups and staff assess the posters according to agreed criteria, and fifthly there is a final review and evaluation session.
The case study is supported by a range of specially prepared written materials. There is a student briefing sheet that outlines the aims, structure and timetable of the case study, explains the form of assessment (including subject content criteria and transferable skills criteria) provides guidelines on poster presentations and gives an initial reference list. A Mediterranean Reader includes a selection of articles on the Mediterranean region that provides a starting point for student investigations and a Skills Folder contains extracts giving advice on ways of developing the various transferable skills.
Informal observation of the group working and the quality of the final posters would suggest that the approach is successful. This view has been supported over several years by more formal evaluation of the case study. Students are asked to complete two evaluation forms. The first asks them for an assessment of the extent to which they think the subject aims and the skills aims of the case study have been achieved. Results have generally been encouraging but on occasion some students have felt that the relative attention given to the two sorts of aims has not been appropriately balanced. Account is then taken of their suggestions for improvement and the course team discusses possible changes for the following year.
The second evaluation form operates at a more personal level with each student or group being asked to reflect on their own performance - what they have done well, what they have done less well and how their performance might have been improved. Probably the group form of this evaluation stimulates the most interesting discussion and in the concluding feedback session provides useful pointers to staff on how the case study might be further refined in future years. Although team-work skills are not assessed in a formal or summative way, they are considered and reviewed as part of this group evaluation process.
- Clear initial 'signposting' through an introductory lecture supported by a handout is required if students are to understand quickly the overall structure of the case study and rapidly get down to work in a short block such as this.
- Readily accessible support materials (in this case study, a Skills Folder, a Mediterranean Reader and a file of key articles located in a departmental open learning centre) help students to get into the exercise rapidly but the initial preparation of such materials is time-consuming.
- Tutor discussion with small groups within the workshop can help to focus support on those groups which are most in need of it.
- The final review and evaluation session seems to provide a good means of getting students to reflect on their skills development. This process of self and peer evaluation is particularly valuable.
This is one of the case studies which appears in the GDN Guide "Transferable Skills and Work-based Learning in Geography"
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Page created 2 October 1999
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