|Title||Small-group Teaching at the University of Leeds|
|Department||School of Geography, University of Leeds, Leeds, LS2 9JT, UK|
|Tel.||+44 (0)113 233 3340|
|Fax||+44 (0)113 233 3308|
The School of Geography in the University of Leeds has radically altered its approach to small-group teaching. It has integrated different styles and formats of teaching, altered its teaching and assessment practices, and addressed the staff training requirements of this new system.
The key points are these:
'GEOG1080 - Study Skills in Geography;' a Year 1 alternative to tutorials
In 1994 the tutorial system for first-year geography students at the University of Leeds was replaced by the 10-credit module 'GEOG1080 Study Skills in Geography'. With increasing student numbers, and modularisation extending core lecture courses to many elective students, student-centred learning was built into every module with integrated workshops and seminar sessions (Kneale, 1997). 'Study Skills in Geography' is compulsory for single-honours geography students and is an option for those students who have geography as a named part of their degree. The module therefore must stand alone in terms of its geographical content. The module was piloted originally as an Enterprise in Higher Education initiative with a volunteer group of students. Its content has developed each year as new material and techniques are introduced, and others discarded (Kneale, 1995).
The formal objectives of the module are that students will acquire:
The module is run over two semesters with three types of teaching.
|Workshops||All students (currently 165) in a lecture theatre with one member of staff. Postgraduates help in some sessions to chair and gain feedback from focus/brainstorming groups.|
|Tutorials||5 students meet with a tutor who may be an academic member of staff, a teaching assistant or senior postgraduate. Each group chooses four topics, from a list of over 20, to research during the year. Students come to the Topic Tutorials to present the results of their research as oral presentations. These are assessed. Essentially the tutorials are the place where students demonstrate that they are developing the skills covered in the workshop sessions.|
|Practicals||Computer laboratory sessions, led and managed by a teaching assistant, supported by four or five postgraduate demonstrators (class sizes of 60 in two laboratories).|
Because students have different kinds of sessions in different weeks they have to develop diary and time-management skills to get to the right place each week. Staff involvement is reduced from a weekly meeting to nine meetings per year. In terms of quality control we can be sure that all students will have had the opportunity to demonstrate the skills included in the module.
Introduction to the Module, how it works and assessment. Emphasis on the difference between school and university teaching and learning. Importance of personal learning strategies.
First meeting with tutor, to select and discuss how the work for Topics 1 and 2 will be organised. 'Get to know each other' session.
Three one-hour practicals to be completed in these five weeks. word-processing skills, BIDS, e-mail and e-mail with attachments, WWW, and downloading hard copies of references from library.
Research resources, libraries and what they can do for you. Introduction to the university and department resources. Worksheet - involves tracking down references across the five main libraries.
Getting your points across, presentation and discussion skills. Uses the BBC's 'Speak for Yourself' video, followed by discussion. Worksheet.
Not in the original module plan but it was felt that some support was needed at this point to encourage the progress in topic preparation, sort out any problems, and cheer up students feeling overwhelmed by university life.
Effective reading, note taking, thinking and summarising. Uses Rowntree's (1988) SQ3R amongst other techniques. Optional worksheet.
'Topic 1'. Student presentation to tutors on first topic. Most tutors ask the group to assess each other so as to help focus on technique as well as content.
'How to pass modules and stay in bed 'till 12.00 and party all week'. A time-management session. Mix of discussion and planning for the next week (Kneale, 1997).
Memories of revision, effective university examination techniques. An interactive session with example questions and alternative answers. Uses postgraduates to chair focus groups (size = 25) within the lecture theatre, which helps the students' active input.
Useful if previous presentations have overrun, also used to review the term, chat about examinations and toast Christmas.
Welcome back after examinations; a session where work for Topics 3 and 4 is organised
Different approaches to research and learning. Uses the Learning Styles questionnaire and check-lists to identify the skills required to manage research for Topic 3. Aims to improve personal confidence in skills acquired and to identify areas where this topic gives an opportunity to practise skills where the student is less confident. Reflective diary of research activity for Topic 3.
Writing university-style essays. Feedback from the recent examinations; examples of good essay technique, recognising pitfalls, writing good introductions and conclusions.
Critical thinking; thinking through ideas, when do you think? how might you improve your thinking? what does the university expect of you?
'Topic 3' - with diary of research/preparation process.
'Topic 4' - with PowerPoint display.
Three one-hour practicals; further word processing including tables and equations in reports, incorporating Excel, Minitab and PowerPoint output in Word 6 documents.
End of session meeting; may be used to complete tutorial reports.
The form and timing of assessment is:
Tutorial topics: Students select from a menu of topics each of which has roughly a three-page briefing. This includes a one-page topic summary, suggested research areas, possible presentation themes, suggestions for group or solo work (some topics lend themselves to a debate format, for example), and suggested essay titles.
The large workshops are awkward to teach. In the first few weeks there is inevitably a group asking why they are not doing straight geography. Some sessions seem obscure at first. Some students vote with their feet and only stay to the workshop if there is an assessed worksheet as part of the session. Others get very involved and really do attempt to change their reading style, start to focus on personal issues like writing styles or thinking processes, and take the time-management ideas seriously. There is considerable support from mature students for this module since it addresses a number of areas where they feel vulnerable.
The presentations video gets rapt audience attention and clearly impacts on students' confidence levels and approach to talking to groups. Much of the information in the discussion handout is common-sense and good manners, but it raises students' confidence levels by making them aware of different forms of discussion - debate, focus groups, brainstorming, role-play exercises, oppositional and consensual discussion, and the different roles of discussants and chairpersons in these situations. It reminds them of some of the stock phrases, 'while I agree with Jim in principle, I also think...', 'that is a good point and...'. There is nothing very advanced here, more like 'ask the easy question to get the group talking', and 'if worried, get the tutorial group together over a coffee and have a quick discussion, and develop an action plan'. The session also aims to ensure that the students are aware that they have a responsibility to keep a discussion going, to ensure everyone gets an opportunity to be heard, and there is good listening going on.
The sessions on essays, note taking and revision have understandable appeal. The session on critical thinking is less obviously accessible. Students feel more reluctance about identifying where they could think more efficiently. Teaching needs to be a mix of serious and light-hearted sections to keep up group morale.
The practicals have variable student response, depending on past skills. In 1994 the World Wide Web practical was new and exciting, and students found locating material difficult and challenging. By 1996 this practical was clearly unnecessary, very few students had not already visited a Web site, and the majority were happily surfing. Consequently in 1997 the WWW information was delivered as a handout so that those who needed guidance on using the Internet had a full guide. In 1997 BIDS, e-mail and attachments to e-mail seem to cause more problems and we force the group to prove they can do these tasks through the practicals. Revisiting Word 6 skills late in the year is beneficial, if only to point out that there are other things they can do. The equations editor is awkward and practice here is valuable, as are constructing and shading tables, and including Excel and other objects in documents. In previous years a computer CV exercise was included, but this has now been moved to Year 2 where it has more relevance. The CV session was replaced by PowerPoint in 1997, where everyone had to create six slides to illustrate their Topic 4 presentation. This was the most fun and from the feedback students thought this was the most rewarding session. It had the bonus of showing all the postgraduates how to make PowerPoint slides and all tutors were given demonstrations of PowerPoint in action.
Postgraduates enjoy these sessions, new postgraduates are asked to demonstrate the practicals thereby improving their own skills and awareness of the university resources. It has been my practice to ask either the teaching assistant taking the practical classes or a postgraduate to write the handouts for these sessions, and also to undertake annual pre-practical checks to ensure any changes to the university systems are incorporated. This helps to keep the language in the documents student-friendly and accessible.
Probably the factor that gives this module the most 'street cred.' is postgraduates saying 'why didn't we have this at university?' and 'this is really useful, I can use this for...'. Postgraduates need supportive briefings and they get clear guidelines from the core teaching staff as to what is intended and required. When undergraduates see the postgraduates taking sessions seriously they begin to think that there is something in it. Certainly with over 160 students in the workshops, the use of focus groups led by postgraduates helps the level of interaction. In the first sessions the postgraduates feed back the main points which helps get over student shyness at speaking.
Integrating workshops into lecture courses
When the course was modularized the decision was taken that all lecture-based modules in the School of Geography at Leeds would be academically independent, and therefore all tutorial-style support work would be embedded within individual modules. This allows elective students to take 1-4 modules (10-40 credits) of geography without feeling at a disadvantage compared with single-honours students taking 80 or more credits in geography. In some departments sessions of this type would be called seminars. This title was not chosen because a seminar implies a particular type of exercise; staff wanted to include a much wider range of activities in these sessions. We sought to blur the conventional distinctions between tutorials, seminars and workshops, and the latter term is the one we shall use here.
The objective of workshops is to give students the opportunity to interact with relevant materials and to talk about the topics. Workshops provide opportunities for students to ask questions, chase up areas of misunderstanding and to feel more involved as learners. Most sessions involve some form of feed back. Undergraduates commonly prepare overhead transparencies to summarise group discussion and elect a reporter. Presentation and other skills are taught elsewhere in the geography curriculum, encouraging good practice and self-confidence (Kneale, 1995).
The normal pattern for integration is to hold a workshop session for every 3 to 5 lecture classes. A first-year module with 300 students will be broken down into 12 workshops held in the same week as the lecture they replace. The staff-student ratio is roughly 30:1, while in Year 2 we aim for 20:1 or 25:1. The member of staff leading the module takes one workshop, the others are led by postgraduates and teaching assistants. Timetabling is difficult; each week there is a different combination of modules having workshops. Space is mostly found in the Schools' physical geography laboratories. Students sign up for workshops at a time that fits with their other commitments.
This is vital. You cannot expect a student who graduated in July to take a class in October without plenty of support. All postgraduates attend workshops in the department on teaching and managing small groups. They are expected to attend relevant university courses, such as 'Presentation Skills', 'Teaching in Laboratories' and 'Small-Group Teaching'. They are expected to attend the lectures for the module in the first year as part of their preparation. Postgraduates are normally assigned to the same module in the next two years, so they build on previous experience. Students' work is marked by postgraduates to guidelines provided by staff. Postgraduates are not asked to generate the teaching materials; this is the responsibility of the staff who fully brief the tutors. Where possible, classes are timetabled so that a new postgraduate can attend a workshop run earlier in the week by a more experienced student before tackling his/her own group. Postgraduates are paid the hourly teaching rate for demonstrating and half that rate for time spent on preparation and marking.
Types of workshop teaching
In the first year of the new scheme the general format was for work to be done during the hour of the workshop. At the end of the year student and staff feedback suggested that this was not very effective. The students arrived 'cold' to the material and took time to get involved. What is now more common is for the workshop handout to be distributed one or two weeks in advance so that the students come to the sessions with some background preparation. In Year 1 the work is not usually assessed as part of the module, whereas in Year 2 a workshop may count 10 per cent towards a module's final mark.
There are a wide range of activities in these sessions; this Section describes a few of the formats.
Kneale, P. (1997) Maximising play time: time management for geography students, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 21(2), pp.291-299.