Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title Using Courseware to Integrate Skills Across the Curriculum
Originator Sue Burkill
Department Department of Geography, College of St. Mark and St. John, Derriford Road, Plymouth, PL6 8BH, UK
Tel. +44 (0)1752 777188
Fax +44 (0)1752 761163

The Department of Geography at the University College of St Mark and St John, Plymouth, has developed a programme of student study skills work as a 'spine' which extends through the first two years of the undergraduate programme. The activities in this spine are introduced through, and run alongside, the substantive geography modules, and involve some additional reflection and organisation on the part of the students. A novel feature is that successful completion of the skills spine leads to a college award in interpersonal and study skills. (Further background details of this course are provided in the GDN Guide on 'Transferable Skills and Work-based Learning in Geography' by Chalkley & Harwood, 1998.)

Students are supported by a tightly defined checklist of skills, which incorporates details of the evidence required for the completion of the course. They are also provided with a study calendar, which provides a cross reference between the geography modules (the context for the skills) and the skills checklist. The issue dealt with here is how this skills programme is supported with adequate resources, despite declining staff:student ratios, and other pressures which have reduced staff-student tutorial contact. The resource base is provided by a range of computer assisted learning materials, which have been made available on the college network. These include TLTP software from the GeographyCal project, as well as materials designed by college staff. Without these resources, it is unlikely that geography staff could ensure a coherent experience for all students undertaking the programme.

Examples from the programme

The skills programme currently consists of eight study units. Initially, computer assisted study was introduced into just two of these units, in the form of the TLTP module on Social Survey Design. This was used for a two-year period to introduce students to sampling methods and quantitative and qualitative approaches to research. Building on this experience, a computer element has now been embedded into all skills units. Some examples are outlined below.

Essential study skills

This includes use of the library and other sources of information. In addition to the college introduction to the library, students also work through the first part of the TLTP module, 'Making Sense of Information'. In this way, a great deal of basic information is covered by students in their own time, with a minimum of tutor involvement.

Communication skills

This includes the design and selection of appropriate graphical representations of information. As the basis for this, students are required to study part of the early TLTP module on 'Graphical Excellence'.

Information technology skills

In this unit, students must show that they have used the Internet as a source of information. Here, they use the second part of the TLTP module, 'Making Sense of Information', as background preparation for an assignment in which this skill is applied. Students are also required to explain what is meant by a GIS, and to present an example of a GIS used in one particular context. The background here is provided by the TLTP modules 'Introduction to GIS' and 'The House Hunting Game'. (An in-house version of the second of these is used.)

Cartographic skills

Students produce a range of maps (both manual and computer designed) over a couple of months as an element of their first-year geography modules. In order to encourage critical awareness of mapping techniques, they are required to complete the TLTP module, 'Map Design', before putting together a coherent selection of maps for their portfolio.

Strengths and constraints

Students and staff have both been supportive of this new initiative. The institution has validated the programme, and is proposing to evaluate its success with a view to extending the concept to other disciplines. There appear to be a number of reasons for this support:

The programme is not without its problems, however. In particular, there are constraints related to the extensive dependence on IT:


Chalkley, B. & Harwood, J. (1998) Transferable Skills and Work-based Learning in Geography (Cheltenham: Geography Discipline Network).


Computer assisted learning
Study skills
TLTP modules

This is one of the case studies which appears in the GDN Guide "Teaching and Learning Geography with Information and Communication Technologies"

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