Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title Problem-based Learning as a Means to Develop Key Skills in Tutorials
Originator Helen King
Department School of Ocean & Earth Science, University of Southampton, UK
Tel. +44 (0)2380 592062
Fax +44 (0)2380 593052

In 1999, the first year GS101 course - Fieldwork and Computing for Geophysicists - was redesigned and the tutorials were specifically targeted for Key Skills development. The assessment of the tutorials counted 20% towards the total mark for the module. Knowing that many students now come to University with already well developed Key Skills, I wanted to design a tutorial programme that would keep up the interest and development of those students but also provide a useful introduction to less experienced individuals.

Week 1 - Teamworking Course: The students were split into two groups of six. In the first week of Semester 1 they were required to attend a one-day team development course, initiated at the University by the BP-Amoco programme. This course used generic exercises ('barrels and planks' type tasks) to facilitate the development of team skills in a problem-solving environment. Following each task the team reviewed their experience with a tutor and were given some basic contextual grounding in learning and team development theory. In the afternoon, the students were given the first part of their Geophysics project and were allowed ½ hour to plan how they might go about it. The project was in the form of a letter from a fictional body consulting the teams on an aspect of seismic surveying (Team A) and seafloor magnetic polarity (Team B). The students were asked to produce a 500 word report and a 5 minute oral presentation on the topic for the first tutorial.

Week 4 - Tutorial One: Given that the students received no guidance or criteria on how to write a report or give a presentation their performance was excellent. I provided some feedback and we discussed oral presentation criteria. I explained the purpose of the tutorials as a means to develop Key Skills and all of the students appeared well acquainted with the concept and terminology. For the next tutorial I gave the students a numerical problem on their topic to work on individually.

Week 8 - Tutorial Two: I provided feedback on the students' solutions to the numerical problem and gave them the final part of the exercise - data analysis and interpretation. The students were required to once again work as a team to collate the information they had gained on the topic and to present it at the final tutorial in the form of a poster and an oral presentation for assessment. To round off the tutorial we discussed the format and assessment criteria for an academic poster using examples exhibited around the department.

Semester 2 - Tutorial Three: This final, assessed, tutorial was run as a double session involving both groups together. The first ½ hour was used for the oral presentations and feedback. Secondly, they were required to fill in a review sheet designed to encourage them to think about their own Key Skills development both within this module and for the future. The rest of the tutorial was run by a member of Careers Advisory Service and was used to further support their monitoring of their own Key Skills development - during this latter part they continued to work in their teams and a small prize was awarded to the group exhibiting the best team work overall.

This tutorial programme introduced and developed, in an independent learning environment, the major key skills valuable to the students' present study and future careers including written and oral presentations, team work, research, numeracy, problem-solving and C&IT (word processing, email and spreadsheets). I encouraged the students to come to me between the tutorials if they had any difficulties but they all seemed reasonably comfortable. I have not yet run the third tutorial so cannot give any specific student feedback at this stage. The programme was reasonably simple to set up and, except for the team development course, did not require extensive preparation.


Group work
Independent learning
Problem-based learning
Skills development

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Page created 5 June 2000
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