Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title Professional Practice in Geology - A Teamwork Course Shadowing the Minerals Industry
Originator Norman Moles & Graham Leslie
Department Department of Geology, The Queen's University of Belfast
Tel. +44 (0)2890-273404
Fax +44 (0)2890-321280
Email n.moles@qub.ac.uk


'Professional Practice in Geology' is a teamwork-based, intensive 2-week course for final-year undergraduates in our BSc Geology Honours degree program. The course has two main aims: to develop an understanding of how geological knowledge and methods are applied in a 'real world' industry context; and to develop transferable skills in teamworking, time management, marketing, and oral and written communication. The course is facilitated by a practising professional geologist and graduate of Queen's University who agreed to provide his services at cost for 8 days.

The Professional Practice course was conceived in 1997 when the degree programme was being restructured and modernised to make it more attractive to students and more relevant to careers involving geology. We realised that most employers expect personnel to work in teams while the throughout the undergraduate course the emphasis was on individual effort. In 1998 a pilot version of the course was funded by the Northern Ireland Higher Education Council under their 'Graduate Skills for Employment' program. The 5-day pilot course was very successful, as judged by feedback from the 13 participants and from NIHEC. The course was scaled up to become a compulsory half-module, worth one twelfth of the degree mark, and integrated with the degree programme. Unlike other modules that are timetabled to run the length of the semester, we realised that to be effective, 'Professional Practice' must be a 'short fat' course with no other distractions during the two weeks.

Shadowing the minerals industry, and specifically the search for gold in the Sperrin Mountains of Northern Ireland, the class is divided into teams (exploration companies) of 5-6 students who compete for the award of (nominal) contracts for each of 6 phases in the exploration program. Matching the number of phases to the number of students per team allows every student to present their company's work at least once during the first week. These presentations are of 5 minutes duration and are assessed by both tutors and peers, with feedback given on both content and style of delivery.

In the second week, the first day is devoted to a 'mock' public enquiry based on submissions and newspaper reports from an actual public enquiry into a gold mining proposal in the Sperrins held in 1993. Socio-economic and environmental issues are examined through role-play by the students, who adopt the stance of the mining company, local landowners and business people, the fishery commission, government departments and environmental lobby groups. The second day involves field excursions to active and disused mines to consider at first hand geological, economic and environmental issues associated with mining. During the remainder of the week, each team then generates a report in the form of a company prospectus, and on the final day delivers an oral presentation of 30 minutes duration to "market" their company's exploration work, environmental impact assessment and mining proposals. These are delivered in front of a panel of assessors which include the facilitating professional geologist, senior staff of the Geological Survey and the tutors.

Throughout the course we attached considerable importance to feedback, both from the tutors and from the student participants. In a review questionnaire, we asked participants what they had gained from the course. These are some of the responses:

Representatives from the University Careers Service and Enterprise Unit, who attended the oral presentations, also endorsed the tremendous value of the course in developing transferable skills. Preparation and delivery of the course has been time-consuming for the organisers, but the gains for the students certainly make it worth the effort.

Keywords:

Environmental impact assessment
Groupwork
Oral presentations


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