Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title First Year Student-Centred Learning Through Guided Peer-Group Work
Originator Dr D E Short
Department Department of Geography, University of Dundee, DD1 4HN
Tel. +44 (0)1382 344434
Fax. +44 (0)1382 344434

The project was developed with SHEFC support and now forms a major component of the continuously assessed work programme in First Year Geography which accounts overall for 33% of all degree assessment. It was designed as part of the Department's response to a SHEFC TQA report which sought more emphasis on teaching Personal Transferable Skills as well as a focus on 'active-deep learning' in which the student is self-directed, motivated, critical, confident and able to communicate in a variety of formats. It is a field-work, map and archive based, group exercise entitled Dundee. Victorian industrial city in a post-industrial era. Group findings are communicated in the form of a poster which is presented to and debated with a panel of staff before final assessment. The specific aims of the project are:

To develop independent learning in terms of locating, retrieving and abstracting information from disparate sources, including documents, maps, archival materials, photographs and field observation.

To develop group skills in planning, delegation and reporting, thereby fostering co-operative learning.

The student class (of 130) is split up into groups of 8 or 9, each of which passes through a sequence of lectures, workshops and a 'surgery' session. These provide the theory and practice of group working as well as specific resource acquisition, analytical and presentation skills. Much of this work is supervised by specially trained post-graduate demonstrators. Group dynamics and discipline are largely devolved to the groups themselves with lecturing staff in a mentoring and arbitration role during surgery sessions. Students are expected to meet and work collaboratively outside timetabled hours - facilitated by the provision of designated work-space and basic resources within the Department. Assessment is group-wide, but non- or poor- participants are penalised in consultation with the active members. In order to achieve the full group mark an individual must have attended all group activities and be able to clearly identify and explain their contribution to the final product.

The benefits of the project include major savings in staff assessment time, some reduction in contact hours and a shift in the learning culture of students which is further capitalised in the second and subsequent year courses. The work also engages incoming undergraduates with their local environment and enlists them in field-study activity which had previously been lost to First Year Geography because of financial constraints. The costs are largely front-loaded in set-up time. Further refinement of group-skills training and discipline is underway.


Continuous assessment
Group work
Poster presentation

An expanded version of this case study abstract appears in the GDN Guide "Assessment in Geography"

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