Problem-Solving Competition Simulation


Brief description

Students, in groups (of four), assimilate briefs on different ways to solve a problem. In the example here, the problem is how to generate energy from wave power most efficiently. As representatives of a 'commercial firm promoting a particular wave energy device, students compete with other 'firms' representing other devices, for a government grant to enable the device to be built and tested. The case for each device is heard by a panel of students representing various 'experts' (e.g. in the fields of environmental protection, energy economics and coastal and wave-energy processes). Six 'firms' give 20-minute presentations in a 3-hour conference.

Aims and skills

Assimilating a brief; verbally defending and criticising a research design; group co-operation and organisation; making a presentation verbally, with visual aids. Demonstrating how to apply 'pure' science e.g. wave motion and energy. Illustrating the composition of decision making in the applied science area, including elements not perhaps considered in normal 'cost benefit analysis'.

Courses used in

Applied physical geography (e.g. coastal geomorphology). Suitable particularly for applied science and technology courses.

What the teacher does

Collect written material on various proposals and techniques for solving a particular problem (i.e. on various wave power devices for electricity generation). Divide the class into teams representing each proposal and give them briefs to study. Assign 'specialist' roles to individual students who will form a panel of judges (i.e. marine engineer, coastal geomorphologist, economist, representative of energy industry, government civil servant) and give recommended reading to each. Advise student groups as they go about preparing their cases. Organise and set up the conference. Oversee the conference and advise the panel on making its final judgement. Keep time, and order in questioning and cross-questioning. Give a mark:

Problems for the teacher

Collecting sufficient and diverse material. Ensuring that penetrating questions and criticisms are levelled at each team during the conference, without the questioning becoming tutor-dominated. Ensuring that panellists have sufficient expertise in areas which are unfamiliar and not all covered in the main course (viz. Friends of the Earth representative, marine biologist, etc.).


The Geography Discipline Network would like to thank the Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA) for permission to reproduce material from this publication.

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