Groups of about four students represent different technical groups who are bidding for a contract. Each group espouses a different analytical technique and argues that the contract should be given to them because of the superiority of that technique.
Communicating technical issues to a non-specialist audience; working in groups, speaking and report writing.
Soil Types and their Management. Particularly suitable for science and technology courses.
Establish the topic to be investigated. This approach is well suited to practical problems where contrasting or conflicting 'technical' solutions can be used. See the enclosed example of an Indian state which, as a basis for an agricultural development programme, requests international assistance in carrying out a soil survey. Students represent different 'technical' groups, arguing the value of contrasting methods of soil analysis.
Students are divided into groups, each group being given a particular technical approach to master. The teacher gives guidance over reading and sets out the timetable and what is required.
The teacher then plays the role of the client, inviting bids for a contract of work. This can be done solely by a written statement. Alternatively the teacher can give an aural presentation (perhaps accompanied by a written statement). The 'client's' statement or presentation should acquaint students with the practical problem for which a solution is required and should give them all the necessary background information. It is very important that the 'client's' needs should not be stated from a technical perspective. Rather it should be from someone in an official position facing a practical problem and requiring specialist advice.
It is very important that the client's needs are stated in a very professional manner for it sets the tone for what follows. That is why you, the teacher, may choose to play the role of the client.
You may choose to see the various groups separately before they do a presentation, helping to clarify their understanding of the technical issues and thinking through how to communicate that in a non-technical way.
The class then takes on the form of competitive technical presentations for a business contract. You as client are in the chair. Each group has to make a presentation in its bid to get the 'contract'. Your guidelines will have indicated that the presentation must state the basis of the methodology. An effective way of them doing this is through a poster. Each group then has to make a verbal presentation to the client saying why its method should be used to solve the problem. After each group has done a presentation it is questioned by the client (you) and the competing groups. Here it is important that the questioning is probing and seeks to uncover whether they really understand the technical issues involved and can explain why that approach is the best 'buy'. After all student groups have completed their presentation 'the client' says who is to get the contract. You as teacher then state your marks and your reasons.
This technique is probably most suited to classes of 10-20 students. As the number of each group should be kept to 2-4 and each group has to have a very different perspective it can be difficult to get enough competing methodologies to meet the needs of a large class size. There is a limit to the number of presentations which people can assimilate (even if they are spread over a number of class sessions). Many presentations can take up too much time from the course.
It is essential that there is a good range of accessible published material on each of the perspectives. You will need to spend much time before the exercise making sure all these resources are available.
Students have been set a hard task. The material which each group has to assimilate may well be difficult. Groups also have to be able to communicate it in a non-technical way. Particularly if the (reading) resources are limited or difficult, students can get discouraged. You probably need to see them periodically before the presentation to advise and encourage.