Examples of Good Practice in Earth Science
Learning & Teaching:

Large Classes

Teaching Large Classes in the Field
Jane Francis (University of Leeds)

Teaching the Open University Way - Ideas for Adaptation
Glynda Easterbrook (Open University)

Teaching Introductory Geological Mapwork Using Workpacks
Mike Bell (Cheltenham & Gloucester College of HE)

A Basic Skills Course for Geoscience Level 1
Brian Whalley (Queen's University of Belfast)

How to Cope with Large Numbers at Level 3
Andy McCaig (University of Leeds)

Preparing to Teach Large Classes: Strategies to Promote Active Learning
R. Heather Macdonald (College of William and Mary, USA)

Geological Hands-on Activities for Large Classes (100-250 students)
Randall M. Richardson, (University of Arizona, USA)

Using Seminars to Introduce Small Group Teaching into Large Classes
Nick Henry (University of Birmingham)

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Teaching Large Classes in the Field

Jane Francis (University of Leeds)


At the University of Leeds the numbers of students in Earth Science classes has increased to around 100 in each year and encompass four different degree courses: Geological Sciences, Geophysical Sciences, Environmental Geology and Geology-Geography. The staff in the department have coped with this situation by developing a system with emphasis on better preparation, focus, student motivation and staff efficiency. For example, at the beginning of each module the student is provided with a detailed and informative handbook to guide them through the course. Small group tutorials are still thought to be vital but they are now better structured with exercises devised to provide study skills and preparation for project work. Core Skills modules help provide students with study skills, self-appraisal and career preparation. And more efficient use is made of staff time (with the hope of trying to allow them to reserve more time for their research) by introducing class peer assessment and group presentations.

First Year Fieldwork

All first year students go on the same field trip to Pembrokeshire during the Easter vacation. The aim of the trip is to:

The students divide themselves into groups of 5-6, the group will share a caravan together as well as working together throughout the trip. The division of 100 students into 20 groups provides a much more manageable number to deal with. Two coaches are provided to transport the groups to the field sites, each group remains on the same coach for the whole trip and all the groups visit the same sites but on different days. The groups are supervised by 12 members of staff including post-graduates.

Group Posters: each group of students is required to produce two posters during the trip. Each poster is expected to summarise the geology on a theme (usually the previous two days' fieldwork) and the groups have around 5 hours to produce them using field sketches, data, logs, stereonets etc. The posters are marked and returned, with feedback, the next day. Marking all the posters takes about 2 hours. The posters are displayed the next day (with the marks hidden) and the students are asked to perform a peer assessment. The top three posters, as judged by the students, are compared with those judged by the staff - this provides a good learning experience as the students tend to over assess presentation. A prize is given for the best poster. The second set of posters are marked by the staff (but not peer assessed to save time) and a prize is given for the most improved poster as well as for the best. The marks for the posters are 20% of the total.

Individual Posters: the final day of the trip is to a mystery location, the students work in groups but have to produce individual posters. This individual poster counts as 30% of the assessment total.

Field notebooks: the mark for the field notebook is 50% of the total. Each evening the staff sit down with some of the groups and talk through their field notebooks, this way the students have continuous feedback and can improve their record taking skills.

Advantages of Groupwork and Posters

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Teaching the Open University Way - Ideas for Adaptation

Glynda Easterbrook (Open University)

How do the OU teach?

The Open University relies almost entirely on distance learning, the students work at home and if any group work is required it is either done at local tutorials or residential schools. Teaching is mainly through text, audio and video materials. The students come from a variety of educational backgrounds, many haven't been in education for over 20 years and some have no previous school qualifications at all.

Study Calendar: each course unit takes 9 months to complete and each student is equipped with a study calendar in order to help them with their time management. The calendar details which text to study with which video/audio cassette and notes all assignment deadlines.

Study Guide: this is in the form of a booklet or folder and provides a more detailed guide to the time management of the course.

Literature: the teaching texts are interactive involving reading followed by an activity or test. The style enables the face-to-face tutorial to be substituted by text. There are 6 interactive texts relevant to the Earth Sciences:

As students do not necessarily have access to comprehensive libraries, they are supplied with copies of all the important reference material they may need.

Video: some of the OU programmes are shown on television but unfortunately the BBC are devoting less time to their broadcast and so the students are mainly provided with videos. The video is enhanced with an accompanying text and post-programme notes.

Audio: audio cassettes are reasonably cheap to produce and are a useful medium for transferring information. They are usually in the form of a lecture or discussion and accompanying notes are provided.

Computer Aided Learning (CAL): this is a fairly new teaching technique. The students are given discs or CD-ROMs, as not all students own or have access to a computer this method is of limited use at present. Some students buy Earth Science Courseware Consortium CD-ROMs and are guided in the use of such material, however, it is vital that those students without access to a computer are not disadvantaged in any way.

Home Experiment Kit: each student is supplied with a home experiment kit which must be returned at the end of the year. For example, the Evolution kit contains plaster casts of fossils (and three real ones), the student undertakes a fossil measuring exercise which includes statistical analysis. The student also has a choice of project which can be entirely based on the kit or can involve objects from their own local surroundings (leaves, pebbles etc.). The Geology kit includes:

Tutorials: foundation level courses included a face-to-face tutorial once a fortnight. Other courses don't have them so frequently.

Each year there is a one week summer school which gives the students access to more conventional teaching media.


Tutor Marked Assessment (TMA): each student is assigned a tutor who marks their assignments and provides comprehensive feedback. The deadline for assignments is strict and no allowances are made for late submissions.

Computer Marked Assessment (CMA): these are in the form of multiple choice paper exercises. The students are encouraged to interact with each other and discuss the exercises. The feedback to these exercises is returned to the student within a few days and is very detailed with reasons given for why one answer was right and the others wrong. It takes some time to write material for these type exercises but once a course has been running for a few years the questions can be recycled. Some students will return their assessments before the deadline and these can be marked and used as an early warning test for ambiguous questions etc.

How can we adapt OU teaching methods for use in conventional institutions?

Develop a resource based supply of materials
This could include text-based material such as study guides to wrap around published material, self-teaching texts ('tutorials in print') or workbooks to use with videos/audios. The problem with introducing this into teaching at conventional institutions is that it takes a long time to write initially, hence the need to use existing resources such as that supplied by the OU.

Guided field notebook
These notebooks supplement staff teaching in the field by asking questions about the site as well as providing space for the students' own comments and observations. As most institutions revisit sites many times it would not take too much extra work to devise suitable questions for such an exercise.

Student Proposed Projects
A different slant on project work might be to ask the students to write proposals for their desired topic. This would involve some research into the background of the project and would help build up written presentations skills and evaluation skills (weighing up one project against another). This would also be beneficial to the student as half the project would have been written up prior to the work being undertaken. To turn this into an exercise for large classes, students could be asked to 'collaborate' with each other.

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Teaching Introductory Geological Mapwork using Workpacks

Mike Bell (Cheltenham and Gloucester College of HE)

The method, used by Mike Bell to teach introductory mapwork, involves providing each student with a kit which can be worked on at home or in the laboratory. The course is designed to help the students to develop certain mapping skills:

The aim of the course is to provide all students with skills they can take on into their careers even if they do not continue with geology. It has been found that standard exercises are often too complicated and detailed and so the department invested in kits that could be used year after year. In order to produce an effective learning tool two full time staff were employed to look at the teaching in the department and to canvas the academic staff on their opinions of what the packages should include.

Each kit contains three exercises each accompanied by a geological map, the entire package is designed to replace a 5 week course (2 hours per week):

1. Local geological map
Accompanying booklet
Assessment: self-assessment - student writes answers in booklet (with the correct answers provided)

2. More complicated map (of Tewkesbury), includes Bouger and magnetic anomaly maps
Accompanying booklet
Assessment: students submit answers for assessment

3. Leeds geological map, more complicated with more structural features
Geological time scale
Accompanying booklet
Assessment: students submit answers for assessment

Initially the students were left to work entirely independently, however, some students missed tutor interaction and the classroom environment. Now surgery sessions are held for one hour once a week, additionally those students who do not wish to pay the £50 deposit for the kits can use ones available in the laboratory.

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Brian Whalley (Queen's University of Belfast)

The Level 1 Geoskills Module is due to start at Queen's University in September 1997. A successful pilot was run for 6 weeks to test some of the ideas and proved that the teaching/learning style works. The module is student-paced and mainly involves independent learning, though 2 hours of lectures and 3 hours of practical work are also provided.

The lecture time is used to allow students to get to know one another (bearing in mind that they are first years), they are sub-divided into groups and given skills based tasks. In the practical classes the emphasis is on sharing of resources (computers, microscopes etc.), this not only saves on resources but gives students the opportunity to discuss their work.

Students are assigned projects which allow them to interlink various skills, for example they might be asked to search the library to find books that help in writing CVs.

All the course information is also provided on the WWW and students are encouraged to look at their own learning skills by providing and receiving continuous feedback (via WWW-based forms). The WWW is also used to provide answers to frequently asked questions.

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How to Cope with Large Numbers at Level 3

Andy McCaig (University of Leeds)

A third year core course on Global Cycles and Earth History is provided to explicitly provide transferable skills and teamwork, non-geologists may also take this course as an option. The course preserves the need for high level scientific activity whilst introducing various skills.

·Groupwork: the students are split into groups and each group is given a separate topic to study, they are provided with about 30 references on the topic and are also asked three questions which must be answered in their final presentation.

Assessment: each group must produce a poster outlining the details of their topic and answering the 3 questions posed by the tutor. The posters are assessed by the tutor, the time it takes to assess 10 posters is equivalent to the time taken to mark one individual's practical work. The posters are then displayed and each group is required to look at all the posters and write summary sheets on the other topics. A handout at the final lecture also provides summaries of each topic. The final exam is designed to reflect the fact that each group only did one topic in detail.

Student Opinion: a student (Helen) was invited to talk about her experience of this course. She felt that it was a very beneficial exercise, useful for learning to read papers and assimilate information.

·1. Do you prefer to choose your own group?
Most people don't mind either way, however, if you choose your own you tend to select people of the same standard as yourself and so there are more extremes of good or bad groups.

2. How efficient are posters as a learning method?
An oral presentation is often better as you have to sit there and listen whereas you can often chose whether to look at posters or not. However, in this particular course each group had to write a summary of the other posters.
(Comment from A. McCaig - when students are learning from other students errors can creep in and so the exercise is more beneficial to the presenter than the viewer. Staff must provide support and feedback to eliminate factual errors)

3. Do you enjoy this type of learning method?
Yes, up to a point. You do tend to get fed up if you have to produce too many posters. Maybe one a semester would be enough.

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Preparing to Teach Large Classes: Strategies to Promote Active Learning

R. Heather Macdonald,
Department of Geology,
College of William and Mary,
VA 23185
Material from Poster Session, San Francisco AGU, 1996 (pers. Comm)

ABSTRACT: Instructors who teach large classes commonly use lectures even though the traditional lecture format is more likely to promote passive listening than active, independent learning. However, several strategies can be used in large lecture-based courses to increase student involvement in learning. 1)Modify the lecture by adding short "spaces" between mini-lectures to give students an opportunity to process the material. For example, ask a question, then use think-pair-share, an activity in which all students in the class share their responses with a classmate. When using visuals or doing demonstrations, involve students by asking them to describe, explain, predict, summarize, or interpret. 2) Give out-of-class assignments such as homework, questions for discussion, or short writing assignments. 3) Get feedback from students about the class. For example, have students write about the most important point of the lecture or ask a question about the lecture. 4) Provide opportunities for student-faculty and student-student interaction such as personalized responses on tests, study groups, various types of electronic communication, and opportunities for interested students to participate on projects. Graduate students interested in a teaching career can learn about various teaching strategies in a variety of ways (observation, departmental discussions, campus teaching centers, science education journals, and workshops) and can use them in various teaching settings (as a teaching assistant, discussion leader, guest lecturer, and classroom teacher).

[All too often,] lecturing is a process by which information is transfered from the notes of the lecturer to the notes of the students without touching the brain of either. (modified from Sisteck, 1986)

"Studies on attention span....shed light on why students have difficulty with the traditional lecture format. Adult learners can keep tuned into a lecture for no more than 15 to 20 minutes at a time, and this at the beginning of the class. After three to five minutes of "settling down" at the start of class, "the next lapse of attention usually occured some 10 to 18 minute later. Students recalled the most information from the first five minutes of the presentation. Given that students have an attention span of around 15 to 20 minutes and that classes are 50 to 90 minutes, instructors must do something to keep their students' attention. (from Middendorf and Kalish, 1996)

1. Punctuate the lecture
Break up the lecture by adding short activities between mini-lectures to give students an opportunity to process the material.

Ask a question, but instead of letting one student answer, use think-pair-share

  1. Pose a question or problem
  2. Students discuss with a neighbour
  3. Gather responses from (some) of the groups or poll the class, then discuss

Can be modified by having students first write their response on an index card or piece of paper (write-pair-share).

Have students

  • compare
  • contrast
  • explain
  • interpret
  • analyze
  • predict
  • An example: After showing a digital image of the state of Virginia and discussing with them the topography and what can be determined about the structure from the topography, show the next slide, a similar image of the state of Pennsylvania, and ask students to write down their observations about the topography and their interpretations about the structure. (Christopher Bailey, College of William & Mary)

    Numbered heads together:
    another format for having students answer questions posed in class:

    1. Students count off - 1,2,3,4.
    2. Instructor poses a question.
    3. Students discuss question, making certain that each group member can summarize discussion.
    4. Instructor calls specific number in selected groups to answer question.


    STUDENTS ARE ACTIVE LEARNERS Other lecture breaks:
    free-writing-responses - 2-5 minute responses at the beginning (or middle or end) of class, in response to a prompt. These focus student attention and give more timid students a written text on which to rely.

    2. Out-of-class assignments
    To promote more active learning throughout the term (rather than the night before the exam), give out-of-class assignments such as homework, problem sets, questions for class discussion, or short writing assignments.

    These assignments can involve students in asking and answering questions, collecting and interpreting data, making interpretations, and developing writing and quantitative writing skills.

    One difficulty is the time required to grade assignments - in a large class, it can be significant.


    Example: Homework on evidence of life on Mars! Students read several short articles and get information on the internet, then answer several questions ranging from factual questions to those requiring analysis and interpretation. After completing this assignment, students will be able to: a) describe the evidence that life existed on Mars; b) list arguments used by scientists who do not agree that the evidence demostrates life on Mars billions of years ago; c) relate the probability of conditions necessary for life to the history of planets, particularly the plate tectonic cycle; d) identify important questions not answered in the popular literature; and e) evaluate the impact of this discovery on the future of space exploration and society. (Molly Miller, Vanderbilt University)

    Short papers

  • summary of journal article
  • rock description and interpretation
  • interpretation of data set
  • science and society paper
  • scientific controversy
  • position paper
  • and many other possibilities
  • Can use peer review
  • Reaction paper
    Attend talk given by visiting speaker
    Write a short reaction paper

    (can be graded credit/no credit)

    3. Solicit feedback from students about the course
    Classroom assessment - ways of students providing instructors iwht feedback. Angelo and Cross (1993) describe assessment techniques that promote involvement in class and provide information that the instructor can use to improve his/her teaching.

    the "one-minute" paper
    Students write for a few minutes at the end of the class period and turn in for the instructor to review. Some instructors use this as a way to check for attendance, others have students turn them in anonymously. It is important to respond to information solicited from students. If many students missed an important point, the instructor could review it at the beginning of the next class period.

    Student management teams
    the professor and several students from a class meet regularly for the "specific purpose of improving the classroom teaching and learning environments".

    (Nuhfer, 1996)

    4. Make the class more personal
    Students may feel isolated in large lecture-based courses. Provide (more) opportunities for student-faculty and student-student interaction.

    Learn more about it

    Graduate students (and faculty members) interested in teaching can learn more about various teaching strategies:

    Graduate students can gain experience teaching as a teaching assistant, guest instructor, discussion leader, mentor for undergraduate researchers, field trip leader, partnering with a faculty member or K-12 teacher, doing presentations in the community, and....
    Subscribe to a periodical such as:
    Journal of College Science Teaching
    Journal of Chemical Education
    Journal of Geoscience Education
    The Physics Teacher, or others

    Participate in electronic discussions on issues related to geoscience education - subscribe to the geo-ed list. [send email to majordomo@arbuckle.utulsa.edu. Your email message should contain only one line: subscribe geo-ed Your Name <your.email.address>. If your mailer automatically appends a signature file, you can place an end command on a second line of the message so majordomo will ignore the signature. If you have any questions about the list, please contact Bryan Tapp at: jbt@arbuckle.utulsa.edu]

    Some (selected) more general references
    Angelo, T.A., and Cross, K.P., 1993, Classroom Assessment Techniques
    Brown, G., and Atkins, M., 1988, Effective Teaching in Higher Education
    Davidson, C.I., and Ambrose, S.A., 1994, The New Professor's Handbook: A Guide to Teaching and Research in Engineering and Science
    Davis, B.G., 1993, Tools for Teaching (I have found this to be very useful)
    Johnson, G.R., 1995, First Steps to Excellence in College Teaching
    Lowman, J., 1995, Mastering the Techniques of Teaching
    Weimer, M.G., 1987, Teaching Large Classes Well

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    Geological Hands-on Activities for Large Classes (100-250 students)

    Randall M. Richardson, Dept. of Geosciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721
    Prepared for Carlton College, 17 February 1997

    1. Hypothesis testing, a sense of time, and conversion of units:

    I break the class into groups of about 15. I have them calculate their ages in seconds, write it down on a piece of paper, and put it in a bag. I add my own age in seconds to the bag. We hypothesize that they can tell when my age is drawn from the bag. We pull one out. It may be some number like 599, 184, 000 seconds. I ask them, "When you tell someone how old you are, how many significant digits do you use?". The typical response is something like, 'two' (in this case the student was 19). We talk about giving our age as 19.4397 (also six significant digits), and they typically laugh. Thus, we learn about significant digits. Then I ask if the number drawn is mine. Most say it is not. "How come?", I ask. "Because it's too small". I use this to help them see that they have an expected result in mind when they collect the data. Then we continue pulling numbers until mine is pulled. They are all very happy when they can distinguish mine (it is at least a factor of two bigger). Then we draw the rest and in most cases there is at least one mistake. Sometimes the mistake is enough to make it difficult to distinguish the 'noisy data' from my age. We then talk about the quality of data, and how noise in data can lead to erroneous conclusions.

    2. Building a concrete sense of geologic time:

    After having talked about the geologic time scale (Precambrian: prior to 570 Ma; Paleozoic: 570-245 Ma; Mesozoic: 245-65 Ma; Cenozoic:65 Ma - present), I ask for two volunteers from the class to hold a rope that is about 15 feet long. I say that one end is the beginning of the Earth (4.6 billion years ago), and the other is today. I then give out about 10 clothes pins and ask various students to put a clothes pin on the 'time line' at various 'geologic times'. For example, I ask them to put one where the dinosaurs died out (end of the Mesozoic). They almost invariably put it much to old (65 Ma is less than 2% of Earth history!). Then I ask them to put one on their birthday (they now laugh). Then I ask them to put one where we think hominids (humans) evolved (~3-4 Ma), and they realize that we have not been here very long geologically. Then I ask them to put one at the end of the Precambrian, where life took off in terms of the numbers of species, etc. They are amazed that this only represents less than 15% of Earth history. Finally, I ask them to think of the time line as their own age, and think about how long ago, on a comparable time scale, the dinosaurs died. It is only about two 'months' ago! The exercise is very effective at letting them get a sense of how long geologic time is, and how 'recently' some major geologic events happened when you consider a time scale that is the age of the earth.

    3. The Wave:

    I have the class leave their seats and form a circle around the edge of the classroom (if necessary, they could make a double loop). I then ask them to do The Wave, as seen at football games, starting with a volunteer student. Then I ask them how long it took. To get data, they do it again, and measure the time (let's say 10 seconds). I ask them how many cycles they completed in the 10 seconds (one). "So, it's 'one cycle per ten seconds'. What was the frequency of your wave?" They work together and come up with 0.1 Hz. I ask them the distance around the circle (i.e., the wavelength; let's say it's 30m). "So, how fast did the wave go?" Again, in groups, they figure it went 30m in 10s, or 3m/s. I ask them to do The Wave again in 5 seconds. They do, almost invariably laughing at the effort to speed it up. I ask them what frequency the wave had this time, and they figure out it is 0.2 Hz. "How fast did the wave go?" They realize it's 6m/s, or twice as fast when the frequency is doubled. I ask them to work out a relationship between frequency (Hz, or 1/s), velocity (m/s), and wavelength that works out unit-wise and is consistent with their observations of the velocity doubling when the frequency is doubled (velocity = wavelength x frequency). I let them design further Wave experiments to verify the relationship.

    An important concept for students to learnis the difference between longitudinal (or compressional) waves and transverse (or shear) waves. I ask them to do The Wave again, and ask them to notice how their hands move as the wave passes. They realize that The Wave moves horizontally from person to person, but their hands only move up and down, at right angles to the motion of The Wave. This is a transverse (at right angles) wave. Then I ask them to generate a longitudinal wave.They usually come up with something along the lines of stepping left or bumping shoulders, or (gently!) pulling on each other. They do this kind of a wave, and realize that their motion is horizontal, or aligned with the direction the wave moves. Then I tell them that sound waves are longitudinal waves and that water waves have a transverse component (an oversimplification). Longitudinal and transverse (P and S) waves in the Earth travel at different speeds, and hence give us different information about Earth structure.

    Another concept I want them to learn is that energy is transported in waves without the medium actually moving the distance the wave travels.In their longitudinal wave I ask them if any student went all the way around the circle. "Of course not!" But it's clear that the energy did!

    Finally, I play with waves reflecting off of boundaries by having one student 'bounce' the wave back when it gets to him/her, so that they can see it 'reflect' off a boundary and travel in the other direction. I also let part of the wave be transmitted through the boundary and part reflected, and they have a lot of fun trying to have the wave go both waves.

    There are probably endless variations on this, but I've never seen students come away with a better understanding of the differences between transverse and longitudinal waves, or the relationship between velocity, wavelength and frequency, than when I've used this activity.

    Cooperative Learning Exercise ...

    Divide class into groups of 4 as they enter class. I have each person take a card upon entering, which gives a Group #, Role #, and Seat #. I do not tell them what the roles mean at this point. I ask them to take their assigned seat, take out a piece of paper and write their name and the information from the card on it (I don't want them later changing roles to something they are more comfortable with). An example of a card follows:

    Group #7
    Role #2
    Seat #48

    Sometimes in a 1.5 hour lecture, I have lectured on Oil, using overheads, for 20-30 minutes. Other times I have handed out the lecture notes a day in advance and had read them before class. Then I start with the exercise at the beginning of class.

    First, I have all the Role #1 students (ardent supporter of oil exploration) take 2 minutes, uninterupted, to present their case for why we should continue an aggressive exploration programme, in as flamboyant and convincing as case as possible, to the other students. If it doesn't sound like pandemonium, I tell them I can't hear them!

    I tell the mediators (Role #3) to make sure that Role #1 isn't interupted, and that he/she sticks to the issues (no name calling, etc.).

    Then I have Role #2 (ardent opponent) take 2 minutes to present their case for why we should cease and desist with oil exploration immediately. I have the mediator (Role #3) play the same role as before.

    I have the reporter (Role #4) take notes during both presentations. I tell them that they will have to provide a one paragraph 'story' at the end summarizing the entire debate, and that some of them will be called upon to give a 90 second 'sound bite' at the end as if they were giving a news conference.

    The, I break the class into four corners, with all the Role #1's in one corner, etc. I have each group talk amongst themselves. I tell Roles #1,2 to see if they come up with any more arguments as a group for their position that they were able to as individuals. I spend quite a bit of time with the mediators (Role #3), who often aren't sure what they are supposed to be doing. We talk about their feelings about being in the middle of a conflict. Do they feel 'safe'? Are they uncomfortable in that situation. Do they feel they have to 'solve' the conflict? I tell them that conflict is natural, that conflict resolution is an important skill, that their role is to see that the other presenters play fair, not necessarily try to get them to agree with each other. We talk about what qualities a mediator should have (fair; trustworthy to both sides; keeps own opinion to themselves; other?). I ask the reporters (Role #4) what it feels like trying to be an acurate reporter. What do they do with their own opinions? This whole part of the exercise takes about 10 minutes.

    Then I have them return to their original groups of four and continue the debate. Only this time, they don't have to be rigid or flamboyant. They can see if they can reach any concensus (not a requirement).

    The I ask one or two of the reporters to 'report' to the class the resutls of the exercise for their group. I only give them 90 seconds each.

    Then I have each one do some writing. I ask Role #s 1 and 2 to put down the arguments they came up with by themselves first, followed in a second paragraph by any more that came up in the larger groups. For the mediators (Role #3), I ask them to list some skills a mediator should possess. I ask the reporters to write, in less than one page, a summary of the debate. I then ask all of them to finish by writing about whether or not their appreciation for the problem (i.e., its complexity in terms of societal and personal changes required to significantly reduce our dependance on oil) changed as a result of this exercise, and whether their own position had changed.

    I have them turn in these reports, and either grade them as a quiz (separating all the roles so they can be compared to each other), or simply make comments on them before returning them.

    Some of the points raised by those with various roles follows:

    Role #1 (ardent supporter):
    Society needs oil for transportation, life style, etc.
    Enough oil for decades, at least. Why disrupt society now?
    Large parts of the economy are dependent on oil exploration, production.
    No other option is currently available for cars on societal scale.
    When oil becomes scarce, prices will go up until it is economically feasible to pursue other energy sources.

    Role #2 (ardent opponent)
    Major source of pollution and a continual risk to habitats.
    Cleaning up pollution is very expensive.
    We need to slow down using our limited natural resources.
    Global warming related to CO2 from burning fossil fuels; we must curtail our usage or face possible global consequences.

    If we don't develop other sources now, then when oil becomes scarce, it will be very disruptive to society. Better to prepare now.

    Role #3 (mediator)
    Skills of mediator include: flexibility, diplomacy, open mind (don't impose your own opinions), the ability to see both sides of an issue clearly and without bias, and the ability to allow both sides to communicate freely.

    The entire exercise can be done in 1.5 hours, although sometimes it seems rushed. It's important to tell the students that they do not have to actually believe the position/role I've asked them to take. After all, they don't have a choice about roles! I tell them that it is role playing, and an opportunity to explore an important issue that may well be pivotal in their lives.

    Student response is very positive. The exercise is often mentioned in course evaluations as one of the most positive experiences in the course. Even a year after this exercise, I sometimes see students who not only remember the exercise, but the issues. Thus, this seems a very effective way to improve retention.

    The exercise can be generalized to a wide range of topics. Ones that come to mind immediately are global warming, use of any natural resource (say, water, for example), urban development, use of pesticides/fertilizers, etc.

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    Using Seminars to Introduce Small Group Teaching into Large Classes

    Nick Henry (University of Birmingham)

    Summary (By Helen Desty, Workshop Secretary)
    As part of the ongoing curriculum development at Birmingham University, a second year module was created and designed to introduce seminar teaching during the second year. This is to enable students to learn certain skills (prior preparatory reading, engaging in and managing a debate, the ability to summarise and assimilate key points) prior to commencing the critical third year of their course. Seminar teaching is introduced to classes of 80+ students, rather than the previous smaller groups of 35 students. Initially a 'mini Course Team' was created consisting of four members of staff who could organise and deliver the generic course to a higher standard than one person alone. Additionally, this allowed the workload to be spread four ways.

    The first nine weeks of the module consists of 2 x 1 hour lectures with two videos interspersed. In week 10 the seminar is introduced and in week 11 the students attend an hour long seminar in groups of 8-9. The seminars are run as open discussions rather than one person 'presenting' to the rest of the group. These events are 'managed' by a member of staff ensuring that each participant contributes to the proceedings. In each of the groups one person is given the role of producing a list of points discussed and is requested to have three questions to ask should the seminar begin to flag. A copy of each of the list is then provided as a handout for all the students in the following week. Thus, each student is aware of which topic had been discussed, together with points that were raised. In total,10 seminars are run, with 5 running at the same time and then repeated for the second hour. The final week of the module consists of a one hour lecture and a module overview.

    Introducing the module required a substantial amount of organising for a group of larger size. Multiple copies of readings were produced, these ranged from book chapters to newspaper cuttings. Students were split into pairs and provided with copies of readings to be studied. Prior to the first session a double-side A4 handout was created explaining how each seminar would be organised.

    It was concluded that this 'innovation', if suitably organised and run, would make seminars a highly effective teaching method.

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