Reporter 412, 15 December 1997

White-knuckled learning pioneers

Bungee jumping and white knuckle rides may not be everyone’s idea of life in higher education. But a new team at the University is using these methods and more to promote active learning and problem solving. The University has been chosen by the Partnership Trust to house a national project which pulls together new and exciting ways of promoting active learning. Based in the Teaching and Learning Support Unit, the scheme is designed to help HE staff introduce a blend of skills development, curriculum content and ‘real world’ context in one package.

The Context project, which began in September, is based on simulations and case materials used in HE and employment. The project team of Val Butcher, Maggie Boyle and Dick Glover see it as a timely response to Sir Ron Dearing’s expression of concern about the work-readiness of students.

They are eager to disseminate the work of lecturers such as Dr Pauline Kneale in Geography, Dr Michael Cardwell in Law and Physics Professor Mike Savage who have all been using just the kind of materials and methods Context is set up to collect and promote.

Pauline’s students, for example, learn about urban hydrology by following a water course such as a stream or river in Yorkshire. They take samples and do the sorts of lab tests that are done by those in related industries trying to maintain water quality standards. They work in teams and make posters for a presentation about their findings.

In Law, students sharpen their legal skills in simulated courtroom action. This extends over a whole semester and much use is made of group work.

Mike Savage, whilst still in Maths (now a professor of Applied Physics) made sure that his students developed problem solving skills by modelling and analysing situations far more breath-taking than any that most of us remember tackling at school. Bungee jumping and white knuckle rides provide a fertile ground for problem solving, with student investigations culminating in poster and oral presentations of their findings.

Elsewhere, a game enigmatically titled Dunchester’s Millions allows students to take on roles such as MP, Cabinet Minister, council leader, local pressure group activist, business owner and civil servant. Devised as a civil service exercise to familiarise fast-track recruits, it works just as well with students who are interested in finding out how decisions are made in the world of politics.

The project team’s immediate aim is to build a database of information about such materials which already exist world-wide. There has been an enormous response to an e-mail inviting users and authors to contribute information. Ten new simulation exercises will be written, three of them at Leeds, all involving an employer partner. Anyone interested in joining the Leeds Context network should contact Maggie Boyle, e-mail, ext 5306. * More

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