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In the core first-year economics module at Glasgow Caledonian University, students are assessed through classwork (presentations), an essay and an unseen exam. Under the general class heading of 'presentations', students investigate topics and present their findings, resulting in class discussion and comments from the tutor. This allows a report to be written up which is subsequently marked. We use the first (common) presentation (which, unlike the others, does not involve a follow-up written report) as a method of encouraging group work, introducing students to academic use of the Web, and hopefully illustrating common pitfalls to avoid in their study.
Essentially the presentation is a 'dry run' that all students have to undertake in week 4, the week before the 'real' presentation programme starts. Students are allocated into groups of three or four – the groups they will stay in throughout the rest of the module and subsequently do their 'real' presentation in. They are all directed to undertake this first presentation, details of which are available only on the divisional website, the URL of which is given in their paperbased module guide. This forces students to find and use the Web-based resources we have provided.
The core of the presentation (found at http://cbs3.gcal.ac.uk/eco/website/EME/EMEpresentation1a.html) is to find 'robust' economic data about a topic - in this instance, Lone Parents and Poverty in Scotland. Students are asked to do this via the university route: that is, using our recommended online gateways, such as those found on the divisional website or those found on the university library website. Additionally, they are asked to undertake the same task via the different 'route' of using any standard internet search engine. Within this task they are specifically asked to visit a named site that we as lecturers know is out of date and quite 'ropey' (but the drawbacks of this site are not flagged up to the students).
In their presentation to the rest of the class, each group has to give their evaluation as to which is the best 'route' to finding material, and why, and which are the best sites and worst sites they have found (here we would hope they make a critical assessment of the inferior site mentioned above). As individuals they must also e-mail a message to the seminar class bulletin board explaining their choice of best site, and why (as 'economists') they have made this judgement. This also forces them to find the bulletin board and use it! Specifically, the responsibility is on the individual student to do this, not the group. We hope by this to help students to proceed from the linking and lurking stage – reading others' contributions – and to enter into the contributing stage, where they are getting experience in hands-on involvement themselves. Finally, they have to properly reference all the sites they mention.
The resultant presentations on this topic are made by each group to the rest of their colleagues in successive 5-minute slots, with the rest of the class asked to 'rate' the best presentations informally.
This approach has been found invaluable for several reasons. Firstly, it is quite informal because it is not officially marked, thus helping to calm students' nerves. It also allows class members to see how a tutor would distinguish a good presentation from a bad one. Secondly, it illustrates several very useful issues. For instance, we invariably find that a large minority of groups do not read the question properly. There are always some who come with a presentation on the topic of lone parents, rather than on 'How to find information in the most robust manner about a topic on the Web – in this case, lone parents'. Many only carry out part of the presentation: perhaps they do not post the message, or they only use one route, or they obviously have not visited the links suggested to them regarding how to reference online sources properly.
The approach is therefore very useful in showing how a presentation may suffer from carelessness and lack of attention. We have found that this is invaluable, as it is done in an informal manner, but students are made well aware of how they might have lost badly if it had been a summative assignment. It also allows the tutor to summarise what will be key issues, such as the proper manner of evaluating and referencing online resources.
4.1 The information skills challenge
4.3 'Economic bricolage' – building an economic case from diverse fragments