The idea was that James had picked six interesting topics, related to climate and the ocean, and which all had something to do (even tangentially) with the modern day situation. They ranged from about 200 million years old to only some 3 or 4 million years. But most of the module deals with the last 2.7 million years.
In earlier years, the students presented on an article (related to one of the topics) each. When all students presenting on a certain topic were done, James would summarise the topic. As each student had only read one article, they would not see the connections before all presentations were delivered. And maybe seeing the connections would not work entirely. With James' summaries, hopefully, all did! The topics are part of the curriculum; the students have to know about it for the exam.
The problem with that system was twofold; on the one hand, it did not enhance critical evaluation of evidence or discussion among students; on the other, if a student would not show up, all information they were supposed to present was missing. And more and more students would refrain from showing up! A lot of them hate presentations, and it wasn't weighted heavy enough to convince everyone to try it anyway. I thought I change things. I made it a group presentation.
If every topic is dealt with by a group of about six students, these six will sit together and discuss (one hopes). And if one hates presenting then maybe they put more time into the making of the slides and let someone else do the talking. I hoped this change would sort out the issues!
I knew I also made things worse, in a way; not all groups would function as desired. There is always the risk of people trying to freeload. But one has to give things a try! And in post-university life one encounters group projects. Just that they have disadvantages doesn't make them go away! So a bit of practice can be a good thing.
Anyway. I know stuff about these six topics (Mesozoic Oceanic Anoxic Events, the Permo-Triassic Thermal Maximum, potential causes for the glaciation of Antarctica, the Messinian Salinity Crisis and the closing of the Panama Isthmus) as they are just part of geologic/climatic knowledge, but there is a limit as to how much detail I have ready to fence with. And I needed to be able to know it all in order to be able to fill the gaps the students might leave. So that is quite a lot of extra reading! Hence that I had a lot to do recently...
Great Salt Lake; a few million years ago the Mediterranean might have looked a bit like that. Picture by Bobak Ha'Eri.