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Issue three January 2002<br />

January 2002<br />

Edition Three<br />

Geography, Earth and<br />

Environmental Sciences<br />

Planet<br />

Supporting learning and<br />

teaching in Geography, Earth<br />

and Environmental Sciences<br />

In this issue:<br />

• Work-based learning in the<br />

geosciences<br />

• Problems with anonymous<br />

assessment<br />

• Special education needs and<br />

disabilities<br />

• Pedagogic research: the new frontier?<br />

• Durham University Online<br />

• Workshop-based teaching of<br />

research design<br />

• Sustainable development and the<br />

professionals<br />

• Using class quizzes for weekly review<br />

• Examining home learning<br />


Issue three January 2002<br />

P L A N E T<br />

C O N T E N T S<br />


Guest Editorial 3<br />

John Carpenter, University of South Carolina, USA<br />

Profile on Helen King 4<br />

LTSN-<strong>GEES</strong> Manager<br />


Linking the worlds of academia and work: 5<br />

work based learning in the geosciences<br />

Jennifer Jones, John Moores University<br />

Breaking the feedback loop: problems with 7<br />

anonymous assessment<br />

Drew Whitelegg, Anglia Polytechnic University<br />

Disabled Students and Fieldwork: Towards Inclusivity? 9<br />

Mick Healey, Carolyn Roberts, University of Gloucestershire<br />

Alan Jenkins and Jonathan Leach, Oxford Brookes University<br />

Pedagogic Research: The new frontier? 11<br />

Seraphim Alvanides et al., University of Newcastle<br />

Workshop-based teaching of research design 12<br />

David Simm and Carol David , St Mary’s College, Twickenham<br />

One Year’s Experience of duo 15<br />

(Durham University Online)<br />

Barbara Watson and Daniel Donoghue, University of Durham<br />

Sustainable development and the professions 17<br />

Steve Martin, Visiting Professor, Open University and<br />

Annie Hall, Environment Agency<br />

Using Class Quizzes for Weekly Review 19<br />

Martin Haigh, Oxford Brookes University<br />

Examining <strong>Home</strong> Learning Environments 23<br />

Greg Spellman, Ken Field and John Sinclair<br />

University College Northampton<br />


Disability Update 25<br />

Educational Activities, Developments and Projects 28<br />

The <strong>GEES</strong> Guide .... to some e-resources 35<br />

Webbed Foot 37<br />

Diary Dates 38<br />

Crossword 39<br />


What is PLANET?<br />

PLANET is the bi-annual publication of the LTSN <strong>Subject</strong> <strong>Centre</strong><br />

for Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences.<br />

Its aims are to:<br />

• Identify and disseminate good practice in learning and teaching<br />

across the three disciplines of Geography, Earth and<br />

Environmental Sciences and present examples and case<br />

studies in a “magazine” format.<br />

• Provide a forum for the discussion of ideas about learning<br />

and teaching in the three discipline communities.<br />

• Provide information for readers on <strong>Subject</strong> <strong>Centre</strong> activities<br />

and on related resources, conferences and educational<br />

developments.<br />

©<br />

Copyright for all published material in PLANET is held by the<br />

© Copyright<br />

LTSN <strong>Subject</strong> <strong>Centre</strong>, unless otherwise stated. Contributors<br />

are permitted to use their material elsewhere without prior<br />

permission. However, the following note should be included:<br />

“First published in PLANET (date, issue number)”. Permission<br />

is required for reproduction or amendment by a third party.<br />

The opinions expressed in this newsletter are not necessarily<br />

those of the LTSN <strong>Subject</strong> <strong>Centre</strong> for Geography, Earth and<br />

Environmental Sciences. Whilst every effort is made to ensure<br />

the accuracy of the content we cannot accept liability for errors<br />

or omissions.<br />

Editorial Board<br />

The University of Plymouth-based team<br />

Steve Gaskin<br />

Editor<br />

<strong>Subject</strong> <strong>Centre</strong> Dissemination Co-ordinator<br />

Brian Chalkley<br />

<strong>Subject</strong> <strong>Centre</strong> Director<br />

Mike Sanders<br />

<strong>Subject</strong> <strong>Centre</strong> C & IT Manager<br />

Helen King<br />

<strong>Subject</strong> <strong>Centre</strong> Manager<br />

The <strong>Centre</strong>’s National Advisory Team<br />

Mick Healey University of Gloucestershire<br />

<strong>Subject</strong> <strong>Centre</strong> Geography Senior Advisor<br />

Neil Thomas Kingston University<br />

<strong>Subject</strong> <strong>Centre</strong> Earth Sciences Senior Advisor<br />

Jennifer Blumhof University of Hertfordshire<br />

<strong>Subject</strong> <strong>Centre</strong> Environmental Sciences Senior Advisor<br />

Geoff Robinson University of Leicester<br />

<strong>Subject</strong> <strong>Centre</strong> C & IT Senior Advisor<br />

© 2002 • PLANET ISSN 1473-1835<br />


Issue three January 2002<br />

P L A N E T<br />

Guest Editorial<br />

Research into Learning and<br />

Teaching in Higher Education:<br />

A Viable Component of the<br />

HE Reward Structure?<br />

John Carpenter<br />

University of South Carolina, USA<br />

Recently, I was privileged to be invited to speak at the LTSN-<strong>GEES</strong><br />

Pedagogic Research Workshop in Coventry. I was very pleased to learn<br />

of the embryonic stages of research into the value and effectiveness of<br />

<strong>GEES</strong> fieldwork in higher education. This is an area of critical importance<br />

to the teaching of the <strong>GEES</strong> disciplines worldwide. However, too often<br />

there are obstacles to doing such research, and I would like to focus on<br />

one of these obstacles, at least as it pertains to the US.<br />

Traditionally in the US, institutions of higher education are placed into a<br />

hierarchical “pecking order” based on their research efforts, including<br />

grants and contracts from external funding sources (National Science<br />

Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Carnegie Foundation, etc.) and<br />

publications in national and international refereed journals. The heavily<br />

endowed Ivy League universities and a few other privately and publicly<br />

funded institutions are placed in the top tier. A second-tier would be<br />

other, less well-endowed public and private institutions, one of whose<br />

goals is to achieve first-tier status. The University of South Carolina,<br />

where I spent 34 years as a faculty member in the Department of<br />

Geological Sciences, is an example of such an institution. Below these<br />

top two tiers come other higher educational establishments including<br />

small, private and public liberal arts institutions, community colleges, junior<br />

colleges and technical colleges.<br />

The “reward structure” for faculty members in higher education is generally<br />

based on three components – research, teaching and service. However,<br />

the weighting factors for research, teaching and service vary significantly<br />

with the type of institution. As a result, the “scholarly pursuits” of faculty<br />

members vary significantly at each type of institution. The weight placed<br />

on research dollars acquired and papers and books published is highest<br />

at the tier-one and tier-two universities, with less emphasis on researchbased<br />

“scholarly productivity” at the liberal arts, community, junior and<br />

technical colleges.<br />

Furthermore, there is an often-unspoken “pecking order” in the types of<br />

research that are conducted, especially in the second-tier institutions.<br />

For example, for geoscience faculty members in such institutions, the<br />

traditional science research areas of experimental mineralogy, seismology,<br />

geochemistry, oceanography, etc., are the most highly valued when it<br />

comes time for the faculty member to be considered for tenure,<br />

promotion and/or salary increments. Most faculty members assume<br />

(correctly) that research into less traditional areas, including what is<br />

commonly referred to as the “softer” areas, such as science education,<br />

will not be valued as highly as research into the more traditional areas.<br />

But, if we examine this policy, it really does not make much sense. Science<br />

education research is often assumed to be “soft” because the data are<br />

based on human attributes, and therefore are less reproducible. But this<br />

is too often not the real reason for denigrating science education research.<br />

I believe that the real reason that science education research is put down<br />

is that it is “different”, or that it is too much like the research that<br />

“educators” or “social scientists” do. And we do have a pecking order<br />

within many of our universities such that the “hard” or “physical” science<br />

faculty look down on virtually everyone else in the university, especially<br />

the “educators” and the “social scientists”!<br />

But anyone who has done both kinds of research – subject-based and<br />

educational – can and will tell you that it is just as difficult (or even more<br />

so) to become expert enough in education to conduct high-quality<br />

research as would be the case for the more traditional research areas.<br />

Education research requires high knowledge levels in statistics, the subject<br />

area in question, and, the theories of measurement of the effectiveness of<br />

teaching and learning in terms of gains in cognitive knowledge and affective<br />

attributes such as interest, enjoyment and perceived value.<br />

So, how do we convince our administrators that this should be a viable<br />

component of the reward structure for faculty members? Those of us<br />

who have been involved in education research know the inherent value<br />

of research into teaching and learning, but this is an argument that too<br />

often falls on deaf ears. However, we can do it with the acquisition of<br />

grant/contract dollars and published papers and books based on education<br />

research. It is still not an easy road to follow because it is “the road less<br />

taken”. Success will come when academic culture and values change, but<br />

change in academia is too often slow. There is not likely to be a “quick<br />

fix”. But we must persist, because it is important to do so. We need to<br />

adopt approaches to learning and teaching whose success and value are<br />

supported by real evidence, and this requires research.<br />

Is any of this personal reflection of US academic reality an accurate<br />

reflection of academic reality in the UK?<br />

John Carpenter<br />

Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Geological Sciences<br />

University of South Carolina, USA<br />

jpawleys@aol.com<br />

Editor’s Note<br />

Readers may be interested in another article on education research written<br />

by Alvanides et al. in the feature articles section of this edition of PLANET.<br />

This second article attempts to outline some of the pros and cons of<br />

conducting pedagogic research in the <strong>GEES</strong> disciplines. In addition, a<br />

short piece by Healey, in the ‘Have you seen this?’ section, provides an<br />

overview of a pedagogic research programme to enhance the educational<br />

effectiveness of fieldwork, being undertaken by LTSN-<strong>GEES</strong>.<br />



PLANET is also freely available to download as<br />

a .pdf file from the <strong>Subject</strong> <strong>Centre</strong>’s website<br />

at http://www.gees.ac.uk. The website<br />

also provides general <strong>Subject</strong> <strong>Centre</strong><br />

information and specific links to other<br />

learning and teaching sites.<br />

Pay us a visit<br />

PLANET is available in a variety of different formats -<br />

if you would like any further information please contact<br />

the editor: sgaskin@plymouth.ac.uk • (01752) 233530<br />


Issue three January 2002<br />

P L A N E T<br />

Profile on...Helen King<br />

(LTSN-<strong>GEES</strong> Manager)<br />

– THE –<br />

P L A N E T<br />

S p e c i a l E d i t i o n s<br />

P R O F I L E<br />

What does she do?<br />

Helen is responsible for the day to day running of the <strong>Subject</strong><br />

<strong>Centre</strong>, including operational planning, progress monitoring, report<br />

writing and financial management. She is also able to engage with<br />

the specific activities of the <strong>Centre</strong> through running workshops,<br />

contributing to conferences, writing papers, representing the<br />

<strong>Centre</strong> on external committees and at events. Additional duties<br />

include ensuring that the Director’s supply of cream cakes is kept<br />

well stocked and that the Dissemination Co-ordinator and C&IT<br />

Officer have enough chocolate biscuits.<br />

Background<br />

Helen was born and brought up in Guernsey, she moved to<br />

England to study Physics & Geology at Manchester and stayed to<br />

complete a PhD in Geophysics & Geochemistry at Liverpool. In<br />

1996 she became the Project Manager of the FDTL-funded<br />

project on Earth Science Staff Development based at<br />

Southampton, during which time she was the secretary to the<br />

Earth Science and Environmental Science/Studies’ benchmarking<br />

panel. She is actively involved with the Staff & Educational<br />

Development Association (SEDA) and last year was awarded an<br />

Associate Fellowship. She is a member of the Earth Science<br />

Teachers’ Association and is currently the Deputy Editor of their<br />

journal, Teaching Earth Sciences.<br />

Embedding Careers Education in the<br />

Curricula of Geography, Earth and<br />

Environmental Sciences (<strong>GEES</strong>)<br />

Professional Interests<br />

Helen’s professional interests are mainly with staff and educational<br />

development and she is particularly keen on promoting and<br />

supporting continuing professional development (CPD) for those<br />

who teach and support learning. Despite moving away from<br />

discipline-based research, Helen is still an avid fan of the natural<br />

science disciplines and enjoys being able to maintain contact with<br />

them through LTSN-<strong>GEES</strong>.<br />

Personal Interests<br />

Helen plays inside-centre for Tavistock Ladies Rugby Club and<br />

tries to go running to keep fit (recently managing to complete<br />

the Great North Run). Since moving to the south-west she has<br />

become a keen surfer, though she seems to spend more time<br />

under the water than on it!<br />

Helen King<br />

LTSN-<strong>GEES</strong><br />

hking@plymouth.ac.uk<br />

Case Studies in Problem-based Learning<br />

(PBL) from Geography, Earth and<br />

Environmental Sciences<br />

If you would like additional<br />

hard back copies of Planet then<br />

please contact the <strong>Subject</strong><br />

<strong>Centre</strong>: info@gees.ac.uk<br />


Issue three January 2002<br />

P L A N E T<br />


Linking the worlds of academia<br />

and work: work based learning<br />

in the geosciences<br />

Jennifer Jones<br />

Liverpool John Moores University<br />

Abstract<br />

A combination of government initiatives and the needs of undergraduates<br />

now requires higher education to form closer links with employers. Some<br />

geoscience departments have a history of offering sandwich placements, but<br />

these were invariably not accredited. Work based learning modules, based on<br />

short placements, can provide a means of enabling undergraduates to<br />

undertake accredited learning in the workplace. This paper reports on a<br />

model of work based learning in the geosciences that provides accredited<br />

workplace experiences that enable students to link theory to practice.<br />

Developments in higher education in the last decade have featured a<br />

growing recognition of the need to link higher education with the<br />

workplace. Some have suggested that the UK is ‘in the vanguard’ on the<br />

employability issue (Harvey, 1999). The National Committee of Inquiry<br />

into Higher Education (Dearing report) (1997) recommended that<br />

enhancing the employability of graduates is a key task for education. The<br />

following year the DfEE (1998) defined ‘employability’ as a state that<br />

encompasses traditional intellectual skills, key skills, personal attributes,<br />

and knowledge about how organisations work. Related to this, Harvey<br />

(1999) has argued that the primary goal of higher education is to “transform<br />

students by enhancing their knowledge, skills, attitudes and abilities while<br />

simultaneously empowering them as lifelong critical, reflective learners”.<br />

Learning in a relevant workplace enables students to be transformed by<br />

linking theories to real world contexts. This invariably motivates the students<br />

as they have a sense that their skills and knowledge are relevant and<br />

valued. Careful structuring of work based learning modules and the<br />

associated assessment activities can also empower the students by<br />

developing their skills as critical and reflective learners. Work based learning<br />

then has the potential and capacity to develop traditional intellectual and<br />

key skills whilst simultaneously enhancing personal attributes (confidence,<br />

maturity, initiative, resourcefulness).<br />

Work based learning in the geosciences at Liverpool JMU takes the form<br />

of two Level 3 modules. Work based Learning for Academic Credit<br />

operating in the School of Biological and Earth Sciences (BES) is available<br />

to students on degree programmes in Earth Sciences, Geology and Physical<br />

Geography. Work-Based Learning in the <strong>Centre</strong> for Social Science (CSOC)<br />

is available to students on BA/BSc programmes in Geography. The modules<br />

are offered as alternatives to the traditional research-based honours<br />

project/dissertation. Both modules have their origin in the Liverpool model<br />

of work based learning (Jackson, 1995), which was developed in the early<br />

1990s from a project sponsored by the then Employment Department.<br />

The purpose of the project was to develop a model whereby<br />

undergraduates could achieve some of their learning in the workplace<br />

and then include that learning for assessment and accreditation. The project<br />

developed from work carried out by a consortium of the University of<br />

Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores University and Chester College. Their<br />

goal was to develop a framework that was both academically robust, and<br />

sufficiently flexible to allow its adaptation to different disciplines and<br />

structures. A key element of the model was that a common set of learning<br />

5<br />

outcomes was defined. These could be applied to all placements and<br />

so provide a structure for ensuring academic rigour across all disciplines.<br />

The outcomes stated that on completion of their placement students<br />

should be able to:<br />

· Demonstrate a knowledge of working practices in a selected<br />

employer site;<br />

· Assess how an organisation achieves its aims with reference to<br />

the structure of internal management and the definition of staff<br />

responsibilities;<br />

· Explain the economic/environmental context within which an<br />

organisation operates;<br />

· Demonstrate the basic skills required for the completion of workrelated<br />

tasks and activities;<br />

· Evaluate the experiential learning in the light of concepts relevant<br />

to the degree programme curriculum;<br />

· Reflect on and monitor their experience and identify personal<br />

development.<br />

The module was designed with an inherent flexibility to accommodate<br />

the varying needs of students and employers. Students are required<br />

to spend a minimum of 135 hours in the placement. Many students<br />

undertake their placement during the vacation between Levels 2 and<br />

3. Others undertake 10 full days in the placement prior to the start<br />

of their Level 3 study and continue to learn in the workplace on a 1<br />

day per week basis until the requisite hours are achieved. Yet others<br />

commence the placement early in semester 1 of Level 3 and visit 1-2<br />

days per week throughout the semester until 135 hours has been<br />

spent in the workplace. The work based learning process comprises<br />

several stages:<br />

· Acquisition of an appropriate placement;<br />

· Production of a learning agreement;<br />

· Completion of the placement;<br />

· Assessment of the evidence of learning.<br />

Acquisition of a placement<br />

The criterion used to identify a suitable placement is primarily that<br />

the learning that the student will achieve must relate to the aims and<br />

objectives of their degree programme. Types of placements undertaken<br />

by geoscience students have included Environment Agency, water<br />

companies, local authorities (environmental health or planning<br />

departments), oil and gas industry, consultancies etc. Most students<br />

find their own placements with guidance from the module leader, but<br />

the School has developed a database of placement providers that can<br />

serve as a starting point in their search for suitable placement<br />

opportunities. Once the module had operated for a few years, a<br />

cohort of employers accrued who expressed a willingness to offer<br />

placements annually: this enhances the number of placements available.<br />

Production of the learning agreement<br />

A learning agreement is pivotal to the process. It identifies explicitly<br />

the tasks that the student will undertake in the placement. It also<br />

serves to ensure comparability across the different placements. This<br />

process is underpinned by a Level 2 module, Scientific Project<br />

Management, in which those students who are committed to work<br />

based learning prepare a draft of their learning agreement. Guidelines<br />

on preparation of the learning agreement are available on the university<br />

intranet. The agreement used in BES is similar to that used in CSOC.<br />

It lists the learning outcomes, but Learning Outcome 4 (Demonstrate<br />

the higher skills and learning required for the completion of workrelated<br />

tasks and activities) is specific to each student’s placement.

Issue three January 2002<br />

P L A N E T<br />

This will comprise a list of the tasks to be completed using appropriate<br />

level descriptors. In addition, during the course of the placement, the<br />

student is required to reflect on “How will I learn?” and “How will I<br />

demonstrate what I have learnt?”. Thus, they are encouraged to perceive<br />

the complete process as a continuum of learning.<br />

Completion of the placement<br />

Management of the placement is achieved by the tripartite relationship<br />

of student-workplace mentor-university tutor. Liverpool JMU developed<br />

a Code of Practice for Work-based Learning that coincidentally embodies<br />

many of the precepts of the newly published QAA guidelines for<br />

placements (http://www.qaa.ac.uk/public/cop/COPplacementFinal/<br />

letter.htm). The code identifies the respective roles of the student, mentor<br />

and tutor before, during and after the placement. Students meet regularly<br />

with their tutor to demonstrate their progress with the completion of<br />

the portfolio. The portfolio is submitted in semester 2 with the seminar<br />

presentations taking place one week later.<br />

Assessment of the learning<br />

Assessment is by submission of a portfolio of evidence of learning (worth<br />

85% module mark) and presentation of a seminar (worth 15% module<br />

mark). The nature of the material presented in the portfolios will be<br />

diverse according to the variety of placements. Invariably, it will include<br />

some reviewing of the scientific literature, data acquisition, handling, analysis<br />

and interpretation. Assessment of the seminar is based on the student’s<br />

ability to present relevant information professionally, employing audiovisual<br />

aids in an effective manner.<br />

Outcomes<br />

Chalkley and Harwood (1998) caution that geography departments cannot<br />

afford to ignore the “re-orientation of higher education” and should<br />

recognise work based learning as a natural extension to the skills curriculum,<br />

by building on a concern for student employability. CHERI/HEFCE (2001)<br />

compared the employment of UK graduates with those in Europe and<br />

Japan and reported that UK graduates view their degrees as a less useful<br />

preparation for their current employment than their European<br />

counterparts. This study relates to the graduate cohort of 1994/95 and it<br />

could be argued that they would not have benefited fully from the recent<br />

developments in key skills agendas and enhancement of employability.<br />

Our experience is that work based learning provides geoscience<br />

undergraduates with the opportunity to undertake meaningful learning<br />

in a relevant work environment. It enables them to link the theory and<br />

practice of their discipline. A Level 2 module, Scientific Project Management,<br />

facilitates the development of a range of key skills that may then be applied<br />

in the workplace. Post placement questionnaires indicate that the students<br />

rate their work-based learning experiences highly. The comments listed<br />

below are indicative of responses elicited annually:<br />

· “ a thoroughly enjoyable module and very worthwhile”<br />

· “the placement has benefited a wide range of aspects of my degree”<br />

· “it should be a core module for all Level 3 students”<br />

· “a varied and enjoyable placement with a good mix of practical and<br />

more academic tasks”<br />

· “made subjects learnt through university easier to understand”<br />

· “different kind of module to any other; excellent way to gain experience”<br />

Any negative comments relate mainly to difficulties in obtaining a placement.<br />

It is noticeable that in the earlier years of the module students also<br />

commented on the need to develop their IT skills to cope with the<br />

demands of the workplace. These comments have not been made in the<br />

last 2-3 years which suggests that efforts made elsewhere within the<br />

School to improve the acquisition of these skills have been effective.<br />

Evaluation of their performance by employers indicates a high level of<br />

satisfaction with their key skills and ability. Frequently, the module<br />

encourages students to focus on their career development. They grow in<br />

confidence and develop a real sense of ownership of their learning.<br />

6<br />

This will comprise a list of the tasks to be completed using appropriate<br />

level descriptors. In addition, during the course of the placement, the<br />

Geoscience graduates today are likely to pursue careers in diverse areas.<br />

Exposure to any professional work environment in their discipline will<br />

provide them with the opportunity to apply their skills and knowledge to<br />

realistic problems. Work based learning can provide such an opportunity.<br />

A major impediment to widespread adoption of work based learning is<br />

likely to be the availability of appropriate placements. Approximately 20%<br />

BES students undertake work-based learning annually. This figure would<br />

be higher were there more suitable placements available. Dearing<br />

advocated dialogue with employers and urged them to be “less reluctant<br />

to provide placement opportunities”. It is to be hoped that employers<br />

will respond to this exhortation.<br />

References and Further Reading<br />

Brennan, J. and Little, B. (1996) A Review of Work Based Learning in Higher<br />

Education. Higher Education Quality and Employability/DfEE, London.<br />

Chalkely, B. and Harwood, J. (1998) Transferable Skills and Work-based<br />

Learning in Geography. Geography Discipline Network (GDN), Cheltenham<br />

and Gloucester College of Higher Education, Cheltenham.<br />

CHERI/HEFCE (2001) The employment of UK graduates: comparisons with<br />

Europe and Japan. Report 01/38, A report to the HEFCE by the <strong>Centre</strong><br />

for Higher Education Research and Information. Available on<br />

www.hefce.ac.uk/Pubs/ [Accessed September 2001].<br />

DfEE [Department for Education and Employment] (1998) Skills<br />

Development in Higher Education. DfEE, London<br />

Harvey, L. (1999) New Realities: the relationship between higher education<br />

and employment. Keynote presentation at the European Association of<br />

Institutional Research Forum, Lund, Sweden, August 1999. Available on<br />

www.uce.ac.uk/crq/publications/cp/eair99.html [Accessed September<br />

2001]<br />

Journal of Geography in Higher Education (1995), 19(2), pp. 177-249<br />

Symposium section includes papers addressing a range of issues relating<br />

to work based learning in the geosciences.<br />

National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education [NCIHE](1997)<br />

Higher Education in the Learning Society. HMSO, London<br />

Jennifer Jones<br />

School of Biological and Earth Sciences<br />

Liverpool John Moores University<br />

j.jones@livjm.ac.uk<br />

Got a Question or Query?<br />

The LTSN <strong>Subject</strong> <strong>Centre</strong> for Geography, Earth and Environmental<br />

Sciences (<strong>GEES</strong>) is developing a register of interest database.<br />

This enables us to efficiently and effectively put individuals who<br />

approach the <strong>Centre</strong> with a learning and teaching question, intouch<br />

with relevant experts in our disciplines. So, if you would<br />

like to know more about computer-based assessment, integrating<br />

C&IT in fieldwork, subject benchmarking, running overseas field<br />

trips etc., or if you have any other question or query, then please<br />

contact Judith Gill at the <strong>Subject</strong> <strong>Centre</strong> on: 01752 233530 or<br />

email: info@gees.ac.uk. We guarantee a response time of no<br />

more than 48 hours.

Issue three January 2002<br />

P L A N E T<br />

Breaking the feedback loop:<br />

problems with anonymous<br />

assessment<br />

Drew Whitelegg<br />

Anglia Polytechnic University<br />

Abstract<br />

This article explores the difficulties presented by anonymous assessment in<br />

terms of providing feedback to students. Focus groups with staff and students<br />

suggest that the best solution is to mark anonymously but to give feedback<br />

non-anonymously. The article will be of interest to all academics in the <strong>GEES</strong><br />

disciplines in institutions where anonymous assessment is commonplace or is<br />

being proposed.<br />

Introduction<br />

Anonymous assessment has been recently introduced at numerous<br />

institutions in an attempt to remove perceived bias. This article discusses<br />

findings from pilot research which suggests that though the case for the<br />

removal of bias is persuasive in marking anonymously (Bradley 1984, 1993;<br />

Baird, 1998; Major, 2001 - though see Newstead and Dennis (1990) for a<br />

counter-argument), there are significant problems if anonymity is extended<br />

to feedback. This paper builds upon a debate carried out on the Improving<br />

Student Learning (ISL) mailbase in late 2000, and formed part of a portfolio<br />

assessment for a PGCE (PCE) course currently being undertaken (1).<br />

The emphasis here is upon written coursework, in which feedback usually<br />

plays a larger part than in examinations (whether this is desirable is a<br />

moot point). Anonymous marking has a longer association with exams,<br />

though issues of identification through handwriting and/or recognition of<br />

a particular student’s philosophical approach remain. Equally, difficulties<br />

obviously emerge when applying anonymous marking to oral presentations,<br />

vivas, seminar contributions and, to a certain extent, dissertations. Problems<br />

with the latter are partly assuaged by external marking, but anonymous<br />

assessment of oral work, without expensive technological assistance,<br />

remains virtually impossible.<br />

Methodology and practice<br />

The project was designed to improve my own practice through selfinterrogation,<br />

informed by observations obtained from separate focus<br />

groups with fellow staff and students. These groups risked being selfselecting,<br />

but the emphasis was on generating ideas, not on representative<br />

statistical samples (2). Students had to have had experience of both nonanonymous<br />

and anonymous marking in order to make comparisons. For<br />

my own part, I was initially hostile to the introduction of anonymous<br />

marking for fear of its disruption to the feedback loop. Feedback was, for<br />

me, one of the major anchors of the learning experience and of<br />

approachability, an important reassurance for students<br />

(Grayson, et al 1998).<br />

I marked anonymously for one semester at my institution. Circumventing<br />

the issue would have been easy through referring to Student Identification<br />

Numbers but I resisted the temptation until AFTER the work had been<br />

commented upon and graded. To my surprise, I found anonymous marking<br />

beneficial in that it cleared my head of any expectations of what level an<br />

individual student’s work should be. The fact that I could refer to marksheets<br />

after grading enabled me to provide oral feedback to students when I<br />

returned work. Since then, however, my institution decreed that work<br />

should be returned anonymously, thus disrupting the chain further. It was<br />

at this point that I decided to research the issue.<br />

Issues emerging from the focus groups - pros and cons of anonymous<br />

marking are summarised below:<br />

1) Advantages of anonymous marking<br />

a) Removal of bias, or perception of bias, according to race, class, gender<br />

or personal feelings.<br />

7<br />

This was generally undisputed among both staff and students,<br />

though it was felt that bias may not always be negative (for<br />

example, through the use of ipsative marking to reward a student’s<br />

improvement).<br />

b) Removal of pre-judged expectations of student performance.<br />

Even if lecturers claim not to be influenced by race or gender,<br />

few would claim not to have been swayed in marking through<br />

the knowledge of students’ previous work. For example:<br />

“You give a good student the benefit of the doubt and you take a<br />

weak student and you may say it’s garbled, it’s not clear”.<br />

Joan, senior lecturer (3).<br />

“It’s very hard to escape that rigid mindset of what you expect from<br />

students and even if they don’t do as well as you’d expect, you make<br />

allowances”. Peter, senior lecturer.<br />

c) Removal of perceived bias or favouritism in the eyes of future<br />

employers.<br />

This is no small point. There is much talk in the press these days<br />

about grade inflation and ‘dumbing down’ of degrees. Students<br />

registered a desire to remove potential suspicion that lecturers<br />

pass students because of who they are and not what they know.<br />

d) Onus is on students to get feedback.<br />

One could maintain, as one student did, that part of being at<br />

university, and an expectation of future employers, is that students<br />

take responsibility for their own progress.<br />

2) Disadvantages of anonymous marking<br />

a) Disruption of feedback loop<br />

Lecturers and students identified this is the most significant<br />

disadvantage. Lecturers felt unable to do their job properly unless<br />

they were writing comments for individual students; equally<br />

students suggested better response and reflection if they felt<br />

comments were directed at them as individuals.<br />

“I acknowledge that if I mark an essay by Joe Bloggs, a good student,<br />

and I know what his work is like then that may influence me in<br />

marking. But in feedback I need to be able to say yes, this maintains<br />

a high standard, or I think you slipped up on this”. John, senior<br />

lecturer.<br />

“You do like teachers to write more personal comments - I still have<br />

trouble identifying where I go wrong but by the end of 3 years I hope<br />

to be able to do so. Especially coming straight from school, as I did, I<br />

feel like I need a more personal approach where lecturers get to<br />

know you as an individual. Teachers can help you more if they are<br />

thinking of you”. Linda, 2nd year undergraduate.<br />

A second issue is that of self-esteem and the potential damage<br />

done by objective, non-personal feedback. Obviously there is no<br />

place for comments that are mean, overboard, or sarcastic. But,<br />

as the groups suggested, different students react in different ways<br />

to the same comments (4). This is especially true for mature, or<br />

non-traditional students, at whom part of the expansion of higher<br />

education is aimed. Young (2000) has written of issues concerning<br />

the self-esteem of mature students and the focus groups suggested<br />

that anonymous marking could hinder the fostering of a welcoming<br />

and nurturing educational environment.<br />

“It would be far more difficult to target feedback blindly at a number.<br />

And there is also the issue of if you know somebody responds to a<br />

particular feedback approach”. Andrew, 2nd year student.<br />

“The irony is that anonymous marking could actually end up<br />

discriminating against the very people it is designed to protect -<br />

those who are more insecure and you will end up having those that<br />

do the best being the white, middle-class private school students.<br />

Anonymous marking has discriminated in a subtle way against other

Issue three January 2002<br />

P L A N E T<br />

groups, especially mature students, as the lecturer is no longer able to<br />

use their discretion”. John, 3rd year mature student<br />

b) Weaker students will not come for advice<br />

Both groups identified the need for students to be able to come<br />

to see their lecturers about work. Peter said he attached a note<br />

to returned assignments (sent ‘anonymously’) asking the student<br />

to come and discuss the work individually. However, other group<br />

members identified a problem in putting the onus on the student<br />

actively approaching the lecturer. A timid, shy or particularly weak<br />

student (or, most dangerously, all three) may refrain from doing<br />

so.<br />

“If [anonymous marking] is here to stay there should be more stress<br />

on getting students to come and see lecturers”. Linda, 2nd year<br />

student.<br />

“You should actually say to students that they have to come and<br />

discuss it”. John, 3rd year mature student.<br />

c) Anonymous marking leads to non-differentiation<br />

The student base is no longer the homogenous group it once<br />

was. Care must be taken to create a system that is open and<br />

equal for all, yet paradoxically this - as students suggested - may<br />

not be best furthered by a marking system that reduces each<br />

student to a number.<br />

“If you flip the coin the other way you end up discriminating against<br />

the very people you were intending to help”. Andrew, 2nd year<br />

student.<br />

d) Anonymous marking increases the distance between learner<br />

and teacher<br />

Students suggested that the close relationship developed between<br />

teachers and students through feedback was an extremely positive<br />

thing.<br />

“With essay work I think [anonymous marking] reduces you to a<br />

distance from the lecturer and you don’t form any kind of relationship<br />

where you are able to have feedback. With essays if you have had<br />

your mark and your feedback you feel as though there is a connection.<br />

With exams it is different”. Teresa, mature student.<br />

“It seems a very distanced thing. It seems to pull the poles further<br />

apart and make the marking system very disjointed”.<br />

Andrew, 2nd year student.<br />

Conclusion: Suggestions for better practice<br />

Feedback is not unproblematic. As Falchikov (1995) suggests, research<br />

has pinpointed numerous issues that militate against its efficiency. Clearly<br />

there are some ways in which feedback fails to have its intended effect.<br />

But the point is surely to improve the feedback. To that end, other forms of<br />

feedback are worth exploring. Heron (1988), Boud (1995), McMahon<br />

(1999), Reynolds and Trehan (2000) and Hughes (2001) have all<br />

persuasively argued for challenging the authoritarian nature of conventional<br />

marking through peer-, self- or negotiated assessment. The question of<br />

how anonymous marking could be squared with such innovations deserves<br />

some research.<br />

As far as anonymous marking of coursework goes, this paper concludes<br />

that the best form of implementation is to: a) mark anonymously; feedback<br />

non-anonymously and b) encourage as much student dialogue with the<br />

lecturer as possible regarding oral feedback. Obviously this has serious<br />

implications and practical difficulties for time-pressed staff, with RAE<br />

demands upon them, and teaching on ever-larger courses in which some<br />

students may be effectively nameless anyway. Again, how (and if) such<br />

difficulties could be overcome merits further research.<br />

Anonymous marking has been supported by student unions and the Quality<br />

Assurance Agency alike in the belief that it represents some form of Holy<br />

Grail of insurance against bias. Whether it actually corresponds to such a<br />

goal is open to doubt; whether it enhances the learning experience -<br />

unless there is a strict demarcation between marking and feedback - is<br />

even more questionable. It was unpopular with both staff and students<br />

who participated in this pilot project and there is clearly a need for more<br />

thought to be given to its role within the assessment process.<br />

Endnotes<br />

(1) While I readily acknowledge their contributions, individual participants<br />

to this debate will not be listed. The discussion can be found at<br />

isl@mailbase.ac.uk. The PGCE (PCE) course is for Higher and Further<br />

Education Teachers.<br />

(2) Some of the students were invited specifically as they were known to<br />

be keen on becoming teachers and I thought the discussion would be<br />

of benefit to them.<br />

(3) All names have been changed to prevent identification.<br />

(4) This point was brought home to me with a jolt recently when a student<br />

admitted that a comment I had put on his/her essay some time ago<br />

had caused so much distress that they were too afraid to approach<br />

me for further guidance.<br />

Acknowledgements<br />

Thanks to those staff and students who kindly gave up their time to take<br />

part in focus groups and especially to Maureen Fitzgerald, with whom<br />

many of these issues have been discussed. Thanks also to a very helpful<br />

anonymous referee of a first draft of this article. Finally, thanks to Tim<br />

McMahon and fellow students on the PGCE/MA programme, APU, 2000-<br />

2002.<br />

References<br />

Baird, J. (1998) What’s in a name? Experiments with blind marking in A-<br />

level examinations, Educational Research, 40 (2), pp. 191-202.<br />

Bradley, C. (1984) Sex bias in the evaluation of students, British Journal of<br />

Social Psychology, 23, pp. 147-153.<br />

Bradley, C. (1993) Sex bias in student assessment overlooked? Assessment<br />

and Evaluation in Higher Education, 18 (1), pp. 3-8.<br />

Falchikov, N. (1995)‘Improving feedback to and from students,’ in P. Knight<br />

(ed.) Assessment for Learning in Higher Education (London: Kogan Page),<br />

pp.157-166.<br />

Grayson, A., Clarke, D. and Miller, H. (1998) Help seeking among students:<br />

are lecturers seen as a potential source of help? Studies in Higher Education,<br />

23 (2), pp. 143-155.<br />

Heron, J. (1988)‘Assessment revisited,’ in D. Boud (ed.) Developing student<br />

autonomy in learning. Second Edition. (London: Kogan Page), pp. 77-90.<br />

Hughes, I. (2001) But isn’t this what you’re paid for? The pros and cons of<br />

peer and self-assessment, Planet, 2, pp. 20-23.<br />

McMahon, T. (1999) Using negotiation in summative assessment to<br />

encourage critical thinking. Teaching in Higher Education, 4 (4), pp. 549-<br />

554.<br />

Major, L. (2001) Royal boost for reform. The Guardian (Education), March<br />

27, p. 15.<br />

Newstead, S. and Dennis, I. (1990) Blind marking and sex bias in student<br />

assessment, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 15 (2), pp. 132-<br />

139.<br />

Sivan, A. (2000) The implementation of peer assessment: an action research<br />

approach, Assessment in Education, 7 (2), pp. 193-213.<br />

Young, P. (2000) ‘I might as well give up’: self-esteem and mature students’<br />

feelings about feedbacks on assessments, Journal of Further and Higher<br />

Education, 24 (3), pp. 409-418.<br />

Drew Whitelegg<br />

Department of Geography<br />

Anglia Polytechnic University<br />

a.j.whitelegg@apu.ac.uk<br />


Issue three January 2002<br />

P L A N E T<br />

Disabled Students and Fieldwork:<br />

Towards Inclusivity?<br />

Mick Healey, Carolyn Roberts (University of<br />

Gloucestershire)<br />

Alan Jenkins and Jonathan Leach (Oxford Brookes University)<br />

Abstract<br />

Awareness of the need to develop inclusive practices which give equal<br />

opportunities to disabled students in HEIs has been stimulated by the Quality<br />

Assurance Agency’s (2000) Code of Practice - Students with Disabilities and<br />

the Special Education Needs and Disability Act (2001). This paper reviews<br />

some of the ways in which the barriers to their inclusion in fieldwork may be<br />

dismantled. Many of the modifications are of benefit to all students undertaking<br />

fieldwork.<br />

Introduction<br />

‘Institutions should ensure that, wherever possible, disabled students have access<br />

to academic and vocational placements including field trips and study abroad’<br />

(QAA, 2000, Precept 11)<br />

‘Inclusive field trip design will envisage a variety of potential participants, and<br />

accommodate as many varied needs as possible without compromising the<br />

educational objectives’<br />

(University of Strathclyde, 2000, p.2)<br />

Awareness of the need to develop inclusive practices, which provide equal<br />

opportunities for disabled students in various parts of their courses, is<br />

beginning to spread through Higher Education Institutions in the UK. This<br />

has been stimulated by the publication of the Quality Assurance Agency<br />

(QAA) (2000) Code of Practice - Students with Disabilities and the extension<br />

of the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) to higher education through<br />

the Special Education Needs and Disability Act (2001).<br />

The Geography Discipline Network (GDN) has recently undertaken a<br />

project, funded by HEFCE, involving geographers, earth and environmental<br />

scientists and disability advisors, to help raise awareness of inclusivity issues.<br />

The aim has been to identify and promote the principles and good practice<br />

of how to provide learning support for disabled students undertaking<br />

fieldwork and related activities. The advantage of focusing on fieldwork is<br />

that many of the issues faced by disabled students in HE are magnified in<br />

this form of teaching and learning. If the barriers to full participation by<br />

everyone can be reduced or overcome, it is likely that our awareness of<br />

the obstacles to their full participation in other learning activities will be<br />

heightened and the difficulties of overcoming the barriers will be lessened.<br />

The net outcome of the quality assurance and legislative changes is that<br />

HEIs will need to treat disability issues in a more structured and transparent<br />

way. In particular, we may expect to see a relative shift of emphasis from<br />

issues of recruitment and physical access to issues of parity of the learning<br />

experience that disabled students receive. The implication of this shift is<br />

that disability issues ‘cannot remain closed within a student services arena<br />

but must become part of the mainstream learning and teaching debate’<br />

(Adams and Brown, 2000, p.8). But there is an opportunity here as well as<br />

a challenge. As we become more sensitive to the diversity of student<br />

needs, we can adjust how we teach and facilitate learning in ways which<br />

will benefit all our students.<br />

Fieldwork and disability<br />

The images of fieldwork presented in undergraduate prospectuses<br />

emphasise masculine, youthful, able-bodied people conquering difficult<br />

terrain (Hall, et al., 2001). Such images can deter those who do not share<br />

the displayed characteristics, and although Virtual Field Courses may<br />

provide new learning experiences for some disabled students, this sidesteps<br />

the main issue of access by disabled students to the full curriculum, including<br />

fieldwork.<br />

9<br />

The Disability and Discrimination Act (1995) defines a person’s disability<br />

as ‘a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term<br />

adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’.<br />

More than 4% of undergraduates in the UK (22,500) self-assessed<br />

themselves as having a disability in 1998/9; given that there is no obligation<br />

to divulge, the actual number may be closer to 10%. Less than 5% of<br />

those reporting were wheelchair users or had mobility difficulties, disabilities<br />

often regarded as providing the greatest challenges to would-be field<br />

class organisers. The most common category was unseen disabilities such<br />

as epilepsy, diabetes or asthma (39%), followed by dyslexia (26%).<br />

Remembering that there are many different types of disability is important<br />

in planning for inclusion because detailed needs differ for different groups<br />

and individuals, and a personal approach within an overarching strategy is<br />

required. It is easy to make erroneous assumptions about what students<br />

with particular impairments can or cannot do, when usually the best thing<br />

to do is simply to ask them.<br />

The reaction of many staff, when faced with the realisation of the wide<br />

variety of disabilities that students in their classes or on fieldwork may<br />

have, is one of lack of confidence. Mention of specific medical conditions<br />

may leave staff feeling concerned that they will be expected to develop<br />

medical expertise in order to support disabled students. This is where an<br />

understanding of different concepts or models of disability becomes<br />

important (Oliver, 1990). Medical models of disability tend to individualise<br />

the problems experienced by disabled people, and assume that they are<br />

subjects for treatment and cure. By comparison social models shift the<br />

focus from what is ‘wrong’ with an individual, to ‘society’s failure to accept<br />

disabled people for who they are and to provide adequate facilities for<br />

them’ (Kitchen, 2000, p.7). The emphasis thus moves from pity or sympathy,<br />

on to generic barriers to participation in mainstream activities which<br />

need to be identified and overcome through strategic planning.<br />

Dismantling the barriers to inclusion<br />

Steps, ramps and remote locations have traditionally been the focus of<br />

much consideration, but this represents an overly simplistic response to<br />

disabled students’ needs. In reality, there is a range of potential barriers to<br />

inclusion, certainly including physical barriers (such as print size, audibility,<br />

as well as building and site access) but embracing other types too. Barriers<br />

of personal attitudes (of staff, other students, the general public) and<br />

barriers of institutional and organisational systems (particular course<br />

requirements, time constraints, regulations), may well be more significant<br />

for individual students in the longer term. Moreover, the barriers faced<br />

may be complex. For example, mature students with mobility problems<br />

may feel that their presence on an excursion to an upland location may<br />

damage the experience of younger able-bodied people for whom the<br />

visit was initially conceived, even if appropriate transport was arranged. A<br />

student with severe dyslexia, faced with completing Health and Safety<br />

paperwork at short notice, may not be able to comply with the legislation<br />

involved in visiting a particular site, and may either exclude herself or<br />

expose the group to unnecessary risk. Lecturers aware of someone with<br />

mental health difficulties or an addiction may approach the university<br />

management assuming that the student’s behaviour on a residential class<br />

might compromise the achievements of other students, without having<br />

discussed this with him. A mix of attitudinal, organisational and physical<br />

barriers to participation is the norm, rather than the exception. And it is<br />

at this level that Departments need initially to plan, so that these situations<br />

do not arise.<br />

The Special Education Needs and Disability Act establishes that ‘an<br />

educational provider would discriminate against a disabled student if he<br />

failed to make reasonable adjustment to any arrangements, including<br />

physical features of premises, for services that place the disabled student<br />

at a substantial disadvantage in comparison to persons who are not<br />

disabled’ (DfEE, 2000). The key phrase ‘reasonable adjustment’ has yet to<br />

be tested in law, but the DfEE provide clear guidance that academic and<br />

other standards should not be compromised by the adjustments. They<br />

also suggest that ‘reasonableness’ is a function of practicality, cost,

Issue three January 2002<br />

P L A N E T<br />

effectiveness, disruption, the significance of the element of course or service<br />

being accessed and the needs of other students. However, field course<br />

providers should be aware that the social aspects of fieldwork, including<br />

domestic arrangements such as sleeping, eating, washing and recreation<br />

or relaxation, will also need accommodating. A code of practice on the<br />

implementation of the Act should be available early in 2002 from the<br />

Disability Rights Commission (http://www.drc-gb.org/drc/<br />

InformationAndLegislation/InformationAndLegislationMenu.asp).<br />

Fortunately, disabled students and the HEIs in which they study have both<br />

gained from recent financial changes. Since 1990 disabled students have<br />

had access to an allowance to cover ‘disability-related costs’, such as<br />

personal assistance and adaptive technology. In 2000 these allowances<br />

were increased to up to £10k pa for full-time and part-time (50% or<br />

more of full-time course) undergraduates, and £5k for postgraduates.<br />

These allowances are no longer means-tested and can be used to help<br />

disabled students with the additional costs of participating in fieldwork.<br />

Since the academic year 2000/2001 HEIs have been eligible for mainstream<br />

funding for the first time to support their provision for disabled students.<br />

Some universities have used some of this money to establish departmental<br />

disability representatives. Departments running field courses may be able<br />

to make bids to their institutions under this funding for equipment that<br />

would be of benefit to particular groups of disabled students, such as<br />

modifications to minibuses to provide access to students in wheel chairs<br />

or the purchase of laptops to take on field trips to help dyslexic students.<br />

Some of the physical barriers can thus be readily overcome.<br />

Course planning, particularly careful consideration of the intended learning<br />

outcomes of particular activities, is the key to overcoming many institutional<br />

or organisational barriers. Fieldwork should be undertaken in particular<br />

locations for specific educational reasons linked to the course outcomes.<br />

These reasons are not usually connected with the participants’ abilities to<br />

climb mountains or tramp city streets, listen to shouted instructions in<br />

the teeth of a gale or over traffic noise, sustain concentrated physical<br />

effort over extended spans of time, or work in close proximity to other<br />

people in areas without ready access to toilet facilities. Consequently, the<br />

field course needs organising in a way which is appropriate for as many<br />

people as possible, and integrating into the programme in a manner which<br />

renders its intended outcomes very clear, in advance. Opportunities for<br />

prior negotiation with disabled participants should be included. Only<br />

students who achieve the course outcomes will be successful, and the<br />

provision of appropriate physical or personal aid will not compromise<br />

the academic standards expected. Figure 1 shows examples of the<br />

modifications which can assist disabled students to succeed in meeting<br />

the learning outcomes, emphasising the collateral benefits for others. The<br />

guides produced by the GDN give many examples of others.<br />

· Providing written details about the main features to be seen in<br />

the field and the activities and projects to be undertaken to<br />

benefit a deaf student also clarifies the learning to be<br />

experienced by all the students on the field trip.<br />

· Making a video of a classic geological site that is not accessible<br />

to a student in a wheel chair may also be used in other classes<br />

and as part of the pre-fieldwork introduction for students visiting<br />

the site in subsequent years.<br />

· Investigating an alternative local-non-residential field course<br />

venue for a student needing daily dialysis treatment, may lead<br />

to the alternative location also being offered to other students,<br />

particularly benefiting those with family responsibilities and those<br />

who cannot afford the cost of a residential field course.<br />

Figure 1: Some modifications and additions to fieldwork that are of<br />

benefit to many students<br />

Conclusion<br />

The curricula provided by individual departments vary in their starting<br />

positions on a spectrum from inclusive to exclusive (Figure 2). Some<br />

10<br />

departments have already embraced diversity and inclusivity as part of<br />

their course philosophy, and have built curricula, including fieldwork<br />

experiences, around this concept. Disabled students are encouraged to<br />

apply, can be reassured that their disabilities will not be an impediment to<br />

fulfilment of the course requirements, and that appropriate physical and<br />

organisational support is available. For other departments there may be a<br />

longer journey, which may begin by offering disabled students surrogate<br />

or different field experiences, or providing physical support to particular<br />

styles of activity, whilst considering more fundamental changes to fieldwork<br />

expectations over a period of time. Many of the adjustments to be made<br />

will nevertheless benefit all students undertaking fieldwork, not only<br />

disabled ones.<br />

Spectrum of Approaches<br />

(Adjusting Methods)<br />

Offering<br />

Adjusting Adjusting Modifying alternatives<br />

objectives/ fieldtrips/ practices surrogate/<br />

outcomes destinations virtual trips<br />

Inclusive<br />

Exclusive<br />

Curriculum<br />

Curriculum<br />

Figure 2. The curricula provided by individual departments vary in<br />

their starting positions on a spectrum from inclusive to exclusive.<br />

Note<br />

The GDN has produced six guides and a survey report on ‘Providing<br />

learning support to disabled students undertaking fieldwork’. They are<br />

available at: (http://www.chelt.ac.uk/gdn/disabil/index.htm). The <strong>Subject</strong><br />

<strong>Centre</strong> for Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences is committed<br />

to continue to promote effective practices in providing learning support<br />

for disabled students and to offer guidance on how this might be achieved.<br />

References and Further Reading<br />

Adams, M and Brown, P (2000)‘The times they are a changing’: Developing<br />

disability provision in UK Higher Education, paper presented to Pathways<br />

4 Conference, Canberra, Australia, December 6-8<br />

DfEE (Department for Education and Employment) (2000) Consultation<br />

Paper of Special Educational Needs and Disability Rights in Education Bill.<br />

London: DfEE<br />

Hall, T, Healey, M and Harrison, M (2001) Disabled students and fieldwork:<br />

from exclusion to inclusion, paper in submission<br />

Kitchen, R (2000) Geography and Disability, Geographical Association,<br />

Sheffield<br />

Oliver, M (1990) Politics of Disablement, Macmillan Educational, London<br />

QAA (Quality Assurance Agency) (2000) Code of Practice - students with<br />

disabilities, QAA, Gloucester<br />

University of Strathclyde (2000) Resource 7: Placements, study abroad,<br />

and field trips, in Teachability: Creating an accessible curriculum for students<br />

with disabilities, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow<br />

Mick Healey<br />

Carolyn Roberts<br />

School of the Environment School of the Environment<br />

University of Gloucestershire University of Gloucestershire<br />

mhealey@chelt.ac.uk<br />

crroberts@chelt.ac.uk<br />

Alan Jenkins<br />

Jonathan Leach<br />

Oxford <strong>Centre</strong> for Staff and Student Services<br />

Learning Development<br />

Oxford Brookes University<br />

Oxford Brookes University jleach@brookes.ac.uk<br />

alanjenkins@brookes.ac.uk<br />

Editor’s Note<br />

Readers may also be interested in the two shorter disability articles (in<br />

the “have you seen this?”) section this edition of PLANET written by<br />

McCarthy and by Adams, on TechDis, and special education needs and<br />

disabilities respectively.

Issue three January 2002<br />

P L A N E T<br />

Pedagogic Research:<br />

The new frontier?<br />

Seraphim Alvanides<br />

Sarah Davis<br />

Sarah Gabbott<br />

Caroline Gallagher<br />

Frances Harris<br />

Peter North<br />

George Tuckwell<br />

Moyra Wilson<br />

Abstract<br />

(University of Newcastle)<br />

(University of Leicester)<br />

(University of Leicester)<br />

(Glasgow Caledonian University)<br />

(University of Kingston)<br />

(University of Wales, Swansea)<br />

(Keele University)<br />

(University of Durham)<br />

This article attempts to outline some of the pros and cons of conducting<br />

pedagogic research in our disciplines. Written by new academics who attended<br />

the <strong>Subject</strong> <strong>Centre</strong>’s annual workshop for recently appointed lecturers, the<br />

article will hopefully be of interest to other academics in the <strong>GEES</strong> disciplines<br />

with an interest in conducting research into learning and teaching.<br />

Introduction<br />

Teaching and research are the two principal activities undertaken by<br />

academic staff but all too often we fail to create much synergy between<br />

them. One route for developing stronger links is by explicitly and<br />

systematically using our research to enrich our teaching. Although many<br />

of us would argue that research can benefit teaching, few of us have clear<br />

strategies and mechanisms for achieving this. For this reason at Oxford<br />

Brookes University a project resourced by the Fund for the Development<br />

of Teaching and Learning (FDTL) is currently developing this approach<br />

and identifying examples of good practice (http://www.brookes.ac.uk/<br />

LINK).<br />

Another way of drawing together the worlds of teaching and research is<br />

actually to conduct research into teaching (an area for which the <strong>Subject</strong><br />

<strong>Centre</strong> has recently obtained some additional funding - see the ‘Have<br />

you seen this/’ section in this edition of PLANET). For most academics<br />

this is less familiar territory and yet it is an idea which is now gaining<br />

support. The principal aim is to improve the quality of students’ learning<br />

by encouraging staff to explore what works and what doesn’t work,<br />

particularly in the field of subject-based pedagogy. This is part of a wider<br />

campaign for ‘evidence-based teaching’. Unfortunately at present, many<br />

academics do not feel fully equipped to undertake educational research.<br />

And so, as part of its New Lecturers Conference at the University of<br />

Birmingham in May 2001, the LTSN-<strong>GEES</strong> <strong>Subject</strong> <strong>Centre</strong> arranged a<br />

workshop on this topic. The workshop was run by Alan Jenkins (Oxford<br />

Brookes) and Mick Healey (University of Gloucestershire) and aimed to<br />

raise awareness of pedagogic research as a growing field of enquiry. We,<br />

the delegates who attended the workshop, found it of particular interest<br />

and so we would like to share with PLANET readers some of the issues<br />

raised and some of our impressions.<br />

First, we must make it clear that although we all undertake research in<br />

the ‘content’ of our disciplines (Geography, Earth and Environmental<br />

Sciences) we have little or no experience of educational research. Indeed,<br />

some of us entered the workshop without fully realising what the subject<br />

was actually about! So, by reviewing the workshop for PLANET, we are<br />

sharing our very first impressions of what this field of enquiry is about<br />

and whether it looks enticing. What kinds of educational research might<br />

be undertaken and what are the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of getting involved in<br />

this emerging area?<br />

Activities and Opportunities<br />

From a quick review of some existing examples of published pedagogic<br />

research in our disciplines (provided at the workshop by Alan and Mick)<br />

there would seem to be four main categories of activity and opportunity:<br />

11<br />

1. Quite a few <strong>GEES</strong> academics have published articles describing and<br />

evaluating an example of curriculum development or learning and<br />

teaching innovation which they have led in their own department.<br />

This kind of work encourages self-reflection, disseminates new ideas<br />

and seems not too difficult to write up. The Journal of Geography in<br />

Higher Education (JGHE) and the Journal of Geoscience Education<br />

have published many examples of this kind of work on topics such as<br />

student field trails (Higgitt, 1996), self and peer assessment (Mowl<br />

and Pain, 1995), regional analysis in teaching stratigraphy and<br />

sedimentology (Garver, 1992) and the use of a personal journal in a<br />

geology field trip (Stanesco, 1991). However, to merit possible inclusion<br />

in the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) this kind of ‘action research’<br />

would need to get well beyond simply a descriptive account. It would<br />

have to be embedded in the relevant literature, to involve a significant<br />

piece of innovation and to adopt a rigorous approach to evaluation.<br />

2. A second category of research is involved with the review and<br />

assessment of policy. In this case the author might attempt to examine<br />

a particular government initiative in higher education and to assess its<br />

implications for their particular discipline. This would involve<br />

investigating the background to the policy and perhaps conducting a<br />

review of how departments in the discipline have responded or been<br />

affected by it. Healey’s work (1997) on the outcomes of the Geography<br />

Teaching Quality Assessment (TQA) exercise would be an example.<br />

The scale and depth of the analysis might determine whether the<br />

investigation has RAE potential.<br />

3. A third kind of approach is to examine a substantial theme or issue<br />

through the statistical analysis of large datasets (either existing or<br />

generated via an original survey). An example would be Chapman’s<br />

work (1994) on the proportion of good degrees produced by different<br />

UK geography departments. Clark & Higgitt’s ‘Where are they now?’<br />

survey of former geography graduates would also come into this<br />

category (Clark & Higgitt, 1998).<br />

4. A very different approach, not dependent on large datasets, is to<br />

explore the potential of a particular conceptual framework,<br />

methodology or theoretical perspective. An example would be the<br />

work by Raghuram et al. (1998) on the implications of feminist research<br />

methodologies for the conduct of student projects.<br />

As part of the Birmingham workshop, Alan and Mick asked us to think<br />

about our attitudes to possibly getting involved in the kinds of research<br />

outlined above. The discussion which followed identified both some<br />

attractions and some deterrents.<br />

Advantages of Conducting Research into Learning & Teaching<br />

On the positive side, we were attracted by the prospect of using smallscale<br />

‘action research’ as a means of enhancing our teaching. We also felt<br />

that it would be intellectually satisfying to have a better grasp of what<br />

really works in learning and teaching and why. Small-scale research,<br />

particularly on one’s own teaching, can no doubt be personally and<br />

professionally rewarding. Moreover, in many institutions learning and<br />

teaching criteria are beginning to feature at least somewhat more<br />

prominently in the promotion stakes. Career prospects can therefore be<br />

improved by evidence of innovation in learning and teaching. A published<br />

piece of educational research, might help to persuade a promotions<br />

panel that one’s approach to teaching has been reflective, creative or<br />

even scholarly.<br />

Disadvantages of Conducting Research into Learning & Teaching<br />

However, for many of us the road to pedagogic research has a number of<br />

obstacles along the way. First of all, there are the ‘start up’ costs of needing<br />

to become familiar with new methodologies and a new body of literature.<br />

Where is the time coming from and will the investment really bring sufficient<br />

rewards, particularly as pedagogic research still enjoys a somewhat lowly<br />

status in the minds of many of our colleagues?

Issue three January 2002<br />

P L A N E T<br />

And then there is, of course, the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE).<br />

Will this kind of work really be RAE returnable? The RAE 2001 exercise<br />

welcome pedagogic research as a ‘valid and valued form of research activity’<br />

which is to be assessed by subject panels ‘on an equitable basis’ with other<br />

forms of research (HEFCE, 2000). But to be RAE returnable the work<br />

must include original investigation in order to gain knowledge and<br />

understanding. The development of teaching materials is explicitly excluded<br />

and small-scale accounts of local innovations are unlikely to carry much<br />

weight. Major surveys will be time consuming to undertake and winning<br />

grants in the area is a rather distant prospect given our lack of track<br />

record.<br />

Possible Ways Forward<br />

During the workshop discussion these issues and obstacles were openly<br />

and frankly debated. Possible solutions included working in partnership<br />

with academics who already have an educational track record and a grasp<br />

of the literature, and obtaining support/guidance from the institutional<br />

educational development unit or even perhaps from colleagues in areas<br />

such as educational psychology. In addition, the <strong>Subject</strong> <strong>Centre</strong> is keen to<br />

promote pedagogic research and is funding projects on fieldwork and<br />

also making available small grants for research in other areas of learning<br />

and teaching. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) has an<br />

educational research budget running into millions of pounds but this would<br />

require ‘breaking into the bigtime’, not a realistic strategy for the new<br />

lecturers assembled at Birmingham.<br />

Conclusion<br />

In the past, pedagogic research in our three disciplines (as in most others)<br />

has been a minority interest and of possibly rather variable quality. There<br />

are, however, clear signs that it is emerging from the shadows. There will<br />

certainly be increasing opportunities and rewards for this kind of work<br />

and the RAE is now treating this area more positively than in the past. As<br />

new lecturers, we shall each need to decide whether and how far to get<br />

involved. Indeed, as the area of pedagogic research grows in importance<br />

and recognition, many more established lecturers will also perhaps be<br />

asking the same question. Is this all a dangerous diversion, a potentially<br />

interesting sideline or could it be a rewarding route towards a significant<br />

and new research frontier?<br />

References<br />

Chapman, K. (1994) Variability of Degree Results in Geography in United<br />

Kingdom Universities 1973-90: preliminary results and policy implications,<br />

Studies in Higher Education, 19 (1), pp. 89-101.<br />

Clark, G. and Higgitt, M. (1997) Geography and Lifelong Learning: a report<br />

on a survey of geography graduates, Journal of Geography in Higher Education<br />

21 (2), pp. 199-213.<br />

Garver, J. I. (1992) A field-based course in stratigraphy and sedimentology,<br />

Journal of Geological Education, 40(2), pp. 119-124 .<br />

Healey, M. (1997) Geography and education: perspectives on quality in<br />

UK higher education, Progress in Human Geography, 21, pp. 97-108.<br />

HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) (2000) Review<br />

of Research 00/37 (HEFCE, London).<br />

Higgitt, D. (1996) The Effectiveness of Student-Authored Field Trails as a<br />

Means of Enhancing Geomorphological Interpretation, Journal of Geography<br />

in Higher Education, 20 (1), pp. 35-44.<br />

Mowl, P. and Pain, R. (1995) Using Self and Peer Assessment to Improve<br />

Students’ Essay Writing: a case study from geography, Innovations in Education<br />

and Training International, 32 (4), pp. 324-335.<br />

Raghuram, P., Skelton, T. and Madge, C. (1998) Feminist Research<br />

Methodologies and Student Projects in Geography, Journal of Geography in<br />

Higher Education, 22 (1), pp.35-48<br />

Stanseco, J. D. (1991) The personal journal as learning and evaluation tool<br />

in geology field trip courses, Journal of Geological Education, 39(3), pp. 204-<br />

205.<br />

12<br />

Seraphim Alvanides<br />

University of Newcastle<br />

s.alvanides@newcastle.ac.uk<br />

Sarah Gabbott<br />

University of Leicester<br />

sg21@le.ac.uk<br />

Frances Harris<br />

University of Kingston<br />

ku16763@kingston.ac.uk<br />

George Tuckwell<br />

Keele University<br />

g.w.tuckwell@esci.keele.ac.uk<br />

Sarah Davis<br />

University of Leicester<br />

sjd27@le.ac.uk<br />

Caroline Gallagher<br />

Glasgow Caledonian University<br />

c.e.gallagher@gcal.ac.uk<br />

Peter North<br />

University of Wales, Swansea<br />

p.r.j.north@swan.ac.uk<br />

Moyra Wilson<br />

University of Durham<br />

moyra.wilson@durham.ac.uk<br />

Acknowledgement<br />

We are grateful to Brian Chalkley (LTSN-<strong>GEES</strong> <strong>Subject</strong> <strong>Centre</strong> Director)<br />

for his support in the preparation of this article.<br />

Editor’s Note<br />

If any PLANET readers have views about the ideas set out in this article or<br />

about educational research in general, we would be pleased to hear from you.<br />

Workshop-based teaching of<br />

research design<br />

David Simm and Carol David<br />

St Mary’s College, Twickenham<br />

Abstract<br />

A workshop-based, problem-orientated approach to the teaching of research<br />

design in physical geography is introduced. With carefully staged guidance by<br />

tutors, students devise and execute a research project. Students are empowered<br />

by means of group discussions and decision-making and, aided by critical selfappraisal,<br />

students acquire research experience and develop key transferable<br />

skills. This approach encourages team-work and initiative, and inspires selfconfidence.<br />

This strategy, although challenging and demanding for students,<br />

can be an effective form of teaching. Such an approach is particularly relevant<br />

today because of subject benchmarking skills and developing the transferable<br />

skills, such as initiative and team-work, valued by employers, and also primarily<br />

as preparation for subsequent field and dissertation work.<br />

Introduction<br />

The teaching of research methodology in preparation for subsequent<br />

independent project work is an important part of the training of a<br />

Geography undergraduate. A workshop-based, problem-orientated<br />

approach to the teaching of research design, with a foundation on Kolb’s<br />

experiential learning cycle (Healey and Jenkins, 2000) and adapted from<br />

models presented by Gardiner and Hughes (2000), is presented. The<br />

sessions form part of a geographical research methods and techniques<br />

course taught as a second-year course at St Mary’s College, Twickenham.<br />

The physical geography component of the course involves a series of six<br />

workshops of up to 2 hours, supplemented by a single field day, with two<br />

tutors present at each session containing about 30 students.<br />

The Learning and Teaching Approach<br />

The course aims to teach good research practice and new field techniques<br />

(Table 1). Focusing on the study of the effectiveness of a local river<br />

restoration scheme, students are empowered with their learning by means<br />

of group discussions and decision-making. With carefully staged guidance<br />

by tutors, students devise research questions and execute their project,<br />

analysing data collected on a field day.

Issue three January 2002<br />

P L A N E T<br />

Aims<br />

· To provide a grounding in the theory and practice of research<br />

in physical geography;<br />

· To build on transferable and subject-specific skills introduced<br />

in the foundation year, and develop new ones;<br />

· To use a problem-solving framework to investigate a realistic<br />

research situation;<br />

· To develop intellectual and discipline-specific skills;<br />

· To examine different approaches to studying physical<br />

geography and the major research methods and techniques<br />

employed.<br />

Learning Outcomes<br />

· To have acquired techniques/skills appropriate to different<br />

aspects of geographical enquiry;<br />

· To have developed problem-solving skills;<br />

· To be able to suggest and apply methodologies appropriate<br />

to geographical research;<br />

· To have improved team-work, time-management and<br />

communication skills;<br />

· To have an increased knowledge and understanding of the<br />

nature of geographical problems;<br />

· To be able to present a well-structured and well-presented<br />

report;<br />

· To have gained the confidence, through experiential learning,<br />

to tackle future research work.<br />

Table 1 Aims and Learning Outcomes of the Course<br />

The course enables students to go through the research design process<br />

on their own, with limited guidance from a tutor. The course is not a selfdirected<br />

one, but rather adopts a student-centred approach. Aided by<br />

critical self-appraisal of their performance, students acquire research<br />

experience and develop key skills, such as visualisation of problems, planning,<br />

increasing awareness of experience, and capacity for logical thought<br />

(Healey and Jenkins, 2000). The open-ended approach encourages teamwork<br />

and initiative, and inspires self-confidence in approaching geographical<br />

research, and forms sound preparation for subsequent project and<br />

fieldwork, in particular dissertation projects.<br />

In order to share ideas, experience and the practical work, small-groups<br />

of students were set up. Small-group work promotes situations in which<br />

students will work together to maximise their own and each other’s<br />

learning. Students become actively involved in the learning process, it<br />

encourages creativity and initiative, more discussion and sharing of ideas,<br />

there is a beneficial sense of belonging and mutual support; and it<br />

introduces a wide range of transferable skills (Healey et al. 1996; Hindle,<br />

1993). Possible disadvantages, such as students “hiding” within a group or<br />

from difficult tasks, need to be carefully monitored. A problem-solving<br />

framework is adopted in which students are presented with realistic<br />

research situations. Experiential learning takes place through active<br />

participation in the research process (Tinsley, 1996), visualisation and<br />

reflection (Healey and Jenkins, 2000). This encourages the use of previous<br />

knowledge, helps students to acquire and apply knowledge to new<br />

scenarios, and develops logical and critical thought (Bradbeer, 1996).<br />

Teaching was undertaken through student-oriented workshops. Basic<br />

starter questions for discussion are set, and worksheets containing<br />

questions and prompts helped to structure each workshop (Table 2).<br />

Sessions 1 and 2 - Problem-solving – the process<br />

1. Summarise your ideas on the geographical problem or issue<br />

presented in the accompanying photographs.<br />

2. Make notes on how you might go about investigating this<br />

phenomenon.<br />

3. State the research question you wish to answer and/or<br />

formulate a hypothesis you would like to test.<br />

4. What kind of data do you need to collect?<br />

5. Design a research strategy for gathering this data.<br />

6. Which other aspects of fieldwork, data collection and analysis<br />

need to be considered?<br />

7. List the equipment you will need.<br />

8. Make notes on any health and safety issues which need to be<br />

considered/addressed.<br />

Session 3 – Fieldwork<br />

Session 4 – Fieldwork Debriefing<br />

9. Identify the positive and negative aspects of the fieldwork.<br />

What problems/difficulties did you encounter and why?<br />

10. How did you respond to these difficulties/problems?<br />

11. Do you think you were well prepared for the fieldwork? What<br />

could you have done differently?<br />

12. Was your research question/hypothesis a realistic one? If not,<br />

how would you change it?<br />

13. Was your research design appropriate to the question being<br />

asked? In hindsight, what modification would you make to<br />

the methodology if you were to do the research again?<br />

14. Do you think your group worked well together as a team?<br />

What was the most difficult aspect of working in a group?<br />

Did members find it a positive or negative experience?<br />

15. Consider how you will analyse and present your data.<br />

Session 5 – Data Analysis<br />

16. Consider how you will present your findings.<br />

17. Make notes on how to analyse your findings.<br />

18. Make notes on explaining your findings.<br />

19. Have you collected the right quantity and quality of data to<br />

satisfy your analysis?<br />

Session 6 – Report-writing<br />

20. Make notes on:<br />

(i) How to structure a scientific report;<br />

(ii) Correct bibliographic citation;<br />

(iii) Correct scientific writing style;<br />

(iv) Cartographic presentation.<br />

Table 2 Sample Questions on Work Sheets<br />

The tutor acted as facilitator rather than an instructor, interceding when<br />

necessary to direct the discussions and to suggest new avenues. A<br />

combination of class and group discussions, involving students reporting<br />

their ideas, insights or findings, was adopted. Students were also referred<br />

to a collection of library and intranet web resources which had been<br />

carefully selected. These resources included background information on<br />

the river catchment (for instance, local Environment Agency plans),<br />

supplementary data (for instance, water quality data collected by a local<br />

sewage works) and information sheets outlining the procedures for the<br />

most common field methods and techniques.<br />


Issue three January 2002<br />

P L A N E T<br />

The first workshop familiarised students with the project and the study<br />

area. Students were presented with a series of photographs showing<br />

different physical aspects of a recent river restoration scheme along a<br />

local urban watercourse, and asked to deconstruct the environment and<br />

possible processes, and to identify a hydrological, geomorphological or<br />

ecological problem or aspect to study. In carefully paced stages, students<br />

were prompted to devise their own research questions and, ultimately, to<br />

devise a research proposal.<br />

Subsequent workshops developed the research procedure, involving<br />

identifying a hypothesis, selecting and justifying choice of sites and field<br />

methods, and health and safety aspects of field research. Students worked<br />

through the worksheets, devised a research proposal and planned their<br />

fieldwork and analysis. A representative from each group regularly<br />

reported to their class in order to focus their thoughts and to disseminate<br />

ideas and experience. Tasks were issued at the end of each session to be<br />

prepared for the next workshop. This ensured that background reading<br />

and preparation was undertaken, and also promoted self-reflection on<br />

the learning experience. At appropriate stages field and laboratory<br />

techniques were introduced by tutors and field training was subsequently<br />

provided.<br />

Prior to undertaking fieldwork, scheduled in the middle of the series of<br />

workshops, each student group was required to present their research<br />

proposal, justify their sampling strategy and methods to the tutor. This<br />

provided an opportunity to address any flaws in the projects, and to<br />

ensure that each group were fully aware of the health and safety aspects.<br />

Under close supervision but limited direction, each student group carried<br />

out fieldwork. Students were prompted to record their experience.<br />

Following fieldwork, students were encouraged to reflect on their fieldwork<br />

experience, and to evaluate whether their planning and preparation was<br />

appropriate and sufficient. The final two workshops were more structured,<br />

involving discussions on the stages of data analysis, cartographic and data<br />

presentation skills, and report-writing. Students were encouraged to draw<br />

on their knowledge of introductory statistics attained at first-year level.<br />

Students were required to submit individual scientific reports, and were<br />

asked to include an element of self-evaluation in their discussion section<br />

based on their personal experience of the learning process.<br />

Course Evaluation<br />

Course evaluations suggest that students respond positively to this<br />

approach to learning. Many students found the course challenging, but<br />

the majority thought it was a good way to learn and particularly enjoyed<br />

the field and practical work and team-work aspects. They also appreciated<br />

the opportunity to reflect on their fieldwork. However, a significant number<br />

of students found the open-ended nature of the project challenging,<br />

preferring more traditional methods of learning. Tutor support was only<br />

deemed ‘satisfactory’. Students would appreciate more tutor support,<br />

particularly on data collection and analysis, and more structured sessions.<br />

However, there were high levels of student interest and commitment,<br />

and attendance was exceptionally good. The worksheets proved useful<br />

tools for pacing and directing discussions and ensuring that students have<br />

a record of the stages of research procedures. They also are a mechanism<br />

for ensuring that students have achieved the desired threshold of<br />

experience, knowledge and understanding. The report then offers the<br />

opportunity to demonstrate both the academic and transferable skills.<br />

Conclusions and Future Considerations<br />

Often students need encouragement to gain the confidence to develop<br />

their initiative and independent thinking and, in particular, in the application<br />

of statistics. The open-ended and interactive format of the sessions, in<br />

which students are responsible for how the course develops, promotes<br />

both self-expression and self-confidence. However, striking the right<br />

balance between independent thought by students and tutor guidance is<br />

quite difficult, and such an innovative course may take one or two years<br />

to “bed in”. For instance, in future student-groups will not be self-selecting<br />

14<br />

but could be based on a simple psychological test in order to promote<br />

team-work dynamics. However, students attain knowledge, understanding<br />

and experience of the research process and, through constructive selfevaluation,<br />

“learn by their mistakes” in preparation for subsequent project<br />

and fieldwork, in particular dissertation projects. Adopting a learning and<br />

teaching strategy of student-centred workshops, although challenging and<br />

demanding for students, can be an effective format for learning and training<br />

in research design in physical geography. However, it requires careful<br />

guidance and monitoring by tutors. Kolb’s experiential learning cycle can<br />

be readily applied to other sub-disciplines and scenarios (cf. Healey and<br />

Jenkins, 2000) by engaging students in discussion of the research process,<br />

by encouraging critique of existing practices, and encouraging self-reflection<br />

of student performance.<br />

References<br />

Bradbeer, J. (1996) Problem-based learning and fieldwork: a better method<br />

of preparation? Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 20(1), pp. 11-18.<br />

Gardiner, V. and Hughes, K. (2000) Improving Students’ Problem-solving and<br />

Thinking Skills, Geography Discipline Network (Cheltenham & Gloucester<br />

College of Higher Education).<br />

Healey, M. and Jenkins, A. (2000) Learning cycles and learning styles: the<br />

application of Kolb’s experiential learning model in higher education, Journal<br />

of Geography, 99, pp. 185-195.<br />

Healey, M., Matthews, H., Livingston, I. and Foster, I. (1996) Learning in<br />

small groups in university geography courses: designing a core module<br />

around group projects, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 20(2), pp.<br />

167-180.<br />

Hindle, B.P. (1993) The “project”: putting student-controlled, small group<br />

work and transferable skills at the core of a geography course, Journal of<br />

Geography in Higher Education, 17(1), pp. 11-20.<br />

Tinsley, H.M. (1996) Training undergraduates for self-directed research<br />

projects in physical geography: problems and possible solutions, Journal of<br />

Geography in Higher Education, 20(1), pp. 55-64.<br />

Carol David and David Simm<br />

Geography Section<br />

St Mary’s College, Twickenham<br />

simmdj@smuc.ac.uk<br />

Got a Question or Query?<br />

The LTSN <strong>Subject</strong> <strong>Centre</strong> for Geography, Earth and Environmental<br />

Sciences (<strong>GEES</strong>) is developing a register of interest database.<br />

This enables us to efficiently and effectively put individuals who<br />

approach the <strong>Centre</strong> with a learning and teaching question, intouch<br />

with relevant experts in our disciplines. So, if you would<br />

like to know more about computer-based assessment, integrating<br />

C&IT in fieldwork, subject benchmarking, running overseas field<br />

trips etc., or if you have any other question or query, then please<br />

contact Judith Gill at the <strong>Subject</strong> <strong>Centre</strong> on: 01752 233530 or<br />

email: info@gees.ac.uk. We guarantee a response time of no<br />

more than 48 hours.

Issue three January 2002<br />

P L A N E T<br />

One Year’s Experience of duo<br />

(Durham University Online)<br />

Barbara Watson and Daniel Donoghue<br />

University of Durham<br />

Abstract<br />

The Department of Geography at the University of Durham was one of<br />

three departments to pilot duo (Durham University Online) in October<br />

2000. duo is the University’s web-based learning environment. (http://<br />

duo.dur.ac.uk/), which uses the commercial product Blackboard (http://<br />

www.blackboard.com/). Evaluations of the use of duo were undertaken<br />

within the Department of Geography at the beginning of the academic<br />

year in 2000 and across the whole University in April/May 2001. The<br />

success of duo with first-year undergraduates and with staff in the<br />

Geography Department has resulted in its use being extended to all<br />

second-year modules. This has also encouraged other departments to<br />

embed duo within their teaching. The article will hopefully be of interest<br />

to other <strong>GEES</strong> departments who might be considering delivering their<br />

curricula through an electronic learning environment.<br />

Introduction<br />

duo, Durham University Online, is the University of Durham’s web-based<br />

learning environment. duo, was launched in October 2000 by the Learning<br />

Technologies Team (LTT - http://www.dur.ac.uk/ITS/ltteam/). The LTT,<br />

based within the IT Service, supports the use of C&IT throughout the<br />

University. In July 2000 the LTT purchased the software, Blackboard<br />

Level 1, and the necessary hardware to run duo. The initial implementation<br />

target was to pilot duo in 3 departments and have 200 students on<br />

courses in duo by Christmas 2000. The Department of Geography was<br />

one of the pilot departments and it decided to introduce duo for firstyear<br />

modules, in the academic year beginning October 2000.<br />

Electronic learning environments<br />

An electronic learning environment is an integrated solution to manage<br />

online learning and enhance student learning. Electronic learning<br />

environments offer not only facilities to structure learning content, but<br />

also provide student management, communication and assessment tools,<br />

and a range of other useful functions. A learning environment usually<br />

consists of module details and objectives, and resources such as lecture<br />

notes, PowerPoint presentations, images, audio and video. Blackboard is<br />

one such electronic learning environment, and enables communication<br />

through email, discussion groups and chat. It also provides online<br />

assessment with a variety of question types that can be used to provide<br />

formal assessment, interactive feedback and questionnaires such as student<br />

course-evaluation surveys (Boardman, 2001). Tutors can give different<br />

levels of feedback for their assessments and the software can be configured<br />

to allow students to monitor their own progress. Course statistics show<br />

course usage and activity and it is also possible to track individual student’s<br />

use of the online materials. Blackboard also has a calendar, as well as the<br />

facility to make announcements and set tasks.<br />

While academic staff have a similar on-screen view of the learning<br />

environment to students, they also have additional tools and privileges<br />

that allow them to add materials, create conferences and track students’<br />

progress. The flexibility of learning environments enables them to support<br />

different learning and teaching styles.<br />

Implementation<br />

The Department of Geography at Durham is one of the largest in the<br />

country. It has long-established and well-recognised strengths in both<br />

teaching and research. It is committed to using C&IT to enhance learning<br />

and teaching and is willing to be innovative .<br />

During the 1999-2000 academic year the Department identified an<br />

urgent need to improve the mechanism for delivering parts of its new<br />

first-year curriculum where students were expected to use web-based<br />

materials for self-paced learning exercises. Student feedback in the<br />

previous year identified several problems with the delivery of learning<br />

resources from web pages written in-house. The web pages hosted notes,<br />

practical exercises and instructions. They did not allow staff to<br />

communicate with students or to monitor the use of the materials. It<br />

was therefore vital to evaluate the best possible way of responding to<br />

student feedback for the next academic year. An evaluation of the available<br />

software by the LLT led to the use of Blackboard and the Geography<br />

Department staff worked closely with the LLT to address the strategic<br />

needs of the first-year curriculum.<br />

The implementation of the online learning environment involved several<br />

steps. First, the academic and administrative staff in the Department of<br />

Geography were given demonstrations on the functionality of duo. These<br />

staff immediately perceived the benefits that duo could have for teaching<br />

and administration but recognised the work involved in developing a<br />

fully functioning system that matched their expectations. LTT offer<br />

optional training on duo, on both technical skills and pedagogical issues<br />

to help academics enhance their teaching. The majority of staff involved<br />

with the first-year modules requested training. The training specifically<br />

addressed the issue of authoring and management. Academic staff were<br />

initially encouraged to use their existing teaching materials, such as lecture<br />

notes and PowerPoint presentations, and links to existing web sites. This<br />

enabled the staff to build on their existing work, become familiar and<br />

confident with the software and take ownership of their courses.<br />

Developing the full functionality of duo was more complicated. For<br />

example, academic staff required the assistance of LTT to help set up<br />

and register students on the system, and to develop online assessments<br />

and surveys. The final stage of the implementation was to compare the<br />

use of duo with past practice; to listen to the student perceptions of the<br />

system; and to make improvements for the future.<br />

Evaluation<br />

The Department of Geography seeks to maintain excellence in learning,<br />

teaching and assessment through annual teaching reviews, robust systems<br />

of module evaluation, a reflective assessment system, and engagement<br />

with wider debates over good practice in learning and teaching. Therefore,<br />

the evaluation of the duo system was part of the normal mechanism of<br />

quality assurance undertaken by the Department. However, additional<br />

surveys of student opinion were sought near the start of the academic<br />

year because of the introduction of a new software system. It was<br />

important to identify any teething problems at an early stage.<br />

First-year Geography students were asked for opinions on duo three<br />

weeks into the first term in 2000 to gauge their initial reactions and<br />

resolve any problems. The results showed:<br />

· 86% found duo easy/very easy to use;<br />

· 90% thought they would be using duo at least several times a week;<br />

· 81% rated the actual materials and content as excellent/very good.<br />

The main comment from students was that they would like duo to be<br />

available in the modules that they were taking outside the Geography<br />

department. The immediate success of duo within the Geography<br />

department was a major factor in the LTT’s decision to make duo available<br />

to any academic or department that wished to use it.<br />

Further evaluations of students and staff using duo across the whole<br />

University were undertaken in April and May 2001. These evaluations<br />

asked questions about their use of duo, the type of content, the use of<br />

the communication features and the effect of duo on learning and<br />

teaching. There was a very high response rate (89%; n = 124) from the<br />

Geography students, and responses were generally positive:<br />


Issue three January 2002<br />

P L A N E T<br />

· 97% were confident to use duo after up to 5 logins;<br />

· 72% had accessed duo out of term time;<br />

· 88% recommended that it should be used for all their modules;<br />

· 58% stated that the online resources e.g. web pages and lecture notes<br />

had made a considerable contribution to their use of duo.<br />

The responses from members of staff in Geography showed that:<br />

· 85% were confident to use duo after up to 5 logins;<br />

· 77% had undertaken training;<br />

· 63% found it easy to add materials;<br />

· 67% rated duo as a very effective electronic learning environment.<br />

A final evaluation of duo was undertaken as part of the normal process<br />

of module appraisal. It was at this stage in the previous year that problems<br />

in the delivery of some first-year modules were fully commented on in<br />

student questionnaire returns. Students were not specifically asked to<br />

comment on duo, but to give an opinion on each module and its strengths<br />

and weaknesses. The questionnaire had 21 specific questions that addressed<br />

the content, delivery and enjoyment of each module and it also asked<br />

students to identify in writing the best and worst aspects of each module.<br />

The quantitative summary of this exercise showed that duo had helped<br />

enormously in the technical delivery of relevant modules. On a scale of 1<br />

(good) to 5 (poor) the overall summary of the first year undergraduate<br />

module that made most use of duo, IT for Geographers, was raised from<br />

3.50 to 2.76. This is a significant improvement but it still indicates that<br />

students have some concerns about the module. An analysis of the written<br />

comments is very revealing. First, although most questionnaire returns<br />

said nothing about Blackboard, those that did mention it were always<br />

positive. For example, when asked what was the best feature of this course,<br />

students responded as follows:<br />

“the self assessment exercises on the computer”<br />

“the CAL exercises were easy to follow”<br />

“Blackboard was very helpful; the pasting of lecture notes on Blackboard<br />

is very useful”<br />

“I found it very easy and accessible to obtain instructions from Blackboard”<br />

“24 hour access to information”<br />

“the projects were good in the way that they gave the possibility of working<br />

at your own pace then taking the test on Blackboard”.<br />

Secondly, the majority of negative comments focused on the lack of formal<br />

classroom teaching and not on the delivery of the information over the<br />

web. Several students noted that computer classrooms and other publicly<br />

accessible computers did not provide the easiest of work places. Others<br />

expressed the view that it was helpful to complete project work “in their<br />

own time and in their own space”. While there is still room for improving<br />

the mechanism for delivering effective student centered learning, the<br />

qualitative comments made by students suggest that Blackboard provides<br />

a solid platform on which to build a web-based learning environment.<br />

An important aspect of the duo system within the Geography Department<br />

has been its popularity with the teaching staff. The Blackboard software<br />

strikes a good balance between ease of use and functionality. Almost all<br />

the staff who had received an introductory training course found that<br />

they were able to implement functions that the students found useful.<br />

For example, students appreciated formative self-assessment exercises,<br />

the message-board facility, the ability to link reading lists to the library<br />

online catalogue, and several other features. The results of these surveys<br />

have already been used to inform future use of duo within the Geography<br />

Department. Second-year modules are to be delivered through duo in<br />

the academic year beginning October 2001.<br />

Conclusion<br />

The Department of Geography was one of the first departments to take<br />

part in a major innovation within the University of Durham. The successful<br />

use of duo in the Department will be built on in future. It has also been<br />

an excellent example for the rest of the University, and by the end of the<br />

academic year in 2001 there were approximately 6000 students and 600<br />

staff in 550 courses in 23 departments using duo.<br />

Recommendations<br />

For those who may wish to use Blackboard in a similar capacity as it has<br />

been used at Durham, the following points are worth considering:<br />

· Ensure that students who may rely on Blackboard have adequate<br />

access to computers;<br />

· Blackboard provides a very robust platform on which to build<br />

computer assisted learning materials but it is not a substitute for it.<br />

Therefore, it is vital to devote sufficient time to develop excellent<br />

course work;<br />

· Devote sufficient staff time to learn how to use Blackboard effectively.<br />

Reference<br />

Boardman, K. (2001) Blackboard: our future is busy, Association for Learning<br />

Technology Newsletter, 32, pp.5<br />

Further information<br />

Further information about duo is available on the LTT web pages at:<br />

http://www.dur.ac.uk/ITS/ltteam/ and http://www.alt.ac.uk.<br />

Blackboard has published a case study about Durham at:<br />

http://products.blackboard.com/clients/cases/viewcs.cgi?csid=24090213<br />

Barbara Watson<br />

Information Technology Service<br />

University of Durham<br />

b.a.watson@durham.ac.uk.<br />

Daniel Donoghue<br />

Department of Geography<br />

University of Durham<br />

danny.donoghue@durham.ac.uk<br />

Register of Interest<br />

The LTSN <strong>Subject</strong> <strong>Centre</strong> for Geography, Earth and<br />

Environmental Sciences (<strong>GEES</strong>) is looking for people<br />

who have experience and/or expertise in any area of<br />

learning and teaching in these disciplines e.g. problembased<br />

learning, integrating C&IT into the curriculum,<br />

developing key skills, promoting employer links etc. If you<br />

consider yourself to be an expert in any area of learning and teaching, or<br />

if you have experience in any innovative learning and teaching field, then<br />

we would like to hear from you! We are currently developing a register<br />

of interest database. This will enable us to efficiently and effectively put<br />

individuals who approach the <strong>Centre</strong> with any learning and teaching<br />

question, in-touch with relevant people in our disciplines. If you would<br />

like to find out more about this service, or if you would like to be added<br />

to this database, then please contact the <strong>Subject</strong> <strong>Centre</strong> on: 01752 233530<br />

or email: info@gees.ac.uk.<br />

(Please note that any personal information provided to the <strong>Subject</strong> <strong>Centre</strong> will be kept<br />

in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998.)<br />


Issue three January 2002<br />

P L A N E T<br />

Sustainable development and the<br />

professions<br />

Steve Martin<br />

Visiting Professor, Open University<br />

Annie Hall<br />

Environment Agency<br />

Abstract<br />

Professional bodies are beginning to recognise that sustainable development<br />

is a key issue for professional practice and the wider role of professionals in<br />

society. Since many professional bodies also define the curricula of degree<br />

programmes which provide the educational route to membership of the<br />

professions, this significant change in emphasis has far reaching implications<br />

for degree programmes in HE institutions. As part of this change process, 14<br />

professional bodies have developed a common framework for sustainability<br />

to enable them to develop their thinking and practice. They have also developed<br />

a generic course on sustainable development for the professions, based on<br />

systems thinking.<br />

Introduction<br />

All over the world professionals and practitioners in a wide variety of<br />

public and private sector roles have begun to explore the opportunities<br />

and challenges of sustainable development. However, exploration is not<br />

action. Meaningful change is only just beginning.<br />

It is important to recognise that a significant number of professional bodies<br />

play a key role in defining the curricula of higher education programmes<br />

which prepare students for a specific profession. This is because many<br />

professions have been phasing out their own examinations and now rely<br />

on ‘accredited’ degrees as the educational route to membership.<br />

In the UK, a number of professional bodies have begun to recognise that<br />

sustainable development is a key issue to their members. Some, like the<br />

Engineering Council, are actively revising and updating their ‘Code of<br />

Professional Practice’ and setting up working groups to discuss topics<br />

such as ethics, values and the sustainability agenda. This is good news,<br />

because most of the professional institutions (and educational institutions)<br />

have, until recently, demonstrated considerable indifference to this issue<br />

(HMSO, 1993; HMSO, 1996).<br />

The Government’s sustainable development education panel (DETR, 1999)<br />

has also set out a number of strategic goals for the professions. It<br />

recommends that by 2010 all professional bodies and industry lead bodies<br />

should have sustainable development criteria included within their course<br />

accreditation requirements.<br />

Professional bodies are increasingly being asked to review their traditions<br />

and practice both radically and urgently to meet the needs of their existing<br />

membership. This has far reaching implications for those HE courses for<br />

which they control or influence the curricula. The challenge of sustainable<br />

development has profound implications for the engineering, planning,<br />

chemical, environmental, accounting professions and many others, in both<br />

the practice and role of the professional. For example, engineers are<br />

responsible not only for the safety, technical and economic performance<br />

of their activities, but they also have responsibilities to use resources<br />

sustainably; to minimise the environmental impact of projects, wastes and<br />

emissions; and to use their influence to ensure their work brings social<br />

benefits which are equitably distributed. These responsibilities heighten<br />

the importance of ethics in curriculum design and require greater emphasis<br />

on codes of conduct and the role of engineers as social change agents.<br />

The key driver for much of this change is the significant shift in policy in<br />

the UK and elsewhere, from a focus on the environment to the wider<br />

context of sustainable development. This shift began in earnest in 1992,<br />

following the Earth Summit- when we heard more and more about the<br />

two apparently interchangeable ideas of sustainability and sustainable<br />

development. Both terms have acquired almost instantaneous status as<br />

desirable and essential, but few really understand what they mean in<br />

practice. This should not really surprise us because for nearly thirty years<br />

academia, policy makers and civil society have wrestled with the nature<br />

of sustainability and its implications for the economy and society. A useful<br />

summary of the issue is provided by Atkinson (1998):<br />

“Sustainability is an ideal end-state. Like democracy, it is a lofty goal whose<br />

perfect realization eludes us. For this reason, there will always be competing<br />

definitions of sustainability. We know the definitions will always include the<br />

well being of people, nature, our economy, and our social institutions, working<br />

together effectively over the long term. But as the process of attempting to<br />

achieve sustainability will continually reveal new challenges and questions –<br />

pushing back the horizons, as it were – a definitive definition is impossible.<br />

Any indicator framework, therefore, needs to be flexible and adaptable to<br />

those changing definitions. It needs to grow as our understanding grows, while<br />

continuing to serve its purpose as a simplifier and guide to complexity. It<br />

needs to maintain a trail of continuity from year to year and decade to decade.<br />

Most important, it needs to speak to people in ways understandable both to<br />

the rational mind and the intuition.”<br />

It follows that sustainability is the capacity for continuance into the longterm<br />

future, where as sustainable development is the process of moving<br />

towards this ideal end state.<br />

Professional Practice for Sustainable Development<br />

Professional institutions constitute a range of individuals whose beliefs<br />

and values towards sustainable development are mainly derived from<br />

their long education, training and experience in their basic discipline. These<br />

are reinforced through their professional networks. If there is to be a<br />

common approach for sustainable practice amongst professionals, then<br />

the framework and training for this needs to come through their<br />

professional bodies. The Professional Practice for Sustainable Development<br />

Initiative, sometimes referred to as PP4SD, arose out of this kind of thinking.<br />

Working with 14 professional institutions, the project aims to help<br />

members improve their capacity to plan and carry out their<br />

professional duties in ways that support their achievement of sustainable<br />

development (1).<br />

The project started in June 1999 with funding from the Environmental<br />

Action fund following an invitation seminar in March 1999 initiated and<br />

hosted by the Environment Agency (EA) and the Council for Environmental<br />

Education. Its specific objectives are:<br />

· To engage the participating professions in a learning process to develop<br />

a common curriculum framework for sustainable development.<br />

· To develop, test and publish training materials derived from the<br />

framework appropriate to the needs of the professional institutions.<br />

The PP4SD Framework<br />

One of the first tasks of the project was to generate a framework for<br />

sustainability, to enable all of the participating institutions to ‘apply’ a shared<br />

mental model, when thinking about sustainability. The framework also<br />

sets out the limits (or boundaries) of sustainability and is based on high<br />

level principles which:<br />

· Cover the whole area of sustainability<br />

· Are essential but not prescriptive<br />

· Are applicable over different scales and ranges of activity.<br />

The framework has been derived from a number of key sources, including:<br />

The Rio Declaration, World Business Council on Sustainable Development,<br />

DETR, The Natural Step, The International Institute for Sustainable<br />


Issue three January 2002<br />

P L A N E T<br />

Development, the World Commission on Environment and Development,<br />

Forum for the Future and Natural Capitalism. At present given its evolving<br />

status it states that in a sustainable society:<br />

1. Any materials mined from the earth should not exceed the<br />

environment’s capacity to disperse, absorb, recycle or otherwise<br />

neutralise their harmful effects to humans and the environment;<br />

2. Synthetic substances in their manufacture and use should not exceed<br />

the environment’s capacity to disperse, absorb, recycle or otherwise<br />

neutralise their harmful effects to humans or the environment;<br />

3. The biological diversity and productivity of ecosystems should not be<br />

endangered;<br />

4. A healthy economy should be maintained, which accurately represents<br />

the value of natural, human, social and manufactured capital;<br />

5. Individual human skills, knowledge and health should be developed<br />

and deployed to optimum effect;<br />

6. Social progress and justice should recognise the needs of everyone;<br />

7. There must be equity for future generations;<br />

8. Structures and institutions should promote stewardship of natural<br />

resources and the development of people.<br />

The framework can be used flexibly to identify and map the range and<br />

depth of information to be included in training materials for sustainable<br />

development. It also highlights the dilemma of sustainability, because it<br />

illustrates the issues of developing an acceptable quality of life using materials<br />

and energy for a growing population, whilst seeking to decrease society’s<br />

harmful physical impact on nature. The framework is set in a future<br />

perspective and therefore offers a useful tool to help describe the gap<br />

between today’s activities and the future requirements of a sustainable<br />

society.<br />

Implementation<br />

As far as possible any approach to sustainable development needs to<br />

encourage professionals to internalise the general principles set out in the<br />

PP4SD framework and to work out for themselves, the implications or<br />

applications, as they relate directly to their professional activities. In order<br />

to support this process the PP4SD project has published two booklets.<br />

Booklet 1, describes the project’s objectives and the role of the professional<br />

institutions and partners and defines the framework. This was published<br />

in May 2000. Booklet 2 was published in September 2000; it is a general<br />

support document for use in the development of training courses and<br />

associated materials and tools to promote greater understanding of<br />

sustainable development within professional practice. During the next<br />

phase of the project, a generic foundation course on sustainable<br />

development, based on systems thinking, has been developed in partnership<br />

with the participating professional bodies. This has just been published by<br />

the Institution of Environmental Sciences (2).<br />

Training Materials<br />

The course materials are designed for use by trainers with professionals.<br />

Trainers can use them as presented or adapted as necessary for each<br />

occasion. They introduce the principles of sustainable development in a<br />

thought-provoking manner, requiring the participants to assess their own<br />

knowledge, skills and experiences within the context of sustainable<br />

development. Case studies from business and industry are used to illustrate<br />

how sustainable development principles are being applied. The materials<br />

have also been developed for inter-professional groups to ensure that a<br />

holistic approach to sustainable development is taken. The course aims<br />

to:<br />

· improve awareness of the principles which underpin sustainable<br />

development;<br />

· examine the implications of applying the principles to their work and<br />

their lives;<br />

· enhance awareness of the benefits for business of applying the<br />

principles to their business activities;<br />

· assess a number of business case studies;<br />

· develop understanding of systems thinking and application;<br />

· increase knowledge of tools and techniques for applying sustainable<br />

development principles;<br />

· initiate personal action planning and implementation.<br />

The materials and concepts have been trialed extensively through<br />

participative workshops in industry and the professions. The overriding<br />

conclusion was that a systems approach to sustainable development offers<br />

real opportunities for new ways of thinking and practically engaging with<br />

this complex issue.<br />

Endnotes<br />

(1) The professional institutions involved in this phase of the project are:<br />

Building Services and Research Information Association, Chartered<br />

Institution of Building Services Engineers, Chartered Institution of Water<br />

and Environmental Management, Chartered Institute of Purchasing<br />

and Supply, Institute of Energy, Institute of Waste Management, Institute<br />

of Chemical Engineering, Institute of Civil Engineers, Institution of<br />

Environmental Sciences, Institute of Mechanical Engineering, Royal<br />

Institute of British Architecture, Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors,<br />

Royal Society of Chemistry, Royal Town Planning Institute.<br />

(2) Further details of Booklets 1 and 2 can be downloaded from the<br />

Institution of Environmental Sciences web- site: http://www.ies-uk.org<br />

References<br />

Atkinson, A. (1998). The compass of sustainability: framework for a<br />

comprehensive information system. Version I. In: Walter Leal Frilho (Ed.)<br />

Sustainability and University Life (Peter Lang, Germany).<br />

Baines, J, Brannigan, J, Martin, S. (2001) Professional Partnerships for Sustainable<br />

Development (Institution of Environmental Sciences, London).<br />

DETR (1999) Sustainable Development Education Panel - First Annual Report<br />

1998 (DETR, London).<br />

HMSO (1993) Environmental Responsibility - an agenda for further and<br />

higher education (HMSO, London).<br />

HMSO (1996) Environmental Responsibility - a review of the 1993 Toyne<br />

Report (HMSO, London).<br />

Annie Hall*<br />

Head of Education<br />

Environment Agency<br />

annie.hall@environment-agency.gov.uk<br />

Stephen Martin**<br />

Independent Consultant and Visiting Professor at the Open University<br />

esm@esmartin.demon.co.uk<br />

* Annie Hall is currently Head of Education, Environment Agency England<br />

& Wales. She is currently managing the agency’s pathfinder project, which<br />

is looking at the EA’s future role in sustainable education for the business<br />

sector. She is also a member of PP4SD project management group and<br />

the Government Panel on Education for Sustainability.<br />

** Stephen Martin is a member of the PP4SD project management group<br />

and the Sigma project steering group and visiting Professor at the Open<br />

University <strong>Centre</strong> for Complexity and Change.<br />


Issue three January 2002<br />

P L A N E T<br />

Using Class Quizzes for<br />

Weekly Review<br />

Martin Haigh<br />

Oxford Brookes University<br />

Abstract<br />

This article describes the use of classroom quizzes as a way of promoting<br />

student learning in the Department of Geography at Oxford Brookes University.<br />

Starting each class with a quiz on the previous session’s work encourages<br />

students to review their course notes ahead of each session, removes the<br />

need for any spoken review of course progress, and abets attempts to help<br />

students convert surface memorisation into deep learning through classroom<br />

discussion. Class quizzes are popular with most students, who mainly agree<br />

with the above analysis. Quiz scores correlate significantly with most other<br />

types of assessment, including those from formal essay examinations, so they<br />

may be considered valid as a mode of assessment. The exercise described in<br />

this paper will have transferability to other degree programmes, including earth<br />

and environmental sciences.<br />

Introduction<br />

“Assessment is the most powerful lever that teachers have to influence<br />

the way students respond to courses and behave as learners “ (Gibbs,<br />

1999, p. 41). However, there remains an assumption that the merits or<br />

otherwise of most traditional forms of assessment are already well known.<br />

For example, every progressive instructor knows that using class quizzes<br />

for student assessment is poor practice. It encourages shallow surface<br />

learning as students try to memorise their course notes. It suppresses<br />

student innovation because it implies that there are ‘correct’ answers that<br />

must be learnt. It discourages student engagement because quizzes tend<br />

to stress boring ‘facts’ over interesting ‘ideas and arguments’. It also reduces<br />

student enthusiasm because students find class quizzes stressful and their<br />

results painful (cf. Zeidner, 1990). Put simply, students do not like class<br />

quizzes (Nuzum, 1999).<br />

While there may be some truth in these beliefs, the class quiz is a part of<br />

the educational tool kit and, like any such device, its impact on student<br />

learning depends, in large measure, on how it is used. This paper describes<br />

an application of class quizzes that aims to have positive impacts on student<br />

learning, student engagement, student enthusiasm, and students’ ability to<br />

self-construct their own understanding.<br />

First the problem: how do we as practitioners bridge that tricky moment<br />

at the start of each class session, when the task is to pull together the<br />

strands of previous sessions and try to move forward? The awkwardness<br />

recurs every week, especially in courses that are not discrete topical<br />

packages but have a direction and build towards a final goal. How is it<br />

possible to ensure that the students are ready and able to proceed? How<br />

can this be done when the class includes a population of ‘semi-detached’<br />

students, those who are not committed to the course or who like to<br />

believe they can do enough to pass without much classroom endeavour<br />

or attendance? Their assumption may be right or wrong but, in the<br />

meantime, these students choke the development of the course through<br />

their inability to contribute to classroom discussion or interaction. Normal<br />

good practice dictates that each new class should begin with a review of<br />

the previous session’s work. However, the plain fact is, if a student was<br />

absent in either body or spirit during that previous session or has not<br />

bothered to prepare ahead the new class, this review may have little<br />

positive benefit. The problem resolves as how to encourage students to<br />

enter each new class with the works from the previous session fresh in<br />

their minds?<br />

The solution, proposed to the author by colleague Peter Keene, is to<br />

begin each new session, or allege to begin each new class session, with a<br />

short class quiz that covers the main points from the previous session<br />

and perhaps also the required reading for the current session. The question<br />

discussed here is does this work? Specifically, are class quizzes a useful<br />

form of assessment that broadly support other assessment strategies? In<br />

addition, do the students feel that class quizzes are a useful course<br />

component that helps them learn?<br />

Context<br />

The strategy reported in this paper has been adopted in two advanced<br />

level modules in the modular course at Oxford Brookes University over<br />

a period of three academic years. Here, each module involves 32 classroom<br />

contact hours, developed across 4-hour blocks in 8 consecutive weeks.<br />

These two modules fill a variety of functions in an array of degree<br />

programmes. Typically, student participants take the modules as<br />

components of curricula that variously combine Geography, Physical<br />

Geography, Environmental Sciences, Water Resources, Environmental<br />

Biology, Planning Studies etc. These students are commonly in either their<br />

second or third year of undergraduate study. The two modules examined<br />

in this study are M02676: Gaia: the Earth as a Living System (Haigh, 2001)<br />

and M02643: Soil Conservation. This second supplements classroom contact<br />

with a laboratory / field programme of about 8 hours (cf. Haigh and<br />

Kilmartin, 1987). Typically, the modules enrol 20 - 45 students each year.<br />

Class Quizzes<br />

The class quizzes are introduced in the first session as a coursework<br />

component called “Echoes”. Students are informed that each Echo quiz<br />

will cover major points from previous sessions or the required reading.<br />

They are advised, at the outset, of the purpose of these quizzes - namely<br />

to make them review their notes ahead of class, undertake the required<br />

reading and/or catch up if they missed a session. Each quiz consists of 2-<br />

4 open-ended questions, each requiring a sentence or so in answer. They<br />

are administered at the start of each session or immediately after a coffee<br />

break, at the whim of the instructor. There are 4-6 quizzes during the<br />

module and, in sum, the assessment adds up to 20% of the marks for the<br />

module. The intention is to make the mark for the sum of the quizzes<br />

substantial, whilst keeping the assessment for individual quizzes small<br />

enough to be non-threatening (cf. Zeidner, 1990).<br />

The significant difference between this application of class quizzes and<br />

their traditional use is that the main function is not assessment. Instead, it<br />

is to encourage class preparation, attendance and, hopefully, ensure that<br />

the students attending know enough to participate in class discussion<br />

designed to reinforce learning. However, the technique also contributes<br />

to assessment and this generates the question of whether or not the<br />

assessment generated supports other, more usual, modes of assessment.<br />

So the questions are, did the strategy work, and is the assessment generated<br />

useful?<br />

Evaluation<br />

Three approaches have been adopted for the evaluation of the role of<br />

class quizzes in the two modules. The first involves the statistical<br />

comparison of Echo quiz scores with other aspects of assessment using<br />

Spearman correlation on mark-sheets for 227 students (cf. Haynes, 1996).<br />

The initial assumption might be that class quiz scores would not correlate<br />

with aspects of assessment that test deeper learning, such as an essaybased<br />

examination, a learning journal, a self-constructed laboratory<br />

exercise, and a field interpretation exercise. They might, however, correlate<br />

with scores collected by students who performed well in making a short<br />

classroom representation of a textbook reading, since this could be<br />

constructed on memorisation and other reproducing-orientation skills.<br />

The second involves a comparison of the performance of students who<br />

completed all the class quizzes with those who completed 50% or less<br />

(already labelled in this paper as the ‘semi-detached’).<br />


Issue three January 2002<br />

P L A N E T<br />

The third involves the analysis of 127 course evaluation questionnaires<br />

for the two courses, collected in the period May 1999 - July 2001. These<br />

questionnaire returns are anonymous, so it is not possible to differentiate<br />

between responses on the basis of student attendance or performance.<br />

Instead, the aim is to determine whether the students found the class<br />

quizzes a valuable part of the programme and whether preparing for the<br />

quizzes helped them learn more from succeeding classes.<br />

Evaluation was conducted by means of an open format questionnaire<br />

administered at the close of each course. Students were given report<br />

forms and asked to respond to the request ‘Please describe, as fully as<br />

possible, your experience of this module?’ This approach allows students<br />

to mention their concerns, both positive and negative without any<br />

constraints concerning either topic or topic selection. The assumption is<br />

that if a student finds something valuable about the course, they will<br />

mention this fact. Equally, if they have negative feelings or problems about<br />

an aspect of the course, this will also be mentioned. As an approach to<br />

evaluation, this seems hugely preferable to any method that constrains<br />

student views by closed questions and some kind of likert response scale.<br />

It also supports the learning strategy of the Oxford Brookes University<br />

Geography Department, which emphasises student-centred and studentactive<br />

learning, and where - by listening to what the students actually<br />

want to say - the courses aim to help the student get the most from their<br />

own education.<br />

In one case, evaluation policy deviated from this completely open structure.<br />

In 2001, students on M02643: Soil Conservation were asked a second<br />

question specific to the class quiz component of the course. This asked if<br />

they felt that the class quizzes encouraged them to review their notes<br />

ahead of each lecture and whether they regarded the class quiz as an<br />

adequate replacement for any spoken review of the previous week’s work.<br />

Results<br />

Correlations between the class quiz and final examination scores were<br />

reasonably strong and highly significant (rho= 0.384, p< 0.0005, n=227).<br />

This suggests that the class quiz results broadly reinforce this more<br />

traditional form of assessment, which is also usually taken as the measure<br />

of student learning. In terms conventional, this suggests that the class quiz<br />

mechanism fosters student learning (cf. Marco and Crone 1991).<br />

The Echo quiz scores also correlate significantly with three other modes<br />

of assessment. As expected, they correlated strongly with spoken class<br />

presentations (rho=0.284, p

Issue three January 2002<br />

P L A N E T<br />

The two courses under examination here have been run and evaluated for<br />

many years. In a new course, many rough edges show through, but in these<br />

courses several years of work and reworking have been devoted to help<br />

the module run smoothly. For example, in modules that recruit from<br />

geography and the social sciences, there is an immediate crisis every time a<br />

mathematical argument is presented. Crossing such hurdles, helping students<br />

to read and use each equation and to think about its meaning, has taken a<br />

lot of thought and time. A measure of success is that, now, few students list<br />

‘equations’ among the negative or troublesome aspects of the course. In the<br />

same process of revision, generally popular course elements, such as the<br />

use of video case studies - supported by question sheets and student group<br />

discussion - can be tuned up. After some trial and error, other things being<br />

equal, the result can be a generally happy class.<br />

Course Attributes in Rank Order<br />

Respondents (n=67)<br />

Enjoyable/Interesting etc. - positive general 43<br />

comments on the topics covered by the course<br />

Good course / structure - positive general comments 37<br />

on the student on the structures and presentation of<br />

the course<br />

Videos (and question sheets) - first ranked course 19<br />

component singled out for positive comment -<br />

students liked the videos and also the supporting<br />

question sheets, which try to ensure that they<br />

collect information and also apply critical analysis<br />

to the video text.<br />

Quiz - second ranked course component 14<br />

Choice in coursework - support for the selection 13<br />

of coursework activities available - often linked to<br />

comments about the development of personal skills<br />

Student presentations -support for the opportunity 13<br />

for students to develop spoken presentation skills and<br />

gain assessment for not-written coursework. This is<br />

also the second ranked most disliked course component<br />

- a comment on the quality of some student presentations.<br />

Handouts - students liked being given copies of the 10<br />

information on the OHP slides, which meant they did<br />

not have to worry so much about note taking and<br />

keeping up.<br />

Dislike: 4-hour class block. Students argue that these 10<br />

are much too long and too intensive. (Almost every<br />

aspect of the course was disliked by at least one<br />

student - but the only component mentioned<br />

regularly was the 4-hour -block that was used by the session).<br />

Field trail - supported by the students and 8<br />

mentioned, mainly, in connection with the thought<br />

that it should be compulsory and that it should be<br />

conducted in parallel with the virtual field trail<br />

of the same sites.<br />

Lectures - general positive comments, not usually 6<br />

linked to any special attribute of the lectures.<br />

Assessment balance - positive comments often 6<br />

linked to the 60:40% coursework: examination split<br />

and the assessment awarded to individual options -<br />

a position achieved for this course after years<br />

of trail and error.<br />

Table 2. Digest of Evaluation Returns for M02643: Soil Conservation<br />

(1999-2001).<br />

21<br />

In 1999, 2000 and 2001, 67 of 89 students returned questionnaires on<br />

M02643: Soil Conservation. Overall, quizzes were the 2nd most frequently<br />

mentioned course component in the lists of positive course attributes;<br />

only the video case studies were more popular. They were listed as positive<br />

features of the course by 14 students and in a negative context by only<br />

one, which means that 52 students did not feel it necessary to single<br />

them out for specific comment. Table 2 provides a summary of the<br />

content of three years’ anonymous course evaluation returns for M02643:<br />

Soil Conservation. It shows all comments that concerned 6 or more<br />

respondents and illustrates the typical mix of general and specific<br />

comments. In 2000-2001, 66 of 73 students on M02676: Gaia : The Earth<br />

as a Living System, completed course consultation questionnaires. Quizzes<br />

ranked 4th and 8th among lists of positive course attributes with a total<br />

of 11 respondents agreeing that the quizzes encouraged them to revise<br />

their notes. Quizzes were listed as negative attributes, ranking 5th and<br />

9th, by 5 students who complained that quizzes were not specific enough<br />

to the previous week’s work and carried too many marks.<br />

Evaluation summaries are filed on the module website for student access<br />

and they are discussed at staff-student meetings.<br />

In 2001, 27 students on M02643, the Soil Conservation module responded<br />

to a second question that asked students specifically for their views on<br />

quizzes. The results and some specific student comments are included as<br />

Table 3. Some 20 agreed that the quizzes met the course aims of<br />

encouraging revision, 12 added that they also replaced the need to review<br />

the previous lecture. However, 6 commented that the quizzes did not<br />

encourage the revision of course notes, 4 finding it possible to rely on<br />

memory, 2 arguing that each quiz carried too few marks to make the<br />

effort worthwhile.<br />

Analysis of Student Comments (with number of respondents<br />

addressing topic)<br />

Positive Comments:<br />

• Made me revise before each session: 12<br />

• Effective - met both aims well; 12<br />

• Good/ effective / (retain in module): 4<br />

• Makes you want to go to class (assessment driven): 2<br />

Negative Comments:<br />

• Did not achieve objectives: 6<br />

• Too few marks per test to be bothered: 2<br />

Specific Illustrative Comments:<br />

• “It became essential to review notes… this is one of only a few<br />

modules where I feel last minute cramming for the examination<br />

will not be necessary”<br />

• “Quizzes were a good ‘learning’ technique …making the learning<br />

process easier”<br />

• “Quizzes every week - excellent way of getting people to lectures<br />

- I really learnt from the quizzes”<br />

• “Echo quizzes kept us on our toes…”<br />

• “They make us look at our work every week, however, if people<br />

wanted to learn, they would by themselves”<br />

• “Tests work very well, if people didn’t listen the first time, they<br />

won’t listen to a spoken review!”<br />

• “The tests don’t encourage revision - but people check to see if<br />

they had the right answer afterwards”.<br />

• “I’d prefer more marks of a longer test more than several small<br />

tests which are not worth much”<br />

Table 3: Do class quizzes encourage the review of course notes and<br />

replace the need for a spoken review of the previous week’s work?

Issue three January 2002<br />

P L A N E T<br />

Discussion<br />

Researchers have frequently shown that assessment style drives students’<br />

strategies for learning (Hargreaves, 1996). Ramsden (1992, p. 211) advises<br />

that objective tests should be used with caution. Some strategies have<br />

negative impacts, encouraging surface learning more than a deep approach.<br />

Class tests are frequently numbered in such lists (Kember et al., 1995).<br />

Inevitably, the class quiz system emphasises reproducing learnt information.<br />

However, it ranks among the most popular elements of coursework<br />

because it fosters deeper learning. By encouraging students to review<br />

their notes from previous sessions, it helps them gain more from the<br />

current session - the majority of those questioned directly emphasised<br />

that the approach helped them keep on top of their learning tasks<br />

(Table 3).<br />

Statistical analysis shows that quiz results correlate strongly and significantly<br />

with other more usual modes of assessment, including those taken as<br />

indicative of deep rather than shallow learning. For example, formal<br />

examinations are regarded as the principal guide to student learning by<br />

the majority of courses in the majority of UK universities. The strong<br />

correlation between quiz and examination scores implies that quizzes<br />

support learning in similar ways.<br />

This conclusion is reinforced by the comparison of performance between<br />

students that scored in all or most quizzes versus those who scored in<br />

less than 50% - here labelled ‘the semi-detached’. The results show that<br />

those who were most engaged in the course, as evidenced by scoring in<br />

most class quizzes, fared significantly better in the final examination than<br />

those who failed to score in most quizzes. It must be emphasised that<br />

the phrase ‘failed to score’ broadly implies a failure to attend either the<br />

current session or to make up work from a missed previous session. Of<br />

course, there is some circularity in this argument. It could be argued that<br />

those who attend lectures would do better in examinations, class quiz or<br />

not. It has been shown that students prefer lecturers that make their<br />

lectures compulsory and feel that they gain more when governed by this<br />

discipline (Williams, 1992). Several students felt that the quizzes<br />

encouraged their class attendance.<br />

Undoubtedly, one of the reasons the technique succeeds is that quiz<br />

questions are pitched at an accessible level. The tests work as an incentive<br />

to class participation. Ehrlich (1995, p.379) describes how, in early<br />

experiments, he set questions that were too challenging and served only<br />

to remind students of their own inability to master the material. As a<br />

consequence, students were unhappy and dreaded the quizzes. By contrast,<br />

when Ehrlich set quizzes that were more easily answered, the positive<br />

results improved student morale, self-belief, and determination to work<br />

hard to maintain good scores. Marco and Crone (1991, p168) found that<br />

their ability to predict college grades, (i.e. further learning, from High<br />

School SAT tests) was greatest when the challenge was linked to ‘middle<br />

difficulty’ for the average student.<br />

Another ingredient of success seems to be that the tests were regular.<br />

Zeidner (1994) found that surprise quizzes were opposed by most of<br />

the students in his study; who felt that the quizzes were administered for<br />

vindictive purposes and caused unnecessary stress. Zeidner’s respondents<br />

also worried that their quizzes tested relatively unimportant information.<br />

In sum, class quizzes have to tackle major issues and they have to be<br />

administered regularly with as little surprise as possible.<br />

Zeidner (1994) reports that students who valued the tests did so for<br />

similar reasons to those voiced here. The quizzes provided a guide to<br />

progress (52%), motivation for the revision and review of course material<br />

(37%) and boosted grades (4%). Equally, most (70%) of Zeidner’s sample<br />

of teachers welcomed quizzes because they kept students motivated<br />

(64%), provided prompt feedback on learning (25%) and provided a<br />

realistic appraisal of student knowledge (9%). Those who opposed quizzes<br />

thought they were stressful to students (52%), reduced student grades<br />

22<br />

(33%) and reflected only short term learning (7%). However, it has been<br />

suggested that learning is a function of the degree to which students feel<br />

concerned about the tasks they are set (Saljo and Wyndham, 1990).<br />

‘Concern’ and ‘stress’ may be two sides of the same coin.<br />

In response to these last points, quizzes that reduce student grades may<br />

be pitched at a level that is too hard to be useful. A successful quiz strategy,<br />

that encourages student learning, should generate high marks. These<br />

function to foster positive participation, to reward and reinforce those<br />

who are striving to keep ahead of the work - carrots rather than sticks to<br />

use a vernacular expression. Here, each quiz provides only the tiniest<br />

assessment incentive to class attendance. However, even such a small<br />

reward may be critical.<br />

The necessity for class attendance, however, makes the technique less<br />

popular with students that do not like to attend class so regularly and<br />

hence are penalised by missing quiz scores. Elsewhere, high levels of<br />

attendance in class and longer, more diligent, studying have been associated<br />

with students adopting inefficient surface learning strategies (Kember et<br />

al., 1995). However, in a course that builds progressively away from the<br />

textbook and into uncharted territory as in the case of M02676: Gaia,<br />

there is no way to avoid class attendance. Even in M02643 Soil<br />

Conservation, the course deals with a subject that is in the throes of<br />

tumultuous and revolutionary change, which is being driven by field<br />

practitioners rather than academics and by workers whose studies and<br />

arguments are hard to access through library publications. The easiest<br />

route to deep understanding is through the critical evaluation of grey<br />

literature and video case studies, reinforced by classroom discussion<br />

between students.<br />

Quizzes have the advantage that they remove some debate over marks<br />

and also the possibility of bluffing (cf. Zeidner, 1994, p47). Zeidner suggests<br />

that students view essay-type exams as more fair than objective tests but<br />

this does not seem to be supported in this case (Zeidner, 1990 p.161).<br />

Zeidner (1990 p.158) adds that students find quizzes less stressful than<br />

essay tests.<br />

Finally, it is undoubtedly the case that quizzes test surface learning. However,<br />

it is very useful to have a reservoir of memorised learning in place at the<br />

start of a class session. This gives the instructor some foundations to build<br />

on during the session and hopefully, something to convert into deeper,<br />

longer term, understanding. Here, the quizzes were welcomed because<br />

they contributed to the variety of activities undertaken in class and because,<br />

in preparation and post-mortem, they provided opportunities for<br />

discussion with colleagues.<br />

Conclusion<br />

The introduction of regular class quizzes, that test students’ knowledge of<br />

the substance of previous sessions and required reading, has successfully<br />

encouraged students to review their course notes ahead of each class.<br />

The approach has been popular with a majority of students on the two<br />

courses where it has been introduced. In both cases, it seems to have<br />

encouraged greater class participation by a larger group of better-prepared<br />

students. Although class quizzes sponsor a reproducing orientation in<br />

student learning, the scores from these quizzes correlate significantly with<br />

those of course components that foster deep learning. These include<br />

traditional essay examinations, preparation of a learning diary and selfconstructed<br />

laboratory experimentation. This supports the intuition that<br />

the students’ preparation for a class quiz gives them additional shortterm<br />

knowledge that abets the development of deeper learning by further<br />

study.<br />

References:<br />

Ehrlich, R. (1995) Giving a quiz every lecture. Physics Teacher, 33(6), 378-<br />

379.<br />

Gibbs, G. (1999) Using assessment strategies to change the ways that<br />

students learn, pp 44-54, in: Brown, S. and Glasner, A. (Eds) Assessment

Issue three January 2002<br />

P L A N E T<br />

Matters in Higher Education: Choosing and Using Diverse Approaches.<br />

Buckingham, SRHE & Open University Press, 210pp.<br />

Haigh, M.J. (2001) Constructing Gaia: using journals to foster reflective<br />

learning. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 25(2), 199-221.<br />

Haigh, M.J. & Kilmartin, M.P. (1987) Teaching soil conservation in the<br />

laboratory using the “Bank Erosion Channel” flume. Journal of Geography<br />

in Higher Education, 12(2), 161-167.<br />

Hargreaves, D.J. (1996) How undergraduate students learn. European Journal<br />

of Engineering Education, 21(4), pp. 425 - 434.<br />

Haynes, R.J. (1996) Use of statistics, pp 67-134, In: Watts, S. J. and Halliwell,<br />

L.(eds) Essential Environmental Science: Methods and Techniques. London,<br />

Routledge, 512pp.<br />

Kember, D. Jamieson, Q.W., Pomfret, M. & Wong, E.T.T. (1995) Learning<br />

approaches, study time and academic performance. Higher Education, 29(3),<br />

329-343.<br />

Marco, G.L. and Crone, C.R. (1991) The relationship of trends in SAT<br />

content and statistical characteristics to SAT predictive validity, pp 161-<br />

194 in. Willingham, W.W., Lewis, C., Morgan, R. and Ramist, L. (eds) Predicting<br />

College Grades: An Analysis of Institutional Trends over Two Decades. New<br />

York: The College Board and Educational Testing Service, 342pp.<br />

Nuzum, M. (1999) “But you didn’t tell us you were giving a test today!”<br />

(use of tests as teaching tools). Instructor (Jan-Feb), 3pp. (http://<br />

findarticles.com/cf_0/m0STR/5_108/53649874/printjhtml)<br />

Ramsden, P. (1992) Learning to Teach in Higher Education. London,<br />

Routledge.<br />

Saljo, M. and Wyndham, J. (1990) Problem solving and academic<br />

performance and situated reasoning: a study of joint cognitive activity in<br />

the formal setting, British Journal of Educational Psychology, 60(3), 245-255.<br />

Williams, E. (1992) Students’ attitudes to approaches to learning and<br />

assessment, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 17(1), 45-58.<br />

Zeidner, M. (1994) Reactions of students and teachers towards key facets<br />

of classroom testing, School Psychology International, 15, 39-53.<br />

Zeidner, M. (1990) College students’ reactions towards key facets of<br />

classroom testing, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 15(2),<br />

pp 151-169.<br />

Martin Haigh<br />

Department of Geography<br />

Oxford Brookes University<br />

mhaigh@brookes.ac.uk.<br />

Notice to Publishers<br />

Learning and teaching books and/or<br />

software for review should be sent to the<br />

editor at the address given at the back of<br />

this edition of PLANET.<br />

23<br />

Examining <strong>Home</strong> Learning<br />

Environments<br />

Greg Spellman, Ken Field and John Sinclair<br />

University College Northampton<br />

Abstract<br />

This study uses a methodology originally developed by education researchers<br />

examining the homework environment and homework achievement of school<br />

pupils. We adapt the approach to make it relevant to higher education, in<br />

this case to Geography and Earth Science students. We find that environmental<br />

and personal components, significantly influence levels of student achievement.<br />

The rationale for this research is that as our demands for personal study<br />

increase (due to the rise in distance learning and WWW- based learning) we<br />

should develop strategies to improve the relationships between out-of-class<br />

learning environments and individual learning styles.<br />

Introduction<br />

A growing literature exists on the relationships between the learning<br />

environment and the achievement of learning outcomes (Fraser 1998).<br />

However, research into the influence of the learning environment on<br />

learning strategies is relatively new (Wierstra et al 1999). The overall aim<br />

of this kind of investigation is to identify the relationship between all<br />

aspects of the environment and the student, with the intention of improving<br />

the learning process. To date, much of the work in this area has been<br />

conducted on the in-class environments of school-age communities.<br />

Higher Education is differentiated from primary and secondary levels by<br />

its greater emphasis on personal study - termed ‘homework’ at these<br />

lower levels. Geography and Earth Science approaches are typical. It is<br />

essential that students follow up contact hours with reading, prepare for<br />

assignments and research dissertations, whilst managing their own study<br />

environments. Thus there is strong justification for examination of the<br />

influence of out-of-class learning environments as we move into a time<br />

where wider participation via e-based tuition and distance learning is<br />

promoted. Hong (2001) states that efforts have been made to adjust<br />

classroom environment to students’ in-school learning styles and cites<br />

Boulmetis and Sabula (1996) and Caudill (1998) amongst others. Similar<br />

attempts should be made to encourage students to improve the<br />

environments in which they study in their own time.<br />

Many of the factors which affect in-class learning environments can be<br />

controlled by the tutor and, to some extent, by the learners themselves.<br />

These include physical ‘tangible’ factors such as seating, temperature, lighting,<br />

visual aids and the existence of adequate work surfaces and also ‘nontangibles’<br />

academic context, motivation, peer influence and discipline.<br />

On the other hand many other factors will influence the effectiveness of<br />

personal study; these can be grouped as:<br />

1. the cognitive and personality characteristics of the student (e.g.<br />

individual preferences of time, place and conditions);<br />

2. the type of work being done (e.g. assessed, note-taking, research);<br />

3. other influences on the process of learning outside the University<br />

environment (e.g. the impact of culture and subculture, paid work,<br />

social commitments, friends, family and flat-mates).<br />

This preliminary study investigates the importance of aspects of the home<br />

learning environment on achievement. We base this work on the premise<br />

that HE has much to learn from the pedagogic research undertaken on<br />

school communities. This project relied heavily on a methodology<br />

developed by Hong and Milgram (2000) to evaluate the homework style<br />

of school (seventh grade) students in the USA. A homework scale was<br />

modified to be appropriate to an HE population. This involved for example<br />

omitting ‘parents’ as an influence on the home learning environment<br />

(although increasingly in HE the wisdom of this omission could be<br />


Issue three January 2002<br />

P L A N E T<br />

Methodology<br />

The Personal Study Preference Questionnaire (PSPQ) (termed<br />

<strong>Home</strong>work Preference Questionnaire by Hong and Milgram) was used<br />

to measure how students preferred to learn at home. It was distributed<br />

to 103 First and Second year students of Geography and Earth Science<br />

at University College Northampton. In the questionnaire eighty items<br />

are rated on a five point Likert scale to provide 18 scores that correspond<br />

to 18 personal study components. Likert ratings were based on the<br />

results of a pilot study with a group of six respondents. Items were<br />

worded so that low point scores on the Likert scale were potentially<br />

associated with ‘good learning practice’ (for instance, ‘I like to work in a<br />

quiet place’). Items were subdivided by motivation and preference.<br />

Motivation items assess the source and strength of the motives that explain<br />

the initial student activation (Is it immediate? Is it last minute? Is it outcomeoriented?).<br />

Preference items investigate how the learner then proceeds<br />

until study is completed. For twelve of the components a high score for<br />

the relevant component indicates a high preference (Self-motivated, Tutormotivated,<br />

Persistence, Responsibility, Structure, Order, Authority figures,<br />

Auditory, Visual, Intake, Kinesthetic and Mobility). For instance, a student<br />

scoring high on ‘Structure’ prefers those activities that are well-defined<br />

and specific to a particular assessment rather than general research and<br />

background reading. Similarly, high scores on the ‘Visual’ component would<br />

reflect a liking of web-based tuition and poster-based activities.<br />

The remaining six components are environmental. These are scored on<br />

a bipolar scale with high scores indicating a preference for the second of<br />

each of these component pairs - silence/sound, dim/bright illumination,<br />

cool/warm temperature, informal/formal design, alone/with peers, change<br />

place/same place. For instance, ‘Informal/formal design’ refers to the choice<br />

between hard chair and desk or a sofa or bed. The internal consistency<br />

(Cronbach’s alpha) of each PSPQ component ranged from 0.48 to 0.86.<br />

The internal consistency estimates of four components (Structure, Order,<br />

Authority Figures and Tutor-Motivated) were below 0.60 and as a result<br />

these should be interpreted with caution.<br />

In common with the original procedure of Hong and Milgram (2000) the<br />

sample was divided into groups according to:<br />

1. A subjective method based on self-perceived achievement;<br />

2. An objective method based on previous assessment scores.<br />

Self perceived achievement was measured using five items which were<br />

included within the PSPQ. These asked students to agree/disagree (using<br />

a fivepoint scale) on questions such as ‘I try to get the highest grade possible<br />

in all assigned work’ and ‘I try to read everything on the module reading lists’.<br />

The students were divided into three groups on the basis of their scores<br />

on these five items. Those attaining total scores above the 33 rd percentile<br />

of the sample thus became the ‘high (self-perceived) achievers’ and the<br />

other two groups were the ‘middle (self-perceived) achievers’ and ‘low<br />

(self-perceived) achievers’.<br />

The objective method used previous class assessment scores to divide<br />

the sample based on actual achievement, in the same way as the selfperceived<br />

method above. One methodological issue here should be<br />

expressed and that is only a limited amount of assessed work (two pieces)<br />

was used. This should be treated with caution as in most institutions First<br />

year work does not require more than a ‘pass ‘ as the marks do not<br />

contribute to the final degree classification.<br />

Results<br />

(a) Self-Perceived<br />

Statistically significant differences in PSPQ scores (at 95%) were found<br />

between the three levels of self-perceived achievement. The differences<br />

were most apparent in 7 out of the 18 components, namely: self-motivated,<br />

structure, order, persistence, alone/with peers, tutor-motivated and sound.<br />

Students who perceived their personal study to be of high quality were<br />

self-and tutor-motivated, persistent (worked for lengthy periods at a time),<br />

liked structured activities, liked to organize themselves in a certain order,<br />

worked better alone and in quieter environments than their lower achieving<br />

peers.<br />

(b) Objective Method<br />

Univariate ANOVA reveals that four preferred personal study styles (‘Selfmotivation’,<br />

‘Alone/with Peers’, ‘Persistence’ and ‘Sound’) showed a significant<br />

difference (at 95%) between the three objective levels of achievement.<br />

Students in the high achievement category therefore like to be selfmotivated,<br />

prefer quiet environments, dislike groupwork and prefer to<br />

work for significant periods at one time. Low performers, on the other<br />

hand, are less motivated, like to work with an accompanying soundtrack<br />

and enjoy groupwork activities.<br />

Discussion and Conclusion<br />

In common with the research on school students by Hong (2001) more<br />

distinguishing personal study style components resulted from the analysis<br />

of the three self perceived achievement groups than from the groups<br />

based on actual achievement. This is because the former group reflects<br />

not merely the marking system but the students’ efforts and attitudes to<br />

their work.<br />

Hong (2001) comments that if the personal study environment is tailored<br />

to meet the individual preferences of learners “…it is reasonable to expect<br />

an improvement in homework attitudes and achievement similar to that<br />

attained when the in-school learning environment was matched to each<br />

student’s learning style.” Explicit self identification of preferred learning<br />

style might help the student as in other ways when such self reflective<br />

practices bear fruits.<br />

In HE the personal study element has traditionally made up a high<br />

proportion or the learning strategy (remember the old cliché “you read for<br />

a degree rather than being taught it”). This contrasts greatly with student<br />

experiences at earlier stages of their educational career. Historically, while<br />

sterling attempts have been made to foster learning in the HE classroom,<br />

the out-of-class environment has always been approached in a rather<br />

‘laissez-faire’ manner. It is suggested in this paper that if we accept learning<br />

environments are important factors in the learning process and we are<br />

intent on improving student achievement, then strategies should be<br />

developed to address the personal study environment. This is particularly<br />

vital in the context of increasing distance learning components in HE courses<br />

which could have a significant influence on the engagement and achievement<br />

of learners.<br />

We propose that further research should concentrate on an examination<br />

of differences between subjects within Geography (e.g. physical and human)<br />

and perhaps investigate how factors vary across the years of study. We<br />

noted considerable within-achievement-level variation and suggest that<br />

the different environmental components could differentiate between subgroups<br />

based on other common characteristics rather than achievement<br />

(e.g. mature or young, male or female).<br />

Finally, our research suggests that in HE, pedagogic researchers should be<br />

familiar with work on teaching and learning at all levels in education and<br />

we should not fall into the trap of assuming our learners do not have a<br />

long histories and well developed personal learning styles.<br />

Above all, we need to alert our students to the importance of approaching<br />

their home studies in ways that will enhance their academic performance.<br />

References<br />

Boulmetis, J. and Sabula, A.M. (1996), Achievement gains via instruction<br />

that matches learning style perceptual preferences. Journal of Continuing<br />

Higher Education, 8, pp. 7-25<br />


Issue three January 2002<br />

P L A N E T<br />

Caudill, G. , (1998), Matching Teaching and learning styles. Technology<br />

Connection, 4, pp. 24-25.<br />

Fraser, B. J. (1998) Classroom Environment Instruments: Development,<br />

Validity and Application. Learning Environments Research, 1, pp. 7-34<br />

Hong, E. and Milgram, R.M., (1999), Preferred and actual homework style:<br />

A cross cultural examination. Educational Research, 41, pp. 251-265<br />

Hong, E, (2001), <strong>Home</strong>work style, homework environment and academic<br />

achievement. Learning Environments Research, 4, pp. 7-23.<br />

Wiestra, R.F.A., Kanselaar, G. Van Der Linden, J.L. and Lodewijks, H.G.L.C.,<br />

(1999), Learning Environment Perceptions of European University Students.<br />

Learning Environments Research, 2, pp. 79-98<br />

Gregg Spellman, Ken Field and John Sinclair<br />

School of Environmental Science (Geography Division)<br />

University College Northampton<br />

gregg.spellman@northampton.ac.uk<br />

ken.field@northampton.ac.uk<br />

john.sinclair@northampton.ac.uk<br />


Disability Update<br />

Special Education Needs and<br />

Disability Act (SENDA) 2001<br />

Introduction<br />

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (SENDA) finally received<br />

Royal Assent in May 2001. The new legislation will require higher education<br />

institutions to:<br />

· Not treat disabled students less favourably, without justification, than<br />

non-disabled students;<br />

· Make reasonable adjustments to ensure that people who are disabled<br />

are not put at a substantial disadvantage compared with people who<br />

are not disabled in accessing higher education.<br />

The legislation will have important implications, not only for estates<br />

departments and physical access but also for learning, teaching and<br />

assessment practices. It will impact on areas such as:<br />

· Course content and validation<br />

· Work placements<br />

· Teaching arrangements<br />

· Communication or learning support services<br />

· Materials in alternative formats<br />

· Staff training<br />

It is intended that most of the legislation will be brought into force by<br />

autumn 2002, with provision of auxiliary aids and services (such as<br />

interpreters) being implemented by autumn 2003, and physical adjustment<br />

provisions in 2005.<br />

A Code of Practice, which gives guidance to providers of post-16 education<br />

in the implementation of the new law, is currently out for consultation,<br />

and is available on the Disability Rights Commission website at<br />

http://www.drc-gb.org.<br />

Learning from Experience<br />

Last December I undertook a study visit to Australia where similar<br />

legislation has been in place since 1993. The Australian system of disability<br />

support is remarkably consistent with UK practice; the majority of services<br />

are organised from student support/welfare departments who liaise with<br />

academic departments on issues concerned with learning and teaching.<br />

Interestingly, since 1993, the majority of legal cases that reached court<br />

where the judgement has gone against the university, were directly related<br />

to learning and teaching issues. This includes direct discrimination in not<br />

allowing access to courses; the inability to make reasonable adjustments<br />

to teaching and learning practice and access to timely materials in<br />

alternative formats.<br />

Current Work<br />

The HEFCE recently commissioned a ‘map’ of existing resources related<br />

to the learning and teaching of disabled students in higher education.<br />

The map will locate pedagogical development materials, pedagogical<br />

research and resources including organisations/networks or people within<br />

institutions. It is expected the report will be published soon and will<br />

assist academic staff in locating resources and advice to support good<br />

practice. The LTSN Generic <strong>Centre</strong> (http://www.ltsn.ac.uk/genericcentre/<br />

default.asp) is also hoping to fund a project that will build upon the<br />

outcomes of the mapping exercise.<br />

Individual subject centres are also starting to address disability. For example,<br />

the subject centre for Geography, Earth and Environmental Science (<strong>GEES</strong>)<br />

held a conference in October for their communities on the new legislation<br />

and how best to support academic staff in ensuring compliance. The<br />

conference was well attended by academics and support staff from the<br />

disciplines. In addition, a special themed edition of PLANET is also being<br />

produced on special education needs and will be disseminated to all<br />

<strong>GEES</strong> departments in the Spring of 2002 (contact Steve Gaskin for more<br />

details: sgaskin@plymouth.ac.uk). The subject centre for Engineering (http:/<br />

/www.ltsneng.ac.uk/) has seconded a Disability Advisor for one day a<br />

week to produce a series of disability awareness booklets about specific<br />

areas within engineering; the booklets will contain contributions from<br />

disabled people who are either engineers or engineering students.<br />

This type of activity is critical if the learning experience of disabled students<br />

is to match that of their non-disabled peers; subject centre developments<br />

will be important to achieve this necessary change.<br />

Mike Adams<br />

Director<br />

National Disability Team<br />

http://www.natdisteam.ac.uk/<br />

m.adams@coventry.ac.uk<br />

Editor’s Note<br />

Readers may also be interested in the article by Healey et al. on fieldwork<br />

and disability (in the main papers section), and also the short article<br />

written by McCarthy on TechDis, which follows in this section of PLANET.<br />

<strong>GEES</strong> Headline News Service<br />

Want to keep up-to-date with <strong>Subject</strong> <strong>Centre</strong> activities,<br />

developments and projects through email? Then join ‘<strong>GEES</strong><br />

Headline news’ by emailing the <strong>Subject</strong> <strong>Centre</strong> on<br />

info@gees.ac.uk<br />


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