Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title Liverpool Hope University College: A Value-added Curriculum
Originator Bill Chambers
Department Department of Environmental and Biological Studies, Liverpool Hope University College, Liverpool, L16 9JD, UK
Tel. +44 (0)151 291 3439
Fax +44 (0)151 291 3172
Email chambw@hope.ac.uk


Summary and key features

The geography/environmental studies programme at Liverpool Hope University College was recognised as excellent by TQA assessors for achieving "a high level of added value...as...indicated by a comparison of final awards with qualifications on intake." (HEFCE, 1995). In contrast geography was not entered in the 1996 RAE. Key features of the programme include:

A particular institution

In considering what is 'transferable' from this department, we have to recognise that it is part of a particular institution. Founded from a merger of long-established Catholic and Anglican teacher training institutions, with a high intake of women, Liverpool Hope University College is now developing a distinct institutional mission. This identity includes an emphasis on its Christian foundation, a commitment to opening up access to higher education, including the local community, and developing students with a set of core graduate qualities. Much of its background and contemporary changes echo the development of Alverno College, USA (http://www.alverno.edu/) and links are now being developed between the two institutions. To express this differently, in the context of the developing mass high education system in the UK, Liverpool Hope University College is forging a particular 'market niche'.

The geography programme

Geography is offered as part of a BA/BSc and BEd Combined Studies modular programme. Students take three subjects in their first year, and two subjects in their second and third years. The geography programme contains a core and a range of options reflecting staff interests. It is essentially an undergraduate department with a developing range of masters courses. The description below focuses on particular aspects of the curriculum.

A particular student intake

Many of the students are 'first generation' university students for whom this programme is an induction to university life. The film 'Educating Rita' (but not the staff/student ratio of 1 to 1!) dramatises and illustrates this experience, including the fact that for many students this experience involves both pain and growth.

About two-thirds of the intake to the geography programme are students entering with low 'A' level scores (12 points average). The open-access philosophy is also demonstrated by admitting students with BTEC/GNVQ qualifications and some with limited paper qualifications, but who at interview demonstrate commitment and potential.

About one-third of the intake are mature students, most of them from local access courses (for example, a non-A-level entry route). There are formal links established with a variety of access programmes in the Merseyside area. Geography staff are involved in teaching and working on a range of these local initiatives, many of which receive EU funding.

There are also projects with inner-city schools to target entry to those students who could benefit, but are not likely to obtain the normal 12 point entry.

Some 60-70% of the geography students are women.

Reach Out

Reach Out is a new College initiative - a geography degree programme for local mature students is taught in the community, in partnership with local schools and community centres. As yet only on a small scale, it symbolises the department's access philosophy.

Aspects of the year one programme

Targeting Resources

Operating at an overall staff:student ratio (SSR) of 1:21, the geography first year programme is resourced at one hour of staff contact to two hours of student learning. This is an example of 'front loading' the curriculum, with the aim of developing in students the capabilities/knowledge that will enable them to work with less staff support in years two and three. The first year is also front loaded qualitatively: most of the teaching in the first year is done by the more experienced, teacher-trained staff.

Resources (such as staff time, including that of support staff, and the department budget for printing) is also targeted to a compulsory core, which runs through the three years of the degree. The description below focuses on aspects of this core and ignores, because of space the other elements of the programme.

Aspects of the year one core

Attendance

Attendance at all taught sessions is required and monitored. Students who, without prior notification, miss more than two sessions are interviewed by staff. This is presented not as punishment but as an indication that something is going wrong with the student's experience of the curriculum and that staff support may be required. Given the particular student intake, where often there are major initial cases of lack of self-confidence, many combining college with parenting, employment and so on; such intervention is seen as central to developing student autonomy and ensuring a high completion rate.

A year one seminar programme

Running through year one all geography students take an intensive well-resourced seminar programme. The programme aims to develop, through geography, key learning skills that will enable students to succeed in the rest of their course and which will subsequently aid employability, such as: how to research and write essays; to analyse a text; and the related transferable skills of working in groups and making spoken presentations. Features of this programme include:

Fieldwork

All first year geography students go on the equivalent of a week's field course. Again this involves targeting staff resources. Recognising the particular and varied needs/circumstances of students, they are given three alternatives: they can go on a series of day trips costing them c.£30; a residential field course in North Wales, c.£60; a foreign location such as Romania or the French Alps, c.£120.

Aspects of the stage two programme

Compulsory Core

The first year seminar core and the field course programme is progressively built on in the second and third years by two compulsory courses.

All second year students take a research methods module, which includes 5 days of fieldwork. As with the seminar programme in year one this is taught in small seminar groups (12-16 students) by experienced staff, with well resourced learning packages. Its aim is to develop students' ability to understand and to carry out geographic research. Thus it includes input and assessed activities on questionnaire design and analysing data. It builds on the first year fieldwork programme where students work in groups under staff designed and directed one-day research projects. In this second year programme, students work and are assessed as a group, with the project largely designed by them with staff acting as advisers and part as directors. As well as this assessed group report, students also have to present an individual assessed plan for their third year dissertation. In the third year these research skills are further developed and tested by all students doing an individual dissertation.

Internationalisation of the curriculum

Most students come with a background with limited or no experience of foreign travel (though Liverpool is a city of many migrant streams and cultures). The curriculum is designed to give all students some international experience. In the first year some 60-70% of students opt for the foreign field course. Through a student exchange programme those students doing the Welsh field course will be joined by a group of Romanian students. Strong links have been established with the geography department at Bucharest University and there are student and staff exchanges with Romanian staff teaching on the geography programme. Also links and student exchanges have been established with Eastern and Western Europe and the USA. This internationalisation operates both through the formal curriculum and the co-curriculum, that is to say the informal curriculum outside the structure of formal courses.

Development of careers/employability

A focus on developing student employability is developed through the core skills/research methods core that has already been described. A focus on employability is also developed through:

What is the evidence of added value?

Student satisfaction. As well as an evaluation of all modules to a consistent format there are periodic evaluations across a student cohort. These all demonstrate high levels of student appreciation of the curriculum.

Degree classifications/student employability

These demonstrate high added value. The 1996 graduates had entered with a mean 10.5 points at A level with 25% non-traditional entry. There was a 95% completion rate with 3% getting a first and 26% an upper second. None failed. The first destination statistics showed that within six months of graduation 48% were employed and 22% doing further study.

What of this is transferable to other geography departments?

Perhaps nothing. Perhaps this is so particular an institution or this is not the 'market niche' you think appropriate to your department. However, here are some suggestions:

Reference

HEFCE (1995) Quality Assessment for Geography 1994-95 Subject Overview Report (Bristol: HEFCE)

Keywords:

Mature students
Non-traditional students
Reach Out
Value added

This is one of the case studies which appears in the GDN Guide "Curriculum Design in Geography"


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