Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title Enhancing Lectures by Student Interviews
Originator Clare Dwyer
Department Department of Geography, University College London, 26 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AP, UK
Tel. +44 (0)171 387 7050 extension 5526
Fax +44 (0)171 380 7565

A major obstacle to student participation is their lack of confidence. This is noticeable in first year courses and those dealing with topics not covered in pre-university education such as the development of geographical thought. Over fifteen years ago Cosgrove (1981) suggested the use of student interviews to tackle this problem, for a final year geographical concepts course.

Small groups of students were assigned a member of staff who then arranged an informal interview. Some recent publications and a CV were provided beforehand. The interview was used by the students to chart and understand the geographical career of the member of staff thus illuminating the philosophical and methodological debates within geography. It was concluded by Cosgrove that the approach generated student interest and enthusiasm but concern was expressed over how long staff would be prepared to accept being interviewed each year. In answer to this concern, this approach has been employed at UCL for a first year geographical ideas course for over the last 15 years. The following material is based upon the UCL experience:

The Objectives for Students

The Method

  1. Groups of 4 to 5 students are allocated a member of academic staff.
  2. Each member of staff provides copies of three pieces of writing which are representative of their work. One of these is an unpublished manuscript. A CV may also be provided.
  3. A date is arranged for an interview.
  4. Before the interview the papers are read critically, using tutorial meetings for discussion of the material and planning the interview. Advice is given by the tutor on how to organise the interview, whether or not to tape it, and how to use open questions.
  5. The interview takes place, normally for about one hour.
  6. A report is prepared by each student individually which should address three questions:
    1. From your critical appraisal of the three pieces of written work, what are the objectives of the interviewee's research?
    2. How does the interviewee's present research relate to his/her earlier studies?
    3. How does the interviewee's research relate to his/her teaching, outside interests and concept of geography?


The approach has stood the test of time in that staff have been willing to support the exercise for more than 15 years. The interviews are often great fun and challenging for staff and students, especially when trying to recall why a certain piece of research was undertaken.

The interview exercise has not been evaluated for some time and it is planned with a new first year curriculum that this will be addressed in 1997. The lecture course 'Ideas in Geography', in which the interviews take place, is assessed annually. In 1996 the overall student assessment was favourable, but with some reservations:

Very Poor Poor OK Good Very Good
5% 8% 30% 42% 16%

Most of the critical evaluation concerned the lecture content with students noting that they had not done anything about geographical ideas before coming to University and found the material difficult. There were no comments about the interviews, good or bad.


Cosgrove, D. (1981) Teaching geographical thought through student interviews, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 5(1), pp.19-22.


Geographical issues
Student interviews
Student participation

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

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