Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title Replacing Blocks of Lectures with Resource-based Learning Packages
Originator Sue Watts and Bob Gant
Department School of Geography, Kingston University, Penrhyn Road, Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey, KT1 2EE, UK
Tel. +44 181 547 2000
Fax +44 181 547 7497

Summary: This case study examines the introduction of course packs into a range of modules in response to an increase in student numbers. The packs typically replaced about a quarter of the lecturing time. The RBL materials were compiled and written by module tutors in consultation with an educational developer working in the library. The students using the packs experience a greater variety of learning experiences. There is evidence that the students have obtained higher marks in objective tests on material delivered through the packages compared with material covered through conventional teaching.



In response to a major increase in student numbers in 1990/91 the School of Geography at the University of Kingston embarked on the production of several print-based RBL packages, usually to replace blocks of between one and four lectures in a range of modules and covering discrete subject areas. The development of the packages was helped by a successful bid to a central Academic Development Fund established to pump-prime changes in learning delivery.


In 1991-92 student FTEs in the School were 350 with an SSR of 19.4 rising to 565 and 28.3 respectively in 1994-5. In 1997-8 FTEs were 437 with an SSR of 19.9. Over 20 geography modules, out of about 90 on offer in the School, currently use RBL packages to cover blocks of material. This is the largest number of packages developed by any single School in the University. The modules currently using the RBL packages vary in size from 40 students to 90 students enrolled. The course is modularized and semesterized with 12 weeks of academic work per semester. The formal teaching programme occupies 11 weeks with the remaining week being used for Field Work or as a Study Week. Timetabled contact time per module is a maximum of 5 hours a week. The RBL packages typically have replaced up to about one quarter of the contact time, although some are used primarily to structure out-of-class activities. The packages cover both human and physical geography modules, with an emphasis on introductory modules. There are also some packages used in techniques/skills-based modules.


The aims were:


The RBL materials were compiled and written by the module tutors in consultation with an educational developer working in the library, who happens also to be a geographer. There are three types of package:

The educational developer edits all the packages; checks that copyright permissions have been obtained (Kingston University has a Copyright Clearance Officer based in the library) for diagrams and articles reproduced; designs the packages to be user-friendly and sees them through the printing process. A brief guide has been produced on 'Writing study packages for your students'.

The packages are sold or loaned to students through the library. They are priced at a level (between £2 and £5) to recover some of the production and copyright permission costs. It is cheaper to purchase a package than it is to photocopy it. The resultant income is returned to the School. Experience shows that 85-100 per cent of students enrolled on the modules using RBL buy their own copy of the package and the loan copies are not heavily used. As a separate venture a few of the packs have been sold externally on a full cost recovery basis.

Student induction

The concept of RBL is introduced to the students during induction week when every student is given a free folder in which to store the packages as they are purchased. Each of the packages is an integral part of the module and they are introduced by the module tutor who explains why the package is being used; what the students are expected to do; what they should achieve from using the packages and how they will be assessed.


Questions are included in the packages for students to judge their own progress, although the answers are not normally given. The RBL material is assessed in the end-of-module examinations along with other topics covered. A related project on the use of the optical mark reader encouraged several module tutors to introduce objective questions as part of the summative assessment, particularly for Level 1 modules. Objective questions are used in some of the physical geography modules while short-answer questions are more common in the human geography modules. Essay questions based on RBL material were more common in examinations during the early years of the project when it was found that, although fewer stu dents attempted such questions, the marks achieved were either the same or higher than those for other questions.


Funding made available to the project by the University during 1991/2 and 1992/3 paid for a member of the geography staff to be seconded to the project full-time for the first year as well as providing administrative and technical support, travel, and material costs for both years.



Kingston University has invested in a sizeable collection of geography learning packages (see table below). Their students have gained from a greater variety of learning experiences. The packages have been used mainly to enable the amount of staff-student contact to be reduced so that the increased student numbers can be managed effectively. The evidence available suggests that the quality of learning has remained the same or has improved with RBL. The School now faces the need to invest further to maintain and update the collection.

List of learning packages at Kingston University

Geography Study Packages (SP)
SP1: Biological basis of evolution
SP2: The Atmosphere (No longer used)
SP3: The Atmosphere (No longer used)
SP4: Aeolian processes and landforms
SP5: Location of industry and economic activity
SP6: Principles and results of rock weathering
SP7: Atmosphere
SP8: Introduction to soil science (including soil practical)
SP9: Ecosystems
SP10: Statistical information sources for the study of social and economic change in the UK
SP11: Inner city decline
SP12: Glacio-fluvial and glacio-lacustrine processes and landforms
SP13: Urban fringe agriculture
SP14: Social surveys and geographical investigation
SP15: Questionnaire analysis using SPSS
SP16: Study skills
SP17: Stress, strain and earth materials
SP18: Water and health in England and Wales
SP19: The advanced urban economy

Geography Study Guides (SG)
SG1: Deforestation of tropical moist forests
SG2: Marine pollution
SG3: Climate change
SG4: Water and health in developing countries
SG5: Paris and the Ile de France

Geography Resource Packs (RP)
RP1: Soil conservation
RP2: Thermoluminesence
RP3: Water and health in developing countries
RP3: Welsh identity
RP4: Celtic geography
RP5: Ireland



Gibbs, G., Pollard, N. & Farrell, J. (1994) Institutional Support for Resource Based Learning(Oxford: Oxford Brookes University, The Oxford Centre for Staff Development) pp.46-7

Rolls, D. & Watts, S. (1994) Study packages used mainly to replace part of first-year lecture programme in a modular degree course, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 18(2), p.249


Course packs
Resource based learning
Resource packs
Study guides
Study packs

This is one of the case studies which appears in the GDN Guide "Resource-based Learning in Geography"

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