Key Skills in Geography in Higher Education: Final Report
Geography and Environmental Management Research Unit, Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education, Francis Close Hall, Swindon Road, Cheltenham, GL50 4AZ
1 The Organisation of the Project and the Methodology
1.1 Organisation of the Project
The project consisted of a consortium team of nine higher education institutions:
|Cheltenham & Gloucester College of Higher Education (lead
Professor Mick Healey (GDN Director)
Dr Phil Gravestock (Project Officer)
Claire Reid (Assistant Project Officer)
Dr Jacky Birnie
Dr Tim Hall
|College of St Mark and St John
|Dr Gordon Clark
Liverpool John Moores University
|Professor Vince Gardiner
||Professor Michael Bradford
Professor Clive Agnew
|Professor Brian Chalkley
|University College Northampton
||Dr Ian Livingstone
Professor Hugh Matthews
University of Surrey Roehampton
|Dr Karel Hughes
The project, which ran from 1 May 1998 to 30 April 2000, had the support of
the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers (RGS-IBG),
the Conference of Heads of Geography in HEIs and the Journal of Geography
in Higher Education, an internationally refereed journal concerned with
issues of teaching and learning in higher education and edited by members of
An Advisory Panel was set up for the project, which acted as a 'critical friend'.
The members of this panel were chosen to represent expertise in a range of careers
relevant to geography and/or educational development. The role of the Advisory
Panel was to:
- assist with the evaluation (formative and at the end of the programme);
- give general advice to the project;
- provide expertise and specific advice;
- help the team meet the deadlines described in the timetable and make any
- review the budget at regular intervals;
- approve the final report;
- represent the project through members' various networks;
- monitor progress during the project and assess the 8 Guides.
Members of the Advisory Panel were:
- Dr Rita Gardner (Chair of the Panel) (Director and Secretary of the RGS-IBG).
- Jane Austick (Development Manager, HEQE, DfEE).
- Professor Lewis Elton (Educational Developer, University College London).
- Professor Alan Jenkins (Educational Developer, Oxford Brookes University).
- Colette Cooke (Careers Advisor, University of Manchester/UMIST).
- Eleanor Rawling (Leverhulme Research Fellow, University of Oxford).
- Kester Wilkinson (Contracts Manager - Education, Gloucestershire TEC).
- Elaine Owen (Educational Products Manager, Ordnance Survey).
- Victoria Newton (Manager Environment, British Airways).
- Professor Brian Chalkley (team representative).
- Professor Hugh Matthews (team representative).
1.2 Methodology Used by the Project
The main purpose of the project was to help geographers in higher education
institutions (HEIs) in making explicit the teaching of key skills, which have
largely formed part of the 'hidden curriculum'.
Two national surveys were completed at the beginning of the project:
- Birnie, J. (1999) Key Skills of Students on
Entry to Geography in Higher Education;
- Hall, T. (1999) Key Skills in Geography in
Higher Education: a survey report.
The information from the two surveys was used to inform a series of Guides;
seven of these Guides are for staff in geography in higher education, one is
for students in, or about to enter, a HEI to study geography. Each Guide contains
case studies which provide an illustration to staff in geography in HEIs as
to how they could adapt their procedures to improve the provision of key skills
training. All the case studies featured in the Guides are to be added to the
Resource Database hosted by the GDN Web pages (http://www.chelt.ac.uk/gdn).
To help to embed these case studies, and the key pedagogic issues arising from
the Guides, the project team facilitated ten days of departmental workshop/advice.
The project also organised a series of three national seminars to disseminate
material from the Guides; the second of these seminars was held as part of the
RGS-IBG Annual Conference, in order to attract geographers who may not have
been to previous GDN events. Thirty two delegates attended the first seminar,
held at the headquarters of the RGS-IBG; over forty attended the seminar held
at the RGS-IBG Annual Conference; and twenty five delegates attended the final
seminar at University College Northampton.
This methodology was based upon a previous GDN project, funded by HEFCE's Fund
for the Development of Teaching and Learning (FDTL), which published a series
of ten guides to 'Good Teaching, Learning and Assessment Practices in Geography',
and which ran fifty department-based workshops, based around the Guides. Due
to the success of this project it was decided to adopt a similar methodology
for the DfEE project.
It was found that the department-based workshops contributed largely to the
dissemination of case study material into departments. An important aspect of
both projects is that the information was produced by geographers for
geographers, in order to reduce the impact of the 'not invented here' syndrome.
1.3 Aims of the Project
The aims of the project were:
- To identify the key skills geography students possess at entry to Higher
Education (HE) and the extent to which key skills are taught in geography
- To develop models of good practice for embedding the learning, teaching,
practice and assessment of these key skills in the geography curriculum.
- To disseminate the outcomes of the project to the 80 geography departments
in England and to the wider national and international academic community
- the production of eight Guides (seven for staff and one for students) covering
the main key skill areas;
- the identification and addition of case study materials about incorporating
key skills in the curriculum to the Geography Discipline Network (GDN) World
Wide Web (WWW) pages;
- the delivery of three national workshops on different key skills themes
for geographers, careers officers and educational developers;
- the provision of ten days of advice and workshops to individual departments
wishing to develop the ways in which key skills can be incorporated in their
The eight Guides produced by the project are:
- Key Skills: Teaching and Learning for Transfer (Ifan Shepherd)
- Assessing and Recording a Skills-based Curriculum (Ian Livingstone and Hugh
- Improving Students' Communication Skills (Sue Burkill, Derry Corey, Mick
- Improving Students' Numeracy Skills (Clive Agnew)
- Improving Students' Team and Personal Skills (Michael Bradford)
- Improving Students' Problem-solving and Thinking Skills (Vince Gardiner
and Karel Hughes)
- Improving Students' Skills Through Work-based Learning (Brian Chalkley)
- Geography@University: Making the Most of Your Geography Degree and Courses
(Gordon Clark and Terry Wareham)
2 The Results of the Project
2.1 Tabular summary of results
deliverables and outcomes
from original and reasons for change
the key skills geography students possess at entry to Higher Education (HE)
and the extent to which key skills are taught in geography.
reports were completed at the beginning of the project.
T. (1999) Key Skills Teaching in Geography in Higher Education:
A Survey Report;
J. (1999) Key Skills of Students on Entry to Geography in Higher
The information from
the reports was used to inform the content of the Guides.
The project reports
are available on the GDN Web pages (http://www.chelt.ac.uk/gdn).
models of good practice for embedding the learning, teaching, practice and
assessment of these key skills in the geography curriculum.
Models of good/effective
practice have been discussed and developed in the series of Guides produced
by the project. These have been written within a geographical context
so that they can be readily adapted by geographers in HE departments.
The models of good/effective
practice have come from the geography community; this has encouraged ownership
of the Guides by the main target audience.
the outcomes of the project to the 80 geography departments in England and
to the wider national and international academic community through:
- the production
of eight Guides (seven for staff and one for students) covering the
main key skill areas;
for students 'Geography@University' was published in January 2000. The other
Guides, aimed at geography staff in HE, have been desk-top published and
will be available at the end of April/beginning of May.
was a delay in the publication of the Guides; this was partly due to the
publication of the draft benchmarking statement for geography (Autumn 1999)
- it was decided that the Guides should address issues arising from this
- the identification
and addition of case study materials about incorporating key skills
in the curriculum to the Geography Discipline Network (GDN) World Wide
Web (WWW) pages;
case studies have been identified as part of the project, and have been
included in the series of seven Guides for geography staff in HE. These
case studies will be added to the GDN resource database.
- the delivery of
three national workshops on different key skills themes for geographers,
careers officers and educational developers;
Three national workshops
were held in 1999/2000:
The workshops focused
on topics discussed in the Guides, and enabled the participants to discuss
issues arising from them.
1 for participants' comments from the national workshops.)
- the provision
of ten days of advice and workshops to individual departments wishing
to develop the ways in which key skills can be incorporated in their
The following institutions
have benefited from advice/workshop relating to the project:
- Coventry University;
- Edge Hill University
- Glasgow Caledonian
- Glasgow University;
- Strathclyde University;
- Nottingham Trent
- University College
- University College
- University of
- University of
In addition, a workshop
on 'The School - HE interface: a perspective on key skills' was
given at the Geographical Association conference (April 2000).
* Two workshops were
given at the University of Derby: one based within the Division of Geography;
the other as part of a careers day for undergraduate students.
The workshops were
run within the last two months of the project. It was hoped to have completed
some advice/workshops days before this date, but the delay in completion
of the draft Guides, around which the workshops were based, resulted in
a later start than originally anticipated.
The project arranged
several additional workshops, which unfortunately did not take place.
This was often due to pressures of teaching, staff absence due to fieldtrips,
and being unable to find a mutually suitable date for the facilitator
and host institution.
a panel of geography graduates.
The project originally
planned to set up an alumni 'panel' of geography graduates to examine
the key skills they currently use in their employment and to identify
what key skills they thought they had learnt/not learnt during their degree
The intention was
to select a mixture of geography graduate who were in a range of occupations,
and who had graduated between 1-8 years ago.
The project encountered
difficulties and barriers when trying to set up this 'panel'. One of the
barriers to gaining this information has been the Data Protection Act,
and the reluctance of institutions to release private information about
their graduates. Another barrier has been the change in style of delivery
of degree courses over recent years, particularly:
- the change in
many institutions towards a modular-style course, which does not encourage
as much informal contact between staff and students compared with the
older style 'single-subject' degrees;
- the fact that
class sizes have increased considerably over recent years.
- There have been no changes to the project's aims.
- The 'Geography@University' Guide, specifically aimed at sixth form
students and first year undergraduate students, was published in January 2000.
The remaining Guides will be published in April/May 2000.
- The three national conferences, based around the material to be presented
in the Guides, took place between September 1999 - March 2000.
- Ten institutions have benefited from advice/workshops run by the project.
Additional workshops have taken place at the University of Derby and the Geographical
Association's Annual Conference.
3 Dissemination and Evaluation
The principal audience for dissemination of the materials resulting from the
- geography staff in higher education institutions (HEIs) in England;
- students taught by geographers in HEIs in England.
However, several other audiences are benefiting from the outcomes of the project
- geography staff in HEIs elsewhere in the UK and overseas;
- students taught by geographers in HEIs in the UK and overseas;
- professional bodies representing geographers, including the RGS-IBG, the
Committee of Heads of Geography in Institutions in Higher Education, the Geographical
Association (GA), and the Council of British Geographers (COBRIG);
- educational developers and careers officers who advise geography staff and
- employers of geography graduates;
- teachers of 16-19 geography students;
- staff in related disciplines in HEIs and the students that they teach.
3.1 Methods of dissemination
- The three national seminars and ten days of departmental advice/workshops.
- A copy of the full series of Guides will be sent to all 80 geography higher
education departments in England. The series will be available, at cost, to
other departments worldwide.
- Adverts for the Guides will appear in relevant journals, for example Geography.
- Copies of the Guides will be sent to the key skill team, post-16 team and
geography team of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA).
- Information about the project and its products is available on the GDN Web
- Review copies of the Guides will be sent to a number of journals, for example
Journal of Geography in Higher Education, Scottish Geographical
Magazine, International Journal for Academic Development, Geography,
Australian Geographical Studies, International Research in Geographical
and Environmental Education, Area/Transactions of the Institute of
British Geographers and Journal of Geography.
- The Guides have been publicised at conferences attended by members of the
GDN team, and this will continue after the end of the project. Examples of
conferences at which the project has been promoted include: RGS-IBG Annual
Conferences (January 1999, 2000); International Conference of Educational
Developers (April 1998); Fund for the Development of Teaching and Learning
(FDTL) National Geography Conference (September 1998); FDTL Annual Conference
(February 1999); Association of American Geographers' (AAG) Annual Conference
(March 1999); Geographical Association (GA) Annual Conference (April 2000).
- Mailbases, such as GeogNet and AGCAS, were used to advertise
the national seminars and department workshops. Information about these events
was also available on the GDN Web pages.
3.2 Methods of evaluation
Each Guide was peer reviewed by two subject specialists from the project team,
two members of the Advisory Panel and the Project Officer and Project Manager.
In addition, the Guide aimed at students, 'Geography@University', was reviewed
by six undergraduate students at Lancaster University and two postgraduate students
at Cheltenham & Gloucester College of Higher Education.
Participants at the national seminars and department workshop/advice days were
asked to complete an evaluation form for each event (see Appendix 1 for participants'
comments from the national seminars).
3.3 Take up and use of products
It has not been possible to assess the take up and use of the products during
the life of the project. The project team at the Cheltenham & Gloucester
College of HE intend to carry out a follow-up survey several months after the
department workshop/advice days to assess their impact on individuals and departments.
4 Lessons Learnt
- The project has been run by a consortium team based in nine higher education
institutions. The interest and enthusiasm of the team has been maintained
by frequent correspondence, normally by email, and several team meetings,
particularly towards the start of the project.
- The project learnt from previous educational projects that even with a good
final product, for example a set of publications, it is sometimes difficult
to ensure that the information within the product is disseminated effectively
to the relevant audience. To help this dissemination and embedding process
the project has run a series of national workshops and department-based workshops,
focusing on material presented in the final publications. The department workshops
provide an effective method of alerting staff to relevant material, but can
be difficult to arrange, particularly in finding available times/dates for
the facilitator and host department.
- Future projects considering setting up panels of graduates, or similar,
will have to find ways in which information about graduates can be obtained
which does not infringe the Data Protection Act.
4.2 Transferable elements
- The project has benefited from being discipline-based. This has meant that
interest from geographers has been good as witnessed, for example, by the
attendance at the national conferences and department-based workshops.
- A similar model can be adapted for use by other disciplines, with the exchange
of relevant discipline-specific case studies in place of the geography examples.
The GDN has aimed to reach other disciplines by attending generic skills events.
- Much of the material produced by the project is transferable to schools,
particularly with the introduction of a new key skills qualification from
September 2000 and the fact that key skills are now a requirement of 16-19
5 Plans to Build on the Project and its Outcomes
The GDN is continuing with a number of initiatives, and the project staff will
be in place to answer queries and supply products relating to the key skills
5.1 Subject Centre for Geography, Earth and Environmental
Professor Mick Healey, GDN Director, is the Geography Advisor for the new Subject
Centre for Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences. The Centre Director,
Professor Brian Chalkley, was part of the project team. The GDN will be developing
pedagogic resources for the Subject Centre. The Centre will be able to disseminate
information regarding the outcomes and products of the project.
5.2 HILP Annual Conference
The Hertfordshire Integrated Learning Project (HILP) plan to run an annual
conference on key skills, at which the GDN project will participate.
5.3 Resource database
The GDN will continue to collect and disseminate case studies relevant to key
skills from geography, earth and environmental sciences. These will be added
to the Resource Database on the GDN Web pages.
5.4 Follow-up survey
The project team at Cheltenham & Gloucester College of HE will undertake
a follow-up survey of departments which hosted one of the ten days of departmental
workshops/advice, in order to determine the impact of the workshops and the
Comments from the National Seminars
- 'As always I have found the session hugely enjoyable and take away many
useful new ideas/resources.'
- 'Good conclusion to a very interesting set of discussions, clearly identifying
what we have achieved over the past few years and how we need to go forward.'
- 'A chance to meet a new people in an informal atmosphere.'
- 'Overall excellent - well organised.'
- 'Thank you for a most useful and informative day.'
- 'Very interesting.'
- 'Great day.'
- 'A very valuable day.'
Page created 14 May 2000
GDN pages maintained by Phil Gravestock