Teaching Stories

Physical Geographers working with the local community

The Bristol Curriculum Framework inspires us to create space for our students to work on real world problems, reflect on their values and contribute to making a difference.  Engaged Learning, where as part of the curriculum students work in partnership with external organisations on a real-world question, is one way of achieving this.  Here we look back on the experience of last year’s second year Physical Geographers. 

Fifty students on the Research Methods unit went out (mainly in terrible weather!) in teams to work with local park groups looking at soil and water quality questions.  Students worked with partners on projects including water sampling to test for pollution levels to assess whether Trout could be introduced to a river, soil core sampling in a wildflower meadow to check the impact of being planted on a landfill site and conducting water sampling and meter readings to investigate the cause of orange sediment and a pungent odour in a brook.

What students thought

Over 70% of students found the project enjoyable and that it had enriched their learning.  Over 80% thought the experience enabled them to develop employability skills, with one student commenting that it had helped them in the ‘understanding of potential roles a geographer can gain in their career’.  Over 50% felt that they developed research skills, teamwork and collaboration, communication, academic subject knowledge, problem solving, community engagement and self-management from the Bristol Futures Skills Framework.

The most mentioned ‘best things’ were the opportunity to undertake meaningful work, tackling a real-world problem, working with an external partner and contributing to the community.  Over half mentioned an increased understanding or better connection to the city as a positive impact.  One student commented that ‘it felt of more value than other university assignments because of this’

What our partners thought

Partners found the  project ‘rewarding’, a ‘good experience’ and were ‘delighted to be involved’.  They found students ‘genuinely enthusiastic’ and one commented ‘(it was) gratifying how a random group of students and ourselves were able to focus on and share our somewhat parochial project with professional interest’.   They found the student’s work ‘well written and informative

Although paused for this year due to COVID 19, we are looking forward to the next academic year  when our students and partners will be able to again collaborate on a mutually beneficial question.  The past three years of Research Methods Engaged Learning projects have shown us just how much collaborating on a real-world question can bring to both students and partners. For students, they develop skills which may be hard to come by in the classroom, learn from local knowledge, and contribute to an organisation working on pollution issues. For partners, they have the enjoyment of working with students, gaining a new perspective on their organisation’s challenges, and supporting the development of academic knowledge.

Interested in finding out more about Engaged Learning?

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