Mind the gap: developing transformative learning within Geography between further and higher education

Exeter academics Dr Ewan Woodley, Professor Stewart Barr, and Dr Richard Jones have been working with the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site and Exeter College to better understand the ways in which the transition in learning from A-Level to degree-level Geography can be made more manageable and effective for both students and academics.

Increasing financial pressure on undergraduate students has placed an even greater onus on universities to address student satisfaction and the ways in which this connects to expectations about higher education and its value for future career development. One major challenge for meeting this goal is the disparity in subject content and teaching styles in Geography between further education (A-Level) and higher education, leaving many students to question the nature of the degree programme to which they have enrolled and leading to potential dissatisfaction and confusion with course content. To address this problem, academics need to find ways to engage with teachers and students in further education to better understand the ways in which subject knowledge is constructed and consumed so that student expectations, and the educational transition to university, can be managed more effectively.

This project, funded by the University of Exeter’s Annual Fund, brought together academics and undergraduate geography students from the University, and staff & students from Exeter College, in a three stage project to study core geographical concepts through contemporary environmental debates along the Jurassic Coast. Using two classroom-based workshops and a fieldtrip, the project aimed to:

1) Enable students to understand the core concepts underpinning geography and the ways in which research and teaching operate within higher education;

2) Allow academics to gain a greater appreciation of student perceptions of and attitudes to higher education and engagement with contemporary environmental debates;

3) Adopt a stepwise group learning and lecture-based approach to learning in a range of familiar and new environments (Exeter College, the Streatham University campus and the Jurassic Coast);

4) Collaborate with local subject specialists and organisations (the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Coast Team) to illustrate the role of geographers in contributing to important societal issues, such as coastal management and hazard mitigation/adaption, and to demonstrate the links between research, teaching and practice.

The project highlighted the importance of combining ‘traditional’ lecture-based teaching with co-productive methods of learning. The stepwise and diverse style of learning helped prospective and current students to engage with ‘new’ concepts and routes to critical geographical enquiry, whilst academics benefitted from the opportunity to explore the challenges faced by students in making the transition to higher education.

The project is presented in a University of Exeter report 'Developing transformative learning between further and higher education: exploring geographical debates along the Jurassic Coast (.pdf)'.

Date: 11 February 2016

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