The Geography Dissertation: Can We Support It Better?

*Dawn T. Nicholson (Manchester Metropolitan University), Margaret Harrison (University of Gloucestershire), and W. Brian Whalley (Queen's University Belfast)

*Corresponding author

Abstract

Dissertations have long been regarded as a defining component of an undergraduate degree in geography, reflecting achievement of independent learning, original thought and critical ability. Given the significant role of the dissertation in undergraduate geography education, it is vital to gain an understanding of current practice. A GEES-funded project permitted a questionnaire survey and follow-up telephone interviews to be conducted for 24 geography departments in the UK. There is general consensus around the dissertation format, study period, assessment criteria, and rigour and transparency in marking procedures. However, there is substantial inconsistency in some areas and a number of issues are identified that warrant further consideration and discussion. These include the purpose of the dissertation; student comprehension and application of assessment criteria; preparatory training; topic selection and supervisor allocation; supervision and support; project management; giving feedback; managing student expectations; and ensuring equity of student experience. Examples of good practice are identified and we briefly explore innovative alternative approaches to dissertations. It is suggested that these issues are pertinent to all staff as they seek to enhance existing practice and ensure that a Geography dissertation is relevant to the student experience in the 21 st century.

Further information

Within the proposed workshop we will present a brief summary of the findings of the research project but will devote the greater part of time to a structured discussion around some of the themes identified in the abstract. We have drafted a range of potential solutions and recommendations to address the issues raised in the research and would like to generate discussion and feedback around a series of questions, for example:

What is the dissertation for?

There are potentially other issues that might be raised such as the role (if any) of summer fieldwork; managing student expectations; double counting of assessed work; the consequences of different approaches to grade determination where there is more than one marker; module evaluation; staff workload in relation to supervisor allocation; and alternative approaches to dissertations.