'Dissertations have had a long history in geographical higher education, being widely regarded as the pinnacle of an individual's undergraduate studies and the prime source of autonomous learning' (Gold et al., 1991).

Previous investigations into Geography dissertations (Harrison and Whalley, 2006; Harrison and Whalley, in press) suggest that this view is still the case. This work will now be extended by reviewing the formal assessment requirements for dissertations and associated assessment and support procedures across UK Geography Departments. This project will establish baseline information that will enable us to identify good practice in relation to assessment criteria, assessment procedures and student support arrangements for Geography dissertations.

Co-workers: Professor W. Brian Whalley (QUB) and Margaret Harrison (Univ Gloucestershire). Funding: Has been provided by the GEES SC Small Scale Learning and Teaching Research and Development Funding scheme.

Abstract presented at GEES Annual Conference, Birmingham June 2011


These projects are being undertaken as part of my Senior Learning and Teaching Fellowship at MMU, in the Faculty of Science and Engineering.

This Fellowship initiative lies at the interface of two MMU learning and teaching priorities, e-learning and special educational needs. The project concerns the accessibility of e-learning delivery and support specifically for students with sensory and mobility impairments. Given the prominence of e-learning in the University learning and teaching priorities and the imminent launch of WebCT Vista, students at MMU will increasingly be exposed to e-learning. It is widely acknowledged that e-learning can benefit students with disabilities because it provides greater flexibility and enables materials to be provided in alternate textual, visual and audible formats However, e-learning can also present serious challenges to students with disabilities such as the use of mouse and keyboard for students with impaired mobility and virtual animations for those with visual impairment.

The general aim of the project is to look at the experiences of students with sensory (eg hearing and visual impairment) and mobility (including dexterity) disabilities in their engagement with e-learning. This initiative has several specific objectives:

  1. To evaluate (through audit, one-to-one interviews and case studies) the perceptions and practice of students with sensory and mobility impairments engaged in e-learning and assessment at MMU.
  2. To evaluate the perceptions and practice of staff in addressing the needs of students with sensory and mobility impairments engaged in e-learning and assessment at MMU.
  3. To identify and describe good practice in e-learning delivery methods and support for these student groups.

The key outcomes of this initiative will be:

  1. Dissemination via MMU publications (LTiA), MMU staff development workshops, external conferences, external resource compilations (eg TechDis) and peer-reviewed publications. As well as contributing to pedagogical research this will also raise the profile of MMU’s high quality learning and teaching.
  2. Creation of new MMU staff development resources (handbook and supporting web pages) which are available, non-technical and non-generic.
  3. Improved compliance with DDA IV for MMU teaching staff.
  4. Improved awareness of disabilities and accessible e-learning among academic staff.

This research was conducted with financial support from the Institute of Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (ILTHE) Small Grant Programme.

Co-workers: Dr Phil Wheater and Emma Shaw (MMU).

This research aims to evaluate the effectiveness of virtual learning support prior to, and after undergraduate field courses in geography and environmental sciences at MMU. We are interested in discovering whether virtual learning support is effective in the following ways:

  1. Preparing students for fieldwork better, academically and practically
  2. Introducing students to practical skills which can be tested during fieldwork
  3. Encouraging greater attention to administrative and logistic requirements (eg such as health and safety)
  4. Engaging marginal students
  5. Assisting staff and students with post-fieldwork reflective activity
  6. Improving student performance
  7. Improving staff-student and student-student communications.

A new, interactive virtual resource to support fieldwork is under development. This will provide administrative, practical and academic support and will make use of digital imagery and animation. The views of staff and students on the content and design of the resource were sought prior to development and it is intended that they will also evaluate the resource once completed. Once the framework resource has been finalised, modification and refinement will continue to be implemented on a rolling basis. The resource template will be made available to the wider HE community via the ILTHE and publications.


Increasingly, traditional face-to-face lectures are being delivered using presentation software such as Microsoft PowerPoint. Educationalists have argued that the use of presentation software can encourage a more active learning environment (Hunt 1998), that it can increase the effectiveness of classroom lectures (Sammons 1997) and that it lends greater clarity to lectures, making them easier to follow (Rossen et al 1997). However, while Rocklin (1998) suggests the use of PowerPoint can help teachers to "help their students learn", Creed (1997) counter-argues that PowerPoint is teacher-centred and that in some senses it can be a "bad pedagogical tool". So which is it? It is important, from both an educational and practical perspective to understand the pros and cons of using PowerPoint in classroom teaching.

To this end, a questionnaire survey was conducted in the Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences at MMU to determine staff and student perspectives on the use of PowerPoint in lectures. Findings of the survey are summarised in two papers (see below) but particular attention is drawn to considerations of particular relevance for teaching and learning in GEES disciplines. The use and pedagogical effects of special PowerPoint features to introduce colour, images, graphics, animation, layering and hypertext links is discussed and simple recommendations made for their optimum use.


This research was conducted with the aid of a small grant from the Faculty Learning and Teaching Sub-Committee at MMU.

A new level three undergraduate unit "Geohazards" has been developed at MMU. The unit is online supported (using WebCT), with limited face-to-face contact with students. The unit is concerned with the processes driving various geomorphic hazards including landsliding, ground subsidence, coastal erosion, glacial lake outburst flooding and soil erosion. Many of these hazards are beyond the experience of students and rely heavily on imagery. This projects aims to collect and collate a range of images, animations and video clips to enhance the existing online resources. Visit the Geohazards Blog.

A wide range of activities are used to assess student achievement in the Geohazards unit referred to above. These include online multiple response quizzes, assessed online chat, group presentations, group problem-based learning, field interpretation, reporting on practical and mapping-based activities and essay writing. It is evident from student scores that many individuals exhibit considerable strength in some types of activity and weakness in others. In contrast, some students achieve consistent results for all types of assessment. The initial aim of this project is to ascertain whether these apparent trends can be proven statistically. The second and most important aim is to establish whether these trends can be related to students learning styles. Students completed the Index of Learning Styles questionnaire developed by Felder and Solomon (1988). Further details available from: