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Geography at Manchester – a distinctive learning experience

18 Jan 2019

Jamie Woodward talks about what makes Manchester’s Geography students’ learning experience distinctive.

Geography diagram

This week we begin a series of articles on teaching and learning. We will showcase the impact of teaching on the student experience, share examples of great teaching practice, update you on development opportunities, and highlight student success.

In our first story, we hear from Head of Geography, Professor Jamie Woodward who, along with colleagues throughout his department, puts the value of a distinctive student learning experience at the heart of their work.

“In Geography we have a long-established culture of valuing and rewarding excellent teaching”, he said. “I think this comes from accepting that world-leading research and teaching excellence are absolutely not competing aims. In my own experience, the very best teachers are often the most successful researchers.

“We can all remember a gifted lecturer from our undergraduate days that inspired us, who fired our curiosity and perhaps played a key role in our decision to pursue research. As university academics we surely have a responsibility to do the same.”

For incoming first-year Geography students, their Manchester experience begins even before welcome week, as Jamie explains. “Before the start of the new academic year, for the last 50 years, we have taken our new students on a residential field trip to the Newlands Valley near Keswick. We, as academics, get to know our students, and they get to know us and their fellow students. There’s always a great buzz in their first lectures, as they’ve already started to build those important relationships, and I’m convinced it really helps with our retention rates too. Just as importantly, this long-established field course is a very effective way of introducing new academic colleagues to our culture and strengthening collegiality.”

All Geography students also take part in an overseas field course in their second year, and about 50 students choose to study abroad for a full year before returning to Manchester for their final year. Jamie said: “It’s such an enriching experience for them, and each year we’re seeing more and more students follow the international study programme. We’re also very excited about our current plans to introduce a year in industry, and in future years I’d really like to see a majority of our students take part in one or other of these programmes.”

The Department has been widely recognised in the media this year thanks to several high impact stories, including research on energy poverty, wildfires, and microplastics in rivers – which made headlines around the world. “It’s important to be able to get these stories out, with the support of our colleagues in the University Media team, so that prospective students (and their parents) can see what it means to study Geography and what impact our research can have”, said Jamie.

Forging links with, and shaping, A-level Geography has long been a feature of the Department. “The editorial board of Geography Review, a magazine aimed at A-level Geography students, is made up of four Professors from Manchester. We think it’s important that prospective students know that we help to set the agenda for A-level Geography and that we are up-to-date with their prior learning.”

“Over the past two years we’ve invested heavily in recruiting people who already are, or have the potential to be, excellent teachers and world-leading researchers. All our Professors contribute to teaching our undergraduate students; we think it’s vital that students can see that, whatever stage we’re at in our career, we value their learning experience as much as we value our research.

“And after all, who wouldn’t want to be recognised as a gifted communicator and an inspirational teacher?”

  • If you have a teaching and learning story you’d like to share with staff across the Faculty, please email humsnews@manchester.ac.uk.