Research in Geography - Research - Geography - University of Canterbury - New Zealand

Teaching Innovation

Prof Eric Pawson
Prof. Eric Pawson with GEOG 106 students, Birdlings Flat, Canterbury

Geography as a subject and a department has long been known for its innovative teaching - in the field, around campus, in labs, for individual students and groups - as well as the more traditional lecture-based approach. Even that is changing however, with many lecturers using more active forms of participation in lectures to make learning more memorable and fun.
The department has a number of teaching award winners, including Dr Heather Purdie, Dr Deirdre Hart, Professor Simon Kingham, Assoc. Professor David Conradson (from his previous university, Southampton) and Professor Eric Pawson. Heather received the President's Award for Teaching from the New Zealand Geographical Society in 2015. Eric received the University's Teaching Medal in 2013 for his contributions to teaching and learning innovation. He is currently President of the Ako Aotearoa Academy of Teaching Excellence, the body of national tertiary teaching award winners

‘Active learning’ is a term used to describe methods that focus on the learner rather than the teacher, and encourage active engagement rather than passive spectating. Field-based learning is an good example of this, and is incorporated in many Geography courses, and almost all in physical geography. Active field learning is experiential: with students encouraged to work for themselves, or even to work out what the issue is and how to go about undertaking the research in the field to resolve it.
This is a good description of problem-based learning, or PBL, which is the core of the department’s capstone course, GEOG 309: Research Methods in Geography. In PBL, students work in groups, and focus on a research problem over the entire length of the course. The purpose is to give everyone responsibility for their own learning, and to learn by experience, and by mistakes, just as in the workplace. PBL is used alongside 'community-based learning', that is learning in conjunction with community partners (such as the Avon-Otakaro Network, Project Lyttelton and Trees for Canterbury) where the work undertaken is for community as well as academic benefit.
Canterbury is unusual in its commitment to problem-based and community-based learning in New Zealand. Having started in GEOG 309, these active learning methods are now to be found in various courses in the curriculum from 100 level upwards. It reflects the care that UC geographers take to introduce a whole range of active learning methods in the classroom, during lab and seminar discussions and in a range of fieldwork situations. For students of geography, this opens up a range of new and exciting possibilities for making sense of our changing world.

Pawson, E. (2015) What sort of geographical education for the Anthropocene? Geographical Research