Tag Archives: approaches

Geographical Heroes – A teaching tool?

Dr Alexandra Gormally, Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University.

One afternoon I was sat trying to think of something useful and engaging to do during an upcoming first year geography tutorial. The tutorial programme itself is designed to support one of our core first year modules ‘Geographical Skills in a Changing World’ and runs alongside a series of lectures and practical workshops, as well as supporting other core modules covering geographical concepts. The tutorial programme has a range of activities that the students engage with throughout the year, such as developing critical thinking, essay writing, presentation skills, debating etc. However, the upcoming slot didn’t have a specific activity assign to it, leaving me to ponder the best course of action. Should I come up with a debating topic? A reading and discussion task linked to a core reference?  A speed-revision task (which is popular FYI and I pinched this idea from another tutor – but that’s for discussion on another day)? Being over half way through the academic year the students were tired and bogged down with upcoming deadlines and I began thinking how nice it would be to do something useful  that’s also fun and relatively stress free for all involved…

…At this point my brain started to wander and I found myself thinking back to when I was in the first year of my undergraduate degree. At that point, I would never have imagined that I would have a career in academia.  I then started to think about all the things that had led me on this path since then, and the things that had inspired and motivated me to get to that point (I was in the 3rd year of my PhD while I was contemplating this). A key turning point for me when was I became interested in the life and work of Gordon Manley.  He is a famous British climatologist and also the founder of our weather station and Environmental Science and Geography department (now the Lancaster Environment Centre), here at Lancaster. I won’t go into the details of my Manley ‘crush’ but I became fascinated by his life’s work and through his approach and contribution to our understandings of climate – what a hero! A geographical hero no less! Not only was I inspired but with engagement and learning through his work (and of others), I gained confidence in my own approach and abilities as a researcher. As I was thinking about this I got excited and started discussing and asking my colleagues in the office – who’s your geographical hero?! Suddenly we were all enthusiastically discussing and debating who our heroes were and why.  ‘Doreen Massey you say!’ ‘how about Gill Valentine!’ ‘Andrew Sayer!’ ‘Colin Pooley!’ ’Tim O’Riordan!’ There were so many! From academics, to influential and popular commentators, such as David Attenbourgh and Simon Reeve. And as we discussed and debated I was reminded of the work of people that I’d forgotten, or heard about new ones I didn’t know. What an awesome way to spend some procrastination time during the afternoon!

Eventually, I gained focus again on the task at hand – what to do in my upcoming tutorial session. One of the really nice things about running tutorials is that it gives you a chance to get to know the students on a more personal level. I usual start off the year by finding out where they are from, why they chose to study Geography, and why at Lancaster. Often I throw in something cringe-worthy like a fun fact too. It’s always insightful. That’s it – I want to know who their geographical heroes are! A brilliant tutorial task for a sluggish stage in the year. Now, I’m aware that if I’d have been asked that at a similar stage I wouldn’t have had a clue. So I gave a number of pointers or rules:

  • Find a geographical hero (if you don’t already have one), someone who’s work or career has inspired you (preferably academic – they can be dead or alive).
  • For the next tutorial I want you to:
  1. Bring a photo/picture of that person
  2. Tell the group about them and why they inspire you
  3. Think about their career path
  4. Discuss how their work relates to your Part 1 geography degree (Talk 5 mins max).

Although initially met with reticence from some students, these tutorials ran remarkably well (I’ve ran this a number of times and has been used by other tutors now too). I think this works for a number of reasons  (1) It makes them actively think about what inspires them within geography – and brings back some focus at quite a tiring and draining point in term (2) most students don’t have an obvious ‘hero’ at this point and so reflect on the work of those they have come across so far in the year, and on what they’ve found most interesting (3)  they get to learn from each other, sharing perspectives on who and what is of interest across the multi-faceted discipline of geography (4) career wise, it emphasises how many of those ‘heroes’ didn’t necessarily know at the age of 18/19 where their career would take them. Although it’s helpful to have focus and direction, it’s important to stay open to opportunities and not be too hindered by obstacles they may come across in the future.

It would be nice to highlight all the geographical heroes that students discussed but there are too many to name here.  Examples include historical figures such as James Croll, Mary Kinsley & Richard Francis Burton, to the more contemporary like Philippe Le Billion and Iain Stewart. Some students even choose academics in our department who have been teaching (and obviously inspiring) them throughout the year.  It’s hard to tell whether geographical heroes is something that has stayed with the students throughout their time at Lancaster but I know for me, I am continually inspired by Geography, and the heroes that populate it. This is something that I carry with me during my research and teaching, and I hope others do too.

So anyway, Geographical Heroes – who’s yours?

Reading Landscape – a collaboration between Geographers and Artists

By Hope Barraclough, Anna Bond, Felix Hall Close, Lucy Ewers, Alexander, Hitchinson, Joanna Hooper, Anna Monkman, James O’Connor, Flora Parrott, Leonie Rousham, Greta Sharp, Dr. Mike Smith, Robin Tarbet, Issy Veysey, Anna Vlassova-Longworth, Stanley Welch, Natalie Wyle

‘Reading Landscape’ is a collaborative project between Kingston University Geography and Fine Art students.

Picture Flora Parrot

Dr. Mike Smith (Department of Geography and Geology, Kingston University) and Flora Parrott (Artist in Residence at the RGS-IBG Collection 2016 and Fine Art Department Kingston) invited students from both departments to respond to the concept of ‘Reading’ a landscape or an environment and to develop an individual method of collecting data.

Central to the collaborative work was the use of a site or location as a focal point: it would be viewed and analysed through the “lens” of each discipline. In doing so the group would have a new perspective on their methodologies, recognise parallels between what initially appear to be polar disciplinary approaches and understand how methods of teaching and learning can be expanded and challenged through collaboration between fields.

After an introduction to the brief in the Fine Art studios, selections were made from proposals submitted by the students and in March 2016 the group began to meet regularly to discuss methodologies and definitions.

A selection of potential sites were proposed and the Grand Entrance Hall to the Thames Tunnel at Rotherhithe selected. This chamber, on the banks of the Thames, was designed by Marc Brunel and opened in 1843. It is a space with visible traces of it’s past on the walls, an evocative interior, suburban, location starkly different from the surface level at which it is accessed. The group developed plans outlining how the wide-ranging ‘data’ might be collected and pooled in order to develop a collaborative response to the site.

On the field trip to the Grand Entrance Hall the group had limited time to collect their data. The techniques used included sound recording, frottage, pin-hole photography, plane tabling, photogrammetry, poetry and drawing.

“Whilst in the shaft I observed and recorded the different range of activities going on in the space. It seems the breadth and depth of different people’s interpretations and readings will be vitally important when reviewing our time there and trying to retell and interpret the space as we remember it.” Anna Monkman, Fine Art student

The day was energetic and dynamic, the students were fascinated and possibly slightly intimidated by each others’ techniques. The results were recorded on a blog (http://rotherhitheshaft.tumblr.com/) which became the foundation for a follow up workshop in the Stanley Picker Gallery in May 2016.

During the workshop we had the opportunity to reflect on the site visit. The students had become more familiar with each other by this point and felt more able to ask direct questions about the processes used in the space without feeling that lack of knowledge in another field was a barrier.

Fine Art practice encourages ‘thinking through making’ and so in this spirit the students worked on small tasks in break out groups for the afternoon. The tasks had no specific rationale but in carrying them out space for discussion was created. For example, one group took the results from the plane tabling and used them to map the Grande Entrance Hall at 50% scale in the gallery car park. During this time we overheard conversations between students about the importance of practical application and field work in both disciplines. Another task was to map a section of the 3D photogrammetretric model on to the wall in the gallery space using the point cloud data. The pipe from the wall was detached from the model and simplified – this became a pivotal discussion in the making of the final short film and also presented a challenge for PhD student James O’Connor who found new ways in which to work with technologies that he uses on a daily basis.

“Within computer science a very typical task undertaken is to try and structure data by dividing it’s contents into various groups sharing some common information (classification). In the case of the shaft, this task can be done manually as it’s not a huge amount of work, but during the discussions yesterday I noted a few people interested in the fact that science looks to always patch out errors, whereas artists can embrace them.” James O’Connor PhD Geography

This type of exchange, although difficult to quantify, helped both staff and students to deepen their understanding of their own approaches.

One of the most profound conversations to emerge from the site visit was around our own personal metrics and gauges and how they alter our perceptions of space. Leonie Rousham (Kingston Fine Art Foundation) instructed us all to measure our bedrooms prior to the field trip and to then reapply these dimensions within the Grand Entrance Hall using tape on the floor.

The non-exacting and elusive ways in which we a perceive space as individuals is the central theme of the short film. The ideas that we bring to bear, employ consciously and sub-consciously and merge to form our own set of parameters are key to our response at each and every location and that this is uniquely formed encompassing and employing the historical dimension that is embedding there. The tensions between these streams of information are what the project attempts to make transparent.

In the final meetings about the film, the group discussed the site and how to combine the readings; there was no sense of hierarchy or of ownership, it was simply about how best to communicate the sense of place and to include as much of the information as possible. There was very little discussion about the differences between Geography and Art practice, instead there was a sense of symbiosis and shared intent.