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Twice a year the OCR Geography team hosts ‘Consultative Forums’ where we bring teachers, members of Higher Education, Subject Associations, employers and other interested parties together to discuss something which we all love – Geography. Previously the forums have focused more on the development of our new GCSE (9¬¬–1), AS and A Level qualifications, with the specifications and assessment models being heavily influenced by the voices in the room, but now we can turn the attention of the forum members to applying their experience and expertise to helping us support teaching and learning in schools.
The focus of this September’s 2015 Geography Consultative Forum was on fieldwork and geographical skills, which included discussions on how to best support the future A Level Independent Investigation and how to integrate fieldwork and geographical skills into teaching and learning.
The day started with Jason Sawle from Esri UK showing the forum the advancements which have been made in the ArcGIS online platform over the past couple of years. At OCR we are huge advocates of GIS and the value it can bring to a classroom. We were delighted to see the ease with which ArcGIS online allows teachers and students to map data found online or collected in the field. The only thing needed is a spatial ‘hook’ (which can be anything from latitude and longitude to post code or city names) and how is data geographical if it does not have some kind of spatial element?
There are a number of free base maps (including OS street maps) as well as a vast array of maps already created by users worldwide – it was Jason who said: “think of ArcGIS online as a cross between Wikipedia and YouTube for maps”. Jason showcased a number of quick examples of how to map data and how these could be relevant to students Independent Investigations. He finished by demonstrating the potential of Story Maps as a teaching and learning tool – and possibly as an alternative way for students to complete their Independent Investigations. There are a number of Story Maps freely available in the gallery with the potential of the application shown in this one created by the Esri team about salmon returning to Washington’s Elwha River after the removal of two century-old dams.
The second presentation of the day came from Gill Miller, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Chester and trustee of the Field Studies Council. Gill used her experience with the FSC and from her work as the Principal Moderator for Pearson Edexel between 1997 and 2007 to discuss some of the key elements of ‘individual fieldwork’ and some of the challenges which may face students and teachers with the Independent Investigation in the future.
Whilst delivering the ‘Getting started with individual fieldwork’ Gill reflected on a number of elements – some of which directly led into the later discussion whilst others were things that Gill felt OCR, and the other Awarding Organisations, would need to clarify for teachers. She explained the challenge for students, who needed to choose investigations from the big concepts they study to condense into something smaller, more manageable and achievable in the time frame they have – and recognising that their data is just a tiny drop in the ocean and to put their investigation into context.
Gill stated the requirement for geographical logic in the investigation titles, as the lack of this was a big problem in the legacy specifications, as “with no geographical logic we are analysing the impossible”. She emphasised the importance of planning as being vital before collecting any data and that poor titles invariably lead to poor investigations.
Download the presentation
The main discussion of the day was focusing on supporting the Independent Investigation and how to integrate fieldwork and geographical skills into teaching and learning. Most tables’ discussions seemed to focus more on the Independent Investigation than on how to best integrate fieldwork and geographical skills into teaching and learning which possibly reflects the thirst for information on this topic.
The Independent Investigation was welcomed back, with people commenting on their investigations from the past being the element which best prepared them for University. However there were real concerns regarding the difficulty of managing the task, especially when potentially supporting students across two years with perhaps very little equipment.
It was generally thought that preparation for the Independent Investigation should begin in Key Stage 3 if possible as part of the bigger picture of their geographical education. Integrating fieldwork throughout learning experiences was encouraged so that the Independent Investigation does not come as a shock to them. This may be getting them to to pose geographical questions, what questions can be asked of different data, how to choose techniques in different instances and much more besides. It was felt that it was important to engage students from ‘Day1’ with respect to fieldwork and to get them out in the field early on in their geographical education.
There was a feeling from members of Higher Education present that the title itself was not so important, but instead the aims of the investigation are the important element. Fieldwork is an iterative process; it is fine for the project to evolve from the initial plan. Students should be encouraged to scope out the site of their fieldwork location prior to collecting data, or even before confirming their title and aims. Students should also be encouraged that their data is ‘real world’ data and that it is fine for it not to fit the textbook; the most interesting results are when it does not reflect necessarily what the textbook says.
It was considered key that teachers are supported so they are crystal clear as to their role, in what the student can do and how assistance can be given at different times. This is something which OCR confirmed that all of the Awarding Organisations were working together jointly to provide clarity on a number of elements of the Independent Investigation which should be the same no matter the Awarding Organisation chosen – for example what independence means at different stages of the investigation and what guidance teachers can give students. It was confirmed that a range of support materials would be created by OCR once these documents had been agreed and approved by Ofqual.
Our third presentation of the day was from Dr Nicola Walshe, she outlined the research project she is currently undertaking. The focus of her project is to support trainee teacher practice through GIS. Nicola’s research is part of her work with the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge and, as a GIS advocate herself, is looking to begin to address a lack of detailed, research based evidence for the use of geospatial technologies to support geographical learning.
The use of GIS in schools offers students the opportunity to engage with a new way of seeing, thinking and interacting with the world around them. Nicola explained that she doesn’t think it is just a good tool but that she really thinks that it can help develop geographical thinking. She discussed her preparation for the research, how the trainees involved felt about GIS and her plans for the forthcoming year.
The day concluded with a thought provoking and entertaining insight into fieldwork in Higher Education through Dr Phil Porter, a Reader in Geoscience and Geoscience Education at the University of Hertfordshire. Phil spoke passionately about research-informed teaching and its place not only in Higher Education but also its value in schools and colleges too, before discussing some of his experiences of fieldwork with undergraduates. There were numerous tales of fieldwork expeditions and lessons learned by students and how that helped their education and research. Phil also spoke of a project some of the undergraduates had completed by creating a website to show different fieldwork techniques, used by undergraduates to help their peers learn the techniques.
Overall it was a very interesting and engaging day which was extremely informative for us here at OCR, but also for those in attendance. The only downside is now we have to wait six months until our next Forum!