Iris Turner

  • Bridging the gap between academia and the world of work

    Iris Turner, Brunel University, UK

    Susan Buckingham, Brunel University, UK

    Session 3b, Tuesday 10.10

    Research seminar

    Themes addressed:

    • Teaching methods
    • Course and programme design
    • Supporting learners

    Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) funding has enabled the authors to undertake a longitudinal study of Geography and Earth Sciences students who have taken a second level honours module entitled “Applied Geography in the Community”. This has tracked students taking the module, graduating the course and into their career, over a period of eight years. The aim of the research has been to explore the impact of taking this module on students’ own academic performance, career choice and performance, and voluntary/community involvement.

    Whilst doing the module, students were surveyed, and discussion groups were held to establish their initial attitudes towards a range of issues (such as expectations and understandings of the links between education and work; citizenship; community; equal opportunities and diversity; and activism). Beyond the module, graduates have been surveyed annually to monitor their career and community involvement, trajectories and performance. Interviews were also conducted with employers/partners offering the work placements, and students’ academic performance has been examined against their year cohort to examine their relative performance.

    This research has yielded a rich database from which to make some emerging conclusions regarding the role of academic community placements in and beyond an academic course. In designing and conducting this research, we have attempted to go beyond existing work examining the usefulness of such pedagogic tools for academic performance and employment (which we also do, informed by the work of, for example, Pacione and Healey), to explore the deeper meanings of the experience for students which inflect the career they choose to follow and their broader community experience during and following their degree.

    An academic discussion on ‘activist research’ is emerging which examines the responsibilities of students (and academics) to engage in broader social questions emerging out of their disciplinary focus, and the strategies we use on the Applied Geography module (and which therefore also underpin the reported research) seek to embed this into the curriculum. This includes the topics covered (see above), the forum in which these are discussed (group discussion) and the ways in which students’ understanding of these are assessed (a reflective diary, placement report and oral presentation with their community partners responding).

    The data we have collected and have made some analysis of is contributing to understanding of a number of issues, including pedagogically, with respect to students’ career trajectories, and with respect to the role of community and activist involvement within the academy.


    • Buckingham S and Turner I (in preparation) ‘The Scholarship of Engagement: a longitudinal track of students applying their degrees to the community’
    • DFES (2002) Work Related Learning Report Nottingham: DFES
    • Fanthome C (2004). Work placements: a survival guide for students. Basingstoke, England: Palgrave MacMillan
    • Fuller D and Kitchin R (2004) Radical Theory/Critical Praxis: Making a Difference Beyond the Academy? Praxis e-journal
    • Healey M and Roberts J (Eds) (2004) Engaging students in active learning: case studies in geography, environment and related disciplines. Cheltenham: University of Gloucestershire, Geography Discipline Network and School of Environment
    • Garrick, J (1998). Informal Learning in the Workplace: unmasking human resource development. London: Routledge
    • Little, B (2001). Developing Key Skills Through Work Placement. London: Council for Industry and Higher Education
    • National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education in the Learning Society (1997). Report of the National Committee into Higher Education in the Learning Society. London: HMSO
    • Pacione M (1999). Applied Geography: principles and practice. London: Routledge
    • Quality Assurance Agency (2000) Subject Benchmark Statement for Geography. Cheltenham: QAA