University team celebrates teaching excellence award.

Posted on 29th August 2018

A team of geography academics from the University of Chester is celebrating national recognition for teaching excellence, for its partnership work with two other universities.

Professor Derek France and Dr Katharine Welsh at the University of Chester.
Professor Derek France and Dr Katharine Welsh at the University of Chester.

The Enhancing Fieldwork Learning project (EFL) is a project led by the University of Chester’s Department of Geography and International Development, who run it in collaboration with academic colleagues from the University of Reading and the University of Sheffield. It focuses on fieldwork and 'out-of-classroom' activities for undergraduates, promoting the effective use of mobile technologies and social media to enhance students’ learning, skills and employability.

The project, which is now in its eighth year, has won a Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence (CATE). Organised and run by Advance HE (formerly the Higher Education Academy), the CATE award recognises and rewards collaborative work that has had a demonstrable impact on teaching and learning. Introduced in 2016, the scheme highlights the key role of teamwork in higher education. The team is one of only 15 across higher education in the UK to be awarded a CATE for best demonstrating ‘excellence in the team’s collaborative approach’ and ‘excellence in the impact of collaborative working’.

EFL started in 2010 when three National Teaching Fellows, Professors Derek France, from the University of Chester; Julian Park (University of Reading) and Brian Whalley (now at the University of Sheffield) established the project to enhance student experiences and active learning via fieldwork. Dr Katharine Welsh, Senior Lecturer at the University of Chester, joined as a full-time researcher the same year, and Dr Alice Mauchline, from the University of Reading, joined in 2011.

The objectives of the EFL team are to identify, evaluate and disseminate good practice in fieldwork environments by promoting the effective use of digital technologies and mobile devices to enhance student learning and tutor participation. The team works to enable and encourage students to use their own devices and apps effectively in such diverse learning environments.

Professor Derek France, from the University of Chester, said: “This was originally meant to be a three-year cross-disciplinary project, which was funded by the Higher Education Academy, but such has been its success that, eight years on, it continues to run with new collaboration and support from the British Ecological Society (BES).

“The cross-disciplinary nature of our team from the three universities involved has enabled us to engage with a wide range of participants from geography, earth, environmental and biosciences. We have embedded our practice in a number of other institutions, disciplines and programmes, both nationally and internationally.”

Dr Katharine Welsh added: “Arguably, we have had the greatest impact at a national level through our showcase and training events for UK practitioners and students. Offering support and guidance to give practitioners confidence in their fieldwork practice, the events empower staff and students to use technologies to enhance learning and skills development. 

“Through our resource-based website, publications in international journals, international conference presentations and workshops we have also had a global reach and impact.”

In addition to 19 academic papers, the EFL team has written its own book Enhancing Fieldwork Learning using Mobile Technologies and contributed five additional chapters on mobile technologies and learning.  

Vice-Chancellor of the University of Chester, Professor Tim Wheeler, said: “The University of Chester is proud of its association with this project and of the lead role that it has played in helping to envision and deliver it. The team has achieved outstanding success given the limited resources at its disposal, and this is testimony to the hard work, dedication and outstanding teamwork of the lead individuals. In my view, the team is entirely deserving of an HEA Collaborative Award for teaching excellence which, among other things, would enable it to expand its fieldwork practitioners’ network still further (for example, into Africa and South America) to create the first global network of its kind.”

The Award will be presented to the EFL team at a ceremony in Edinburgh on Wednesday November 7 2018.