GeoScience Outreach Course: Assessment through impactful student projects

Photo credit: unsplash, Daniel Funes Fuentes, CC0

In this post, Kay Douglas, Schools Liasion Associate for the School of GeoSciences, reflects on what she hopes the current GeoScience Outreach Course students will have achieved through the revamped course and assessment approach come the following August…

This term, as I gazed out at our 37 new students on the The GeoScience Outreach course, my feelings were a mixture of trepidation and excitement. I’m hoping that the new ‘e-help’ and revamped sessions will support them, and I will learn something new from my diverse student body. I wonder why the students choose this Level 10 course. Is it the unusual nature of it? Let me explain.

The GeoScience Outreach course has the usual mixture of formative and summative assessments, with an emphasis on communication in outreach and engagement. This includes peer review, students being mentees, engaging in reflective learning and working with a client who is external to the University. For the student, this provides them with the more unusual opportunity to move away from their university bubble (and comfort zone) and apply their subject knowledge and skill practically, with the express aim of supporting an external agency. It doesn’t matter if this client is a charity, youth organisation, community group, other university students, educational practitioners in museums, or primary and secondary schools, including low attainment schools.

This course, the one I teach on, was developed about 15 years ago by Professors Sue Rigby and Colin Graham. They were keen that the students were not on a ‘placement’, but were developing a bespoke project for the external client and that this project had ‘legacy’. We heard anecdotal tales of enthusiastic clients reusing the project and sharing it with colleagues. We also noted that, for some students, their post-university career was secured by their project and, for some, this course changed their career direction altogether.

We saw the correlation between developing and sharing a good, bespoke project and graduate career and employment. So, the teaching team set out to augment this by seeking ways to publish and publicise the student project. We were enlightened following discussions with Melissa Highton, Stuart Nicol and Eduardo Serafin.

So what has changed in the last 15 years?

The student project and its legacy comprise the component with the greatest proportion of marks. The project is graded on how ready it is to be published. In effect, many students are aiming to produce Open Educational Resources (OERs). Although some students’ OERs are uploaded to youtube (video 1 and video 2), the majority are to be found at The repository is, a resource site used by schools and community groups. To date, 19 student projects have been uploaded to open.ed, some receiving four or five star reviews from the public, such as the earth’s material course, lessons on the adaptation and extinction of woolly mammoths, or the workshop ‘Introduction to the brain’.

The Geoscience Outreach students are fortunate because Charlie Farley (OER advisor, Educational Design and Engagement) teaches on the course. One year, a Business School intern taught on it too. However, the intern’s main role has been to substantially increase the number of OERs uploaded. This talented group of committed students have additionally identified key development areas that the outreach students need support with. I’m delighted to say most of their suggestions have been built into our teaching sessions.

This year, the publicising and publishing have given us a new challenge. The City of Edinburgh Council, via their STEM Development Officer, Amy Dixon, has asked some of our students to develop projects to act as an intervention strategy for learners, who for whatever reason, have low attendance rates at primary school.

So what do I hope for come the following August?

For our students: Has their experience (and uploaded project on helped them secure employment or further study?
For me: What have I learned from our students, and where can our course be improved?
For our clients: Did the project meet their needs and, for our new venture, has learner attendance improved?
And for the University: Have we enhanced the University’s reputation and loosened the boundaries between ‘town and gown’?

We hope the legacy of the Geoscience Outreach course is still contributing to its continuing influence since 2004.

Kay Douglas

Kay is a Schools Liasion Associate for the School of GeoSciences. She is a secondary school teacher in chemistry, biology and guidance (the equivalent of a Personal Tutor), who taught for twenty years in local Council Schools before taking a career break to have her two children.

A chance encounter at the Science Festival led her to placing some Geoscience Outreach students with local primary and secondary schools as a well-connected volunteer. She then developed and delivered CPD to Primary School teachers throughout Scotland. She is now employed by the University.

She continues to develop and teach on the Geoscience Outreach course, and has mentored seven of the current students in a team with PhD students. She is currently working on a MOOC on data science, which was approved by the University this year.

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