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The University of Southampton

£1.5m worldwide geography project will improve online learning

Published: 28 February 2003

Top UK and US geography departments have won £1.5m to develop an international online resource dedicated to teaching and learning geography. The five-year project is funded by the UK's Joint Infrastructure Systems Committee (JISC) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the US.

Project leaders at the University of Southampton will work with the University of Leeds, Pennsylvania State University and the University of California at Santa Barbara. The partners are related by the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN), which will support the project. They will examine approaches to online learning and apply the strongest ideas to a new network of geography materials. This will give students access to materials previously unavailable, such as other universities' archives and research data from partner organisations around the world.

Geography departments and learning technology experts from all the partner universities will contribute to the project, together with digital library experts from Southampton and UCSB.

UK project leader Dr Hugh Davis of the University of Southampton's Department of Electronics and Computer Science said: "We are aware of the claims made for the benefits of using digital material to enhance learning experiences. However, many of these initiatives have not involved substantial curriculum developments or mainstream subjects. Through this project we hope to conduct a thorough investigation of the potential benefits of sharing the development and use of digital material and high quality learning environments on an international basis."

The project will draw on the expertise of geographers, library staff and technology resources across partner universities.

Professor Philip Rees, of the University of Leeds' School of Geography, views the project as a unique opportunity to introduce exciting new materials and knowledge into the undergraduate geography curriculum. "We will develop modules on the populations of the United Kingdom and United States, informed by access to the unique digital information provided in the 2000 US Census and the 2001 UK Census. British and American students will be able to learn not only about their own country but also about their transatlantic "cousins"," he said.

Professor David Martin, of Southampton's Geography Department added: "Geography is a diverse discipline that has traditionally used a wide range of modes of learning delivery, including field, laboratory and library work. Digital library resources offer a wealth of additional learning opportunities and we already see great potential for enriching our curriculum through this project. The international collaborative approach also provides us with a new framework for working with other excellent geography departments in the UK and US."

Professor Grainne Conole, of Southampton's Graduate School of Education, believes the project offers an exciting opportunity to explore and address some of the fundamental cross-institutional issues, which arise around the implementation of e-learning. "The valuable insights and lessons learnt from the project will also benefit the wider community," she said.

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Notes for editors

  1. The JISC is a joint committee of the UK further and higher education funding bodies, and is responsible for supporting the innovative use of information and communication technology (ICT) to support learning, teaching, and research. It is best known for providing the SuperJANET network and a portfolio of high-quality resources.
  2. The National Science Foundation (NSF) is a United States funding agency for science research.
  3. The Worldwide Universities Network is an international partnership of leading research-led higher education institutions including the universities of Southampton, Bristol, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield and York in the UK; and Pennsylvania State University, University of California, San Diego, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Washington, Seattle and University of Wisconsin, Madison in the USA. For further information about WUN contact Dr David Pilsbury, Chief Executive, Worldwide Universities Network 07775 914865; email;
  4. The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship. The University, which celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 2002, has 20,000 students and over 4,500 staff and plays an important role in the City of Southampton. Its annual turnover is in the region of £235 million.
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