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Arid environments lesson one
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Lesson oneArid environments - Lesson one: Advice on good research methodologies

Aims

To understand that academic geography fieldwork at Geography Departments at University level often leads to the production of academic journal articles. These are seen as some of the most valid sources of research. For those of you completing ‘research’ based exams in Year 13, you need to start completing research from this type of reading and also to understand advantages of this type of research.

Key ideas and terms

Quantitative and Qualitative field work research, peer reviews, journals, bias, writing research methodologies in year 13 exams.

Context

How do we find out about the world? In A-Level Geography and beyond, completing thorough and accurate research is the key to topical, interesting and valid geographical writing. In GCSE and Year 12 it is likely that field work was the key component of your findings and research during your coursework/project/controlled assessment. In Year 13 and certainly undergraduate level (for any subject) reading academic journals is likely to be a key way of finding out ideas as well as field work. In many cases (especially in geography where field work is so important!), you are likely to be reading an academic journal on a geographer’s fieldwork findings. In the lessons on the Gobi desert you will be reading a summary of some of Dr Troy Sternberg's field work findings.

Resources

Activities

See the student task sheet for further details.

Understanding how Geographers collect their research

Quantitative and Qualitative Research: Geographers at University will often complete both qualitative and quantitative research when conducting their research. Quantitative is numerical research that can usually be plotted graphically and maybe analysed statistically. Dr Troy Sternberg uses climate data collected by local researchers to help him understand the changing temperatures and rainfall in his study region. Historically, quantitative research has been the dominant methodology in the discipline of geography – especially physical geography, however the benefits of qualitative research have become apparent and is now a key part of successful research. Qualitative is data that is not normally in the form of numbers and often involves extended interviews and maybe focus groups with the aim of a much deeper understanding of an issue.  As you will read in the ‘Ask the Expert’ piece by Dr Troy Sternberg; qualitative is the key to his findings. Look at some of the quotes on the board (power point) and sort and summarise these into quantitative/qualitative research methods and their pros and cons.

Understanding research methods in the Gobi Desert

Read the Ask the Expert interview article with Dr Troy Sternberg, which describes his fascinating and current research into natural hazards in the Gobi Desert, Asia. You can tell from this interview the number of advantages of academic research. Note down some ideas under the following headings

  • Describe the research methods Dr Sternberg uses
  • What are some of the key challenges a researcher faces during organisation and completing the field work?
  • When researchers arrive back to their university; what are the next steps?
  • Why does ‘peer reviewing’ make academic journals more valid and reliable than other sources?
  • How is academic research useful? What types of people/organisations might use it?
  • Topicality – you could note down why this is especially important for geography students

How to discuss your method in Year 13 exam reports

Many year 13 examinations require you to complete geographical research which you use to write an exam essay/report and you often have to include your research methodology e.g. Edexcel’s Unit Four – Geographical Research examination. You should refer to the advice by your examination board, but it is often suggested to be a short prose paragraph or a table. You can have this after your introduction, or complete an on-going methodology or have one at the end of your report.

Read through the sample methodology and highlight any aspects which are elements of an excellent method:

Sample Methodology:
‘A wide range of research methods have been used in preparation for my report, to create valid geographical writing. In the run up to the examination I have used a variety of media sources for example BBC news and Channel 4 news bulletins and websites. I have researched on the Guardian website for find articles on food security issues in the last few years. I have also watched documentaries such as ‘Food Inc.’ and TV series such as ‘Jimmy’s Global Harvest’. The main advantage of using the media is its topicality which is so important in geography. However I acknowledge that some media sources maybe bias e.g. with a ‘left leaning’ or ‘right leaning’ stance, so I was careful to cross reference opinions with my more neutral geographical text books/articles.

I completed research on the ‘Questia’ website – a portal for academic journal articles for example in ‘Applied Geography’, or ‘Geography’. The advantage of dedicated geography journals are these are written by experts in their fields and often based on fieldwork research and are also very topical. All academic journals are peer reviewed which means they have been checked by several other academics for validity.

NGO/INGO and charity websites have clear and concise information, although I recognise they may be bias to particular solutions and sometimes out of date. A-Level specific sources such as ‘Geography Review’ magazine and also ‘Geofile’ sheets also provided up-to- date and non bias case study material. I feel I have produced a wide range of research which I will cite during my report and I have understand the advantages and limitations of different methods which I will consider as I build my arguments in my research report.’

Homework

Next lesson we are going to be looking at Dr Troy Sternberg’s findings from his fieldwork in the Gobi Desert. Before next lesson complete some web research on basic background info on the Gobi Desert. WHERE? WHAT (is the climate like? WHY is the climate like it is? WHO (lives there)? HOW? (is it changing – you might want to do some brief research on how Mongolia’s economy is changing.

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