Geosciences Outreach and Open Educational Resources

[This blog post is part of a series written for the Edinburgh Teaching Award (EdTA) to achieve accreditation as a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. ]

One of my first projects with the Open Education service is also one that continues to grow in scope and impact. In 2016 I began working with the 4th year undergraduate Geoscience Outreach course which provides students with the opportunity to develop science communication and engagement projects in partnership with a local education, public, or research body.  The course improves outreach and community engagement while enabling students to develop employability skills. Student projects are approached from an open education perspective, with the aim of creating an open, shareable, re-useable digital artefact.

There are many paths to effective outreach and science engagement and it is this diversity of work that the Geoscience Outreach course wants to encourage. Engagement with local and broader communities can provide universities with the opportunity to expand from a discipline-based framework to one with a stronger level of societal relevance (Fitzgerald, 2012). It also provides students with grounded, practical experience that can be applied in future careers. Geoscience Outreach students have gone on to careers in scientific communication, media and education, with some gaining employment as a direct result of their outreach projects (Myers-Smith, 2017).

Students are encouraged to co-create their own projects and to decide on the subject, audience and client with whom they will work, providing the opportunity for unique cultural and community relationships. The University especially values its relationship with the Scottish community and it is these relationships that form the foundation from which it continues to look towards the widest international horizons, enriching both itself and Scotland (University of Edinburgh, 2015).

I liaise closely with the course team and tutors to incorporate an OER requirement as part of the course assessment, providing training, materials, and advice to staff and students throughout the course. Then over the summer months I manage and supervise Open Content Curator Interns we employ to review the outreach projects and prepare them for dissemination on a variety of educational repositories.

The collaboration has also changed the educational practices of teaching staff involved in the course, changing the way their team use and attribute materials in their own work.  Staff have now created additional OERs from their latest research for local Scottish primary and secondary schools. Together we uploaded those resources onto TES Connect an online teaching repository, and the feedback, number of downloads, and how those materials are being embedded into lessons across Scottish schools are being used by the school to provide and report impact of their research.

One member of the team, Kay Douglas, had also attended one of my Board Game Jams and went on to create the ‘Thinking Detectives Game: The Alps and Climate Change‘ as an OER and it was picked up to be presented at a prestigious conference in Geosciences (Douglas and Essery, 2018).

Run by Geosciences the course has gained interest from multiple Schools and subject areas, and this year students are participating from diverse programmes including ecology, geology, geography, psychology, archaeology and landscape architecture. Part of the growing interest from students has come from being to see the polished projects being shared as OER on the Open.Ed website. This also provides potential students with an understanding of what will be involved in the course and what they can learn.

Working in close collaboration with the Geosciences Outreach team has been fantastic. I’ve developed a greater appreciation for how OER can be used to demonstrate research impact and together we’ve learned how to incorporate OER into course assessments. This is now being taken on board by other courses across the University such as the MSc in Digital Education, and others are watching with interest.

Here’s to collaboration!


Douglas, K., and Essery, R., (2018). ‘Thinking Detectives: Climate Change in the Alps’, Geophysical Research abstracts, EGU General Assembly, 

Fitzgerald, H. E., Bruns, K., Sonka, S., Furco, A., & Swanson, L. (2012). The centrality of engagement in higher education. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 16(3), 7-28.

Myers-Smith, I., Daskalova, G. (2017), ‘GeoScience Outreach: teaching science communication ‘beyond the programme’ and outside of the ‘Ivory Tower’’, Teaching Matters

University of Edinburgh (2015),  ‘Mission Statement’, Governance & Strategic Planning,


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