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Unit information: Research Methods in Physical Geography in 2021/22

Unit name Research Methods in Physical Geography
Unit code GEOG20011
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Dr. Williamson
Open unit status Not open

GEOG10002 Geographical History, Thought and Practices AND GEOG10003 Key Concepts in Human and Physical Geography AND GEOG10004 Introduction to Quantitative Geography.


2 or more of:

GEOG20002 Floods Flows and Erosion in River Basins

GEOG20003 The Earth System

GEOG20004 Fundamentals of Modern Glaciology

School/department School of Geographical Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science

Description including Unit Aims

The purpose of the course is to provide students with the tools to analyse, design and carry out scientific research in the realm of physical geography. Students will be introduced to the principles and practice of research in physical geography using a programme of lectures, field classes, laboratory and computer-based practical classes and seminars. They will then have an opportunity to put their learning into practice through the design, delivery and write-up of a group project in the style of a third-year dissertation. These projects are delivered in partnership with local environmental organisations where possible.

Students will be introduced to some of the expected limitations of research methods and will be given the opportunity to undertake rigorous evaluation/review of their own proposals, sampling design and scientific practice. Also covered are COSHH and Health and Safety issues in field and laboratory environments.

The principal aim of this unit is to provide the students with the generic and specific skills to design and carry out their dissertation successfully, and at the end of the unit students will start to develop their ideas for their final-year dissertation.

Within this remit, the unit aims are:

  • to develop the students higher-level skills in observation, measurement and reporting;
  • to provide a platform for independent research;
  • to promote best practice in the design and execution of a research project;
  • to prompt independent reflection on scientific practice, especially that adopted in Physical Geography;
  • To apply the methodological expertise gained as part of a guided research project;
  • To design and write-up a dissertation-style project;
  • To teach, monitor and assess group work through embedded peer evaluation and self-reflection of individual contributions to the team and the dynamics of team working.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On completion of this Unit students should be able to:

  1. Design and write-up an effective piece of research
  2. Employ a variety of methods for collecting and analysing geographical information
  3. Identify, generate or download, quality control, manipulate and interpret common geographical datasets and critically assess their limitations.
  4. Work safely in the field or a scientific laboratory with an awareness of standard procedures.

The following transferable skills are developed in this Unit:

  • Written and verbal communication
  • Team working and collaboration
  • Numeracy and computation
  • Planning and implementing research projects
  • Problem solving

Teaching Information

The unit will be taught through a blended combination of online and, if possible, in-person teaching, including

  • online resources
  • synchronous group workshops, seminars, tutorials and/or office hours
  • asynchronous individual activities and guided reading for students to work through at their own pace
  • practical and/or field work; students who either begin or continue their studies in an online mode may be required to complete laboratory practical and/or field work, or alternative activities, in person, either during the academic year 2020/21 or subsequently, in order to meet the intended learning outcomes for the unit, prepare them for subsequent units or to satisfy accreditation requirements.

Assessment Information


There will be several opportunities to practice elements of the online assessment of the methods taught in TB1.


(20%) Online in-class assessment. [ILOs 2-4]

Group research project (groups of 4-6) [ILOs 1-4]. The Group research project will comprise of:

(50%) a written report (maximum 8000 words in total),

(15%) a group presentation, and

(15%) a peer review of group work.


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. GEOG20011).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.