Student Outreach, Experiential Learning, and Academic Impact – the benefits of OER

This post is the seventh in a series of blog posts for Open Education Week.

ByDr Andy Cross, University of Edinburgh

The GeoSciences Outreach course is a 4th year course, now run in conjunction with the School of Psychology, where students work with local community partners including schools and other public and community groups to deliver resources linked to the student’s area of study. One of the key aims of the course is to provide students with an opportunity to put their learning and knowledge into practice while building links with the local community Alongside this the students gain valuable experience with science communication and working with different groups, alongside a range of other skills that are useful beyond their degrees.

GeoScience Outreach: teaching science communication ‘beyond the programme’ and outside of the ‘Ivory Tower’


Student’s project outputs have included information boards and leaflets for local parks and nature reserves, smartphone apps linked to conservation projects, workshops and resources for community groups, and a wide range of teaching material for local schools. When developing their project outputs one of the main points that we emphasise is the need to ensure a legacy of their work – whatever they produce ideally needs to be done in a form or context where it can be used or further developed after the student has left. Beyond a more sustainable and lasting effect of their work, this has also helped the course team develop and strengthen relationships with our community partners.

Ensuring a meaningful legacy of a student project is much easier said than done however – and is often dependent on the project output being of a high enough quality, and ensuring it is designed in a way that it can effectively reach the right audience. The GeoSciences Outreach team started collaborating with Open Education Service colleagues in ISG in 2015, a relationship which has gone a long way to help improve the quality of student project outputs.

Sow it, Grow it, Taste it – GeoScience

The work with ISG has been two-fold – Stephanie (Charlie) Farley and colleagues deliver training for our students in semester one focusing on Open Educational Resources (OER). This covers a range of different topics including copyright, licensing and attribution, and gives our students the tools to create effective and engaging resources without falling foul of any copyright issues (which very often aren’t taken into consideration). As well as applying this to their own work, our students then graduate with a much better awareness of these issues and how to navigate them accordingly. The workshop also covers some practical activities on making OER (again including how to attribute images etc.). These workshops have helped to increase the quality of our student outputs. It also encourages students to aim to create their projects outputs as OER which means we have been able to disseminate their work to much larger audiences.


Volcanic Eruptions: an interdisciplinary approach


Charlie and the Open Education Services team then help to refine and further disseminate student project outputs by working with paid summer interns. The Employ.Ed summer interns have worked with us over the last three summers. They work closely with the Geoscience Outreach team and our students to review copyright content and polish up the projects, before uploading them onto and disseminating out to websites with a broader reach.

The impact and legacy of this collaboration has been broad and lasting. Student created resources have reached a much wider audience beyond the original project client (usually just one school or group), and we are able to track how many times the resources have been downloaded, alongside qualitative feedback on the usefulness of the resources themselves. Using this feedback and learning from the work with the summer interns over the past three years we’ve then been able to go back to our students and give them a much clearer idea of what is expected when turning their project outputs into OERs, and a much better understanding of what works (and doesn’t) for various audiences.


To Bee or not to Bee


The impact of our work with the Open Education Service has also evolved beyond the outreach course allowing the knowledge the team has gained around OERs to be applied in different contexts. The School of Geosciences have created four OERs for pupils studying at SCQF Level 6-8 (Scottish Higher, AS-Level, and above) from current research outputs. We are now building this approach into research projects through as part of our impact pathways, which again is helping us to disseminate our research to much wider audiences than we would have been able to reach previously


Geoscience Guides

From a personal perspective it has been a fantastic experience working with the Open Education team, particularly seeing the work with the interns progressing each year, and how they grow into the role and put their own stamp on it. As a bit of a technophobe myself it’s been a great learning curve, while opening my eyes to the wider benefits and potential for integrating Open Education into both our teaching and research.



View OER created by Geoscience Outreach students


About the author:

Dr Andy Cross is the Impact Coordinator for the School of GeoSciences, and the course organiser of the GeoSciences Outreach course. His interests include work to support the relationship between research and teaching (particularly through approaches like the GeoSciences Outreach course), and the development of relevant frameworks for evaluating and designing different approaches to experiential learning.  Andy helped to establish the recently launched Centre for Experiential Learning (