Learning by doing: enhancing hydrology lectures with individual fieldwork projects

Anne F. Van Loon*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Hydrology teaching deals with processes happening outside the classroom, which calls for active-learning methods to complement lectures. In a geography undergraduate course, new teaching methods and assessment were designed, in which students investigated a river of their choice by completing homework tasks and presenting their results on a poster. During a 3-year implementation process, the changes were evaluated using a combination of formal and informal student and lecturer feedback. Students mentioned that they enjoyed doing the project and that it helped their understanding of theory, their research skills, and their ability to select, organize and present information. Questionnaire results showed that, over the implementation period, students’ perceived value of homework increased strongly, while their perceived value of lectures remained high. In informal feedback, students noted that they enjoyed learning about where they live, preferred doing the projects individually and seeing each other’s projects, and spent more time on the coursework when assessed. When looking back in interviews, students commented that the projects had prepared them well for their dissertation and summer job. The advantage of using homework-based projects complementing lectures is the strong link between theory and practice, which could be further enhanced by discussing the homework in the lectures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-180
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Geography in Higher Education
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2019
Externally publishedYes


I thank my colleagues Martin Widmann and Ian Phillips for being convinced by my plea for changing the module’s teaching method and assessment, and for helping with the implementation of the changes. I also thank the Hydroclimatology students of the 2015–16, 2016–17 and 2017–18 classes for their invaluable feedback on the changes. Thanks to Kay West, for providing the data in Table 1 and for general support of the module, and to the PhD students Danny Croghan, Doris Wendt, Colin Manning, Lucinda Capewell, and Julia Docherty for helping with the poster sessions. This work benefited from discussions with colleagues at the EGU conference and the PCAP training. I specifically want to mention Claudia Brauer (Wageningen University, the Netherlands) for her excellent ideas of student-centred teaching methods, Jan Seibert (University of Zurich, Switzerland) and Lena Tallaksen (University of Oslo, Norway) for inspiring discussions on innovations in hydrology education, and Mel Rohse (Anglia Ruskin University, UK) for indispensable support on the social science aspects of this research. I am also thankful for the supportive writing environment provided by the GEES writing week in July 2018 and for proof-reading done by Henk Krajenbrink. The feedback of the editor and two anonymous reviewers have improved the paper.

FundersFunder number
Colin Manning
Doris Wendt
Lucinda Capewell
Mel Rohse
Universitetet i Oslo
Universität Zürich


    • active learning
    • hydrology
    • Physical geography
    • student-centred teaching


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