Dr Caitlin Cottrill and Dr Mark Beecroft, School of Geography & Environment tell us about how they tackle the problem of student interacting with local transport professionals and learn about how theoretical models are applied in practice.
The issue was to give students the opportunity to interact with local transport professionals and learn more about how the theoretical material covered in class is applied in the practice of transport planning and operations in the region. Transport is a very applied field, and we felt it was important for the students to gain a better understanding of how the topics they engage with in class (such as planning and financing public transport, designing walking and cycling infrastructure, and addressing congestion) are addressed under real-world scenarios. Internal discussion between the staff teaching on the course initially then approached relevant external organisations.
The Department of Geography have strong relationships with area transport organisations such as the Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Councils, FirstAberdeen, Nestrans, and AECOM, and had been in discussion with them about how to further encourage engagement with the students. The Debate serves not only to strengthen these relationships, but also to facilitate interest from the students - several of whom have gone on to work in related fields.
We feel that the activity has served to strengthen the engagement with area transport groups, and has given students a taste of the complexities inherent in transport practice. The response from the students is always highly positive, and we feel that the discussion often contributes beneficially to our own understanding of local transport issues.
The main challenge has always been selecting a limited set of questions to be asked within the time limit! The students develop a range of pertinent, interesting questions to raise during the Debate, and it's always difficult to narrow those down to just a few.
The students often comment on the benefit on the Debate in their SCEF forms. In the past, we've had students indicate that the Debate was one of the highlights of their academic career, and that they greatly appreciate the participants taking the time to take part and respond directly to the questions raised.
The benefit of engaging with practitioners in this type of class cannot be overstated. Providing students with the opportunity to learn from persons in the field, and vice-versa, emphasises the practical and applied nature of what they're being taught in class - a valuable outcome that can be shared as good practice.