The discipline of Geography lends itself very ably to the training
of student creativity and imagination. As a discipline which
relies much on participant observation and fieldwork, students
and researchers in Geography are always encouraged to hunt for
answers of their own and collect data out in the ‘field’.
Although it is possible to spoon-feed students in any discipline,
teaching and studying geography is very much about the art of
independence where spoon-feeding can be avoided totally. Let
me provide three examples of how a number of colleagues and
myself in the Department have tried to veer away from spoon-feeding
and focused instead on honing student creativity, observation
skills, and fieldwork interpretation.
In one of our first-year modules that a number of colleagues
teach, we bring the entire class of about 160 students down
to the Singapore River/Raffles Place for a morning of fieldwork.
The aim of this exercise is to explain to students the applicability
of academic concepts to a real-life landscape, and to train
them to observe the world in a more critical and engaged manner.
Towards this end, a ‘treasure hunt’ exercise is
given to the students (to be worked in groups of five) asking
questions that they have to answer based on personal observations.
One question, for example, asks them to interpret the meaning
of a particular sculpture and how it adds to (or detracts
from) the place identity of Raffles Place. Another asks them
to propose an alternative development plan for Boat Quay.
We stress to the students that there are no absolute right
or wrong answers, and they should be creative in their interpretations
and should back up their assertions with intelligent reasoning.
Small prizes are given to the teams with the most creative
answers at the end of the fieldwork.
A second way to avoid spoon-feeding is to give free rein
to students working on their term essay and project. It is
a common perception by many that for any prescribed question,
there must be a stock answer. To rid this mindset, try asking
students to devise their own essay and project topics. While
most are initially uncomfortable to set the scope and conceptual
focus of their own question (for fear of coming up with a
poor question!), many ultimately rise to the challenge to
work on topics on their immediate and personal interest. I
have come across passionate essays on pets, aromatherapy,
Manchester United and the Internet! I tell my students these
topics are perfectly acceptable and advise them to try to
apply geographical concepts to what they have chosen. Students
are thus inspired to be proactive and to take control of their
research; and as ‘experts’ in their own mini research
terrain, nobody expects to be spoon-fed when I provide them
with feedback on how to improve their essay/project.
Learning Geography is fun through role-playing and scenario
acting. As much of what we teach in Geography concerns land
use planning and development constraints (particularly in
tourism and urban studies), I have tried to conduct tutorials
in which students learn through playacting. As a tutor, I
am merely an onlooker as the students take the lead in playing
out the roles of, for example, policy makers, tourists, and
business organisations. By assuming different roles, I hope
the students appreciate the difficulties inherent in tourism
planning which often involve different factions. Learning-by-doing
is appreciated far more by my students than being told in
a pedantic fashion during tutorial the problems of tourism
planning. Needless to say, however, devising tutorial topics
that veer away from spoon-feeding requires some effort and
thought on the part of the tutor, but seeing the students
getting excited in tutorials (for once!) is certainly rewarding
It is indeed possible to avoid spoon-feeding students in
many different ways. To do so, students must be encouraged
to be imaginative with their answers, to independently devise
their own essay and project topics, and to creatively role-play
in tutorial settings. This way, learning becomes a far more
personal, interactive, and enriching endeavour; and students
leave the university, hopefully, with acquired skills of observation
and creative thinking, and a more pro-active approach towards