Making Space for the Dissertation

a Rural Retreat for Undergraduate Students


  • Bronwen Edwards Leeds Beckett University
  • David Haigh Leeds Beckett University
  • Max Hope Leeds Beckett University
  • Karen Horwood Leeds Beckett University
  • Andre Pusey Leeds Beckett University



dissertation; field trips; learning spaces; community of practice; transformational learning; writing retreat


This paper examines a residential writing retreat for final year human geography and planning students held in a youth hostel in North Yorkshire, considering how it is experienced by students. This is a curriculum innovation for the dissertation module that combines aspects of geography fieldtrip and writing workshop to support the dissertation writing process and build community, applicable to dissertation and other modules on all kinds of courses.

Drawing on the concept of ‘the slow university’ (Berg & Seeber, 2016; O’Neill, 2014) where the ‘slowing down’ and ‘stripping away’ of the usual structures and patterns of teaching and learning create a critical and creative space for thinking and writing, we explore whether and how the Malham retreat makes space for writing. The study is also informed by our spatial approach to the processes and content of research and teaching as geographers (Massey, 2005).

Qualitative focus group evidence was gathered on the student and staff experience and used to evaluate the field trip (Breen, 2006; Krueger & Casey, 2009; Stewart & Shamdasani, 2015). This paper presents the results of this evaluation and it is argued that the retreat made space for writing in three ways:

1. The space of countryside, nature and youth hostel.

2. The formal and informal learning spaces staff and students constructed during the retreat

3. ‘Head space’- the social, psychological and emotional room the retreat made for staff and students

Author Biographies

Bronwen Edwards, Leeds Beckett University

Bronwen Edwards is a senior lecturer in Human Geography and Town Planning at Leeds Beckett University. She is a cultural and historical geographer, and her research in concerned with the design, experience and navigation of built space, particularly from a feminist perspective.

David Haigh, Leeds Beckett University

David Haigh is Head of Planning, Housing and Human Geography subject group at Leeds Beckett University. He is a critical geographer with interests in social housing, community economics, social enterprise and policy outcomes of urban regeneration and social policy.

Max Hope, Leeds Beckett University

Max Hope is principal lecturer and course director in Human Geography and Planning at Leeds Beckett University. He researches learning-led adaption and has conducted research from this perspective on disaster risk reduction, pollution management, education for sustainable development and heritage management. His current research is on social innovation and its role in driving learning-led adaption, specifically, on aftershock forecasting for humanitarian emergency response.

Karen Horwood, Leeds Beckett University

Karen Horwood is senior lecturer in Planning and Human Geography. Sheresearches planning policy from an interpretative position. To date her research has focused on green infrastructure policy. Her current research project focuses on organisations, policy and practice focusing on women in the built environment 

Andre Pusey, Leeds Beckett University

Andre is a principal lecturer and course director in Planning, Housing and Human Geography at Leeds Beckett University. He is a critical geographer. He works on social movements, urban commons and cities and social justice. He is particularly interested in struggles around higher education and the co-construction of critical pedagogical alternatives.


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