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Research impact

4 August 2020

Decolonising research: north-south partnerships

Filed under: Latest news, Research impact — Communications, CER @ 4:42 pm

Professor Rajendra Chetty (University of the Western Cape) and Dr Colin Reilly (University of Essex) are currently collaborating on two GCRF@Essex research projects. Here they draw on their experiences and highlight some of the key issues involved when thinking about decolonisation in collaborative research.

There is an increasing awareness of the importance of collaboration in academic research and a range of research funding schemes which explicitly require partnerships between researchers in the Global North and Global South. When taking a decolonial approach to our research, these collaborations can raise a number of challenges and opportunities.

To decolonise the curriculum, we have to also decolonise the research that will inform our teaching, and decolonise how we undertake that research. This involves actively addressing how knowledge is produced and whose knowledge is valued. The priority for the radical intellectual is to reflect seriously on the ways academic practices signify, restrain, or empower decolonial turns not only in the curricula but also in real-life concerns of domination, emancipation, justice, and liberation of the increasing number of poor people globally. When both North and South scholars collaborate in Humanities research, there is always the danger of who speaks for whom, especially research on the lived experience of the subaltern. In many academic endeavours, it is not the voices or intellectual production of the subaltern that is foregrounded, but rather the interpretation and utility of their experience from a scholar’s (both North and South) perspective.

Having collaborators who are from the ‘Global North’ or ‘Global South’ researching collaboratively does not automatically mean that the research is engaging with decoloniality. The current engagement by decolonial activists with the complex context of the North and South has to include the hybrid spaces of the ‘Norths in the South’, and the ‘Souths in the North’, given the colonial history of spatial injustice. Often there’s a tendency to frame the Global North and Global South as clearly distinct entities, which are in themselves also homogenous. So the Global North partners bring ‘x’ to the project, and the Global South partners bring ‘y’. When in reality it’s obviously more complicated than that.

The North-South dichotomy is reductionist and unhelpful. Rather, we should view our commitment to radical humanism, both in the North and South, and focus on how nuances of the historical process contribute to the invisibility of coloniality, as witnessed recently with the Black Lives Matter discourse across the US and Europe. Walter Mignolo reminds us that we always speak from a particular location in the power structures, be it in the North or South, and no one escapes the class, sexual, gender, spiritual, linguistic, geographical, and racial hierarchies of the modern, capitalist and patriarchal world-system. All knowledges are epistemically located either in the dominant or the subaltern side of the power relations and this positioning is related to the geo- and body-politics of knowledge.

The lack of substantive attention to the lived experience and condition of the marginalized other, the subaltern, is construed as a continuation and reinforcement of colonialism. The need for re-thinking knowledge in the Humanities is urgent given the current context of increased mass social resistance, neo-colonial approaches of developing states and student demands for university reform. An important step is to take some distance from the dominant philosophies, discourses and practices and detect its mechanisms of operation, whether it emerges from the North or South and the places where it has effect. Most disciplines in the Humanities lean towards Eurocentric indoctrination that marginalizes Africa and often reinforce patronizing views and stereotypes about the continent.

In disciplines such as English and Philosophy, European and white values may be perceived as the standards on which the curriculum is rooted. Respectful and effective collaboration between North and South colleagues should therefore assume a political position that makes possible an ‘other’ discursive strategy, other philosophical work, and which opens other spaces of theoretical production. Catherine Walsh clarifies that it is these other places, spaces, and positions, other philosophies and other knowledge that challenge not only the definitions and boundaries of philosophy’s continental-analytical divide, but also the geo-political ordering of knowledge and the questions of who produces knowledge, how and where, and for what purposes.

The dilemma in the Humanities is that Western canonical traditions of knowledge production have become hegemonic, alongside the dominance of conservative scholars, this actively reinforces these traditions in the guise of values and standards. This hegemonic notion of knowledge production involves a particular anthropological knowledge, which is a process of knowing about native/ indigenous/ barbarian others – but a process that never fully acknowledges the other as thinking and knowledge producing subjects. The epistemic traditions of the other are disregarded – a form of  cognitive injustice. Cognitive justice as a prerequisite, recognizes the presence of different forms of understandings, knowing and explaining in the world. The commitment from scholars (North or South) should be towards a radical humanism that engages with the voices of the subaltern. This is a crucial foundation for decolonising collaborative research, which will in turn contribute to the decolonisation of the curriculum.

A Critical Resource for Ethical International Partnerships by the Sustainable Futures in Africa Network provides practical advice for developing equitable partnerships.

If you would like to contribute to this ongoing series of blog posts on decolonising the curriculum please get in touch with Hannah Gibson

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4 October 2019

First ever Deputy PVC Research appointed at Essex

Filed under: Latest news, People pages, Research impact — Communications, CER @ 2:36 pm

Dr Leila Musavian has been announced as our first ever Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor Research. We speak to both her and our PVC Research Professor Christine Raines, to find out more about this crucial new appointment.

Dr Leila Musavian is our first Deputy PVC Research.

Professor Christine Raines; the Deputy PVCR is a new role that the University hasn’t had before. Could you tell us more about it and why it is important in the lead up to REF2021?

REF2021 is a key part of our strategy for Research and in this final year, as we run up to the submission on 27 November 2020, the PVCR is responsible for the delivery of our submission. Therefore to allow the space and time for focus on REF at the same time as developing our new Research Strategy the role of DPVR has been established to provide support for the PVCR. This will enable priorities for our Research agenda to move forward.

Dr Musavian, tell us more about yourself, how long have you been at Essex?

I am a reader at the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering. I have been with the University of Essex since December 2016. My main research field is Wireless Communications. In recent years, my research is focused on challenges related to 5G and Beyond 5G communication technologies, in terms of investigating innovative enabling technologies, understanding the requirements for the future use-cases and investigating solutions for rural coverage.

Professor Christine Raines is our PVC Research.

What do you hope to achieve in your new role?

This year is an exciting and important year for the University as we develop our new Research Strategy and we finalise our submission for REF2021. I will work closely with the PVCR, Professor Christine Raines, to have a smooth transition throughout the year so that while we focus on these exciting new tasks, the normal day-to-day activities for implementing the current University Research Strategy are fulfilled.

What will be your immediate priorities?

My immediate priority is to provide support to Professor Christine Raines, the PVCR, for developing and maintaining policies and activities towards enabling our staff to carry out world leading research. I will work closely with academics and professional services staff to support the University’s mission for “excellence in education and research, for the benefit of individuals and communities”.

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9 August 2019

Southend mural raises awareness of modern slavery

Filed under: Latest news, People pages, Research impact — Communications, CER @ 10:46 am

Dr Stephen Jordan of our Centre for Social Work, has worked with SAMS Southend Against Modern Slavery Partnership to create a new mural in Southend highlighting the continued problem of slavery in our society. 

Where is the mural located?

The mural is under the railway bridge on Southend High Street.

Who painted it?

The artist was Nik Vaughn, who has created other murals, and he was also helped by members of Project 49, a community based organisation providing services for adults with learning disabilities, who helped in the painting and preparation.

What is the message the mural would like people to understand?

Sadly slavery did not disappear when it was officially abolished by parliament in 1833. Trafficking is often the means by which people end up in situations of slavery. People are trafficked by force, fraud, coercion or deception with the aim of exploiting them and it is estimated that tens of thousands of people have been trafficked to the UK, as well as vulnerable people, already resident in the UK, who have been exploited and forced to live effectively as slaves. Modern day slavery exists in the form of people who are used for forced labour in industries such as agriculture, construction, hospitality, illegal drug production, nail bars and car washes. Many women and girls are trafficked for sexual exploitation.

Why is it important to raise awareness of modern slavery today?

Modern day slavery is a hidden crime and remains as one of the greatest evils of our time. By raising awareness through campaigns such as ours in Southend can we can start to help people recognise the signs of modern day slavery and reach out to the people who are victims.

What is the connection to the human rights work/social care research of the University?

The University held a conference last year on 12 December as part of our work with the Southend Against Modern Slavery Partnership. Social work has a long and proud history of safeguarding and challenging the abuse of children and vulnerable adults. Modern slavery is an issue of national importance. One example of modern slavery is that children’s care homes have been ‘actively targeted’ to coerce vulnerable children into becoming drug mules or for sexual exploitation. Many children are trafficked into the UK and there are a significant number of British nationals affected by modern slavery.

The project was featured in an article in the Evening Echo

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27 July 2018

Social Interaction and Well-Being: The Surprising Power of Weak Ties.

Filed under: Latest news, People pages, Research impact — Communications, CER @ 11:23 am

“Human felicity is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day.”  Benjamin Franklin.

Gillian Sandstrom 200x300

Dr Gillian Sandstrom

In her fascinating study “Social Interaction and Well-Being: The Surprising Power of Weak Ties.” Dr Gillian Sandstrom found that even brief everyday social interactions, from a quick chat with your barista to saying hello to someone you pass by everyday – can have surprising effects on our happiness and wellbeing. Here she tells us more about her work and how we can all benefit from “weak ties”.

  • Can you tell us about your study and its findings – in a nut shell?

I did a postgraduate degree in Psychology after having spent 10 years in the workforce as a computer programmer. I had a strong case of imposter syndrome when I first arrived on campus, since I was 10 years older than the other students, and I didn’t have the same background training that they did (my undergraduate degree was in computer science, and I had only taken three psychology modules). There was quite a distance between the research lab and my supervisor’s office, and that walk took me past a hot dog stand. Somehow I developed a “relationship” with the lady who worked at the hot dog stand; I would smile at her and say hi whenever I walked past. I realized that this always made me feel a bit better, like I belonged on campus. I ended up studying this phenomenon for my PhD.

I asked people to keep track of all of their social interactions – any time they said hi to someone that they recognized (i.e., anyone except a complete stranger) – for six days. They carried around two small tally counters, and clicked one every time they interacted with a strong tie (i.e., a close friend or family member), and another one every time they interacted with a weak tie (i.e., an acquaintance). I found that people who had, on average, more daily interactions with weak ties than other people were, on average, a little bit happier. Also, on days when people had more interactions with weak ties than they usually did, they tended to be a bit happier than they usually were.

I’ve been at Essex for two years now, and almost every time I walk across campus now, I see someone I know. It makes me feel at home here.

  • What can staff do to build these weak ties with students?

Just say hi! I ran a study last year in my statistics module. The students break into three groups for their computer lab sessions, and I did something different for each group. For one group, I stood at the door and greeted students as they arrived. Another group wrote their names on name boards, which were displayed on their desks. The third was a control group, which received no greeting and no nameboards. Students in both of the experimental groups reported higher interest/enjoyment than students in the control group. This is something simple, that any instructor can do. Just make sure it’s genuine; if the students think your heart isn’t in it, it probably won’t be effective.

It’s not just academic staff that can build these connections with students. During my PhD, I stood on the pavement outside of Starbucks, and bribed people to help with my research, by giving them Starbucks cards, which they had to use right away to buy a coffee. I asked some people to be as efficient as possible: have their money ready and avoid unnecessary conversation. I told them that this would be helpful to the barista, who just wants to get through their shift. I asked other people to have a genuine social interaction: smile, make contact, and have a brief conversation. When people emerged from the store with their coffee, I asked them to fill out a brief survey. I found that people who had a minimal social interaction were in a better mood, enjoyed their Starbucks experience more, and felt more connected to other people. This means everyone can make a difference, whether you’re in food services, cleaning services, security, or anything else.

  • How do the students react?

When I greet my students outside of the classroom, at the beginning of the year they seem kind of embarrassed – sometimes they giggle, or look away, as if they can’t quite believe it. But they get used to it, and seem to enjoy saying hi back.  When I did my greeting/name board study, I asked students whether they had ever talked to me, whether I would recognize them if I saw them on campus, and whether I knew their name. Two students who were filling in the survey came up to me and straight out asked me if I knew their names. One of them literally jumped up and down and seemed quite delighted when I told her that I knew her name.

Since arriving at Essex, I’ve run a study at the Tate Modern art gallery, which is similar to, but the reverse of the one I did at Starbucks. I trained volunteers to approach gallery visitors and start a conversation about a particular exhibit in the Turbine Hall. The volunteers were a bit nervous about it – they usually wait for visitors to approach them, and didn’t want to intrude. However, when we surveyed visitors, those who had been spoken to by a volunteer (vs. those who hadn’t talked to a volunteer) were in a better mood, and felt more connected to the exhibit and to other people. This suggests that both the person initiating the conversation (as in the Starbucks study), and also the person being talked to (as in the Tate study), enjoy these kinds of interactions.

  • What challenges are there to developing these kinds of relationships with students?

Some people are bad at remembering names (because it’s really hard!), and others are bad at remembering faces. In some departments, we do team teaching; we only see a group of students for a few weeks, then someone else takes over. Not to mention that class sizes can be really large, and we have hundreds of new students every year. The whole idea of learning names can seem hopeless, and even pointless. The students do seem to really appreciate it, and I personally think all academic staff should know at least a handful of students by name, but I’m really happy that my research suggests that there are benefits to simply greeting students. Anyone can do that!

  • What are the benefits to weak ties – apart from wellbeing? Are there any downsides?

Besides making both parties feel good, weak ties can provide a sense of belonging. For her capstone project, one of my undergraduate students ran a survey assessing students’ campus involvement, use of support services, and social relationships, and how these were related to interest/enjoyment and belonging. Students who reported that more staff greeted them on campus also reported greater interest/enjoyment and a greater sense of belonging. This is crucial, because research shows that students who feel a stronger sense of belonging are more likely to complete their degree, and demonstrate higher achievement in their studies.

As far as downsides go, I do get asked to write an exorbitant number of reference letters, and it can take me a really long time to get anywhere on campus because I keep running into people. Which is funny, because when I was a kid, a trip to the grocery store with my Dad would take hours, because he always ran into someone he knew. I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…

  • What advice can you give someone who feels awkward or self conscious?

One of the things that makes it scary to talk to a stranger is that you don’t know if they will reject you. But both my personal experience and my research find that rejection is very, very uncommon. I have had lots of nice chats after approaching someone who looked lost and helping them find their way. I’m convinced that both of us have left those interactions with a smile on our face. Know, however, that sometimes people don’t want help – they want to figure things out on their own. Don’t take it personally if someone turns down your offer – just try again with the next person, who will probably be more than happy to accept your help.



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27 October 2017

Research Information System (RIS) – impact module

Filed under: Latest news, Research impact — Communications, CER @ 10:49 am

Earlier this year we launched a new Research Information System (RIS) to collect information about publications by University researchers.  For those who are new to the University, and as a reminder to everyone else, you can access your profile for the RIS by visiting and login using your University of Essex login details. Guidance on how to use the RIS for publications is available on the RIS help page.

We have also been developing an additional Impact Module within the RIS to allow users to store impact information alongside publication details.

I am happy to announce that the Impact Module is now ready to use, and to invite you all to start uploading information about your impact.

Purpose of the Impact Module

The Impact Module is a repository for academic staff to store and track information about the impact of their research outside of the academy. Its purpose is to give you a place to record your impact when it happens and to update your Department, your Faculty, and the REO while minimising the need for meetings, emails, and monitoring forms.

The Impact Module will deliver important benefits which include:

  • Linking of impact and impact activities to underpinning research (publications) already stored on the RIS
  • A single place where researchers can manage the links between grants, projects, professional activities, teaching responsibilities, publications, public engagement activities, and impact to generate a narrative around the reach and relevance of their work
  • A platform in which REF submission and Impact Case Study monitoring can be managed with minimal re-keying of data or completing of forms.

Guidance for use of the Impact Module

To use any part of the RIS, including the Impact Module, visit and login using your University of Essex login details.

Guidance and help for using the RIS Impact Module takes the following forms:

Written step by step guidance: attached to this email and available on the RIS help page, linked here.

Video guidance: also available on the RIS help page, linked here.

In-person lunchtime drop-in sessions: for those who would prefer an in-person introduction to the Impact Module, the Research Impact Officers will be available in person for a hands-on introduction to the Impact Module. Lunchtime drop-in sessions will be held:

  • 1-2pm, Wed 25 October, IT Training Room (4SW 3.3)
  • 1-2pm, Wed 1 November, IT Training Room (4SW 3.3)
  • 1-2pm Wed 8 November, IT Training Room (4SW 3.3)
  • 1-2pm Wed 15 November, IT Training Room (4SW 3.3)

Contact the team: if you have questions about the Impact Module please contact me by reply to this email. Questions about the RIS not related to the Impact Module should be sent to

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1 August 2017

Call for papers for China conference

Filed under: Latest news, Research impact — Tags: — Communications Office @ 10:36 am

image of dataNew approaches in data science and analytics will be discussed by scientists, professionals and industry leaders at a special conference in China, co-sponsored by the University.

The first International Conference on the Frontiers and Advances in Data Science (FADS) takes place on 23-25 October 2017 in Xian, China.

Co-sponsored by the University’s Institute for Analytics and Data Science (IADS), the conference will provide the perfect platform for experts to share knowledge about advances in this field and new approaches for harnessing data which can bring huge benefits to fields as diverse as health, finance, the environment, business and public policy.

The event is being co-chaired by Professor Maria Fasli, Director of IADS and UNESCO Chair in Analytics and Data Science.

Submissions of original and previously unpublished theoretical and practical work in all fields of data science and analytics including methodologies and techniques for big data are welcome. The deadline for paper submissions for the general conference is 10 August while several special sessions have later deadlines. Staff and students who are interested in participating and presenting at the conference are encouraged to get in touch with Professor Maria Fasli ( for enquiries and further information. All submissions will be reviewed by at least two members of the Program Committee on the basis of novelty, technical quality, relevance to the conference theme, significance, and clarity of presentation.

Further information is available from the FADS 2017 website


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24 May 2017

Webinars to make the most of data

Filed under: Research impact, What's on — Communications Office @ 11:50 pm

Free webinars on making the most of data

The UK Data Service, based at the University of Essex, is contributing to a series of free one-hour webinars aimed at helping you get the most out of research tools and key national and international surveys, on topics ranging from politics to aging.

The sessions, aimed at beginners, include an introduction to bio-markers: what they are and how they can be used, and an overview on sharing data through the ReShare repository.

For details and bookings, see the links below.

Wednesday 7 June – 2pm

Data in Europe: Political behaviour

Tuesday 13 June – 3pm

Guided walk through ReShare

Wednesday 14 June  – 3pm

Data in Europe: Ageing

Thursday 15 June – 2pm

Introduction to Biomarker data

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10 May 2017

A sneak preview of our new website

Filed under: Latest news, Research impact — Communications, CER @ 1:51 pm

The first phase of our new-look Essex website will launch soon.

The new design is much more modern and fully responsive for mobile and tablet users.

The initial launch will include the homepage, Course Finder, news and events, and the top-level sections on studying at Essex, research, business and about the University.

Academic department sites will follow in Autumn Term 2017 and the web team will then work with other teams to bring content into the new site.

None of the current website content will be lost when the new site launches. Pages that aren’t in the initial launch will remain online in their current format. Our digital partner Delete is building the site at the moment.

Here’s a sneak preview of our new look. For more information about the project, contact or check out the project webpage.

web white

Our new look website.

web black

Our new website will be compatible with tablets and smart phones

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6 April 2017

Help accelerate our impact – join our new IAA Challenge Labs

Filed under: Research impact — Communications Office @ 1:53 am

A series of Challenge Labs are taking place from this week thanks to support from the University’s ESRC Impact Acceleration Account (IAA).

The IAA Challenge Labs are aiming to respond to the Government’s announcement about the new Industry Strategy Challenge Fund, which will be delivered by UK Research and Innovation – which the Government wants to create to bring together the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and the research and knowledge exchange functions of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).

We spoke to Dorian Hayes from the Research and Enterprise Office about the the Challenge Labs and why researchers should get involved.

What are Challenge Labs and how do I get involved?

“The Essex IAA programme is holding a programme of themed and facilitated Lab events to bring together researchers, businesses and other organisations to explore key priorities and challenges in particular sectors; to develop innovative solutions based on the application of research in practice; and to create real-world projects to test those solutions.

“You can take part in these events by looking out for invitations (via Heads of Department, Directors of Research, and Impact) and signing up through the IAA email address:

“After our initial Challenge Lab on the Digital, Creative, and Cultural Industries on Thursday 6 April and Friday 7 April, the next event, focused on Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, will take place on Thursday 20 April and Friday 21 April. The event will involve a range of industry partners working in different aspects of the high-tech industries, and will explore not just the technical, but also the ethical, political, legal, and cultural implications of these new technologies. It is open to researchers from across all of the University’s faculties and departments. This opening pair of events will be followed by Labs later in the summer on Leading Edge Healthcare, and Big Data Analytics, as well as other sectors, to be confirmed.”

Why is the Government’s New Industrial Strategy important to researchers at Essex?

“In support of the publication of the Government’s new Industrial Strategy in a Green Paper in January 2017, a new Challenge Fund will offer a range of new funding opportunities to be delivered through Research Councils. The Industrial Strategy seeks to build on strengths and extend excellence into the future, increase productivity and drive growth across the whole of the UK, making the UK one of the most competitive places to grow a business.

“At Essex we’re responding positively to the Government consultation on the green paper by using new funds made available through our existing IAA to engage with the development of the Challenge Fund, and to work with our regional partners to highlight our strengths and pave the way for research and innovation collaborations. By participating in our Challenge Labs programme, you have a unique opportunity to influence and shape the University’s response to this new landscape of challenge-led funding for research and development, and to enhance the impact of your own research.”

What happens next?

Our first event takes place from Thursday to Friday, so watch this space for updates on the propositions and projects that emerge from this engagement with the digital and cultural sector, which will be supported by new IAA project funding. There is still time to sign up for our second event on 20-21 April by emailing or

After that stand by for the announcement of the next events in May-June.

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19 July 2016

Discover new way to map your research and join new ArcGIS user group

Filed under: Latest news, Research impact, Student experience — Communications Office @ 12:13 pm
Map of Essex created with ArcGIS

Map of Essex created with ArcGIS

Essex academics and postgraduate students are being offered the chance to use a powerful suite of software, apps and online tools to map out their research in a new and exciting way.

The University has a license for ArcGIS which allows you to create and share beautiful maps based on your research. An ArcGIS user group has now been setup to share experiences and provide support.

The system is already being used in history, sociology and biological sciences and Dr Leanne Appleby Hepburn, who is promoting ArcGIS thanks to a Teaching and Learning Innovation Fund award, is now looking to create a users’ group to help other people find out more and start using it in their research and teaching.

  • For more information about learning to use ArcGIS and to join the user group email Leanne at:

Leanne said: “We use the software in both teaching and research and employers specify this skill in many graduate level jobs.  We are inviting anyone across the University who is interested in learning more about this software to get in touch so that we can encourage interest and set up a meeting.

“Our license covers the whole University so we want to make people aware we have this resource available. “

Case studies

Mapping marine and terrestrial habitats

Leanne is using the ArcGIS Collector app to map environments being studied by students. She said: “I’m using ArcGIS apps in the field for practical work by students where we are mapping marine and terrestrial habitats.

“We are also starting a new Oceanography and Marine Conservation field course in Greece this year where student will be using ArcGIS to map the distribution and abundance of protected Poisdonia seagrass beds – which are a vital part of the Mediterranean ecosystem.

“We also use ArcGIS to map the Blackwater estuary native oyster population which was used as important data in the designation of the area as a Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ).”

Mapping domestic abuse

Ruth Weir, from the Department of Sociology, who is researching domestic abuse patterns in Essex, added: “I’ve been using ArcGIS to identify predictors of domestic abuse.  I’ve used Geographically Weighted Regression, from the spatial analyst extension, to model predictors and look at how the relationships vary across Essex.

“I also ran a Proficio course for postgraduate students in April and I’m working with Professor Pamela Cox to introduce ArcGIS into teaching for third year undergraduate criminology students and Masters students.”

Helping visualise history of Colchester

Dr Justin Colson from the Department of History is excited about enriching the learning experience for students: “On my new module ‘Mapping History and Heritage in Colchester’ students will be using ArcGIS to interact with historic maps of the town from various eras, as well as information such as the census and trade directories. They’ll use ArcGIS to produce their own projects mapping change in different aspects of Colchester’s shops, industries and culture.

“I’m also working with the same material, as well as data shared by Colchester Borough Council and the Colchester Archaeological Trust, to produce a comprehensive atlas of the town’s development.”

Training opportunities

In 2016-17 staff and postgraduate students will be able to take advantage of Ruth’s course on ArcGIS while Justin will be running additional courses on concepts of mapping and using the online ArcGIS app.


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