Category Archives: Curriculum change

The Science of Where: Ideas for GIS Education

Damien Mansell, University of Exeter (an esri Story map version of this post is available here )

Damien Mansell’s Top 5 take home messages from 2017 esri User Conference

In the Geography department at The University of Exeter we adopt a research-led learning approach to teaching and assessment. Recent advances in the ArcGIS platform are not just changing the workflows of how we operate GIS, but how students are publishing, sharing and collecting data as well as creating work place relevant assessment. My story map: Learning & Assessment with Applied GIS sumarises my approach to GIS education and won the the 2017 esri UK Young Scholar Award. The prize involved the amazing opportunity to present a poster of the work at the esri annual conference in San Diego and collect the award. This story map reflects on some of the big ideas I picked up during the conference, including my top 5 take home messages.

The week involved attending the Education GIS Conference and the Esri User Conference. My top 5 take home messages come from both conferences and include educational focus as well as emerging capabilities of GIS. Since not all the emerging capabilities have made my top 5, first, here is a longer list of the rapidly expanding fields that provide opportunities for GIS users and fit with the conference theme of ‘The Science of Where:’

Integration of real-time data; Integration of big data processing and analysis capabilities; Virtual Reality and Spatial animation; Open GIS data and services; Geodesign and Planning; Management and Decision Making; Advanced Geospatial Analysis for Data Science; & Community Engagement.

My top 5 are introduced below in reverse order followed by the Big Ideas discussion created by Esri. View the trailer below for an introduction to the conference.

5: ArcGIS Education Resources

‘The Science of Where’ is about applying a data-driven approach that uses geography to unlock understanding. In this context, geography provides the science and framework for organising our knowledge and so GIS is deeply rooted in science as a platform for many applications, as well as an education tool in its own right. As an educator of Geographical Science, I both teach GIS and use it as a learning tool for Geographic learning and enquiry. I create bespoke practicals that link in with students own data and that from cutting edge research in the department. At the user conference I was made aware of the accelerating changes of GIS and how Esri are keeping up with these changes by providing increased resources for teaching and training and different learning environments including the Esri GeoInquiries collection and The ArcGIS Book.

All delegates received a copy of The ArcGIS Book second edition (Harder & Brown, 2017). It includes 250 new example applications but more noteworthy is that it has moved away from the traditional text book by being fully interactive with hands-on lessons, dynamic maps and story maps and links to demonstration and lecture videos. This interactive format of text books is an early example of what will no doubt become norm in the Education sector. Download the interactive pdf for free.

The GeoInquireis collection are instructional resources for educators that incorporate advanced web mapping. The resources provide a fast easy-to-use exercises that require no installation, fees or logins. For example see the Climate GeoINquiries activity  here). I have saved this as a web app for ease of integration into this blog, but it usually comes in a web map along with suggested questions and explore tasks. Use the web app to explore the long-term atmospheric factors that make up climate – you will need to show different layers.

The GeoInquiries resources are aimed at school students to bring GIS to the classroom. Whilst the exercises themselves are not directly applicable to my role in higher education, I can aim the resources at my students who currently go into classrooms to either develop teaching experience, promote widening participation or are ambassadors for organisations such as RGS. Quite often my students come to me looking for material they can present in these environments, so the GeoInquiries collection are great resource packages for such environments. I have also recently signed up to be a GeoMentor for schools, so the GeoInquiries resources will serve as a starting point I can direct teachers to, or serve as a template for creating material for the curriculum if required.

4: ArcPro 2.0

I was introduced to ArcPro at the Esri UK user conference in 2016, offering a new connected desktop, containing comprehensive GIS capability and access to online and enterprise capabilities. Whilst many Esri customers still require ArcMap capabilities due to the customised add-on tools, it is still easy to justify teaching the traditional ArcGIS desktop or ArcMAp. However, at the 2017 Esri UC ArcPro 2.0 was launched and the increasing functionality has made it much harder to justify only teaching ArcMap – the traditional desktop platform from Esri. ArcPro features the following improved functionality:

  • Faster & easier Geoprocessing
  • Context-sensitive ribbon interface
  • Smart editing
  • Simple data & map sharing
  • Simultaneous 2D and 3D windows
  • Multiple maps and layouts
  • 3D visualisations, editing and analysis
  • Dynamic charts
  • Smoother workflow integration with ArcGIS Online
  • Animations
  • Living Atlas of the World

Due to the capabilities of ArcPro I plan to re-write sections of the GIS course next year, to include training in ArcMap and ArcPro. The two biggest selling points for ArcPro in my work is the integration of 3D data and ease of publishing and sharing to ArcGIS online. In addition see my number 2 take home message about visualising and animating multidimensional data in ArcPro.

During the user conference Esri professionals presented live demonstrations of advances in ArcPro. 2.0 including the top 10 latest functionality. Below is the recording which also serves as an example of the well rehearsed and polished presentations that delegates have come to expect at Esri events.

3: ArcGIS Online & Enterprise Administration

In the opening plenary of the Education GIS conference Esri announced their Global programme for free GIS in all schools and clubs. This is fantastic for the future of GIS professionals and developing curriculum in schools. Web GIS has made it possible for school children to view, edit, create and publish GIS material. However for these schools and clubs there will need to be guidelines and workflows on WebGIS administration.

One such administrative task may be to set up accounts for users. For Enterprise accounts institutions can utilise existing single sign-on (SSO) by linking their institutional login to their enterprise accounts.  The GIF below shows the path to follow to access the tab to set up your organization account so that your users will be able to sign in to ArcGIS using the same username and password that they use with your existing on-premises systems.

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The Geography Department in The University of Exeter was an earlier adopter of ArcGIS online and have been grateful for the recent improvements in being able to manage the WeGIS licensees and users. During the conference I learnt about three tools that help with WebGIS administration. Below are some of the tools and some of my top tips for how they may help.

ArcGIS online assistant. This online tool is great for individuals to manage their own content. Users can copy items, view usage stats of published content and view and edit content in JSON (JavaScript Object Notation). One of the main benefits of this tool is the capability to copy content from different portals and different accounts. Below is an example benefits of this.

Managing student content when they graduate or when they are due to leave the organisation. At the University of Exeter we currently keep ArcGIS online accounts active for two years after graduating so students can showcase their web maps and apps to future employers and manage their online content. However, this may present problems for graduates when their account is removed after two years and problems for the University in terms of managing the number of licenses available to current students. With the ArcGIS online assistant tool students can transfer their content to a new account. The new workflow I now propose is as follows: Students create a new developer accountwith a personal email address (non-institution account). The developer account is free and allows user to access basic online apps and web maps. Students themselves then copy their content from their University ArcGIS online account to their non-institution account using ArcGIS online assistant. The student accounts and content can then be removed after graduation without the requirement to back up content.

GEOJobe is another Web GIS tool for managing ArcGIS online accounts. Possibly the most valuable set of tools from an education perspective is to manage user profiles and for administrating groups. Groups are really useful for delivering content to students in modules or classes. Content can be contained and shared within these groups. For individual assessment I do however tend not to use Groups, as members can view the entire content of the group which must be avoided for assessment.

In addition to the above two tools the new ArcGIS API for Python allows content management and administration of web GIS. The developers site for the Python API includes lots of sample code and notebooks for users to edit in order to make administration of web GIS even easier. Below is an example on how to batch create groups.

The Python API also allows developers, analysts and data scientists to automate scripts for performing data analysis. That is why the ArcGIS API for Python also features further up my list of take home messages…………

2: Visualising Multidimensional Data in ArcPro Range Slider

Geographic content often contains naturally embedded variables within it at multiple times or depths (ranges). Such multidimensional data is normally stored in netCDF, GRIB, or HDF format. Each file contains one or multiple variables, and each variable is a multidimensional array that represents data in a given time or at a given vertical dimension. For example an oceanographic netCDF dataset can contain ranges of salinity, wind speed and temperature at different times and at different depths.

In ArcPro 2.0 users can visualise such data as a dynamic range. Once the range properties are defined, an interactive, on-screen slider can be used to explore the data through a range which can be customised.  For example the user can view the first 100 m of the salinity and temperature in a multidimensional oceanographic water column. The GIF below shows an example of the range slider by viewing the different floor levels of a building.

rangeslidergiphy__1500663215195

ArcPro 2.0 also includes an animation tool which can be used to export videos for sharing and showcasing the progression of variables through a specified range – how cool is that?!

1: ArcGIS API for Python, with Jupyter Notebook Integration

For the esri UK team who were sitting next to me in the plenary it will come as no surprise the ArcGIS API for Python is is my number one – the live demo had me bouncing in my seat with excitement.
I started using Jupyter notebooks last year when I introduced first year Geography students to coding for data analysis. Jupyter notebooks are an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) that operate through a browser which integrates code with visuals such as graphs and markdown text. For teaching it presents an unrivaled environment where single lines of code can be surround by text of either instructions, or space for learners to explain the outputs and workflow. Jupyter notebooks has allowed me to expose first year Geography students to python coding in an intuitive and  accessible environment where outputs are viewed in the same notebook under each cell of code that is run.

When I learnt the ArcGIS API for python could bring in ArcGIS online content I instantly recognised the benefits. Users will be able to create maps, perform spatial analysis, data analysis and create graphic outputs, tables and maps all in one notebook. For learning and assessment this will no doubt make python coding for GIS much more accessible and manageable.

The GIF below shows a live map of San Diego being brought into the notebook in just three lines of Python code!

PythonAPIgiphy__1500645177257.gif

The additional benefits of the Python API with Jupyter integration is the beneift of being able to call in other functions for further analysis. Functions such as Pandas, Numpy, and Matplotlib for example mean the entire workflow for all outputs (cartographic and statistic) can be demonstrated in one notebook.

Esri User Conference: Big Ideas

My first Esri User conference was a fantastic experience with many more take home messages than I have listed here in my top-5. As well as developing my own knowledge of GIS, the ArcGIS platform and GIS education, it has been really inspiring for me and provided with me motivation to continue to develop the GIS curriculum in the Geography department at Exeter. It was a great chance to learn more about Esri UK and pathways for my graduates including internships and the graduate scheme, meeting the other Esri Young Scholars (full list of projects here) and connecting with many other GIS professionals in the Esri Young Professionals Network. For any Esri customer thinking of attending in the future I strongly recommend it. Below is the ‘Big Ideas’ summary notes from Esri about the user conference, some of my highlights which didn’t make my top-5 can also be seen below.

bigideas.png

This post was created by Damien Mansell from The University of Exeter. For more information, questions, or suggestions please get in touch. @DamienMansell

Whose voice is it anyway: Delivery and Development, what’s the difference and why does it matter?

by Rachel Hunt, School of Geographical and Earth Sciences and Victoria Smillie, Institute of Health and Wellbeing, University of Glasgow

This blog post came about as a result of a postgraduate teaching session at RGS 2015. There, and now here, we have sought to share our views about the importance of the role of the GTA within courses which they help to run.

Those academics engaging with the problem of the GTA recognize that from the GTA perspective there are many positives to our awkward role within the department. Not only does this work boost our wages, communication skills and employability’s (so they tell us), but more importantly provides a much needed break from the solitude that the PHD can bring.

However, Despite advances in the appreciation of postgraduate efforts, and the acknowledgement that GTA’s make up a significant part of the undergraduate teaching team in most universities, the picture is not of universal progress and Linehan’s (1996:107) comments regarding the ‘low grumbling murmur’ of postgraduates continue today. Indeed we can see papers by Linehan (1996), Muzaka (2009), and Park and Ramos (2002), among many others who lament the underpaid, undervalued and under recognised work that many GTA’s undertake.

Many authors report on the specific role of the GTA in shaping courses arguing that we GTA’s should have a role to play in course construction. Yet we are left wondering where to find the time to continually provide and update the courses on top of our phd work, our requirements to publish, to do out reach work, to attend, organize and speak at conferences. The pulls on a researchers time are endless.  As such it is not only diligence above and beyond the call of duty (or scope of payment) which is often expected in terms of GTA involvement, but we would argue that ‘we’ as a cohort are not given the full experience of this ‘apprenticeship’ to use Beesley’s (1979) term.

Despite this, very few authors provide an insight into the messy, in-between status of the GTA, nor really provide any helpful guidance as to how we might redress the balance between wanting to impact upon the courses upon which we tutor, demonstrate or lead, and keeping to our 3 (erm, 4 in our case) year deadline.

Therefore, our aim at RGS and within this blog is not only to voice some opinions from those GTA’s working within the university of Glasgow but also to discuss our own experience of creating a new level one introductory lab. In doing so we aim to make the argument for, and present one example of, the way in which PhD teaching assistants can be given a voice through involvement in the development of teaching materials. Through this we aim to ask questions of delivery and development, focusing on those questions voiced in our title, what’s the difference and why does it matter.

Now, lets hear from 5 of our fellow GTA’s at the university of Glasgow. (available here)

The views expressed here corroborate those within the literature recognizing both the positives and the negatives. Unlike many other departments however we often do have input into our courses. Working as part of the level 1/2 team we receive detailed outlines for each tutorial but these outlines also give points at which we can depart from the written word should our own experiences as researchers be more relevant.

Further to this a team of three GTAs (of which we are two), were given the opportunity to redesign course material for the level 1 introductory lab class, paid of course, giving us an undeniably invaluable opportunity for our voices to be heard. The offer for this opportunity was put out to all of the GTA’s in our department to work in groups to change any one part of the level 1 or 2 course. This amounted to any lab, tutorial or lecture. We were lucky enough to be chosen with our proposal to change a slow and dreary lab which had existed since many of the group were undergraduates.

And with this we created Disaster Island and a two hour task to save the lives and economy of those living on this hazardous place. The lab takes the form of a real time game where students are put in teams, and set to complete a number of hazard based choices. They are given money, people counters, press examples, and maps to aid these decisions.

Glasgow a

This lab aims to encourage students to get to know to each other, get used to the lab environment and appreciate the unique qualities of geography in it’s ability to incorporate human and physical elements.

The process of creating this lab was an enjoyable one. As the images below show, the process started with blue sky thinking, and was gradually narrowed down to include reality or at least a more realistic approach to creating lab materials. We learnt about the practicalities of creating teaching materials, the timescales involved and how to incorporate such work into an existing course, complimenting what was already involved in the level one course while also bringing in brand new material  and with that adding our voice. This was about a new tactile experience, which deviated from the traditional academic process of knowledge exchange, in our department at least.

Glasgow b

We would therefore encourage other university teachers to provide these opportunities within their own institutions, not only for the students, but for the GTA’s themselves. Opportunities such as the one described remain few and far between. It simply would not be economical for universities to offer these opportunities to all willing GTA’s within the department, nor practical to fully redesign courses each year in order to provide these chances.  But this represents an important way to recognize and respect the knowledge, enthusiasm and skills held within the GTA cohort. It is key for us to stress that our immediate, and award winning, teaching team do make us feel like we have a voice, and are not just a face of the department.  However, it is still fair to say that department wide recognition of the teaching team as a whole sadly appears to be generally undervalued. In order to establish a significant role for the GTA within departments it is important to provide opportunities and support for the development of those courses on which we are trusted to teach, a trust we do not take lightly.

What we are talking about with regards to our experience in the development of materials is not the finished article, not by any means, the involvement of the GTA voice could, for sure, be taken further.  Rather our suggestion is a movement towards increased appreciation, rising satisfaction, improved deployment and ultimately better departments which properly equip us for the profession in which we have made our first steps. We worry that failing to do so will continue to allow dissatisfaction to roam like monsters on maps of old. (Linehan 1996:107)

References:

Linehan D., (1996) ‘Arena symposium: teaching assistants’, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, Vol. 20. pp. 107-117.

Mazaka V., (2009) ‘The niche of Graduate Teaching Assistants (GRAs): perceptions and reflections’, Teaching in Higher Education, Vol. 14, pp.1-12.

Park C., Ramos M., (2002) ‘The Donkey in the Department? Insights into the Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) experience in the UK’, Journal of Graduate Education, Vol. 3, pp. 47-53.

 

Fieldwork: always have a plan B.

by Julie Peacock, University of Leeds

I updated the risk assessment for a second year field trip to Middlesmoor, Upper Nidderdale, early in the Academic Year, 2015/2016. I noted the comments, ‘In the event of extreme weather, the trip will not go ahead.’ I’ve seen and even written this on risk assessments many times, but I’d never needed to act on it.

We planned two, one day field trips with 81 second year students, one in early November followed by one in March.  This fieldwork is part of a larger skills module. The students work in groups to plan, then complete a research project focusing on Ecosystem Services. The first field trip, covers key techniques and familiarises students with the site. The second enables students to carry out their projects. In between these trips students work to prepare projects and present proposals to a panel of academic staff who provide feedback.

The second trip was to take place on a Friday. Monday brought a bleak weather forecast.  Students were emailed to remind them to bring suitable clothing and asked to review their field plans to ensure they could work efficiently even in poor weather conditions. On the Thursday, the landowner advised postponing because snow was forecast. We thought it was unlikely the weather would be that bad. Crucially, there was nowhere else in the timetable for the fieldtrip, considering availability of 81 students and six staff, not to mention re-booking the labs for student’s sample analysis.

I considered the options. What if one of the mini-buses got stuck? Would the students bring suitable kit for the weather? Yet, if we didn’t go how could the students complete their projects to meet learning outcomes given timetable inflexibility?

By the time I got into Leeds University at 7am on Friday, both the landowner and local farmer had called to say not to come.  Roads were shut and still it snowed. In some ways I was relieved; the decision was made, but what now for our fieldwork?

The campus at the University of Leeds is urban. Although significant work has been done to improve biodiversity and sustainability on campus, including a sustainability garden, it has no open ‘wild’ space. It is incomparable with Nidderdale! Nevertheless, urban ecosystem services are increasingly important as urban areas continue to expand.

By 7.30am an email had been sent advising students to meet in the department foyer. One lecturer wrote the risk assessment and gained necessary signatures; university estates had granted permission for soil sampling; two large teaching spaces were booked (fortunately, it was reading week); mini buses were cancelled and colleagues who were to meet us at Nidderdale were updated.

At 8am, the planned bus departure time, students were briefed. The trip to Nidderdale was cancelled, but they were to spend the next two to three hours re-planning their work to study ecosystem services on campus.  Inevitably, reactions were mixed, some students were glad (given the weather), others understandably disappointed not to be working on well-planned projects.

Students worked in their groups with academic staff mingling to discuss ideas. The VLE was populated with links to the University’s Biodiversity Action Plan, maps and useful literature. The field stores made a wide range of equipment available and taught students to use kit they hadn’t planned to use previously. Lab technicians made themselves available to talk to students wanting to undertake different analysis.

Changing the assessment brief was probably the hardest part. Students had worked hard on projects and were due to be assessed on a scientific report. Many would have started their literature reviews and methods. It was decided to ask students to review both Upland and Urban ecosystem services, writing up both methods, one where months of planning had taken place and one which had been planned rapidly.  Students found this brief hard given the unchanged word count to meet the advertised assessment. However, no alternative seemed ideal.

Field work was successful, despite the dreadful weather, with laying and falling snow, then heavy rain. Staff circulated to provide advice. A statistics expert stationed in the foyer answered questions.  Our students demonstrated resilience as they planned new projects. They showed they could work effectively under pressure, transferring learning about planning projects to a new situation. They learned in fieldwork too, Burns’ cliché holds that ‘the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, gang aft a-gley.’

This last minute change to fieldwork with such a large group of students couldn’t have worked without university staff’s teamwork and enthusiasm.  Students had a valuable learning experience, and we learned too.  In fieldwork planning is always key.  A contingency plan for extreme weather should occur.  Many HEIs have local areas which could be used.  Permissions for so-called ‘Plan B’ fieldwork could be gained, a risk assessment completed and students advised of the contingency plan including its impact on assessments, so if it is implemented it is not a shock. It’s useful to have a plan B and for the students to know it exists.

What have you done in similar situations? It would be interesting to hear.

 

With thanks to the following for making the changes work on the day: Karen Bacon, Janet Chapman, Dom Emery, Rachel Gasior, Rachel Homer, Jamie Mullen, Graeme Swindles, Clare Woulds and others who added useful documents to the VLE over subsequent days.

 

Creating Global Students: Internationalization of Curricula in Higher Education

Transcultural European Outdoor Studies: a case study of transcultural learning and teaching

By Dr. Chris Loynes (University of Cumbria)

Travelling, curiosity and the quest for the unknown have been a key metaphor for personal growth and human development for at least two thousand years. These ideas re-appeared in the late 13th century when students began to go on so-called Peregrinatio Academica. – peregrinations – to foreign universities. These reached their peak in the 17th century. Today most universities worldwide value transcultural travelling and cooperation in their internationalization strategies.

Financially supported by the European Union’s education programme Erasmus Mundus, a two-year joint international master’s degree entitled Transcultural European Outdoor Studies (TEOS) began in the fall of 2011 and is now in its fifth year. The programme is run collaboratively by Marburg University, Germany; the University of Cumbria, UK and the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences in Oslo. It is explicitly inspired by the ancient idea of peregrination. TEOS involves travelling cohorts of students who spend a semester at each of the universities to explore three of the main European outdoor traditions in their native contexts: Erlebnispädagogik, Outdoor Education (Loynes, 2007) and Friluftsliv (Gurholt, 2008), respectively. The cohorts of approximately twenty international students each come from nearly as many countries and five continents. The course is full time and two years long.

Cultural interaction on the programme takes many forms including living and studying in an international group, studying in three countries, studying with the national cohort of postgraduate students in each country, being taught in English yet learning two other languages, exploring the local cultures and landscapes, experiencing and examining outdoor activities and outdoor educations of each nation and engaging with visiting scholars from other countries as well as the host nations. The central question of the programme is how the different landscapes and cultural contexts of the three nations, whilst influenced by many of the same historical roots, lead to varying forms of human nature relations and outdoor education practices. Over the first five years of the programme this question has been asked by both staff and students.

Different cultures of human nature relations

The understanding that is emerging is of three romantic traditions yet with different ideas of nature and landscape. In the UK the value has been placed on ‘other’ places of wilderness and strangeness both at home and abroad (Loynes, 2010). Rooted in the British imperial past and its history of exploration the challenging expedition remains a central plank of outdoor education practice. Norway, on the other hand, has only emerged relatively recently from a rural past and as an independent country (Gurholt, 2016). The mountains are celebrated both as home and as a national icon celebrated as a core element of the nation’s identity. Being at home whilst journeying in this cultural mountain landscape acts as an endorsement of an ideal of what it is to be Norwegian, something that most Norwegians engage in as part of their everyday lives. For Germans curiosity about ‘other’ cultural landscapes beyond their own borders has inspired journeys abroad and this exploration remains practiced by youth movements such as the Wandervoegel.

The journey as pedagogy

The TEOS curriculum explicitly sets out to explore this experience of the journey as a phenomenon and as an experience in which the students are engaged on a micro scale of excursions and a macro scale of the two-year study programme. The concept of journeying or of being ‘on the way’ underpins most philosophies of outdoor education. According to anthropologist James Clifford (1997) the “travelling cultures” paradigm opens up a broader dialogue concerning travel as a reflection of humanity’s transcultural condition.

Again, the three countries share a common idea of the journey that has unfolded in different ways in each culture. The three key stages of ‘departure’, ‘being on the way’ and ‘the return’ are commonly held. In Norway the departure to the mountains became the most valued element as Norway gained independence from Sweden and the person found individuality from the collective. In contrast, German practice celebrates the ‘being on the way’ as of value in its own right, learning about the ‘other’ for its own sake. In Britain it is rather the return that is emphasised. Whether what is brought back is new knowledge or some personal attribute it is what this has to offer at home that seems most important.

A paper, that has taken the full five years to craft, is close to submission. The intentions are two-fold. Firstly, we hope the paper will deepen and discuss how ideas of travelling and transcultural sensitivity are argued and advanced in the aims, curriculum development, study strategies and comparative research policy within TEOS and other programmes. Secondly, we wish to discuss the contribution to new understandings of the complexity of human-nature relationships in the increasingly globalising field of outdoor pedagogies that TEOS may represent.

References

Clifford, J. (1997) Routes: travel and translation in the twentieth century. Harvard University Press.

Gurholt, K. P. (2008). Norwegian Friluftsliv and Ideals of becoming an ‘Educated Man’. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 8(1): 55-70.

Gurholt, K.P. (2016). Friluftsliv: nature friendly adventures for all. In Humberstone, B., H. Prince, & K. Henderson (Eds.), Routledge International Handbook in Outdoor Studies. London and New York: Routledge.

Loynes, C. (2007). Social Reform, Militarism and Other Historical Influences on the Practice of Outdoor Education in Youth Work. In P. Becker, K. H. Braun & J. Schirp (Eds.), Erlebnisse und die Padagokik. Marburg, Germany: Abenteuer.

Loynes, C. (2010). The British Youth Expedition. In S. Beames (Ed.), Understanding Educational expeditions. (pp. 1-16). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

What’s going on? Secondary school teachers’ response to the geography national curriculum

By Mary Biddulph (University of Nottingham), Senior Vice-President of the Geographical Association.

This contribution to the GEES blog concerns the teaching and learning of geography in schools. It is based on a conference session hosted by HERG at the 2015 RGS Annual Conference entitled: ‘The impacts of recent policy changes to the school geography curriculum: policy, processes and subject knowledge’. To put this session into context, curriculum change is now well-underway in schools in England: since 2014 a new national curriculum has been introduced in primary and secondary schools and currently secondary school geography departments are now considering which of the reformed GCSE and A levels specifications to teach from 2016.

Curriculum change inevitably generates debate, and the recent changes have certainly caused the geography education community to ask the question: What kind of geography(ies) should be taught to young people? The ‘what’ of geographical learning came under scrutiny following the publication of the 2010 White Paper, ‘The Importance of Teaching’. In the White Paper the then coalition government proclaimed that a return to rigour in leaning could only be achieved via a return to the “core of essential knowledge” of subjects. The White Paper made no attempt to define these terms, but political rhetoric at the time left the geography subject community concerned that we were on the cusp of a return to a content heavy, gazetteer-type curriculum which would be dense with facts but strangely short on conceptual discipline. The Department for Education and education Ministers appeared to exert considerable political influence over the curriculum changes, and when finally published the 2014 national curriculum was a significant departure from the concept-led framework of its predecessor. Emphasising locational knowledge, regional study, traditional human and physical themes and making no explicit mention of geographical enquiry, the 2014 curriculum could be said to stress the ‘what’ of geography: what teachers need to teach, with rather less emphasis on what sense we expect children to make of this.

Conversations with geography teachers reveal that despite curriculum prescription, teachers remain committed to creating curriculum experiences for pupils that are engaging, interesting and enjoyable to learn.  Teachers I have talked to in recent months see geography’s role in the broader educational endeavour as a moral one as well as an intellectual one. They are clear that learning geography provides structures (using geographical concepts) that allow students carefully and critically to examine important local, national and international themes. Themes such as European migration, climate change, national and international poverty and social inequalities are, they feel, central to teaching geography. They believe that they have a responsibility to raise important cultural, social, ethical and ecological questions with students and that school geography has a role to play in helping young people think about and engage with the world around them.

Some teachers express misgivings about the new level of prescription in part because many have received no subject-specific professional development in the last 5 years. They acknowledge that they feel less than confident to teach ‘new’ content such as soils, Russia, glaciation and geological timescales and in addition, some are frustrated that making way for new content is at the expense of topics and themes they feel are important and that their students enjoy. An further concern is that accommodating the new content may yet produce a shift in pedagogical approaches, away from more open-ended enquiry-led and discussion based learning to what is sometimes anachronistically labelled ‘chalk and talk’ (enabled these days by powerpoint!). Some teachers fear that an over-emphasis on content could jeopardise more critical pedagogies.

The curriculum changes described above are of some significance for colleagues in higher education. For most students entering higher education, the foundations of their geographical learning and their enthusiasm for the subject are laid down by their school experiences. However, if we accept that the role of school education is not just to serve as a preparation ground for a university degree, there is a deeper significance for higher education. It could be argued that providing all young people with an intellectual framework to help them make sense of super-complex world issues is the hall mark of an effective education – at any level. For geography to fulfil its educational potential, this implies the need for a closer relationship between school and university geography so that the ever-changing ‘what and the how’ of the discipline can serve to support more meaningful and better informed curriculum change in schools.