General Comments

Going Global: Developing an International Network for Learning and Teaching Geography in Higher Education

Comment from Received
Gordon Clark 19 January 99
Eleanor Rawling 4 March 99
Michael Williams 4 March 99
Janice Monk 11 March 99
Ken Foote 12 March 99
David Rich 13 March 99
Vladimir Annenkov 16 March 99
Karen Nairn 17 March 99
Dominique Vanneste 18 March 99

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Gordon Clark, Lancaster University, UK

I have read with great interest the first Hawaii paper "Going global". Can I just flag up what I see as some key points?

  1. A corollary to dissemination needs to be 'translation' in the sense of examining materials produced in one country and seeing how they fit another country's structures or traditions, and trying to draw up guidelines for how exactly you 'internationalise' materials. The need to internationalise has, of course, been recognised many times and is at the core of this paper, but the amount of practical progress on how to internationalise teaching materials so far seems to me to be less than one might hope for. Personally I find it difficult to write in a way that I can be confident will be acceptable in many other countries, and when I read the work of others I am also conscious of their national starting points which seem to me often to make adoption of their ideas more difficult.
  2. The second area that is also recognised as important but again has been the subject of much less actual work, is how to evaluate the educational effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of teaching initiatives. This is never an easy task but I get the impression, perhaps wrongly, that this is rather a Cinderella area within teaching innovation. I suspect that the adoption of new methods of teaching and learning might be quicker and have more high-level institutional support if we could more conclusively demonstrate the effectiveness of what is proposed.
  3. The third area which I would give more prominence to as a target for the INLT is the issue of how to obtain promotion and recognition in institutions for teaching excellence and innovation. There are some good examples around. This might be a focus for another working group within the INLT.
  4. Finally, the very success of groups in different countries in producing a wide range of new teaching materials requires some more formal guidance for new staff undergoing staff training and similar professional development courses at various stages of their careers. I think we are now in the position where they need more guidance as to what is available and how to evaluate it; otherwise the immensity of the WWW may overwhelm busy new teachers of geography.

    I hope these points are a useful starting point for what will be a vigorous and lively debate.

    Gordon Clark
    Department of Geography, Lancaster University, Lancaster LA1 4YB
    Tel. +44(0)1524 593740; Fax +44(0)1524 847099; E-mail



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    Eleanor Rawling, Oxford University, UK

    This is a useful summary of the challenges and opportunities involved in developing an international network for learning and teaching geography. Congratulations to the authors for the clear way in which the arguments are set out. I will respond to the questions posed at the end (or to some parts of the questions!).

    Question 1 (Need for International network) Yes there is a need to develop an international network, because of the resultant extension in opportunities for exchanging ideas, approaches and materials and because the technology and the will now exist to make this happen. Ultimately however, the answer to 'why?' must be because we believe that this is another means of improving the quality of learning and teaching.

    Question 2 (Aims) I agree with the aims listed, but would add that one aim should also be to exchange views,ideas and experiences about coping with the political and organisational constraints which currently cause problems for those interested in pedagogy (eg how to raise status of learning/teaching; how to encourage young researchers to consider learning/teaching topics). In his comments, Gordon Clarke emphasised the importance of overcoming such barriers and we might learn some useful stratgeies from each other. In a sense, this is a pragmatic aim, necessary in the short term but, one hopes, less necessary in the longer term.

    As a co-author of the paper on Reflections from School Experience, I would also add that one sub-heading under bullet 2 (Aims, p.4) 'engage critically with others etc' should be concerned with liasing with school educators.

    Question 3 (Learning from experience of others) It would seem to me that the experience of school education in England recently, and the experience of the IGU-CGE both show the potential problems caused if 'educational' matters are seen as separate from 'geography' matters. Although there are particular historical factors accounting for this in the case of the IGU (its early emphasis on school education), it is still worth trying to ensure , right from the beginning, that the INLT is not seen as a separate group of 'educational geographers' rather than a mainstream 'geography' initiative. It is crucial that a learning and teaching network, although drawing on educational ideas and research, is strongly rooted in the subject discipline. Indeed, the changing character of the subject, as evidenced in research activity, may be an important item for discussion by a learning/teaching network, in so far as this may change the subject's potential as an educational medium. (Another aim?)

    Question 4 (What next?) My only comment here would be that it is probably important not to come away from the Symposium with too many or too diffuse targets. Surely a key role for participants at the Symposium will be to decide an 'order of priorities' and to focus on small number of specific future activities and goals?

    I personally think that these future activities should include both electronic means of exchange and another opportunity(ies) for face-to-face contact (another Symposium/ conference in 2000 or 2001 to check progress and take things further?)

    Eleanor Rawling
    Department of Educational Studies, University of Oxford, UK



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    Michael Williams, University of Wales Swansea, UK

    Question 3 (Learning from experience of others) I thought you might be interested in the IGU Education Network that I have been struggling to co-ordinate with the encouragement of the IGU Executive and funding that they have obtained from ICSU.

    I am attaching the proposal (below) that was sent in 1997 and accepted just before Xmas 1997. I was encouraged by the IGU Exec to focus on collaboration between 3 or 4 Committees and Study Groups and I have done this.

    The first tangible evidence from the network is a publishing proposal currently in the hands of a UK publisher that has been produced collaboratively by three IGU Commissions. In essence, each of the Commissions has drafted a synopsis of a book backed by web pages designed to bring the best research and new development to geography students in the year immediately before university entry. The books are designed as contributions from leading scholars world-wide and they are not targeted at any particular national audience. They are perceived as having international relevance. If these publications are accepted for publication, they should be ready for the next IGU Congress in Seoul. In additions other titled will be added from a number of IGU Commissions. This series is a deliberate attempt to bridge the transition from upper secondary education to higher education.

    Michael Williams

    IGU Education Network Project Co-ordinator, University of Wales Swansea, UK E-mail


    International Geographical Union
    Commission on Geographical Education

    Proposal for an Educational Network within the International Geographical Union

    In March 1997, Professor Rod Gerber, Chair of the Commission on Geographical Education of the IGU, submitted a proposal to the IGU Executive for the establishment of an Educational Network within the IGU. Subsequently, this proposal was approved by the Executive Committee and Professor Gerber wrote to Chairs of all of the IGU Commissions and Study Groups inviting their participation in the proposed Network. I was invited to co-ordinate the Network and the Chairs were asked to communicate their interest in the Network to me. At the time of writing positive responses had been received from 12 Commissions and Study Groups. This is very encouraging and gives me confidence to submit this enhanced proposal for your consideration.

    Aim of the Network

    The development of a Network across the participating Commissions and Study Groups that will investigate and facilitate the development of educational applications of the outcomes of the work of these groups.


    Both the IGU Executive and individual Commissions have expressed the desire to maximise the outcomes of the work of Commissions and Study Groups. One crucial area in which this maximisation can occur is the exploration and development of educational applications of these outcomes. Education of the global community through geography can be enhanced through the development of targeted applications that involve the expertise of domain specialists and the pedagogic skills of professional educators. To date, geographical education has remained separate from the work of other Commissions and Study Groups. While there is a very strong case for this to continue, there is a need for constructive outreach by geographical educators to improve the status and impact of geography in the world.


    1. A Network of representatives of interested Commissions and Study Groups should be convened by the Commission on Geographical Education to consider the educational implications of their group's work. The Network should be established as a special project of the IGU.

    2. This Network should address the potential educational applications of the work of the Commissions and Study Groups for a number of audiences, including:
      • the Commissions and Study Groups of the IGU;

      • the global academic community of geographers and those working in cognate disciplines;

      • policy makers at local, national and international levels in various fields;

      • members of the general public in the context of lifelong learning;

      • teachers of geography and cognate subjects in primary, secondary, tertiary and higher education sectors;

      • students of geography and cognate subjects in primary, secondary, tertiary and higher education sectors;

      • editors of journals and other publications designed for geographers and geography teachers;

      • the mass media.

    3. Members of the Network would interact both electronically via the Internet and E-mail and interpersonally trough meetings. The following terms of reference are proposed for the Network:
      1. to explore and identify educational applications stemming from projects within the IGU;

      2. to workout the most appropriate forms that such applications may take;

      3. to collaborate in the development of some of these applications for use selected contexts;

      4. to offer advice to Commissions and Study Groups on the evaluation of the effectiveness of these applications;

      5. to report annually on its activities tot he IGU Executive.

    4. It is envisaged that each participating Commission and Study Group would identify those aspects of its current and projected work that as educational potential for one or more of the identified audiences. This process of identification would generate a list of projects that would be circulated by members of the Commission on Geographical Education through its newsletter that is communicated electronically and as hard copy. Contact would be made with the Commission or Study Group by an appropriate educational expert or experts who would facilitate the educational application of the particular project. It should be noticed that the Commission on geographical education has a substantial list of members drawn from all of the continents and from many countries world-wide. The Geographical Education Commission would seek to match both pedagogical/educational expertise and expertise in the substantive area related to the Commissions and Study Groups.

    5. It is envisaged that, to keep the members of the Network fully informed and to advise others about the progress of the Network, pages will be produced for the Internet, one for each of the participant Commissions and Study Groups and others for the Network itself.

    6. Given the global spread of Chairs and full members of the various Commissions and Study Groups, it is anticipated that the organisation of meetings for their representatives will be difficult to organise. Currently, the possibility of organising meetings for sub-sets of the Network at the time of major geographical congresses and conferences is being explored. Certainly, the IGU Congress to be convened in Portugal in 1998 will be an appropriate venue to hold a meeting of the Network.

    Outcomes and their dissemination

    Since the Network is envisaged as having a life of at least two years it is expected that the principal emphasis in 1997/1998 will be on establishing and consolidating the Network. By the endof the first year it is intended to achieve the following:
    1. identified the Commissions and Study Groups that have a positive interest in the Network;

    2. completed an audit of the educational activities of each of the groups represented in the Network;

    3. engaged in face-to-face meetings with some individual representatives and some groups to develop a programme of activities;

    4. arranged meetings of representatives of Commissions and Study Groups alongside current international conferences;

    5. examined current presentations on the Internet and developed home pages for the Network;

    6. initiated a number of collabroative ventures, e.g. joint symposia and joint publications between the representatives;

    7. informed editors of major geographical journals of the existence of the Network and encouraged them to publish information about the Network.
    August 1997



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    Janice Monk, University of Arizona, USA

    I am writing these comments while travelling without access to the Web, so my apologies if I am duplicating remarks already made by others.

    First, thanks to Mick, Iain, and Ken for their initiative effort in proposing this network and especially to Mick for creating the symposium and generating this set of papers. I don't have a lot to add to their own paper by way of comment that is not already said in Paper No. 2.

    1. One value of international communication is that it can not only give resources, as the paper suggests, but also allow us to reflect on and critique our own practice.

    2. I would suggest that at the symposium (or in this discussion forum) we comment on the processes already implemented towards network development, including how we have organized to create the papers -- how the contributors and topics were identified, what it took to get collaborative pieces written etc., so that we can review this effort as one of the models that a prospective network uses to generate dialogue and extend practice.

    3. Is it necessary to have some event or potential publication, for example, to sustain the level of effort/reward necessary to support the creation of such pieces? How does this form of communication differ from and/or complement the more haphazard and fragmented communications that listservs tend to generate?

    Janice Monk
    University of Arizona, USA
    E-mail jmonk@U.Arizona.EDU



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    Ken Foote, University of Texas at Austin, USA

    A response to Eleanor Rawling's comment

    Yes, I very much with Eleanor's fourth point. I think the idea is to focus on perhaps only three projects, but ones that are graded in difficulty. One project should be "do-able" almost immediately. One should require a bit more collaboration, perhaps a bit of funding, but be complete in 12 to 18 months. The third should present a longer term challenge.


    A response to Michael Williams' comment

    The IGU proposal brings to mind how important it will be to coordinate the many projects being proposed and already underway in geography. AAG Vice-president Reg Golledge has just received some seed money from the association to begin a National Geography Learning Center. Les Doak at UC Fullerton has begun his large, NSF-funded GIS Access Project for American Community Colleges, and Fred Stutz at San Diego State University has developed a US Department of Education proposal to develop instructional materials for American colleges and universities that lack geography departments.

    Frankly, we could accomplish a lot by helping people coordinate and disseminate the projects already underway. That way, individuals would have a lot of independence to develop their own ideas, but each project would build on the next.

    The program officers I know at the US National Science Foundation always seem to lament that many instructional projects almost disappear after they have been developed at one campus. Then another scientist comes along from a different campus and proposes an almost identical project a few years later There must be some way to gather and disseminate information about all of these projects. No need to reinvent the wheel.

    Ken Foote
    University of Texas at Austin, USA



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    David Rich, Macquarie University, Australia

    Question 1 (Need for International Network): Yes, I can see value in creating an international network.

    In the end, the reasons are the obvious ones: developing mechanisms to enhance teaching and learning in Geography; to maintain and improve geographical education in an environment of declining real resources and rising pressures for accountability and relevance; assist academic staff to do more with less and to achieve professional recognition for it (without killing themselves with over work); and reduce the incidence of reinventing the wheel.

    Pointing to these issues, of course, raises the question of what an international network would be able to do about the situation. In pondering this, I am all too conscious of huge international variations in the status of Geography as a centre of innovation in teaching and learning. The UK is clearly a (the?) international leader and there are many exciting initiatives in the US as well. Yet, in Australia, despite a pervasive commitment to providing a good geographical education, there is relatively little use of new technologies, methodologies and pedagogies; I strongly suspect that Australian Geography is not alone in this! So, a key reason for creating the international network is to support spatial diffusion of innovation and best practice. (There are Antipodean beacons of good practice, though, and a corollary of this rationale is that they may be disseminated more widely.)

    Question 2 (What Should Its Aims Be?): Any new network needs aims that are clearly distinct from those of the multitude of existing organisations, structures and projects, listed by Ian Hay, Ken Foote and Mick Healey, so a starting point should be in identifying the aims and functions of those and working out whether there is a need for something different.

    More importantly, given my point about the existence of international differences in current practice, I see the core issue as encouraging diffusion of awareness and adoption of good practice, and implementing change that is sustainable and system-wide. My view is that the central current need is NOT the development of yet more learning resources, or even their adoption in a few more courses. Rather, we should focus more on matters such as:

    • dealing with the systemic barriers identified by the authors
    • providing role models of good pedagogical practice in Geography teaching and learning that go beyond the development of yet more case studies
    • fully exploiting the educational tools already available (not least in generic teaching delivery packages such as WebCT, First Class, Learning Space and many others)
    • providing improved documentation and support mechanisms for implementing good practice
    • identifying, documenting and (as far as possible) implementing common technical standards that support resource sharing and optimise operability.
    In short, I have come to the conclusion, based on my own work and reflection on that of others, that while there has been huge effort in developing learning resources, some of them very good (some not), if there is to be any sustained progress and any continuing impact that survives beyond the enthusiastic efforts of key individuals, we need to do much more to tackle the bigger issues. I suspect that this will be much harder (and for many of us rather less fun!), but crucial if we are collectively to demonstrate that investment in innovation brings educational and other benefits and can be sustainable. Only if these underpinnings are dealt with is there likely to be a continuing flow of funds to finance further resource development.

    In closing this section, perhaps I should make it clear that the argument is not a criticism of all the work that has been done to develop geographical 'content', but more perhaps a reflection of the success of efforts so far (there are vary many examples) and a fear that for the time being we have probably reached a point of diminishing returns on efforts in this direction.

    Question 3 (Making the Network Work):

    Given my comments above, we perhaps need to decide whether this is to be primarily a content developers' network or whether the broader issues are to be the primary focus.

    Question 4 (What Next?):

    I agree with Eleanor Rawling's point that we need a fairly tightly defined set of actions and desired outcomes.

    David Rich
    Centre for Flexible Learning, Macquarie University, NSW 2109, Australia
    Phone: + (612) 9850 8390; Fax: +(612) 9850 6590; email:



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    Vladimir Annenkov, Russian Academy of Sciences

    I just red the web page concerning Symposium on 'Developing an international network for learning and teaching geography in higher education'. This initiative is very promising indeed. As the editor and one of authors of the book "International Cooperation of Geographers" (Moscow: Social Sciences Today, 1980, 221 p.) I could comment on the general theme of the symposium, but due to a lack of time I am limiting to:

    1. How do we promote international understanding and collaboration, while still valuing local and national differences?
    2. What international sharing and cooperation is desirable?
    3. What is feasible?
    4. What can be achieved, by when, and by whom?
      Among a variety of aspects I would stress the language issues.

    1. At the stage of modernism the schools of Geography in different countries attempted to expand their concepts and approaches through term standardization. This trend is still actual at the current stage of postmodernism but it should be complemented by other trend, namely - the support of a cultural diversity. It seems that two trends are conflicting. I insist that they should complement one another since we need a mutual understanding, but not by imposing our own standards to other cultures, rather by the dialogue of cultures. For this purpose we have to develop not only the normative dictionaries, but also the explanatory glossaries, where a number of interpretations from the points of view of different sciences and different nations would be collected for each international and interdisciplinary term.

    2. My contribution to the international discussion of the question "What international sharing and cooperation is desirable?" consists in the proposal to develop the "Virtual Glossary of Geoculture for Sustainable Development". The key terms of "Sustainable development" and "Geoculture" have a lot of interpretations in different nations and disciplines, and this fact reflects a diversity of human cultures. In such cases an explanatory collection of different meanings would help to mutual understanding without imposing standards of one or another nation or branch of science.

    3. Is such a glossary feasible? I would answer positively bearing in mind the Internet techniques. It opens the possibility of an international cooperation in compiling explanatory glossaries at national sites and then integrating them through cross-national hypertext references.

    4. What can be achieved, by when, and by whom? I suggest to create national web-sites with collections of term interpretations from publications in the mother tongue and their translation to some commonly understandable language. Pages of the national web-site may be elaborated by students (under guidance of their tutors), then edited by experts and integrated into the international net of glossaries covering the theme of Geoculture for Sustainable Development. This plan would be accomplished before the next International Geographical Congress (Seoul, August 2000)

    In general, the project of the Virtual Glossary of Geoculture for Sustainable Development seems corresponding to aims of internationalizing Geography with a care of cultural diversity. If the organizers of the symposium have some questions to my proposal, do not hesitate to contact me by email. Let hope that my proposal will be discussed as a special item at the symposium.

    Best wishes

    Vladimir Annenkov
    Institute of Geography, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow 109017, RUSSIA



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    Karen Nairn, Waikato University, New Zealand

    The section on 'making a network work' raises important issues and at the same time glosses over some implicit tensions and unspoken assumptions particularly in the discussion of how barriers might be overcome. The issues of hierarchy, uneven power relations, language and the potential for dominance of 'westernized geographers and geographies' are not addressed. These issues are well (re)presented by Shepherd, Monk and Fortuijn in their paper.

    If a network is indeed something we still wish to pursue beyond the symposium, I think the model of the 1998 'Geographies of Young People and Young People's Geographies Project' held in San Diego might be useful for initiating and achieving goals agreed upon at the Symposium (see Summary (7/6/98). In particular, the model of writing goals and determining groups that will work together on respective goals/projects beyond the end of the symposium.

    I want to emphasise the practice of critical reflexivity. Whatever we might do - networking, swapping of teaching strategies - it must be accompanied by reflexive research so that what is intended can be evaluated against participants' experiences (in the case of a network) and students' experiences and other outcomes (in the case of teaching and learning). E.g. what counts as 'best practice' in one context might be trialled in another context, and at the same time such a trial would be critically evaluated by the recipients - the students/participants.

    Karen Nairn
    Geography Department, Waikato University, Private Bag 3105, Hamilton, Aotearoa/New Zealand



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    Dominique Vanneste, Catholic University of Leuven (K.U.Leuven), Belgium

    1. I think a network is a must because

      1. the web becomes very confusing because of the multiplication of information; a network can help with identifying the GOOD material

      2. education is, as everybody knows, not very popular and rewording as far as a curriculum is concerned; an international network helps stressing the importance of the subject and of the educational activities; partnership in an international network offers some justifications of the fact that one is dealing with and investing a lot of time in educational matters

    2. How?

      I think that a network has only some change to survive over time when there are some 'activities'; I think that (only) symposia might be a bit too formal because a lot of people will not be able to participate because of financial constrains; I believe that the present formula of a network discussion based on papers written by international groups who are not even knowing each other is an excellent in-between solution

    3. Problem: coordination about the subjects and the timing

    Dominique Vanneste
    Institute for Social and Economic Geography, Catholic University of Leuven (K.U.Leuven), Belgium
    Tel: 016/32 24 42; fax: 016/32 29 80; E-mail:

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