Nothing has struck me more in my Colonial tours than the lack of touch between Colony and Colony. Our present machinery for the interchange of experience and ideas between Colonies is inadequate in many spheres of human activity - and especially in education. W. Ormsby Gore (1929)
The main aim of this paper is to explore some of the key issues relating to the internationalisation of geography in higher education (HE). In particular, it seeks to inform current discussion and decision making that surround the setting up of a discipline network by drawing out lessons from previous experience of international activities. This experience will be both personal (e.g. recent activities in which the authors have participated) and historical (e.g. activities engaged in by others in the international arena).
It should be recognised from the outset that this paper deliberately sets out to pose far more questions than it answers. Indeed, its main role is perhaps as a raiser of difficult, and maybe even awkward, questions for the group to consider. The paper is structured around a small number of key issues which we believe need to be addressed before a network is put in place. It is accompanied by an appendix containing half a dozen extended case studies. At appropriate points in the text, relevant lessons from these case studies will be identified; the reader is encouraged to consult the full versions for further detail.
2. THE QUESTION OF GOALS
What exactly are we are trying to do in setting up a network? What do we hope to achieve? What are our expected outcomes? What are to be the network's overall roles? Clearly, the rationale paper by Hay, Foote and Healey addresses these questions. However, we will do so here from a somewhat broader perspective, rooted in past experience.
2.1 Aims and Objectives
Internationalisation can mean several things, and an international network can serve a number of goals. Here are a number of possibilities:
|2.1.1||Using the network to diffuse 'best practice'|
|Several elements could be transferred between members of the network:|
|Such diffusion would be accomplished by facilitating international exchange of ideas on content, methods, organisation. However, an important caveat needs to be entered here, which focuses on the notion of transferability. It must be questioned whether it is desirable or appropriate to think that one can transfer 'best practice' without attending to the new context. Can one be sure that 'best practice' in one educational context will automatically enjoy equivalent standing in a different context? Can 'best practice' identified in one context be transferred to another context without modifying the practice itself and/or without changing the context? (See Case Study 1 for further discussion of this issue.)
|2.1.2||Using the network to provide a forum for interaction between practitioners|
|Geography tutors could use the network as a medium for discussing a variety of issues on an ad hoc and/or a programmed basis. (A current example is provided by the UK-based GeogNet discussion list and the US-based listserv in Geographic Education which overlaps school and HE levels; others are identified in the Hay et al. paper.) Such interaction might be used to foster creativity and risk taking. (For an extended discussion of such functions in the area of international development, see Bernard 1996.)
|2.1.3||Using the network for the collaborative development of curricular materials|
|Previous examples include: the NCGIA's GIS curriculum project; and the UK GeographyCal consortium courseware project. Networking may facilitate a joint approach to tasks and/or strengthen individual efforts, and will often broaden their impact.
|2.1.4||Using the network to facilitate the setting of standards|
|This might also extend to the standardising of geographical education internationally - e.g. to facilitate transfer of students between programmes, and/or to ensure equivalence of attainment between countries. Standards could be established (or perhaps we should say promoted, since it is less likely that a network can 'achieve' standards), explicitly/directly and/or implicitly/indirectly.
|2.1.5||Using the network to internationalise the curriculum|
|An example of this goal is provided by a project funded by the Ford Foundation, involving 13 universities in the United States, which was designed to support the creation and revision of courses to bring Women's Studies, Area Studies and International Studies together (see Case Study 5). There are innumerable examples where internationalization has involved the hegemonic imposition of one country's educational system on another (see Case Study 3).
|2.1.6||Using the network to create viable programmes of study|
|An example is the ERASMUS network, which began as an initiative among scattered experts on gender issues to provide a complete course by pooling resources across several departments (see Case Study 6).
|2.1.7||Using the network to foster multinational experiential learning opportunities in geography|
|An example is again provided by the ERASMUS network in Gender and Geography, which brings together staff and students in and from different national contexts for an intensive short course (see Case Study 6). Another example is the bringing together of academics in a country to undertake specific forms of teaching activity, in order to reflect on the cross-cultural problems of engaging in such teaching. (An example might be the undertaking of fieldwork in deprived urban environments - there are considerable differences between various European and North American contexts, not only in terms of staff and student safety, but also in terms of ethics (e.g. privacy) and the academic approach taken.)
|2.1.8||Using the network to solve local or regional problems|
|An implicit assumption among network champions is that its main role would be as an international forum for the discussion of issues of common (i.e. potentially global) interest. However, an alternative role for the network might be to enable a global geographical community to 'come to the aid' of local geographical communities in times of need. (Examples might include: the provision of textbooks and learning materials to a country or part of the world attempting to rebuild a HE system after a period of war or disaster; or the provision of support for geographers in a particular country who face concerted governmental interference or criticism.) Case Study 2 provides insights into how this kind of role is provided by NGOs, and especially how collaborative and networking arrangements help to underpin their local interventionist role. However, there is an important issue here to do with the 'symmetry' of relationships; this is addressed in more detail in section 3.|
Are the network's roles to be purely academic and disciplinary, or should they be broader than this? Current thinking within the team is firmly focused on teaching and learning as the primarily role of the network. As a counterpoint to this focus, we would raise the possibility of other roles being served.
Should the network include research in geography as well as teaching and learning? (It should be recalled that most previous academic networks have been research-based. Indeed, the Web is itself an outgrowth of a research need among European physicists.) Would the combination of both a research and educational agenda lead to a stronger participation in the latter by practitioners of the former? (Consider the creation of a joint Research and Higher Education Division within the RGS/IBG.) Would this reduce the ghettoization and devaluation of education in the HE system? (See Case Study 5.)
2.2.2 Non-academic Goals
Is there also a case for using the network to achieve personal or collective 'non-academic' ends? For example, could it be used to foster mutual understanding among network members as residents and citizens of politically and culturally different or divided nations (e.g. China and the West; Arabs and Israelis; protestants and catholics; English and French Canadians), or to provide a link between the academic, business and non-governmental organisational communities? (See Case studies 2 and 4.)
Perhaps the key issue is one of balance. Although current thinking is for the network to have a single goal (i.e. education), an alternative position is for it to have education as the primary goal, but at the same time to entertain other subsidiary goals. These other goals could be selected so as to link with the primary educational goal, but it is clear that even in the educational sphere, the development of strong links beyond academia (e.g. women's organisations in the case of gender studies, and migrant organisations in the case of migration studies) is itself an important goal. In general, the inclusion of non-educational goals can help to reduce ghettoization, but the network must also be aware of possible negative effects, such as the possibility that these other goals might dominate and marginalise the educational goal.
There are several important issues that need to be discussed in relation to outcomes, including:
3. THE OWNERSHIP ISSUE
Having discussed some of the issues surrounding the purpose of the network, it is now appropriate to pose the question: who determines these goals? This in turn raises other related questions: who is to participate in setting up the network; for whom is it being set up; and by whom will it be run? The fundamental issue here concerns whether the network will result in the spread of a largely 'White, Western, Anglocentric' (WWA) view of geography to the rest of the world, by those who work in well-supported HE systems who have the means to participate fully in a (partly) technologically-mediated network. An alternative strategy would be to establish the network as a truly peer-to-peer system, in which participation by less economically-favoured nations is encouraged - and maybe even subsidised.
Currently, the Hawaii symposium participation list reads as follows:
UK (3 sponsors; 1 convenor; 1 administrator; 17 delegates/discussants)
USA (1 sponsor; 1 convenor; 1 administrator; 10 delegates/discussants)
Australia (1 convenor; 2 delegates/discussants)
New Zealand (2 delegates/discussants)
Belgium (1 delegates/discussants)
Netherlands (1 delegates/discussants)
A promising start, maybe, but hardly 'international'!
There is a growing literature on the related concepts of 'information poverty' and 'information imperialism', particularly in the context of Third World development (e.g. Holderness 1995). These provide a salutary reminder of the potential dangers facing a (currently) Western network which attempts to coordinate educational discussion in the world at large. As an example of these dangers, consider the views expressed on the Island Resources Foundation Web site (IRF no date):
We are seriously concerned about finding ways to encourage and promote the posting of information on the Internet by and about the Caribbean. ... If we are unable to increase active participation of Westindians in the Net, then it just becomes another tool of "information imperialism", in which outsiders exchange information about the region, often developed in ignorance of the realities of life there, to make decisions with major consequences for all who live there.
In the light of the current list of network participants, whose view of geography and education is likely to predominate? What steps need to be taken to avoid possible intellectual and/or educational colonialism and/or parochialism? In particular, how is participation to be encouraged from non-WWA nations, both at the formative stage, and during the period that the network is rolled out across the globe? Or is the network to remain an academic equivalent of the G7 Club?
A second participation issue concerns whether the network should be designed for, and used by, students as well as by professionals? If it is accepted that students can and should take responsibility for devising their own curriculum (in the broadest sense of the word), and that they already operate as researchers and as curriculum developers (e.g. through the development of learning contracts), then why should they be excluded from an educational network for geography in HE? There are many examples of students using the Web to gain access to experts worldwide. It can be argued that too much thinking and decision-making in higher education excludes the views of our main stakeholders: students. Should we perpetuate this narrow way of thinking when setting up the network?
In higher education, the distinction between those who learn ('students') and those who teach ('professionals') is not always clear-cut. As students progress through their undergraduate curriculum, they often take on the role of 'teachers' - perhaps by leading a seminar or by mentoring their peers. Masters and doctorate students often participate in formal teaching, often to supplement their income while studying. In some courses, the same postgraduate and post-doctoral students continually shift between the roles of 'teacher' and 'learner'.
There is perhaps one significant difference between students and professionals that militates against giving the former a central position in terms of network decision making: the relatively short length of time they spend in the higher educational system. Against this, however, it must be noted that the inclusion of students in the activities of the network could well have a positive effect on the adoption of geography-related careers.
Who is likely to benefit most from the networking initiative? Is it to be the main participants, who stand to benefit because of the higher profile and kudos they will achieve? Will it be the 'lazy' members (cf. student groups)? Does it matter if degrees of participation are uneven, with some taking a greater role as contributors and others a greater role as consumers? Or will it be those with entrepreneurial orientations and substantial resources who will be most attracted (or invited) to the network? How will the teacher of geography at a University in Sierra Leone, Uruguay, Thailand or Uzbekistan benefit? Finally, is it certain that the discipline as a whole will benefit? (Indeed, is there 'a discipline' at a global level?)
Perhaps the litmus test of the benefit of the network will be at the level of the student. If we can demonstrate that students will ultimately benefit from our activities, then this is perhaps the most important criterion of success. This being so, what criteria does the network intend to adopt as a means of monitoring and evaluating its success?
3.3 Geographical cultures
3.3.1 Academic paradigms
In the world of geography, as in other academic worlds, there is a considerable amount of culture-specific thinking, which can often amount to a difference in academic paradigm (Monk 1994). In some cases, such variations are strongly related to bonds of language (see section 4.2); in other cases, they are tied to the common literature that is written and read by geographers working in particular regions or cultures around the world. There is strong circumstantial evidence to suggest that geographers in many 'peripheral' nations are more cosmopolitan in their reading and referencing than their equivalents nearer the 'centre'. (Surely there is a research project here waiting to be undertaken by members of the network?)
An example of culture-specific attitudes is provided by US scholars dealing with the Mexico-US border. Though they are often bilingual, and portray the region as 'seamless', they rarely cite Mexican scholarship, even though they may use Mexican primary sources. This practice partly reflects patterns of publication in Mexico where institutionally-based journals have limited international circulation. But it also relates to the popularity of particular paradigms in different contexts, and dismissal of work as irrelevant if it is not in the paradigm of the author's scholarly community. In practice, what this tends to mean is a devaluing of non-Anglo/American work, rendering it invisible, or limiting concepts to the ways they are constructed in the dominant scholarship. (Examples are provided in Monk 1997.)
In the ERASMUS programme in Barcelona in 1993, British students schooled in post-modernism have been observed going on a tirade about a French presentation that did not engage 'difference' in the categories (or at the geographic scale) they had been taught. Another example involves a work team in Athens (1995) which opted not to work collectively because the members could not come to an agreement on methodology - a reflection of the different approaches they had encountered in their previous classes.
More broadly, a number of studies have documented the significant differences that exist between cultures, and how these have a direct bearing not only on how members of the culture perceive the world (e.g. Ausburn & Ausburn 1983), but also on the attitudes and approaches that people bring to the process of design (e.g. Heaton 1998). Such studies indicate the importance of network members making their cultural assumptions explicit when they attempt to innovate in matters of educational policy and practice.
3.3.2 Pedagogical cultures
One of this paper's authors has served in the last few years as a visiting teacher and/or consultant in Spain, New Zealand, India and Israel. She has noted several distinctions in pedagogical cultures compared with those common in the US:
Another of this paper's authors notes that she has experienced significant differences in the way that teaching is undertaken (lectures, fieldwork, assessment, etc.) and in the informal methods of interaction (e.g. working groups, discussion papers), not only between continents, but also between countries in (for example) Europe, and even within countries (e.g. at different universities). This variety not only complicates international collaboration, but it also serves to strengthen the potential for diversity. Do these (and other) differences in pedagogical cultures have implications for the network? If so, what are they? Are these differences rooted mainly in language or, as suggested by Mudambi (1996), are they part of the entire nexus of cultural characteristics that students (and their staff) bring to the classroom?
3.3.3 Power and subordination
The issue of cultural difference shades into the far more problematic area of power relations. It is possible to identify hierarchies of groups in terms of their relative dominance: dominant groups, less dominant groups, somewhat subordinate groups, and completely subordinate groups. These hierarchies exist between nations, between cultures, between languages, and between geographers. The most dominant groups have the greatest power, prestige, resources, access to media, networking capability, and so on. Although it is possible to agree, in general, about the domination of the WWA group and the subordination of all others, it is not so easy to create a complete hierarchy, which presupposes the victimization of the most subordinated.
In some respects, the subordinated suffer because they lack means, prestige and influence. However, at the same time, they do 'have' things, and they are 'enriched' in ways that the dominant group is not. For example, such groups often have a broader knowledge and experience, because they know the American, English, Canadian and Australasian literature, in addition to the non-English literature. They also know about power, culture and language difference through personal academic experience, which is a very important kind of knowledge for a human geographer to possess. Members of such groups are sometimes irritated by the American or British 'arrogance', but at the same time they can laugh about it, and learn relativism and the importance of context, often far more than the WWA group is able to do. Such groups, then, are not simply 'suffering' from their subordinate position, but can sometimes 'use' this position to profit from it. An empowering response is to react by saying: "Oh, those Americans and British have a lot to learn".
Experience in the ERASMUS network suggests that, even with the best will in the world, some partners rapidly become more/less equal than others. If it is taken as an article of faith that the most successful network will involve equal partners, equal profit and equal responsibility, what steps does the proposed geography network intend to take to ensure this outcome, and the avoidance of more negative power relations among its participants?
4. ORGANISATIONAL ISSUES
The means to be adopted for the network (e.g. phone, email, fax, conferences, personal exchanges, the Web) are certainly very significant, because they will shape the types of interaction, and therefore the kinds of outcomes, that take place in the proposed network. However, it is equally important to consider the broader methods and approaches which are to be adopted in implementing the proposed network, and the somewhat more nebulous, but nonetheless equally important, issue of management style. (This links to the question of who is to design and implement the network, which we have already touched on.)
In an extensive evaluation of networks that the Canadian International Development Research Centre has supported, important lessons were that: networks which are successful in effecting change are social exchange arrangements to which people have a commitment, they may serve functions that are task-oriented, provide mutual support, build capacity, support exploratory and catalytic roles, or be engaged in operational and research tasks. Key organisational features identified were: flexible, internal management; the creation of shared agreements about goals and focus; tolerance for ambiguity and variability in planning and evolution to suit different contexts and members; and learning through diversity (Bernard 1996).
4.1 'Us and them'
Over the past century and a half, there have been several inter-related attempts to 'export' the teaching of geography and other subjects from the hearthlands of 'developed' or 'civilised' nations to other parts of the globe (see Case Study 3). Much can be learned from identifying the key features of these attempts at dissemination, and the control structures they entailed, and how they were received, in order to identify the benefits and pitfalls of possible approaches that might be adopted by our current attempt at internationalising geography in higher education.
Most of the previous models have involved an asymmetric relationship between the 'developing' agency and the people being 'developed', either through centralised control (see Case Study 4) and/or through the extraction of resources/profits that are returned to an external source. What steps does the network intend to take to avoid an asymmetric relationship developing between partners?
4.2 Mind your language
Clearly, from the initial interest shown in the network, English seems set to be its lingua franca. This reflects current international academic publishing practice, much of which uses the English language. In some international journals, editors undertake extensive editing of some of the papers submitted by non-English speaking authors, viewing this as an important task in order to get such materials into wider circulation. However, not all issues of translation and comprehension involve 'foreign' languages - such issues can arise between the multiple versions of English that are used worldwide/ (See Case Study 4.)
But not all agencies operating internationally use a standard world language, such as English. Many NGOs, for example (see Case Study 2), adopt local languages, recognising that this can improve participation by local peoples in projects that affect their lives. Eagles (1994) provides the example of Papua New Guinea, where local language is being used to build successful literacy and resource awareness programmes; Moeke (1998) reflects on the importance of providing skills training in a way that meshes with the cultural context of other peoples - in this case, the action-oriented learning style of the Maoris. (A related study in the research context is provided by Bishop 1999.)
What accommodations, then, will the network make to languages other than English? This issue is currently exercising members of the IGU Commission on Geographic Education (IGU-CGE). Although the Commission has two official languages (English and French), one of these (English) is increasingly used for the majority of its business, and there are concerns that this may be deterring membership in some parts of the world. A number of alternative proposals are being considered:
It is recognised that such initiatives would place additional burdens on IGU members, but it is also recognised that a willingness to shoulder these burdens might be seen as an indication of how serious they are in being truly international. Andrew Convey, tasked with exploring this issue on behalf of the Commission (Convey 1999), sums up the dilemma in terms of a question to English speakers: "How would you feel if every time you went to an international conference, you had to give your presentation in somebody else's language?"
Elsewhere, participants of the Transborder Consortium (Case Study 5) have worked hard at addressing issues of language across the Mexico-US border, recognizing that not all members of the group have comparable degrees of bi-lingual proficiency. In this project, several practices have been adopted, including:
Of course, some of these practices are most feasible where only two languages are involved. In European projects, many more languages are typically involved. What similar commitments will the network make to engage and enhance communication across multiple linguistic boundaries worldwide?
We should perhaps add that one of the key technologies proposed for the network, the Internet, is currently witnessing a florescence of non-English language use (Marriott 1998; Katz 1999). However, given the Western origin of much current desktop computer technology, it is not always an easy matter for the users of some major world languages to communicate over the Internet (Knight 1997). Moreover, even when the symbols of a native language can be successfully transmitted, there still remains the problem of translation. Although more and more businesses are resorting to automatic translation services on the Internet, these still leave a considerable amount of tidying up to be performed manually (Elgin 1997). Language thus presents a major technical challenge for the discipline network, in addition to the cultural challenge already outlined. We would argue that it is one that must be confronted head-on at an early stage.
4.3 Why a network?
There is currently a major debate in the UK on funding council proposals for setting up disciplinary centres in HE. This begs the question, in our own context, of whether a centre or a network is the most appropriate way of achieving our goals. Experience from the work of NGOs suggests that there also be other models that are equally (if not more) appropriate (Bennett 1994b), including:
Another useful conceptualisation is provided by Himmelman (n.d.), who suggests four interactional models:
To these might be added a fifth:
This line of thinking begins to shift our attention away from the idea of a 'thing' (e.g. a network), and more towards the kinds of interaction we might wish to engage in. In the light of these alternatives, the question we should be asking is not what kind of network we should be establishing, but perhaps what kinds of interaction we wish to foster. This in turn raises the issue of participating units.
4.4 The unit of participation
The alternative models for organising international interactions discussed in the previous section raise the fundamental issue of which unit or units will be the main focus of our interactional efforts. Is the 'network' to be set up primarily for the benefit of individual geographers, or will it admit organisations (such as subject associations, national and international representative bodies), and even governments? Most of the interactions identified by Himmelman can occur equally between individual geographers and geographical organisations. Our concern here is with the question of which unit or units are to be included. If organisations as well as individuals are to be included, then it is imperative that there be parity of influence and access, that equal 'control' be democratically exerted on all participants, and that the 'network' does not get 'taken over' by an organisation with its own agenda. (For that matter, we must also consider carefully the possibility that once a 'network' is established, it may become an 'organisation' in its own right. See section 6 on motivations.)
4.5 Towards a 'Common Interest' model
We would argue that an appropriate model for the internationalisation of geography in HE should be based on the following principles:
To some extent, our model is similar to the essentially anarchic model of the Internet, and reflects the not-for-profit approach exemplified by 'freeware'. What are the advantages and disadvantages of these in relation to the objectives being set for the international geography network? Is there an 'ideal' model for building an international network of/by/for those concerned with the teaching and learning of geography in HE? What are the relative merits of a top-down, bottom-up or middle-out approach to the design and implementation of the network? Under what circumstances would it be best to relinquish a centralised approach for a distributed approach or an anarchic approach?
4.6 The role of technology
An important issue concerns the role of communications technology in sustaining the network. Inevitably, email and the Web offer hugely attractive facilities for near-instant global communication. However, it is well known that staff working in higher education outside the West often have considerable difficulty gaining access to the Internet. Arunachalam (1998) worried that "the low level of information and communication technologies in developing countries will lead to the progressive exclusion of a majority of scientists in these countries from the collective international discourse that is essential for making progress in new knowledge production". (See also Holderness's comments in his 1995 'dirt track' paper.) Would it therefore be more appropriate to adopt a medium-tech or low-tech approach to networking, in view of the need to create an inclusive forum?
5. MANAGING THE NETWORK
The network will need to address who will be 'in charge' of what functions, how they will be coordinated, how to deal with non-performance if it occurs, etc. Collaboration and power are tricky to balance. There are a number of models for the way in which leadership and power can be exercised:
An example is provided by the Southwest Institute for Research on Women, which serves over 30 colleges and universities. The single lead organisation is the University of Arizona, which generates the ideas, and raises the money, but brings in other people on projects and faculty development efforts.
An example is provided by the Transborder Consortium for research and Action on Gender and Reproductive Health at the Mexico-US Border. It has three co-directors (one from each participating institution), and a steering committee that adds three representatives of non-governmental/community based health agencies. Major policy decisions are made collectively, with a great deal of reliance on email, at least two meetings a year with all six persons present, and in-between phone calls. However, the team divides into sub-groups to take major responsibilities for specific components of the Consortium's work. Decision making can be frustratingly slow at times, as members of the team try to fit in with each other's schedules, and there is a constant tension for the US partner not to appear in the role of the 'Ugly American' nor, conversely, to take on more than their share of the responsibility, on the assumption that they have better access to resources.
6. THE MOTIVATIONAL FACTOR
The discussion paper on 'Going Global' by Hay, Foote and Healey provides a clear rationale for creating an international network for geography in HE. However, the group as a whole needs to clarify its primary motivation(s) for establishing a network, as this will colour both the outcomes and the methods adopted to achieve those outcomes. Is the motivation:
Is there a demonstrable need for an international disciplinary network for geography in HE? If there is, how has this need been established, and by whom? If not, is the proposed network a purely supply-driven initiative, and will this require a hard sell to get it off the ground? Perhaps we will only know the answers to these questions by setting the ball rolling. But is this a good enough basis on which to proceed, or should we attempt to identify need before we introduce supply?
If there is one message we wish to underline from the foregoing discussion, then it centres on the problem of asymmetric relationships. Several of our case studies have revealed the mixed blessing of subservience in educational ventures, and others have pointed the way to an alternative approach based on genuine partnerships. While the latter may often be difficult and costly to achieve, we believe that they represent the only model that will guarantee a sustainable global network of geographers in higher education.
Finally, it is tempting to consider our disciplinary networking venture as something bravely post-postmodern, carried along on the twin waves of corporate globalisation and global telecommunications. But there is little new under the sun. In this discussion paper, we have attempted to demonstrate that we have all been down this road before, whether as individuals or as members of out-reaching cultures. What this means in practical terms is that we have a great deal of relevant experience to draw on, many pitfalls that have already been identified, many questions that have already been asked, and quite a few solutions that are waiting to be adopted. Rather than rushing headlong in the spirit of frontier-breaking adventurers, it may be more appropriate to take a more reflective course, reminding ourselves of Santayana's famous dictum: those who do not learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat it.
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