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

Reflections on Experience in School Education

Sue Burkill (College of St. Mark and St. John, UK)
Eleanor Rawling (University of Oxford, UK)
Sarah Bednarz (Texas A&M University, USA)
John Lidstone (Queensland University of Technology, Australia)

0 Historical reflections

In 1870, Charles Ruelens, map-maker and Director of the Royal Library in Brussels, proposed that a congress be held to discuss matters associated with map-making, travel to other lands and a science of the earth as well as to commemorate the work of his fellow countrymen, Gerhard Krämer, better known as Gerardus Mercator. Although the Franco-Prussian War caused a slight delay in his plans, the first Congress of Geographical, Cosmographical and Commercial Sciences was held in Antwerp in August 1871, and this first international meeting of geographers was attended by over 400 people from 20 countries.

The next two Congresses, in Paris in 1875 and Venice in 1881, were attended by increasing numbers, and in order to make the Congresses manageable, the discussions were arranged in groups. However it was not until the Third Congress in Venice that a special section on "Methods of teaching and diffusion of geography" was established.

The Fifth Geographical Congress was held in Berne, Switzerland, in 1891 and for the first time, commissions were established, although geographical education per se did not achieve the status of an independent commission until the Eighth Congress held in the United States in 1904. A Commission on Geographical Education has been re-appointed at each Congress since that time, making Geographical Education the longest running Commission of the International Geographical Union.

1 Introduction

1.1 The authors

Clearly the existence of international networks of geographers is not a new phenomenon. While Commissions such as that on Geographical Education described above represent the formal side of the equation, they are at least equalled in importance by informal and semi-formal groups. Many academics and teachers belong to networks of their own which intersect to create the international culture of geographical study. The authors of this paper, for example, have been involved in: Appendix 2:    More about the authors of this paper

1.2 The issues addressed

It is interesting to note that, whilst networks of school geography educators have discussed issues relating to learning/teaching approaches, curriculum design and resource development (see above), higher education geographers have focused mainly on substantive geographical research. Given that the two groups tend to meet in different contexts and have perceived themselves as having different agendas, it is not surprising that there have been few opportunities to share learning and teaching experiences across sectors and between countries.  Even where common topics have been identified, discussion has remained separate. Note for example, that JGHE has remained largely HE focused and IRGEE is predominantly a forum for school educational matters.  The development of a new international higher education network (INLT), with a focus on enhancing learning and teaching, provides a timely opportunity to re-evaluate this situation and to explore the benefits of greater links between the school and higher education sectors within and between countries.

This paper is arranged in three separate sections. Each section explores one aspect of recent school geography experience and reflects on possible collaboration with higher education. The key questions addressed are

The paper ends with a set of discussion questions to which readers are invited to respond through the pre-symposium Internet discussion. (Section Five)

Appendix 1 provides information about relevant geography education initiatives and groups mentioned in the text.

2.  School/higher education links at national level

2.1 Existing networks

It should not be forgotten that the UK in particular has a long tradition of involvement by higher education in school geography, particularly through the work of the Geographical Association. However, the last ten years have witnessed a revival in schools-higher education interchange after a period in which dialogue was more limited. Initiatives that have proved capable of bringing national geographical organisations and educators from all sectors together include: In all countries there have been:

2.2 Moving the dialogue forward

There is increasing recognition that, despite the different structures and systems in school education and higher education, and despite the pressures from national guidelines and audit systems (common to all three countries), there is much to be gained from dialogue. Haggett speaking at the 1994 COBRIG Seminar reminded geographers that this has been to the benefit of both systems and he suggested that efforts should be made "to reinforce the links between geographical study at different levels and to make more transparent the interfaces between, school, college, university and research institutes" (Haggett, 1996). Daugherty and Rawling (1996) writing in the edited collection of papers from this Seminar, draw attention to three compelling reasons for promoting these links: The first area of interest links directly with the symposium paper on pedagogy (Chalkley et al). The USA provides evidence that experiences can be shared across the sectors. Geographers in higher education have become increasingly involved in developing school curricula and researching school learning as a result of the inclusion of geography in the National Standards. The benefits are beginning to be felt in both sectors. Developing a joint teaching and learning research agenda must be a potential focus for both national and international geography networks (Downs, 1994).

The second area of interest is addressed in the seminar paper on skills for employability and life (Le Heron et al). In England and Wales the Dearing reports (1996;1997) have emphasised key skills at secondary and tertiary level. This agenda is being carried forward separately by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) for higher education and the QCA for schools. Given the common roots of these initiatives, dialogue across the secondary/tertiary divide is essential. Geographers are well placed to recognise the need for continuity and progression and to respond in their planning.

The third area (the nature and purpose of the subject) is beyond the scope of this seminar. It is, however, an essential pre-requisite for mutual understanding and may provide a platform for discussion from which learning and teaching initiatives emerge. It is particularly difficult for school teachers to maintain awareness of new developments in geography. They need to do so in order to ensure that school curricula are relevant and meaningful for pupils and that central curriculum guidelines do not legitimise outdated approaches. The Geography Alliance network in the USA has demonstrated one successful approach to involving higher education colleagues in this activity and there may be lessons in this approach for international developments.

2.3 The professional development agenda: teacher education

Teacher education is one part of the geographical education system that is of crucial importance and yet has, perhaps, been under-represented in recent discussions. This should be a cause for concern as Yet the situation, certainly in Australia and England and Wales, is that teacher educators occupy a separate niche and academic publishing pressures are moving them nearer to their academic education colleagues rather than their subject colleagues. In England and Wales where the Dearing recommendations (1998) have resulted in an initiative to accredit teachers in higher education there is an immediate rationale for dialogue with teacher educators. National geography networks have not addressed this issue fully.

Has the problem become one of bridging not one gap but two, in the threefold structure of school geography, geography in higher education and geography in teacher education? Is there scope for an international network for teaching and learning in geography to address this situation?

3. Approaches to learning, teaching and curriculum development in schools

3.1 Active learning approaches

In England and Wales, Australia, and the USA, the past twenty years have seen significant developments in a wide range of more active learning and teaching approaches in school geography. The term 'geographical enquiry' (England and Wales) or 'inquiry' (Australia, USA), is frequently, though not universally, used to describe these approaches. The American High School Geography Project pioneered simulation and role play activities and these, along with new ideas about children's learning provided the stimulus for many subsequent developments in the USA and in other countries. The emphasis has been on broadening the range of teaching and learning strategies so that pupils are involved in handling and presenting data, participating in discussion, critically evaluating alternative views, role-playing, problem solving and decision-making, as well as in the more traditional essay writing and note taking activities The intention is to widen the potential learning outcomes attainable through geography.

Current developments in teaching and learning for undergraduates (as evidenced by the Geography Discipline Network series and articles in JGHE ) seem, in some respects, to be following a similar path to that taken by schools. Whilst the age range may be different, many of the strategies being explored and the issues about implementation are the same. There are undoubtedly possibilities for useful exchange if the channels for dialogue can be created

3.2 Cross curricular initiatives

School geography has gained substantially from involvement in wider educational initiatives. For example, a range of curriculum uses for Information and Communication Technology in school geography has been developed and trialled in schools in all three countries (e.g. in the Geographical Association/National Council for Educational Technology Geography/IT project in England (Hassell and Warner, 1995) and in the ARGUS project, USA). There are interesting ideas to share including the notion of 'a minimum entitlement to IT through geography' (Burkill, 1996) and the possibilities of the Virtual Geography Department and Virtual Fieldwork. However, despite attempts to encourage school/higher education interaction (e.g. through some Alliance activities in the USA, where university and community colleges have shared developments in GIS and remote sensing; through the Computers in Teaching Initiative (CTI) for Geography in the UK) such developments have, for reasons of funding and accessibility, taken place largely in separate contexts. Schools also have some experience of work-related learning, industry links and using the subject as a vehicle for key skills. (Geography, Schools and Industry Project, Corney, 1992). Such activities have demonstrated the importance of ensuring that the subject objectives are not distorted and are of obvious relevance to the work of the Geography Discipline Network, DfEE funded, Key Skills in Geography in Higher Education project.

3.3 Research into effective dissemination strategies

There is a long tradition of curriculum innovation and change in school geography in England and Wales, USA and Australia. As a result there is a wealth of research and practical experience about the relative value and effectiveness of different approaches to change (Graves, 1979). Some school curriculum development activities focused on materials production and exchange (Geography for the Young School Leaver Project, England and Wales; ARGUS Project, USA). Others stressed the role of the teacher as curriculum developer (Geography 14-18 Project, England and Wales; Alliance activities in the USA). As a result of National Geographic Society funding in the 1980s, it has been possible to run high profile National Summer Institutes for teachers from all parts of the USA and to send them back equipped to disseminate ideas and resources further. Changes to examination structures have frequently been influential in stimulating change in schools (school based curriculum development in Queensland in response to the removal of public examinations in favour of moderated school assessment; Geography 16-19 Project decision-making paper in England and Wales)

3.4 A centralised curriculum?

Recent developments have given school geography educators in all three countries experience in dealing with centralisation and political pressures. In England and Wales, the challenge has been to simplify and clarify an initially over-prescriptive National Geography Curriculum (Rawling,1992) and to ensure a place for geographical enquiry. In Australia, difficulties have been caused by the invention of Studies of Society and Environment (SOSE) as a "Key Learning Area" within a Federal National Curriculum. While New South Wales and Victoria have identified history and geography as having the potential to contribute to SOSE, Queensland has developed a new subject to which geography and other "social sciences" are expected to contribute, regardless of the logical substantive or pedagogical structure of the disciplines themselves. In the USA, the main issue has been the lack of a national federal requirement to study geography, despite high profile initiatives to improve its quality through National Standards (1994). Implementation of the Standards has now been delegated to State level and so take-up and support vary widely. Apart from the potential for dialogue about the process of curriculum change, there are also in England and the USA, some tentative attempts to outline age related standards for 5-18 year olds (National Curriculum level descriptions/expectations in England/Wales; achievement outcomes in USA). Such developments may be of interest to higher education colleagues if faced, as in England currently, with the need to outline more explicit standards (benchmarking) for geography at degree level. The recent announcement by QAA (Dec 1998) that Geography will be expected to have benchmarking criteria in place by late 1999 heightens the need for dialogue. The higher education community has been advised to consult the criteria devised by chemistry, history and law. Perhaps consultation with school colleagues and reference to the Geography National Curriculum would also be a useful way forward.

4. International Networks for School Geography

It has been shown that some of the most effective international linkages have been informally developed. However, there have been formal moves to internationalise school geography networks, most notably through the International Geographical Union's Commission on Geographical Education. Past activities of this Commission have focused on More recent and successful IGU initiatives include Progress in all areas is slow partly because of the multiplicity of different school systems in the world and partly because it has still not been possible to link the educational activities more closely with the work of other Commissions. Consequently matters of significance to higher education dealt with in the Geographical Education Commission (e.g. supply of geography teachers, status and health of geography in schools), do not reach the wider audience they deserve, whilst many of the big issues about teaching quality and central control of higher education are not discussed at all in the main IGU sessions.

5. Conclusion

The message drawn from the 1994 COBRIG Seminar was that constructive interchange will only occur if new channels and networks for cross-sectoral activity are put in place. Healey's editorial in JGHE (1998) drew attention to three different levels of network - institution-based networks, national networks and international networks. Schools/higher education dialogue is already developing at national levels, and school education has an established international network, which has potential for further expansion and development. The proposed international network for learning and teaching geography in higher education may be seen as a valuable step towards raising the profile of teaching and learning in academia. In this sense, it will provide the necessary stimulus and informational base for meaningful dialogue with school geography educators and it is important that this initiative receives support from geographers at all levels in the system.

6. Issues for discussion

Internet Discussion Comments
Some questions for higher education geographers before and during the Hawaii Symposium are:

7. References

Bednarz, R.S. and Peterson, J.F. (Eds.) (1995) A Decade of Reform in Geographic Education: Inventory and Prospect.

Burkill, S. (1996) Trends in School Geography and Information Technology, in Rawling E. and Daugherty R. Geography into the Twenty First Century, London, Wiley

Corney, G. (1992) Teaching Economic Understanding through Geography, Sheffield, Geographical Association

Dearing, Sir R. (1996) Review of Qualifications for 16-19 Year Olds, Full Report, London, School Curriculum and Assessment Authority.

Dearing, Sir R. (1998) Higher Education in the Learning Society.  Report of the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education, London, HMSO.

DES (1990) Geography in the National Curriculum, London, HMSO

DFE (1995) Geography in the National Curriculum, London, HMSO

Downs, R.M. (1994) The Need for Research in Geography Education: It would be nice to have some data, in A Decade of Reform in Geographic Education: Inventory and Prospect, ed R.S. Bednarz and J. Petersen, 127-133. Indiana: PA: National Council for Geographic Education.

Foskett, N. and Marsden, B. (Eds) (1998) Bibliography of Geographical Education, 1970-1997 Sheffield, The Geographical Association.

Geography Education Standards Project (1994) Geography for Life: National Geography Standards,  Washington D.C.: National Geographic Society.

Gerber, R. and Lidstone, J. (Eds) (1988) Developing Skills in Geographical Education, Brisbane: International Geographical Union with Jacaranda Wiley. 1995

Gerber, R. & Lidstone, J. (eds.) (1996) Developments & Directions in Geographical Education. Clevedon: Channel View Publications

Graves, N.J. (1979) Curriculum Planning in Geography, London, Heinemann Educational

Haggett, P. (1996) Geography into the Next Century, Personal Reflections, in Rawling E. and Daugherty R. Geography into the Twenty First Century, London, Wiley

Hassell, D. and Warner, H. (1995) Using IT to Enhance Geography: case studies at Key Stages 3 and 4, Sheffield, Geographical Association

Haubrich, H. (1992) International Charter on Geographical Education. Nurnberg: Commission on Geographical Education.

Healey, M. (1998) Editorial I: Developing and internationalising higher education networks in geography, Journal of Geography in Higher Education Vol 22(3), 277-282.

Lidstone, J. (ed.) (1994) Global Issues of Our Time. Melbourne, Cambridge University Press

Naish, M., Rawling, E. & Hart, M. (1987) Geography 16-19: The Contribution of a Curriculum Development Project to 16-19 Education, Harlow, Longman

Rawling, E. M. (1992) The Making of a National Geography Curriculum, Geography no.337 77(4) Sheffield, Geographical Association

Rawling, E. and Daugherty, R. (1996) Geography into the Twenty First Century, London, Wiley

School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA) (1996) Consistency in Teacher Assessment.  KS3 Exemplification of Standards: Geography, London, SCAA

School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA)  (1997) Expectations in Geography at Key Stages 1 and 2 London, SCAA

Schrettenbrunner, H. and van Westrehenen, J. (eds) (1992) Empirical Research and Geography Teaching. Utrecht/Amsterdam: Koninklijk Nederlands Aardrijkskundig Genootschap/Centrum voor Educatieve Geografie Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

QAA (Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education) (1998) Quality Assurance: A new approach, Higher quality, 4, 2-21

Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, QCA, (1998) Geographical Enquiry Key Stages 1-3: A Discussion Paper. London, QCA

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