Ken Foote: Pioneering Open Education in Geography

Prof. Ken Foote, Geography (Photo/Larry Harwood)I met Ken Foote many years ago at an NCGE conference and instantly found a kindred spirit in the use of the web for geography education. Ken is a pioneer in open education in geography dating back to his Geographer’s Craft project. The most engaging and rewarding professional development experience of my career was participating in his summer Virtual Geography Department Project workshops. The Virtual Geography Department Project (1996-2006) was a groundbreaking project aimed at helping “geographers create innovative learning and teaching resources in the web. It also served as a clearinghouse for instructional materials geographers wished to share with colleagues.”  The workshops ran for three consecutive summers, I attended two of the three as a participant, facilitator, and became the coordinator of the virtual fieldtrips working group. Its impact on the discipline has been significant as those who participated benefited greatly and spread its philosophy across the web. Karen Lemke’s “Illustrated Glossary of Alpine Glacial Landforms“, Mark Francek’s  “Earth Science Resources for Earth Sciences and Geography Instruction“, and Susan Woodward’s “Introduction to Biomes” are just a few examples. Ken has been active in mentoring early stage faculty through workshops and publications. He is the past president of the Association of American Geographers, National Council of Geographic Education, and the recipient of numerous awards.

Given the advances in web technologies and the maturing of social media, I asked Ken to reflect on the Virtual Geography Department Project and whether its time to revisit it. Ken graciously took time from his extremely busy schedule to answer a few questions for the Digital Professor.

DP: What inspired you to undertake the Virtual Geography Department Project (VGDP)?

KF: Almost as soon as the web became available, I saw that it was a great way to share teaching ideas and course materials.  People spend a lot of time developing materials for their classes when their colleagues may have already created similar resources.  Why reinvent the wheel?  But I was also hoping to get people to realize that the web could be used to create new types of course materials that could aid student learning.

DP: What impact do you think VGDP had on the discipline of geography?

KF: I think the biggest impact was helping geographers get started in the web.  The workshops supported perhaps 100-120 of the early adopters and many of these geographers remain leaders in online education today.  Participants in the VGDP also created some remarkable examples of web-based learning materials that, I think, helped encourage others to join in the effort.

DP: The Virtual Geography Department project was one of the first, organized forays into online geography education. What’s your impression of the state of online geography education today?

KF: I was a bit concerned in the early 2000s when the web became primarily a way to manage courses.  Faculty seemed less interested in developing innovative learning materials and more interested in using course management tools that allowed them to post lecture notes and grades. More recently, I think the tide has turned again and people are again coming up with some fantastic ideas for using the web and social media for promoting effective learning and teaching.  I think some of the exciting ideas are blended.  They use a variety of online and in-person media and experiences to cultivate student learning.

DP: Do you think there is still a need for projects like the Virtual Geography Department?

KF: Yes, maybe the time has come to focus again on developing a clearinghouse or method for sharing materials.  I still come back to the question: Why re-invent the wheel when so many people have developed excellent ideas for their classes?  I look at sites like the and see tremendous possibilities for geographers to share their teaching ideas in the web.   Open educational resources (OER) are finally taking off.  The fact that Esri is releasing its learning materials as OER may be a big boost to these efforts.

DP: With the advent of social media, how could the Virtual Geography department project be re-imagined?

KF: I think the clearinghouse concept is still valid, but social media opens other possibilities that weren’t available ten or fifteen years ago.  With Web 2.0 I think it is possible to think of developing an online teaching and learning community.  This means more than just posting materials in the web.  It means developing opportunities for faculty and students to learn and teach together.


Joseph Kerski: Leveraging Social Media in Geography Education and Professional Development

Joseph Kerski, geographer extraordinaire

Joseph Kerski, geographer extraordinaire

I first met Joseph Kerski at the Virtual Geography Department workshop conducted in 1996. His intensity for learning and enthusiasm for sharing amazed me at our first meeting and still does today. Dr. Kerski is a prolific book author and has published widely in geoscience journals. Joseph is a powerhouse of energy devoted to promoting geographic literacy. His service to the National Council for Geographic Education (including past-president) and numerous workshop presentations are a testament to his commitment to geography education. I had the good fortune to carve out a few minutes from his busy schedule to ask him about his interest and work in geography education, and the importance of social media to geography education and professional development.

DP: How did you get interested in geography education?

I would say that there were three primary motivators: First, field experiences: I moved to western Colorado as a child and its canyons, mesas, and deserts became my playground. One memorable moment: After a field trip in Grade 7, my classmates and I were sitting with our backs against the bricks of the school building, listening to the teacher. While some of the other kids were complaining that they were too hot and wanted to go inside, I was truly enjoying the moment. What’s more, I realized from then on was that I didn’t have to ‘go along with the crowd,’ but that it was perfectly fine to value experiences that not everyone else valued.

DP: Please describe your current job.

Joseph Kerski: I serve as an adjunct instructor in GIS at the University of Denver and on the Esri Education Team. My duties include (1) Create GIS-based curriculum for a wide variety of disciplines, ages, scales, geographic locations, and settings; (2) Teach GIS-based workshops for educators and students in a wide variety of settings and places around the world, and model effective instructional practice; (3) Conduct research in the implementation and effectiveness of GIS in education; (4) Create and support partnerships among educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and private industry; (5) Communications: Create and deliver presentations, keynote addresses, operate exhibits, write articles and web posts, support grants in advisory capacities, and in other ways interface with educators, geographers, GIS practitioners, and others, to promote spatial literacy and the use of GIS; (6) Promote the use of spatial thinking, spatial analysis, and geotechnologies throughout education and society, for the benefit of people and the planet. (7) T3G: Co-instructor for annual Teachers Teaching Teachers GIS institutes, Esri Redlands. I am working with the very best people in the world on the Esri Education Team – all very committed to spatial literacy and geotechnologies, and also the geography education community across the globe – they are all wonderful people, dedicated to the vision that geography is essential for grappling with and solving the most pressing issues of the 21st Century, including water quality and quantity, energy, natural hazards, land use change, sustainability, and more.

DP: You use social media quite a bit. How do you see social media fitting into your job and interests?

Joseph Kerski: It is essential for communicating not only your own research and development, but more importantly to learn from others, and to form networking and collaborative opportunities with colleagues around the world. Without social media, the book I co-edited last year, International Perspectives in Teaching and Learning with GIS in Secondary Schools, probably would have been either impossible or taken a decade to complete. As it was, we had 33 authors from 33 countries contribute to the book and had the whole thing done in less than 2 years. My video channel contains over 1,200 videos and I post weekly on and on

DP: Do you think geography educators can benefit from using social media? If so, how?

Joseph Kerski: Absolutely, through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogging, responding to other people’s posts – it is a powerful means for not only communicating and networking as I mentioned above, but also to raise awareness, galvanize the community, organize, and even, yes, simplify.

You can contact Joseph Kerski at:

Joseph J. Kerski, Ph.D.| Education Manager

Esri | 1 International Court | Broomfield CO  80021-3200 | USA

Tel 303-449-7779, ext. 8237 | Fax 303-449-8830 |

Twitter:  @josephkerski

Geography Awareness week: The Geospatial Revolution

It’s Geography Awareness Week and you are a part of the geospatial revolution!

Earth Online Media site is live

The fledgling Earth Online Media site is up and running. Earth Online Media facilitates the distribution of open source and low-cost media related to geoscience. Though online, heavy construction ahead for a while.

Barriers to Teaching Introductory Physical Geography Online


Learning geography online is becoming an option for more students but not without controversy. Issues of faculty resources, logistics, professional recognition, and pedagogical concerns are cited as barriers to teaching online. Offering introductory physical geography online presents special challenges. As a general education course, an introductory physical geography course has a diverse population of students with disparate educational needs and goals that impacts its ability to be delivered online. Online learning is further complicated when lab courses require specialized laboratory equipment and fieldwork. A survey of geography departments in the United States was conducted to determine barriers to the deployment of introductory physical geography lab courses. Lack of faculty interest, faculty resources, and pedagogical concerns were found to be the most important barriers to deploying online physical geography lab courses.

Knowing the challenges faced by geography departments offering online courses provides insight into where valuable support services and resources can best be used to address them. Recent advances in blogging, podcasting, lecture capture, web conferencing, and augmented reality are offered as solutions to the concerns expressed by survey respondents.


Ritter, M. (2012) Barriers to Teaching Introductory Physical Geography OnlineReview of International Geographical Education Online © RIGEO Vol. 2, No. 1, March 2012

Geographical iPad/iPhone app review

Geographical Magazine, the official magazine of the Royal Geographical Society, is available as an iPad and iPhone app by  Exact Editions ( I recently downloaded both versions for free. Upon installing  the iPad version it swooped into my Newsstand app.  A tap on its icon revealed a beautiful glacial landscape as a splash screen followed by the cover of a special issue “Scott: The Man and the Myth”.

True to the developer’s company name, an “exact digital edition” of the magazine is presented. Page navigation is the usual margin tap or swiping. A click on randomly picked article brings you to the in-app purchase screen. A one-month subscription is $4.99, a one year is $35.99. The subscription includes access to back issues through September 2006. A shared access code can be entered for an existing subscription. I purchased a 1 month subscription. The app asked me to confirm the purchase and an iTunes password prompt appeared.  Next the app asks for the use of your name, email, zip in accordance with their privacy policy.  I chose, “Don’t Allow”. User control over sharing their information is an important issue with Apple and me, I’m happy that Geographical obliged. The subscribtion was quickly activated over my Wi-Fi connection.

On my iPad (ver. 1), pages rendered in about 3 to 4 seconds depending on the content when swiping between them. Top to bottom rendering allows the user to begin reading while rest of page renders. I suspect this is less of an issue with the more capable iPad 2. Navigation was very straight forward, tap on either left or right margin to turn pages or swipe between them. Tap in the middle to bring up top and bottom navigation bars. Double tap to zoom, pinch to reduce. Tapping on the open magazine icon in the bottom navigation bars allows you to swipe through pages quickly in a cover flow like manner. Tap a page and it expands to full size. Tapping the “Issues” button spawns a  drop down menu of previous issues. Embedded hyperlinks to additional web-based content opened in mobile Safari.

After exploring the iPad app I turned to the iPhone version on my  iPhone 4s. The app proceeded to sync my subscription information to my iPhone with no issues. The same top to bottom rendering occured on the iPhone, but was much quicker largely due to the difference in processor. Obviously the magazine loses a bit of it’s visual impact on a smaller screen, but the convenience of access is handy.

I found the reading experience very good. Absolutely brilliant color photographs and the text was readable at default settings.  It is an exact copy indeed, right down to the ads. My only qualms with the app is the lack of bookmarking, highlighting or annotating text on a page. These features should be standard for  magazine apps as they (mostly) are for eBooks. This magazine is a wonderful resource for geography educators and highlight/notetaking tools are important for learning. And in my wildest dreams, being able to link articles to a note in Evernote would greatly enhance ones productivity.

If you’re looking for the same reading experience as a print magazine, Geographical Magazine’s app is for you.

Geographic literacy and news apps

ABC News has launched a new app for the iPad that, according to some, as a “third dimension” to the display and navigation of news stories. The new app uses a globe covered with headlines and photographs of the stories offered up by ABC News. TechCrunch has posted a somewhat interesting article and video interviews  with anchor George Stephanopolis , Executive Producer of Integration and Innovation Andrew Morris and VP Product development for ABC News Digital Isaac Josephson.  At about the 2:47 mark in the Stephanopolis interview TechCrunch’s Lora Kolodny asks if “geographically challenged Americans will respond” to the app. Having not seen the app, and being a geographer, I rushed to the app store to download it. Could it be that a news organization is promoting geographic literacy? I imagined a Google Earth-like interface where news items were placed in the location of where they were or are happening. To my dismay, the app is nothing more than a stylized globe segmented into a variety of captioned images.

So, Ms. Kolodny’s question was totally irrelevant. Even the most geographically illiterate can “respond” or use the app. The app in its present form requires no knowledge of geography to interact with it. As Mr.  Stephanopolis points out, all you do is flick the globe. It is a pretty piece of eye candy for accessing news, but sadly, does nothing to promote geographic literacy. It is a very nice application for getting your news. It provides access to not only current news, but allows you to reach back into the ABC News archives too

The power of devices like the iPad could provide the personal mobile platform that does link geography to current events. If it hasn’t happened yet, I’d love to see a developer try.

%d bloggers like this: