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.


Suzie Boss on the use of Twitter

Suzie Boss, journalist and contributor does an excellent job of describing her use of and how educators can benefit from Twitter.

Infographic: A Teacher’s Guide to Social Media

A Teacher’s Guide to Social Media

Making Professional Connections with Twitter

I’m currently serving on an ad hoc marketing committee for the National Council for  Geographic Education (NCGE). One of my goals is to encourage the use of social media to facilitate connections between the organization, its current members, potential new members and nonmembers alike. Twitter is a vehicle that can accomplish my goal even for the less-tech savvy and social media sceptics.

Twitter is more than a microblogging app to push thoughts out, it’s a way to make and develop connections. Twitter has become an important tool for me to stay up-to-date with my professional interest in technology-integrated teaching and learning, especially in geography. It has also expanded my personal learning network and professional connections tremendously.

An excellent example of using Twitter for professional connections occured recently. Dr. Andrew Shears(@andrewshears) and I  connected on Twitter over a year ago. Our connection drew closer when he accepted his first full-time geography position at UW- Fox Valley. I’ve been “down the road” from his new home at UW-Stevens Point for 26 years. One Sunday morning Andrew posted a question to Twitter and I was able to help him out. The conversation is included on the right. The power and immediacy of social media like Twitter becomes clear from this example. A new faculty person connecting with an experienced one sharing and addressing issues related to their careers.

Some would say that they are not “techy” enough to be using Twitter. I would argue that those are just the people who could benefit from Twitter if they are curious about using social media for professional development. The key issue for most is knowing how to connect to the right people and how to filter the “wheat from the chaffe”. Those are topics for a future blog post.

Donald Clark – More Pedagogic Change in 10 years than the last 1000 years

Always inspiring, Donald Clark (@DonaldClark) explains why there’s been “More Pedagogic Change in 10 years than the last 1000 years” and the internet is a driver for positive, pedagogic change at TEDx Glasgow.

How Twitter is impacting my productivity

I generally have my Twitter feed running, even while I’m writing. At times it can be distracting, but with a 27″ monitor, it can sit in my peripheral vision, barely intruding. Today I noticed a tweet from Geographical Magazine (@GeographicalMag) alerting followers to their new iPhone and iPad app. Without hesitation I clicked on the link to the iTunes preview page. I rarely turn down free apps related to geoscience and so it was with this one. I retweeted @GeographicalMag‘s original tweet while installing and making an in-app purchase. Everything went so smoothly that I began writing a review of the app. Geographical Magazine thanked me for the retweet. I tweeted them of getting the app, the desire to write a review, and need for permission to use  screen caps. Approval came a few minutes later.

The app review will hopefully be up in the next day or so. My experience today shows how social media, and especially Twitter, is impacting the way some of us do our work.  I’m thankful for tools like Twitter that can initiate a conversation between publishers and end users so easily (especially between London, England and Stevens Point, WI) to get their work done.

“The Visions of Students Today” 2001 – Michael Wesch

Below are the trailer and final cut of the 2011 version of”The Visions of Students Today”, the development of which was guided by Michael Wesch. I say guided as it really is a collaborative effort on the part of Wesch and most importantly his students to bring awareness to what it’s like to be a student today. Wesch and his students’ projects are always thought-provoking and inspiring.

Early Trailer:

Final Cut:

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