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.


Eric Mazur: confessions of a converted lecturer

Kudos to Garr Reynolds (@presentationzen) over at the Presentation Zen blog for his post “Eric Mazur: confessions of a converted lecturer“. I’ve posted Dr. Mazur’s presentations on this blog and whole heartedly agree with Professor Reynolds’s recognition of two important points about current practice in education:

(1) “Traditional indicators of success are misleading.” That is, teacher evaluations and examination results do not reflect whether students really understand the content, even if they do well on the tests. (2) “Education is no longer about information.” Mazur says the key is not memorizing recipes and formulas to do well on a test, but rather to develop and demonstrate the ability to use the information to solve problems.


Infographic: The Digital Classroom

The Digital Classroom
Via: Accredited Online Universities Guide

The Future of Learning, Networked Society – Ericsson

Tech Savvy Faculty and a Vision of 21st Century Teachers

In a previous blog post, the tech savviness of students at my university was called into question by the interpretation of data from a study of student engagement and reported in a self-study* of information technology services on my campus.

Now let’s look at the use of technology by faculty.

Several valuable teaching and learning technologies shown to encourage engagement and improve learning are available on my campus. Though numerical data on faculty use for those listed below are not provided in the report, interpreting the bar graphs it appears that:

• less that 2.5% of faculty use web conferencing
• slightly less than 5% use ePortfolios
• less than 2.5% use lecture capture
• about 12.5% use screen capture
• slightly more than 10% use clickers.

A more telling graphic showing the percent of surveyed faculty not planning to use the same technologies showed that:

• approximately 70% of faculty do not plan to use web conferencing
• slightly less than 60% do not plan to use ePortfolios
• about 65 do not plan to use lecture capture
• about 62% do not plan to use screen capture
• about 50% do not plan to use clickers

I won’t bore the reader with anymore data but for most categories, less than 25% of surveyed faculty reported interest in using any of the tools above. Only in the case of clickers did the interest rise to slightly above 30%. Obviously, the use of these technologies will vary by discipline, but should a similar conclusion about tech savviness be made about the faculty as that made of the students? Shouldn’t the faculty at a primarily teaching-oriented campus be curious from a pedagogical standpoint about these technologies and their effectiveness?

What I take from this is that if we want to have tech savvy students, we need tech savvy faculty. We need to lead our students by example. If we want students to be skilled in the use of technology, we need faculty who are effectively using technology in the classroom. My observations are not meant to condemn the faculty nor our IT department. I don’t think this is an issue specific to my university either. “A Vision of 21st Century Teachers” by the Mahoning County Educational Service Center should inspire educators at all levels to address 21st century skills in their professional development and teaching.

*Reference: Biasca, K & Dumke, D. (2011) Information Technology Self-Study. University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point Information Technology. 28p.

This is Bulls**t

As discussed on this blog, evidence continues to mount that conventional lectures do not promote critical thinking and deep learning. Blighe (2000) explained why conventional lectures are  less likely to result in critical thinking than other forms of teaching. I’ve gathered four of my favorite and most inspirational presentations to demonstrate why conventional lectures need to be abandoned, and if not abandoned, significantly changed. The interesting thing is that these speakers are using the same technique to communicate with their audience that they decry, well not quite. Lectures certainly can be inspiring as Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture”  demonstrates. But are they meant to engage the audience in critical thinking? Possibly,  but Donald Clark addresses this conundrum in response to the common arguments in support of continuing to use lectures  on his excellent “Plan B” blog:

as I’ve heard it many times before,

1) … lectures are not about ‘teaching’ but ‘showing practice ’i.e. what it’s like to be a physicist, whatever, 2) some lectures are good e.g. Martin Luther King’s speech etc. and 3) lectures must be good as they’ve been around for so long.

I don’t buy any of these arguments as 1) that’s not what lecturers or students think, expect or require, 2) the fact that a chosen few can do something well (like surgery or any other form of expertise) doesn’t mean that it should be done by everyone 3) slavery was around for millennia but it doesn’t make it right – you can’t derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’.

Clark, D.(2011)  Abandon lectures: increase attendance, attitudes and attainment. Plan B. Last visited May 26, 2012.

To put this series of presentations in context, Michael Wesch’s classic video “A Vision of Students Today” illustrates who we are trying to engage in our classrooms. Educators are faced with a generation of students living and learning in a culture much different from what they experienced when attending school. To effectively engage these learners, educators must engage the cultural milieu of the digital age.

“Don’t Lecture Me” by Donald Clark effectively demonstrates why the conventional lecture is ineffective for critical thinking and classroom learning.

This blog post gets its title from the Jeff Jarvis’s Tedx talk. Jarvis, an associate professor and director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism, implores educators to make the classroom experience more social and interactive and less about the one-way dispensing of information by a teacher to their students.

Finally Professor Eric Mazur discusses how to use peer instruction in the classroom to effectively engage students to promote learning in his talk “Confession of a Converted Lecturer”. His approach is similar to “flipping” the classroom, an approach getting attention these days.

It’s time that educators move away from conventional lectures and towards more effective pedagogical techniques. As Professor Mazur says, we should “shift the focus from teaching to helping students learn”.

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.

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