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.


Infographic: A Teacher’s Guide to Social Media

A Teacher’s Guide to Social Media

Social Media Revolution 2011 Video

The 2011 revision to a great video by Erik Qualmann.

Is Social Media a Fad?

I’ve asked this question many times of late. But then I watched this:

Create a Private Twitter Community with TweetKnot

homePageImageWant to use Twitter in your course but are concerned about privacy? Check out TweetKnot ( A Knot is a community of Twitter users who share a common interest. Every member of a community can send a message to all other members of the same community. All you need is a twitter account to join a Knot. Knots can be public or private. Private Knots require approval by the creator to join.

The creator can specify a Knot to follow any member of Twitter thus eliminating the need for each community member to follow someone individually . For example, I could create a “Climate Change” Knot  for my  climatology course and follow and whenever there is a tweet from  ClimateChangeUS it will be automatically posted to the Climate Change” Knot. For more ways to use TweetKnot see the “Help” page.

Camtweet and Twitcam: Live video on Twitter

Want to send video tweets or live video updates via twitter? Two new applications Camtweet and Twitcam may satisfy your needs.

Livestream’s Twitcam ( makes it easy to get started by using your Twitter credentials to login. Click the “Broadcast Live” button, setup the video source (it’s a flash driven app), describe the video before broadcasting (this is your tweet announcing the video), click the “Broadcast & Tweet button”, and you’re online. Click the button again to end the video and archive it at Livestream’s site. While broadcasting you can carry on a live chat.


Camtweet (, in private beta at this writing, is brought to you by Justin.TV, one of the biggest players in the live streaming market. It has the same basic application screen and setup, though Camtweet allows you to adjust frame rate (up to 500kbps) and sound. Chat is also implemented in the application.

Check out the demo from TechCrunch’s Real Time CrunchUp 2009

My tests found both apps very easy to setup and use. Using a screen capture product like CamTwist for Mac as the video source, one can broadcast your desktop screen. Recently, a student asked where to find exam handouts linked to a D2L quiz. I fired up TwitCam, captured a portion of the screen (with audio instructions) showing how to get to them, and posted it as a “tweet” for any of my students to view. This is much more efficient than capturing the screen with a product like Screenflow, converting the video to a suitable resolution, uploading the file to my course site, linking the video, then announcing it via email.

Give these apps a try. These apps will find their way into my tool kit of applications for communicating with colleagues,and especially students. I think you’ll find either of them useful educational tools too.

Yoono sidebar versus Flock – does one need a social browser?

yoonoWhen the latest version of Flock arrived on the scene I spent several days using it as my primary browser. I never used Flock much in the past as I was not a regular participant in the “social web” and bookmark synchronization across the various browsers I use was less than satisfactory. I am impressed with this new version as all the Firefox extensions that I regularly use worked with it and I was able to easily sync my bookmarks. Its social media integration is top-notch for my uses, and access to media, both mine and my Facebook friends was pretty cool. But, after a while it became too distracting when all the features and media bars were open. Having been use to the clean user interface of Safari Beta 4, I started to feel overwhelmed by Flock, and slowly started to move back to Safari and Firefox 3.5 RC1. And then I ran into Yoono sidebar.

As Webware remarked “Yoono now offering an elegant solution to social networking clutter “. Yoono connects to all  the major social networks and can update your status across them at the same time. Most of the major IM services are also available. The Discovery widget recommends websites, products, images and videos related to the site you’re currently viewing. It can also highlight keywords on a web page for quick access through Discoveries. Highlight a word on a web page and discover related content videos, Google search results and Wikipedia.

Yoono makes it easy to share links, images and video right from the page you’re on through all your social networks at the same time. You can even drag and drop media from the page you’re viewing into an IM conversation. Other widgets in beta at the time of this post permit you to stream music from and Imeem. You can check your Yahoo mail or Gmail accounts. The news widget allows you to access your Google Reader or Digg feeds. There’s even a widget for web notes available to your other computers connected to the Internet. Notes can be organized into folders, and Yoono provides basic word processing functionality like bold and italic formatting, underlining, strikeout, bulleted lists, highlighting, embed a link, etc. You can even send your notes to your blog. The media bar lets you search for YouTube videos, images on services like Flicker, and then add them to your note. Yoono is amazing.

No doubt, Flock is a good application if you are looking for a dedicated social media browser. But for me and maybe you, Yooono is all you need. I’ve found Yoono to be the most efficient and useful sidebar I’ve ever encountered. On my wish list is a widget to connect to YouTube favorites and Pandora personal radio stations. Yoono has been a constant companion since I installed it. It’s available for Firefox and a beta version for IE8. Highly recommended. Give it Yoono try.

Update: A previous version of this post indicated the need for syncing notes across computers. I missed seeing that functionality (as pointed out in the comments) and subsequently deleted the reference.

I continue to use Yoono, especially for writing drafts of blog postings and notes for my textbook. I like being able to work on notes in the sidebar, while displaying web content in the main browser window … and listening to Pat Metheny via the Yoono widget at the same time, and all in one app. Brilliant!

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