Geographic Education

A Holistic Approach, MOOCs, Formalized Teacher Training

Geographic education is the pedagogical domain focusing on geographic literacy (“geolit”). Spatial literacy is related, and it tends to focus on forms of spatial information and technology, which in turn are related to the rubric of cognition and sometimes even areas like Human Computer Interaction (HCI) when one transfers cartography to the screen.

A major trend is for geographic education to be recognized as encompassing these areas of spatial literacy, along with a resurgence of other areas of geographic skills, knowledge, and understanding of the nature of knowing the Earth. Geographic education includes areas such as surveying, geomatics, geodesy, field work, GIS, remote sensing, cartography, and related areas as they intersect “geolit.”

Our growth in understanding the nature of that holistic approach is the education trend. Over the next decade we will see more emphasis placed on how we learn and teach across all ages and fields related to the geo in all we do. And so, from the perspective of the fields of surveying and allied disciplines involving the science and technology of measuring, analyzing, visualizing, and understanding our planet, the foundation of geographic education fits nicely, and we will see linkages across learning and teaching that form the heart of geolit.

Other unfolding trends have to do with more specific aspects of the need for geolit. This has been recognized in Canada within the Pan-Canadian Geomatics Community Round Table (CGCRT) and the intersection of the Education and Capacity Working Group and others outside the CGCRT. Most notable is the 2013 Declaration on Advancing Geographic Education for Canadians (the St. John’s Declaration), which is a joint effort among many groups, led primarily by the Canadian Association of Geographers and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.  The trend over the next decade is to see formalized agreements, projects, and funding to support such efforts, especially as they relate to enhancing training and professional development and for the recruitment and career pathway choices of those considering a career in the geosector.

Education in formal settings will also be supplemented (not replaced) by many other means such as MOOCs (massive open online classes). The next ten years will see more of these opportunities arise along with forms of endorsement by professional bodies of the value of certain courses or projects that deliver content and measure outcomes.

More certification can be expected as we move into the next decade. The trend is part of the de-industrialization of education so that we allow the learner, at whatever age or stage of life, the chance to approach learning from a variety of entry points and that we recognize those and give value.  The need for professional certification and development will continue to grow even as the demographic shift takes greater hold (knowing the median age in some of our fields is about 55).

Above and beyond all these will be public awareness of the value for geolit and the resurgence of formalized teacher training. At present there are too few opportunities for teachers to be educated in geolit. The number of people who can deliver geolit with a background will increase, along with an increased acceptance among the wider public (especially within education departments and teacher training programs) that such an approach has the value that justifies support and recognition. Everything in education comes down to that simple reality: if education cannot change why, what, or how teachers practice their craft and what students are exposed to and challenged with, then it is merely advertising.

As people recognize the need for more training and education in the geospatial sciences, there will be added need for more formalized training to have people ready to teach geolit properly and with greater awareness, skills, and understanding of the nuanced approaches and specific theory and body of knowledge that differentiates us from other domains. If this particular trend is not followed or encouraged, then it is likely the other possible outcomes—of more professional development, more modes of learning, and a renaissance of geolit research, learning, and teaching—will not happen. This will give rise to an interesting area of learning and teaching related to citizen science, where public understanding of, appreciation for, and use of the geospatial technologies and domains will increase.

However, the demand and the growth in the sector are outpacing our ability to do the work. We need to invest in education beyond the schools and colleges and develop formalized programs that support education and training. Education is big. It takes time and money and people, akin to health care. It’s also just like health care in that education never stops and it is always cheaper when it’s preventative.

It is a grand future, but one with caution as the state of geography is tenuous. It is of value to be associated with other areas, but in schools it is social studies and history that dominate. This creates a void where fieldwork and technology have a very tough time entering.  The future is, bluntly, a time when we need to partner and work harder, smarter, and more collectively to enhance the status and delivery of the entire spectrum of geographic education.



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