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Regions as geographical learning resources in Higher Education: Using the local and specific to exemplify the global and generic.
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Regions as geographical learning resources in Higher Education: Using the local and specific to exemplify the global and generic.



Presentation by Simon Haslett, Professor of Physical Geography and Director of the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at the University of Wales, Newport. Given on 2nd September 2010 at ...

Presentation by Simon Haslett, Professor of Physical Geography and Director of the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at the University of Wales, Newport. Given on 2nd September 2010 at the Higher Education Research Group 'Innovative Spaces of Learning' session at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Annual Conference at their Headquarters at Kensington Gore, London.



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  • “ The profound geographical differences that divide the contemporary world mean that global processes necessarily play out differently in some parts of the world than in others” (Murphy & O’Loughlin, 2009, 245).

Regions as geographical learning resources in Higher Education: Using the local and specific to exemplify the global and generic. Regions as geographical learning resources in Higher Education: Using the local and specific to exemplify the global and generic. Presentation Transcript

  • Regions as geographical learning resources in Higher Education: Using the local and specific to exemplify the global and generic. Professor Simon K. Haslett Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching [email_address] Presented at the RGS-IBG Annual Conference, London 2 nd September 2010
  • Regional Geography in the UK (Sidaway and Johnston, 2007)
    • Until the 1960s, regional geography formed the core of geography in UK Higher Education.
    • Geography was seen as a ‘synthetic discipline’ that integrated material into ‘encyclopedic’ descriptive regional accounts.
    • Undergraduate degree programmes were dominated by regional courses, and produced integrated geographers.
    • The ‘quantitative and theoretical revolution’ influenced individual geographers, who became immersed in specialist interests.
    • Fragmentation of geography into sub-disciplines by mid 1970s.
    • Regional geography became marginalised in most curricula.
  • Regional Geography Advocates
    • John Hart (1982, 18) “we need the concept of the region in order to understand why we need the diverse and variegated systematic subfields of geography”.
    • Alexander Murphy (2003, 3) “our discipline moved away from regional geography without adequate consideration of either what might constitute good regional geography or what is lost when geography programs fail to produce strong regionalists … this has undermined the disciplines ability to contribute to discussions about developments in different parts of the world, has limited geography’s involvement with communities of scholars and practitioners focused on regional issues, and has worked against the expansion of geography programs in colleges and universities”.
    View slide
  • The Missing Geographers! (Wei, 2006)
    • Peter Dicken (2004) lamented the ‘missing geographers’ in the globalization debate.
    • He relates this to the decline of regional geography.
    • Calls for a ‘revitalization of regional geography’.
    • Many regional geographers now call themselves systematic geographers, such as economic or urban geographers.
    • But “the identity of geography is forever associated with regional geography, whether you like it or not”!
    View slide
  • Public Face of Geography
    • “ Regional geography is perhaps the best link between academic geography and general society” (Wade, 2006, 188).
    • “ The branch of the discipline [geography] that most closely conforms to this general [public] understanding is regional geography” (Murphy & O’Loughlin, 2009, 246).
    • Since there are few self-proclaimed regional geographers, this ground seems to be occupied by non-geographers.
    • I think it shows in the media:
      • Journalists outnumber geographers in popular geographical publications, such as the Geographical magazine and National Geographic .
      • Historians have a strong media presence, but there are few academic geographers on TV, and those that are are labeled differently e.g. geologist, oceanographer, social scientist.
      • The media appears to be averse to geography!
  • Regional Geography in HE (Murphy & O’Loughlin, 2009)
    • “ Strengthening regional research and training is arguably one of the most important tasks facing the discipline of geography today.” (245)
    • “ All of this points to the importance of continuing to promote the revival of a robust, broad-ranging, but analytically sophisticated regional geography. Geography departments have an important role to play in this regard, as they are in a position to develop pedagogic programs with regional depth and … can also take advantage of the interests of many undergraduates in different regions of the world by developing broad-ranging courses that help them understand what it means to think about those regions geographically.” (247)
    • Recognition … has led to a modest revival of interest in regional geography, as reflected in expanded regional offerings at some universities” (245).
  • Pedagogic Perceptions
    • On the one hand “introductory systematic or conceptual courses … often illustrate ‘geographic problems’ through seemingly random examples taken out of necessary temporal and spatial contexts” (Wade, 2006, 187).
    • Whilst on the other “the region is basically a pedagogic device for organizing information for the most effective presentation, comprehension, and retention. It is a truly marvelous pedagogic device, not in the narrow and restricted sense of what transpires within the four walls of a classroom, but in the far greater sense of communicating information, exciting enthusiasm, and stimulating curiosity” (Hart, 1982, 21).
  • Some Educational Benefits (Wade, 2006, 188)
    • “ Excellent introduction to the vast human [and physical] diversity of the world”.
    • Introduces “concepts through examples of problems and issues in real places”.
    • “ Educates students about places they may be unfamiliar with”.
    • Provides “a more thorough understanding and deeper appreciation for places at various scales”.
    • “ Help graduate students prepare for research and fieldwork by broadening their knowledge of the relevant literature about that region or their particular area of study”.
  • Some Teaching Problems (Wei, 2006)
    • Lack of geographical textbooks dealing with regions.
      • Joseph Hobbs’ (2008) World Regional Geography (6 th Edition) is £125 used!
      • Is this an authorship or publisher problem?
      • Also, lack of regional geography textbooks:
        • The 1998 translation of Paul Claval’s (1993) Introduction to Regional Geography is most recent, then Ron Johnston et al. (1990). Roger Minshull (2007) is a paperback version of his 1963 book!
    • Lack of scholarly underpinning: geographers do not regularly attend regional or area-based conferences.
    • But new resources are emerging e.g. Google Earth.
  • A Case Study
    • Department of Geography, Bath Spa University, 1994-2008.
    • Optional regional modules in 1990s:
      • GE3007 Geography of the EU (c. 1994)
      • GE1003 Southwest in Focus (c. 1996)
      • GE2025 Geography of Modern Africa (c. 1997)
    • Brittany Field Course (extra-modular, non-assessed, optional but recommended, ran from early 1980s).
  • Core Regional Geography
    • In 2002 established compulsory regional modules:
      • GE1011 Geography: A Regional Introduction (SW Britain)
      • GE3011 Brittany: A Regional Geography
    • Students studied concepts in a regional context, that developed between modules, becoming more inquiry-based.
  • Local to Global and Integrated Transport and Settlement Tourism and Fisheries Heritage Agriculture Hydrology and Drainage Landscape/form Evolution Coastal Science Quaternary History Climatology Weather Plate Tectonics Geology
  • What the students said …
    • “ Seeing concepts within a region allows you to look at the interconnection and relationships between systems.”
    • “ Within the region it was valuable to learn geographical concepts and ideas”.
    • “ we were able to study different aspects of physical geography … and also gave a greater understanding into the human geography … of the region …”
    • “ It did help a lot as in the classroom these two [human and physical] are often very separate and can be difficult to link together in your head. Seeing one location and all the topics at the same time, definitely helps your understanding of the links.”
    • “ Hugely, physical and human geography are interlinked. I particularly appreciated tourism in the region linked to the areas outstanding natural beauty”.
    Data from 2010 survey of past students ( n = 20 responses)
  • And …
    • “ By studying a region close to home it gives an excitement of knowing more about your local area.”
    • Fieldwork “means that you are able to properly visualise the concept as you are able to put it into context rather then just reading about it. Global climate is an example of this where we were able to look at the effects of sea level change.”
    • “ Fieldwork … keeps your attention and encourages you to look further into the subject.”
    • “ I think that resources were better in the other modules as there would be one main textbook per module, whereas with the regional module we were changing between many depending on the concept.”
    • Did studying a region influence future decisions?
      • “ Good understanding prompted [subsequent] visits to the region.”
      • “ Completed PGCE in geography. I am now a geography teacher.”
  • What next?
    • Modules retired in 2009 following institutional restructuring.
    • Good to see signs of re-emergence of regional geography elsewhere (e.g. Pawson et al., 2010 in NZ).
  • Place-based Learning
    • Place-based learning:
      • Is “an emerging ‘movement’ which generally orientates or ‘situates’ learning on the learners’ own ‘place’ or home locality ...
      • is typically oriented towards the local community and/or environment whilst emphasizing the connections to the wider world …
      • Is ‘hands-on’, collaborative, participatory and project-based.
      • Tends to explore relevant ‘real-world’ issues with a view to understanding and taking action.”
      • From LSBU Sustainability Conference Information (June 2010).
    • Has Geography missed the boat on leading this too?
  • References
    • Dicken, P., 2004. Geographers and globalization: yet another missed boat? Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers , NS 29, 5-26.
    • Hart, J. F., 1982. The highest form of the geographers’ art. Annals of the Association of American Geographers , 72 (1), 1-29.
    • Murphy, A. B. & O’Loughlin, J., 2009. New horizons for regional geography. Eurasian Geography and Economics , 50 (3), 241-251.
    • Pawson, E., Kennedy, D., Roche, M. & Wiles, J. (eds), 2010. Special Issue: Practicing a New Regional Geography. New Zealand Geographer , 66 (2), 97-178.
    • Sidaway, J. D. & Johnston, R. J., 2007. Geography in Higher Education in the UK. Journal of Geography in Higher Education , 31 (1), 57-80.
    • Wade, C., 2006. Editorial: a historical case for the role of regional geography in geographic education. Journal of Geography in Higher Education , 30 (2), 181-189.
    • Wei, Y. D., 2006. Geographers and globalization: the future of regional geography. Environment and Planning A , 38, 1395-1400.
    • Former colleague, Dr Janice Ross (now QAA Scotland) took some of the photographs used in this presentation.