Friday, November 9, 2007

Geography HQ: A visit to the Royal Geographical Society

Kensington, London: N: 51º 30.100' W: 000º 10.541'
Today I had the pleasure of visiting the Royal Geographical Society in London to meet with Judith Mansell (RGS Education Officer), David Rayner (National Subject Lead in Geography) and Noel Jenkins (Court Fields Community School and of Juicy Geography blog fame). It was a very thought provoking meeting with David given his perspective on the educational state of geography in the UK, Judith describing the work of the RGS with GIS implementation and Noel passionately advocating the use of a range of technologies in the classroom. Our discussion was so broad and at times tangential it is hard to summarise what was said but I will just pick out some of the things that stuck in my mind and applied directly to my work in Australia (both with GIS and geography in the curriculum).
* Noel talked about his efforts to use technology such as blogs to help broaden the horizons of students to help them see themselves as a part of the globalised world. He sees all technology as an enabler for students to share and interact across the globe.
* I was interested in the term that seems to be used in the education circles in the UK; “compelling learning experiences”. I am sure this term will turn up in Australia and most definitely relates to the use of technologies such as GIS in the classroom.
* Our discussion on the impediments for innovation and change inevitably moved on to thoughts on the structure of schools and the need to be creative and innovative with timetabling. I was interested in the concept of collapsing school days so that one day a week is not timetabled but rather allocated to faculties to conduct full day activities in and outside of the school.
* We explored the reasons why many teachers find new technology threatening and what is the ‘make-up’ of the teacher who takes up the challenge compared to the teacher who puts ‘up the shutters’ to change and learning new things. Maybe we need to do some psychological profiling of change receptive teachers and work out ways to support all teachers tackle change and overcome technology anxiety.
* Noel demonstrated the use his students make of movie making in geography with geo-referenced links and other spatial components. He uses free software such as iMovie ( and Windows movie maker ( for students to make their own geography based movies. To see some of Noels students work from his former school go to As you will see on this site, Noel is keen to integrate spatial understanding across the curriculum, involving English and art for example in his geography lessons. A centerpiece of Noels teaching is personalising geography for students and encouraging students to make a personal connection with what they are studying. To this end Noel is keen for Youtube to be used as a source of some great geography but is having issues with the use of this technology in schools. More of Noels students work will be appearing on his new student blog site at over coming months.
* David Rayner as the Geography Lead has the responsibility to roll out Geography in the new National Curriculum. He sees this as a great challenge and is keen to have geography seen as a vibrant and positive area of study. Since GIS has been overtly written into Stage 3 of the National Curriculum, David sees this as a great opportunity to move GIS forward in schools. The issue in relation to this is whether the wording of the references to GIS are strong enough to ensure the use of GIS in a meaningful way in the classroom or will just see teachers undertake a cursory treatment of GIS applications.
* The Royal Geographical Society has taken the lead in GIS training in the UK and continues to conduct GIS workshops for teachers. Over the last 5 years the RGS has been funded by Becta and the The Department for Children, Schools and Families ( to provide support and guidance to encourage the use of GIS in the classroom. The RGS workshops called ‘GIS made easy’ have generally been at the awareness stage of GIS implementation with the plethora of software available being demonstrated during one day and evening workshops.
* As many know in Australia, Noel has been extremely innovative in his use of Google Earth. His websites & & are fantastic examples of the innovative use of spatial technology by a classroom teacher.
* David has been also innovative over the years developing excellent teacher resource sites such as the Staffordshire Learning Network ( and a teacher sharing website called Geointeractive (
* The Royal Geographical Society has taken an important role with the Geography Action Plan which was a UK Government programme to promote geography with a range of initiatives. The RGS has been involved in developing geography career resources, Ambassador Schemes, Chartered geographer credentials and establishing quality geography department marks. More on the plan can be found at
* We finished the day with Noel outlining his vision on the massive changes which will happen in the next 5 years. In particular he sees all GIS software and associated data being served via the web and drastic changes occurring with the nature of the hardware used. Such a vision was only the tip of Noels vision of the future and I suggest put Noels website in your favourites because I am sure he will be posting his thoughts regularly on the issue of our technological future. The question is whether schools (more specifically teachers) will be able to adapt and change to accommodate the massive technological changes which will rapidly descend on us over the next decade; changes which our students readily embrace in their everyday life. Traditionally education is slow to react to technological change in society as demonstrated by the introduction of spatial technology. Can we afford not to keep up?
Overall a lot is happening and with enthusiastic and innovative people such as Judith, Noel and David I am sure things will continue to move forward with spatial technology in schools in the UK.

The Churchill Fellowship meetings are over but I am sure the contacts I have made will continue into the future. Hopefully the sharing and networking will help GIS implementation in schools back in Australia. For those who have been reading this blog I hope the information has been useful. As I mentioned at the beginning, the blog documentation will go towards my Churchill Fellowship report. What I need to now answer are those questions I posed in that very first blog. Maybe on the plane home I can start to crystallise my thoughts on the important issue of the implementation of spatial technology in schools to enhance spatial literacy.

1 comment:

Elissa, Mick and Niall said...

Keep 'em coming Malcolm, great reading.

The Digital Worlds blokes are alot of fun aren't they?

I'll be following the rest of your trip, will you have the world holiday set up as a blog as well? Will we get to hear about the joys of family travel in as much detail?!

Keep up the good work,