Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Time to talk about the big questions in Geography

Picture descriptions:
Images: Geographers talking in person over a wine. Google Groups not as much fun but probably more effective!

Related sites to the Spatialworlds project
Spatialworlds website
21st Century Geography Google Group
Australian Geography Teachers' Association website
'Towards a National Geography Curriculum' project website
Geography Teachers' Association of South Australia website
Email contact

Where am I??
Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

Time to talk about the big questions in Geography
Several weeks ago I launched the Google Group titled "21st Century Geography in Australian classrooms". With so much happening with geography around Australia and the Web 2.0 capabilities constantly being talked about I thought it was time to establish a forum for geographers to discuss happenings and ideas. Hopefully the group will also provide the latest updates of the progress of the National Geography Curriculum and be a conduit for feedback and the clarification of ideas. On the Google Groups description I wrote:
"This group is to encourage teachers in Australia to discuss matters relevant to the teaching of 21st Century geography in Australian schools. The group aims to develop a network of like-minded teachers to promote geography in the curriculum. In particular, the incorporation of spatial technology and spatial literacy ideas into the geography curriculum."
After two weeks the "21st Century Geography in Australian schools" Google Group has 102 members and already there has been some really vigorous discussion on the topic of:
“So what are the big questions we should be posing in the geography classroom in the 21st Century? As people talk about and construct a possible geography curriculum for Australian students, it would be an interesting discussion to consider what would be the “die in the trenches” questions we would like students to be asked during their geographical education? The questions need to be “big” enough to enable a multiplicity of pathways for exploration by students and adequately provocative to engender issue based discussion, lateral thinking and creative enquiry. In the eyes of the proposer, the question should be considered to be a non-negotiable question to be explored in the national geography curriculum – somewhere and somehow! Ideally the final list compiled from the responses should cover all the branches of geography (not just the environment)”

Already we have the questions posed:
* Should Tourism be encouraged?
* What should the population of Australia be? What is sustainable and how should it be achieved?
* Globalisation - a necessary evil?
* Are soils more important than drainage basins?
* Is managed retreat the saviour of our coasts?
* Will migration save Australia?
* Are natural hazards unmanageable?
* What is the sustainability of farming in Australia?
* How should drainage basins/coastal areas be managed for a sustainable future?
* Should what is to be grown based on sustainability and not the free market economy?
* Does intercultural understanding require geographical knowledge?

We also have had some reservations expressed to the big question approach from some of the groups contributors. They are:
* It doesn't always matter what the actual content you are studying is, as long as in this case there is a local case study you can get the kids thinking about...
* Can geography as a discipline alone adequately address questions such as Australian (or world) population carrying capacity, growth, and what can be done about it because it has to include perspectives of ethics, politics, religion, culture, economics, history, philosophy, science, technology, media, sociology.
* I have deep reservations about issues based geography while I think its good to have the discussions surrounding globalisation, tourism etc. Geography is part of the puzzle in responding to these issues.
* I think questions date easily and are often value laden. Better for students to come up with their own questions, with relevant hints at the time, if needed.

All good discussion! As I said in an entry today, “I think these are discussions on the big questions we need to have before we develop the "will be taught" aspects of a curriculum. Why are we teaching geography? Do the courses we develop reflect the challenges of the 21st Century? What is the role of geography in a student developing as active citizens in the 21st Century? Maybe it is the discussion (not recession) Australia has to have!”

I look forward to the continuing discussion over the next months on the Google Group. In particular, I look forward to the discussions morph and expand as more and more Australian Geographers (and international) get involved. Hopefully the discussion informs and supports the development of the National Geography Curriculum. Most importantly the Google Group can provide a process of democratisation which gives more than just the perceived experts a voice.

If you want to join the “21st Century Geography in Australian schools" Google Group just go to

Whilst on the democratization process provided by Web 2.0 capability, have a look at the one hour documentary film titled "Us now" about the power of mass collaboration, Government and the Internet.

Other forums to join to discuss geography/matters spatial
Martin Pluss (GTANSW) has established a great Ning titled “Australian Geography teachers” To join this group just go to

South African geography teachers also have a Google Group going. It is interesting to see how many of the issues and concerns of these geographers in another part of the world have similar concerns and issues to us in Australia. Go to

The spatial round table forum
Have your say on the hot topics in the spatial industry at ESRI's Spatial Roundtable provides a great opportunity for you to share your points of view about concerns, trends, challenges, and technologies.

Some Wikispaces from Rob Marchetto (GTANSW)

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