Monday, June 23, 2008

Getting together: Communication technologies and some questions!

Spatial Worlds website
Picture descriptions:
Left image: Concrete jungle: New York.
Right image: Electrical overload: Times Square, New York

Teaching Australia Network Forum
Sydney, Australia: S: 33º 53' E: 151º 10'
On June 22nd-23rd I attended the inaugural Teaching Australia Network Forum in Sydney. The forum was conducted to bring together the 35 National professional teacher associations across Australia to discuss possibilities of co-operation under the banner of Teaching Australia. Teaching Australia is a federally funded body (a public company limited by guarantee, established under the Commonwealth Corporations Act 2001) which organises and co-ordinates a range of initiatives designed to enhance the teaching profession in Australia. These initiatives include teacher awards, teaching standards, a teaching profession charter and co-operatives futures inspired activities, such as the association forum. In this blog I won’t dwell on the bulk of the workshop discussions which focused on why, how and in what form an association network could be structured by Teaching Australia. The forums catchcry “for the profession by the profession” certainly is a fine sentiment if we are to progress the quality, status, influence and reputation of the teaching profession in Australia.

The section of the forum I would like to focus on in this blog is the use of technology by students, schools and associations. Ron Hair from Affiniscape presented an excellent talk on the way technology is changing and evolving as evidenced by the ever growing use of Podcasts, Wikis ,Nings and social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace. I found the talk a great summary of what is presently happening with communication technologies and where it is going. The focus of Ron’s talk was on how associations need to understand and embrace the changes to Web technologies if they are to service their members as functional entities.
Here are some useful thoughts, information and links from the presentation:
1. Associations need to change and use technology to personalise their relationships with members in an effort to remain relevant and useful. The Web 1.0 function of being the disseminator of information has been replaced by Web 2.0 which involves an ‘architecture of participation” in a re-write environment. Social software such as MySpace, Facebook and Wikis are central to this new participatory environment. “Now the individual controls the information age.” Web 2.0 innovations such as YouTube, blogs, Wordpress and Flickr has resulted in the democratization of news and information. “Users add value to websites and it gets better the more people use them.”
2. ‘Linkedin’ is a professional version of MySpace.
3. The way we communicate has changed drastically. The website ‘101 things about associations we must change' uses associations as an example to show the way things have changed with Web 2.0.
4. ‘Google Alerts’ are email updates of the latest relevant Google results (web, news, etc.) based on your choice of query or topic. Worth adding to websites and blogs.
5. Add an RSS feed to your website via ‘FeedBurner’. FeedBurner is the leading provider of media distribution and audience engagement services for blogs and RSS feeds. Check out the ‘In plain English’ YouTube video to find out about RSS. While there check out the other ‘In plain English’ YouTube feeds. Very useful to get an understanding of new technologies.
6. Google offers the ability to create a personalised iGoogle page that gives an at-a-glance access to key information from Google and across the web.
7. ‘Google analytics' is designed to help learn even more about where website visitors come from and how they interact with your site.
8. Build the ability to survey from websites via ‘SurveyMonkey’.
9. ‘WordPress' is a state-of-the-art publishing platform with a focus on aesthetics, web standards and usability.

The meeting was a great opportunity to formally and informally network with a group of dedicated and articulate teaching professionals. I now have plenty of work to do to transmit the work of Teaching Australia to members of AGTA. Maybe setting up a Web 2.0 environment for AGTA and the GTASA could help this communication for our associations in the future.

Some questions related to spatial literacy and communication technologies.
What are the spatial implications of the technologies discussed on this blog? What is the impact on individuals and communities? Do these technologies change the spatial perception of the world? Due to such comminication technologies and our immediate accesss to all parts of the globe via the Web has there been a shift in how we perceive space? Distance has almost become secondary to our considerations when thinking about the space called earth. Unless travelling physically, anywhere or anyone in the world is only a click away. In the long term what will be the effect of this on the spatial perception abilities and literacies of humans? Are modern technologies actually making us spatially illiterate? Do we rely on Google Maps to get somewhere instead of reading a map or trusting our navigational instincts? Do we use Google Earth to see a location virtually instead of actually going there? Is the use of spatial and communication technology making the world a smaller and better place for the future? More on these questions in another blog when I find some research on the impact of modern communication technologies on spatial literacy.

Did you know? The National Geographic Channel Australian Geography Competition

Spatial Worlds website
Sydney, Australia: S: 33º 53' E: 151º 10'
Picture descriptions:
Left image: Students on stage at the National Geographic Channel Australian Geography Competition U16 final in Sydney.
Right image: The groynes for sand retention along Botany Bay in Sydney.

Last week I had the pleasure to be involved in the National Geographic Channel Australian Geography Competition U16 final in Sydney. The competition has been conducted since 1995 by the Royal Geographical Society of Queensland (RGSQ) in cahoots with the Australian Geography Teachers Association (AGTA). The competition is a great vehicle to promote geography in schools and to explore the depths of the geographical knowledge and spatial understanding of students. In fact, in 2008 over 90,000 students across Australia entered the competition. To enter, schools simply have to nominate the number of students participating and then conduct a 35 minute test on site. For competition information go to . The number of students involved has steadily grown over the years and the competition has rapidly become an important component of AGTA’s desire to promote geography in schools. The competition final for the U16 category of the competition was conducted at the Taronga Zoo auditorium on June 16th. The quiz mistress? for the final was Jacinta Tynan from Sky News Australia who put the students through a rigorous session of questions related to geography. It is worth going to the Royal Geographical Society of Queensland’s website at to get an idea of the questions the students are asked in the competition. The ability and knowledge of the students was amazing during the final and certainly put this geographer to shame! Questions like; what countries does the Prime Meridian pass through and the 6 largest land area continents were answered at lightening pace by the students on stage in front of over 200 of their peers and adults. Quite an intimidating experience which they mastered very well. The eventual winner after a tie breaker of three questions was Miguel Vera-Cruz from Fort Street High School in Sydney. Miguel defeated David Giles from Pembroke School in South Australia who did a great job (not being biased!).
As the Acting Chair of AGTA, I appreciated the opportunity to MC the event and to see first hand how professionally the competition is conducted by Kath Berg (RGSQ) and Margaret McIvor (AGTA) from Queensland. I am sure the competition will continue to promote geography in Australian schools as it continues to grow.
To learn more about the competition go to

To get a head start on the competition, the following geographical knowledge/quiz orientated spatial sites may be of use to your students preparing for the competition (or just for your interest).

Please consider being involved or extending your participation in the competition. All students get participation or a credit/distinction/high distinction certificate. Competitions such as this are a great pretext to award the certificates at a school assembly. Such promotion is important to reinforce that geography is an integral, dynamic, exciting and important component of the school curriculum. To help geography grow and respond to the opportunities the National Curriculum has provided geography, we must become marketers and promoters of our subject at the school, local and National level. The National Geographic Channel Australian Geography Competition provides this opportunity!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Being a citizen: mapping politics

Spatial Worlds website
Canberra, Australia: S: 35º 15' E: 149º 08'
Picture descriptions:
Left image: Civics and Citizenship Teacher Forum in the South Australian Parliament House on May 28, 2008.
Right image: Nursery Swamp in the Namadgi National Park(40 kms south of Canberra). This swamp is the largest sedge peat deposit in the Australian Capital Territory and is a valley fill fen.

Spatial Technology and Civics and Citizenship
Although not normally seen as directly related to spatial technology, I thought it worth reporting on the Values Education and Civics and Citizenship forum that I recently attended in Canberra. Having said that, I do feel that spatial technology has a lot to offer in the area of civics and citizenship and the whole area of schools educating citizens for the 21st Century. Needless to say, for a citizen to live and indeed survive in the society of today they need to be at least aware of the power of spatial technology. GIS in particular is used increasingly by governments for planning and also for the monitoring of citizens. A citizen able to use spatial technology is empowered to be an active and informed participate in all aspect of civilian life. Linking into the aspects of citizenship is the nature and role of values in everyday life. Increasingly governments are seeing schools as the place to instil values and prepare citizens for our society (,9625.html). As political and contentious as this may be, it is important that we enable students to be active participants in society. Here is a brief summary of some relevant learning related to spatial technology from the conferences:

Values Education and Civics and Citizenship Conferences in Canberra from May 29th-30th and June 2nd-3rd, 2008, organised by the Australian Government Values Education program and Civics and Citizenship Assessment program. The conferences are on-going events conducted to support the implementation of Values Education and Civics and Citizenship in Australian States.

Relevant links from the conference
1. Professor Marty Seligman’s from the University of Pennsylvania presentation on positive education was excellent. His presentation gave a framework for a positive approach to curriculum as opposed to deficit models of approach i.e. what are the problems with the environment as a starting point for environmental education. GIS has a role to support this positive approach to such issues by focussing on monitoring and planning for the future instead of just focussing on the problems without strategies to address the issues. It is worth visiting Marty's site at to get an idea of what he was on about.
2. The ‘Values technology and relational literacy’ presentation of Dr Janet Smith from the University of Canberra really distilled the conflict between students as digital natives and teachers as digital immigrants and the need to address this issue in schools. This is particular worth looking at in relation to the difficulties we are having around the world in getting teachers to embrace spatial technology. Students (digital natives) have no problems but the majority of teachers (digital immigrants) are the ones struggling with digital technology. Dr Smith gave some ideas and references which are worth looking at on the topic. Here are some of the references worth having a look at:
Marc Prensky on the digital diet (committed sardines)at
Ian Jukes in the age of technology at
Whole new mind by Dan Pink at
Maybe when teachers understanding the nature of the digital native student we may move forward with meaningful implementation of spatial technology in schools. In short we need to teach students as digital natives and see what their world looks like. We should not fight against their skills and globalised worldliness using technology but embrace it in the classroom.

3. George Williams (Law Professor, Uni of NSW) presented an excellent paper on the need for knowledge to enhance informed student views. In particular he outlined the reasons why civics and citizenship is not engaging for students (complexity, boring, community apathy and popular culture portrayal) and suggested ways to create a multi dimensional approach to move C&C forward in schools. In response to this talk I went away and developed a resource called 'Being a citizen' which has a section on using spatial technology in the teaching of civics and citizenship. Spatial technology and its ability to enhance knowledge of place should be a critical component of developing the informed citizen.

I am surprised by the limited amount of work done on the use of GIS in the teaching of politics and civics and see this as an area for some useful resource development for the classroom.
The ESRI site at is particular useful as a reference on this topic. Watch this space for more thoughts and links on 'mapping politics' and citizenship education using spatial technology.