Thursday, July 19, 2012

Everyday Geography: 365 Reflections on Why Geography and GIS Matter

In 2011, beginning on New Year’s Day, as president of the National Council for Geographic Education, I wrote one tweet everyday beginning with “What is Geography? 1 of 365” and posted them to my Twitter page. OK, I confess that I actually posted multiple posts every day, sometimes up to 10. There is just so much on this topic to write about!   And I continue these efforts in 2012.

My goals in the series were several. First, I sought to point out as organization president how the NCGE serves the geography education community, and has been doing so since 1915. Through its webinars, book and journal publications, annual conference, curriculum, research, partnerships, and networking opportunities, the NCGE supports excellence in teaching and learning geography. Second, I wanted to provide evidence of the diversity of geography. Those outside the geographic community might have an incomplete or even erroneous view of geography as a discipline. I wanted to nudge people beyond thinking of geography only as the location of things, to provide an idea what geographers study and what they care about. I explored themes of scale, patterns, and relationships, topics such as watersheds, energy, ecoregions, climate, and population density, and discussed different regions while on work travel to Salzburg Austria, San Francisco, New York City, San Diego, Minneapolis, and elsewhere. Geography is diversity in people, landscapes, issues, skills, and themes.

Third and perhaps most pertinent to the UCET community, I aimed to show that geography is a high-tech and rigorous discipline that uses everything from scientific probes that measure soil moisture, weather conditions, or water quality, to surveying equipment, to GPS, to remote sensing imagery, to GIS, and much more. I created numerous videos that demonstrated how GIS can be used for teaching and research. Geography uses quantitative techniques such as through spatial statistics as well as qualitative methods. Fourth, I wanted to show that geography is fun. I included links to videos of me discussing geography while skiing down a ski slope, in the middle of a wind farm, on a street median in Manhattan, kayaking on the St Croix River, touching the K-T boundary in Red Rocks Park, and in other fascinating places. Fifth, I sought to show that geography is a rich body of content, a specific set of skills and abilities, and a way of seeing the world—a spatial perspective.

Sixth, above everything else, I sought to show that geography matters. As we must grapple with complex global issues that increasingly affect our everyday lives, such as sustainable development, energy, water, natural hazards, political instability, and food security, the study and application of geography is more relevant to our world than ever before. GIS is a fundamental tool that can help us understand and solve problems related to these issues. Those applying the geographic perspective can and are making a positive impact on people and the planet.   To reinforce that point, I have created over 1,000 videos on my YouTube channel,  These include videos ranging from how to map your GPS track and add photos to it, to geographic reflections while I am hiking in the desert, next to a waterfall, or in the middle of a city.

I hope my postings were helpful to educators and even to the general public. How might you use these postings, and your own postings and activities, to demonstrate to the wider community that geography and geotechnology matter to education and society?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager