Strengthening Geography's Foundations
Geography and geographic approaches to problem solving have contributed significantly to the scientific and decision making communities in the United States. This report was written, however, not only to explain these contributions but also to address what should be done to more fully realize geography's potential to address critical questions for science and society at large. The foregoing chapters have laid the foundation for this discussion by reviewing geography's perspectives, techniques, and contributions. This chapter now turns directly to addressing the committee's statement of task (see Chapter 1):
- to identify critical issues and constraints for the discipline of geography,
- to clarify priorities for teaching and research, and
- to link developments in geography as a science with national needs for geography education.1
Geography's ability to respond to the challenges inherent in its rediscovery is potentially hampered by several impediments. Despite three decades of growth in the number of professional geographers, 2 the geography community remains small relative to most other natural and social science disciplines. Few colleges
The remaining two objectives of the assessment—to increase appreciation of geography in the scientific community and to communicate with the international scientific community about the future directions of the discipline in the United States—will be achieved by dissemination of this report.
As noted in Chapter 1, the membership of the Association of American Geographers has increased from 2,000 to 7,000 since 1960.
and universities have large geography departments,3 and geography is not taught at all at many institutions of higher learning,4 including some of the nation's leading universities. Thus, many students—as well as faculty members and administrators—lack an appreciation for the importance of geographic perspectives.5 Women and minorities are underrepresented in senior academic and professional positions relative to their numbers in the general population, and, at present, few minorities are entering the field.6 This small human and programmatic base will make it difficult for the discipline to respond effectively to increased demands for attention—demands that are likely to increase still further in the years ahead.
Demands for increased attention are likely to come from several quarters. For example, efforts to infuse geography into the curriculum of the nation's schools will likely lead to increased demands for college level teacher training in geography. Indeed, a surge in student interest in geography is already evident at the college and university levels (e.g., see Figure 1.1 and Appendix A). The use of geography by the research and decision making communities (see Chapters 5 and 6) is likely to translate into a growing demand for college graduates with geographic training.
Realizing geography's potential requires more than addressing the problems presented by the discipline's small size and limited diversity, however. In several critical areas, geography's intellectual foundations need to be strengthened to ensure that its contributions to science and society are solidly grounded. Moreover, geographers need to work to overcome the view that geography is simply a descriptive subject with little analytical or technical depth. This is particularly critical given the growing demand for technical expertise on the part of geographers entering the labor market. At least as important, the appreciation and use of geography by nongeographers need to be fostered, so that the capacity to make use of the discipline's perspectives, knowledge, and techniques grows along with the capacity of the discipline to supply them. This includes enhancing the
geographic competency of the general population and fostering better geographic training in colleges and universities.
Strengthening Geographic Research in Selected Areas
If geography is to respond effectively to increased demands for its research expertise, the discipline needs to strengthen its intellectual foundations in areas that exploit its distinctive insights (see Chapter 3) while at the same time recognizing and meeting its responsibilities in certain technical and educational endeavors. To equip the discipline to meet its larger responsibilities to science and society that have been touched on throughout this report, attention must be focused on the following six research challenges:
- disequilibrium and dynamics in complex systems,
- an expanded concept of global change,
- the local-global continuum,
- comparative studies using longitudinal data,
- effects of geographic technology on decision making, and
- geographic learning.
The first four of these challenges involve research topics that exploit the integrative and synthetic traditions of the discipline and strengthen the discipline's connection to the larger family of science. These challenges share at least two attributes, being both complex and integrative. As such, they can be addressed only through the synthesis of a wide range of information and expertise. A major need of the discipline is to establish and maintain a balance between its synthetic tradition and its more recent movement toward specialization, and these four initiatives are designed with that balance in mind.
The last two challenges are important because, irrespective of disciplinary emphases, demands for the use of geographic technology in decision making and for teaching geography are growing. If geographers do not respond, there is a high likelihood that primary and secondary schools will continue to employ a simplistic, fact-based approach to geography education. There is also a risk that those employing geographic technology [such as geographic information systems (GISs)] in the public and private sectors will use that technology in inappropriate or inefficient ways.
Disequilibrium and Dynamics in Complex Systems
Most geographic models have been based on an assumption that system dynamics are dominated by strong and stable equilibria. Thus, numerical models assume that steady-state representations are adequate, and potentially nonlinear or chaotic behavior is tacitly suppressed by adjusting time/space parameters to
be consistent with empirical observations and theoretical constructs. For quite some time, however, it has been recognized in principle that such simplifying assumptions are unrealistic.
Many fields of research would benefit if geographers were to incorporate nonlinear and complex dynamical phenomena more effectively in their models and other representations. It is well known in economic geography, for example, that under certain conditions spatial disequilibrium occurs. It is also well known that rates of interactions between places change as a result of endogenous changes in the geographic distribution of economic activities. In physical geography, evidence of nonlinear feedbacks or chaotic behavior has long been suspected in climate, stream-network, ecosystem, and landscape systems. Incorporating realistic disequilibrium and complexity into analytical and numerical models is a challenge that mathematically oriented physical and human geographers must embrace if their models are to better represent real systems.
A focus on complex nonlinear systems is important at least partly because it opens up the possibility of incorporating into theory the kinds of evolutionary path dependencies, contingencies, and irreversibilities that are stressed in much qualitative work on geographic and historical processes. Research on complex systems also will place geography centrally within an emerging scientific synthesis that embraces such disciplines as physics, atmospheric science, economics, computer science, and genetics and that treats complex dynamics as an interdisciplinary research frontier.
Expanding geographic research capabilities related to complex systems will require the training of early-career geographers in the necessary analytical and computer skills. Such training poses significant challenges to the discipline because the number of researchers interested in and equipped to work on this problem still is extremely small. Expanding geography's capabilities will require access to adequate computer resources, both in central computing systems and on the desktop, to undertake large numerical simulations that are becoming the primary method for investigating complex systems. Access to advanced visualization algorithms and media will be essential as well, as will research to develop more effective visualization methods.
Broadening the Concept of Global Change
Global change research has become a major interdisciplinary focus for science, comparable in breadth, organization, and required resources to such large comprehensive international scientific undertakings as the human genome project. Part of the appeal of global change research rests on the widespread perception that major adjustments in the Earth system are under way that are wholly or partially human-induced and that need to be controlled or at least understood. To date, research on global change has focused primarily on the climate system. Yet equally important global changes are occurring in other facets of the physical
environment and in social systems, including economies, populations, governments, and cultures. For instance, global climate changes are likely to be reflected in the distribution, quantity, and quality of water resources. Many societies have invested immense amounts of capital in structures to exploit water resources for economic development, and the functions of these structures may have to be altered to reflect new conditions that are different from those for which the structures were designed.
A broadened concept of global change would exploit at global scales geography's expertise in studying physical and social processes and their relationships. Such a broadened concept recognizes that climate changes do not operate in isolation from other environmental and social changes. Rather, they need to be studied together with other changes induced by human activities in order to be understood completely. Such changes include the global accumulation of pollutants in the biosphere—acid deposition, heavy metals in soils, chemicals in ground-water—as well as global biotic changes, specifically deforestation in tropical and mountain lands, desertification in drylands, and species extinction, particularly in the tropics. Global social, political, and economic changes also need to be considered: the expected doubling of world population in as little as 50 years, the massive restructuring of the world economy, the changing role of the modern state, the flow of migrants across international boundaries, and the unpredictable and sometimes violent response of people to such changes.
In short, it is no longer sufficient to focus research efforts exclusively on specific climate changes or local case studies. Distinctive geographic approaches need to be developed to address the interplay of global and local changes (Meyer and Turner, 1994; Riebsame et al., 1994). Toward this end, studies might examine the interaction of global changes in particular places along the local-global continuum (see the next section) and in case-controlled comparative situations. Such efforts will require new types of collaborative initiatives, methods for case-study comparison, hypotheses of global interaction, and appreciation of different approaches to problem solving.
The Local-Global Continuum and Movement Across Scales
Global processes and events are increasingly connected; no matter where they occur along the local-global continuum, they have impacts at other places and other scales. The widespread recognition of this connectivity, commonly referred to as the micro-macro issue, has increased interdisciplinary concerns about how to link spatially variable events and processes, as well as the analytical problems involved in doing so. The challenge for geographers is to examine micro-, meso-, and macroscale mechanisms within a framework governed by such principles as the following: (1) causal mechanisms are best observed at local levels, (2) macroscale events are not always best explained by reducing them
to local-scale events, and (3) macroscale processes do not always deterministically structure local-scale events.
Geography has a long tradition of grappling with scale problems, and its regional science component has devoted considerable attention to underlying analytical issues (e.g., Isard, 1975; Haynes and Fotheringham, 1984). Geographers recognize that answers to research questions are frequently scale-dependent. Yet this principle and its ramifications for understanding phenomena and processes in a geographic scale continuum are not well recognized in the broader natural and social science communities, ecology being a notable exception. Why this is so reflects, in part, inadequate efforts by geographers and other spatial scientists to distill from their work the implications of scalar rules for major problems in science.
One impediment to understanding phenomena and processes in a geographic scale continuum is that they may be hierarchically nested in complex ways. For example, movements in the U.S. prime interest rate may trigger changes in international money markets, which in turn are filtered through various national economies into local economic decision making. The sheer complexity of these relationships strongly suggests that interactions across scale are not linear but involve thresholds and abrupt jumps between different conditions and outcomes and that outcomes vary considerably by locale and region.
Another impediment to understanding phenomena and processes in the scale continuum is the paucity of comparable georeferenced information at different scales. This problem has two components. The first is a problem of observation. There are simply not enough geographers—or scientists in any field—collecting data on local processes, and direct observations of nonlocal processes are rarely feasible. Remote sensing technology has had a dramatic impact on the ability to conduct analyses at multiple spatial and temporal scales, but not all data collection can be done by remote methods, as discussed in Chapter 4 (see Figure 7.1). Beyond observation, multiscale analysis poses fundamental problems of generalization. When data are collected independently at different scales of analysis, decisions must be made about the nature and scale of the data to be collected, and methods must exist to automatically transform that information so that it can be used at other scales.
A number of research communities are looking to geography for the scalar rules to guide multiscale analyses (IGBP, 1994; NRC, 1994; USGCRP, 1994). Many of the guiding principles logically rest within geography's intellectual domain, but the insights need to be sharpened, articulated, and presented in ways that are relevant to the larger scientific community. Despite evidence of a growing interest in scale within geography, much remains to be done in developing general conceptualizations of how processes at different scales affect one another and in developing quantitative and qualitative methods for identifying and analyzing such processes.
Comparative Studies Using Longitudinal Data
Research on social and biophysical issues must confront two realities: (1) as noted above, processes operating at different spatial scales are intimately but not straightforwardly connected and (2) their outcomes vary widely across space depending on the context (i.e., local conditions) in which they operate. Connectedness and context cannot be addressed adequately unless they are studied together. Moreover, they cannot be understood without considering changes over time, including nonlinear, lag, and feedback effects.
Comparative studies across time are required to advance our understanding of a wide range of geographic problems such as ethnic conflict, demographic change, economic restructuring, and human response to global climate change (e.g., Parry et al., 1988; Mikesell and Murphy, 1991; NRC, 1992a; USGCRP, 1994). Comparative longitudinal studies do far more than demonstrate the existence of variation across time; they are essential to understanding local and regional sources and the implications of globally aggregate (e.g., population growth) or globally systemic (e.g., climate change) processes.
Geography has long engaged in comparative studies through its analyses of place and its analyses of topical or thematic issues across different places (see Chapter 3). Both approaches have been valuable. However, there is a clear need for more systematic comparative case-study analyses, utilizing both quantitative and qualitative approaches, that extend to larger temporal and spatial domains.
Comparative studies of global scale processes will require sustained and coordinated attention from multidisciplinary teams of geographers and experts from allied natural and social science fields. With a few notable exceptions, geography does not have an established tradition of team research, partly because much geographic research is carried out at more restricted spatial and temporal scales and partly because of a general lack of research support for sustained, team-based work. Adjustments in the research culture and research support systems will be required in order to effectively tackle such work.
To enable comparative studies, methods of geographic representation need to be developed that explicitly address the temporal, as well as the spatial, dimensions of research problems. Research on spatiotemporal representation in the context of GISs and geographic visualization is presently at an early stage (see Chapter 4). Advances in representational theory are needed to incorporate change as a fundamental component of geographic information, rather than as an irregularity that must be smoothed over in order to complete an analysis—as is currently the case, for example, in the enumeration of boundary changes in most GISs. There is a critical need to develop data structures for GISs to support temporal modeling and visualization for longitudinal analysis of global scale problems. Success in this endeavor will require close collaborations between specialists in representational theory and topical specialists with knowledge of particular problems and information sources.
Impacts of New Geographic Technologies on Decision Making
As outlined in Chapter 4, the past decade has seen a dramatic improvement in technologies designed to store, manipulate, analyze, and display geographic information. The switch from paper maps and tables to digital georeferenced information, including orthophotos and other types of images, has profound implications for decision making.
Geographers have long been active at the "front end" of technological developments, and, in large part because of their efforts, the usefulness and sophistication of technologies have increased significantly over the past decade. Indeed, the sophistication of these technologies has grown to the point that geographic training is necessary to use them to their full advantage. As technology moves from the research laboratory to the workplace, geographers will need to become more involved in the "back-end" of technological applications. The issues here include helping users understand both the potential and limits of technology, helping users understand the impacts of these technologies on decision making itself, and understanding user conceptions of problems to which the technologies are being addressed, as well as of the world being modeled by these technologies. In relation to the latter, geographers need to identify mismatches between the ways in which people understand the world and the ways in which aspects of the world are modeled and presented through geographic technology. More generally, formal models of common-sense geographic concepts are needed as a basis for the design of more intuitive user interfaces to geographic technologies.
Geographers also need to work with users to be certain that new geographic technologies are matched to applications in appropriate ways. Geographers can help users address such practical questions as the following: What geographic models (e.g., location-allocation models) and tools need to be incorporated into GIS software to support decision making? What are the implications for decision making of different degrees of reliability in the data layers of a GIS? How do the visual depictions from a GIS shape decision making strategies? If geographers do not become involved in these very practical but important issues, there is a risk that appropriate tools will not be used where they can be of help and that inappropriate uses will be made of the tools that are available. It is a high priority, therefore, not only to increase the level of effort being devoted to these back-end issues but also to increase the knowledge base from which this assistance proceeds.
The inclusion of geography as a core subject in the Educate America Act (see Chapter 1) reflects a widespread acceptance among the people of the United States that being literate in geography is essential for being an informed and responsible citizen. With the act's emphasis on curricular issues, however, it is
easy to forget that little is known about how individuals acquire geographic understanding or which pedagogic approaches offer the most promise (Downs, 1994). Geographers need to become involved in addressing a variety of such fundamental questions about geographic learning. For example, they can help define what it means to be geographically literate, how geography can be taught most effectively over a range of educational levels, and how the effectiveness of learning can be assessed.
For studies of geographic learning to have impact, they must go beyond the single-case examples that currently dominate the literature in geography and education. Geography needs empirical data to address questions about education standards, curriculum design, materials development, teaching strategies, and assessment procedures. More broadly, the discipline needs (1) baseline studies of the current state of geographic education, (2) an agenda to shape a systematic program of research in geographic learning and geography education, and (3) a support system to ensure that this program is carried out and that the results are disseminated.
Promoting Geographic Competency in the General Population
Geography's potential contributions to intellectual and social discourse in the United States cannot be realized solely through academic research. Consideration also must be given to ways of expanding the geographic competency of the general population—many of whom have little idea of what geography is, much less an understanding of its key concepts and tools—and of ensuring that the geographic content and skills being taught are sound. Increasing the competency of the general population will require an expansion of opportunities for geographic learning in elementary and secondary schools, in community and technical colleges, and in four-year colleges and universities and among people who are outside the mainstream educational structure.
The primary role of geography as a science in expanding educational opportunities is to ensure that geographic education and learning are built on a solid base of knowledge. The challenges in this regard are twofold. First, geography as a research discipline needs to communicate its knowledge to teachers and other users as effectively as possible and, when useful new knowledge is developed, as quickly as possible through alliances of professional geographers and teachers. Many such alliances exist now,7 but they need to be expanded and strengthened. Second, geography as a research discipline must be responsive to users' needs for new scientific knowledge. Research agendas must reflect social needs as
well as investigator curiosity if geography is to promote widespread geographic competency and associated human well-being.
Geographic Competency Among Primary and Secondary School Students
Nothing is more vital to strengthening the foundations of geography than the improvement of geography education in primary and secondary schools. It has become increasingly apparent in recent years that geography education at these levels is usually woefully inadequate, where it exists at all. An effective response will require that substantially more geographic information and reasoning be taught in and out of the classroom (Geography Education Standards Project, 1994). School-based activities, trips, and clubs can encourage greater knowledge. Outside school, news media, broadcast and print entertainment, self-instruction courses, and computer software can serve the same end. The development of an advanced placement college-entry course and examination in geography could also increase the quantity and level of demand for high school geography education. The greatest challenge is the human dimension: training teachers, many of whom have had no coursework in geography. An additional challenge is incorporating the best geographic knowledge in readily available, understandable educational materials, especially where recent developments are concerned—for instance, on global change issues, most of which have become prominent since the late 1980s.
In devising ways of infusing geography into the curriculum of the nation's schools, it is important to consider ways to reach as broad a spectrum of students as possible. The National Geography Bee draws 6 million participants. The state winners are mostly white males from suburban and rural areas, which indicates the need to make the study of geography more exciting and interesting to females and minority students. The National Science Foundation's support of elementary hands-on science programs may change these patterns, and university-sponsored GIS institutes for aspiring young geographers, both males and females, may help broaden the appeal of geography. Indeed, a minority recruitment initiative launched by the Association of American Geographers in the early 1990s has been highly successful. With support from the U.S. Department of Education, undergraduate minority students participated in summer geography institutes and visited graduate geography programs. More than 50 percent of these students went on to pursue degrees in geography. It is essential to build on these efforts if geography is to break out of a pattern that has led to a substantial underrepresentation of women and minorities in the discipline (Shrestha and Davis, 1989; Lee, 1990; Janelle, 1992).
The rapidly expanding demand for geography instruction in the nation's schools has significant and far-reaching implications for the discipline. Academic geographers will be expected to provide in-service training for current teachers
and assistance with curriculum development for school systems, undergraduate and graduate training for aspiring teachers, new and redesigned undergraduate and graduate geography courses to accommodate incoming students with substantial high school backgrounds in geography, and a new generation of teaching and learning materials to support this enterprise.
Geographic Competency Among Community and Technical College Students
As Americans seek to adjust to changing economic and technological circumstances, many are looking to community colleges and postsecondary technical schools for education and training. Many others, daunted by the costs of four-year colleges or seeking to advance their education after years away from school, are flocking to community colleges. Community colleges have often been seen as transitional institutions rather than as sites for basic competence attainment, and technical schools have often lagged behind rapidly changing needs for new training and skills. As a result, many disciplines, including geography, have had limited penetration into these institutions. With so many students looking to community colleges and technical schools for retraining and education, however, and with many institutions broadening their programs to meet more comprehensive educational needs, community and technical colleges could play a significant role in enhancing the geographic competency of the general population.
It follows, then, that an important initiative for geography is to foster more and better geographic instruction in the nation's community colleges and technical schools. At the community college level, programs could be instituted that will help students develop the distinctive geographic competencies needed to function in a global economy and a rapidly changing environment. Technical schools have the opportunity to develop geographic understanding and to prepare students to make effective use of new geographic technologies, including GISs, global positioning systems (GPSs), and computer mapping programs. The goal of these efforts should be to produce a group of community college and technical school graduates who are in a position to think geographically in their daily lives and to employ geographic technologies in specific vocational endeavors.
Geographic Competency Among College and University Students
Both as citizens and as participants in the labor force, university and college graduates are confronting issues and problems that require geographic knowledge and perspectives—ranging from local impacts of global economic change to the effects of changing national demographics on the U.S. economy and the environment. Yet there is little evidence that many of this nation's best-educated citizens are aware of how geographic perspectives would be useful to them.
To address this problem, efforts need to be made to ensure that college and
university students have access to geography courses and perspectives that go beyond a concern with ''where things are" to provide a basic conceptual and analytical grounding in the spatial and environmental dimensions of human and physical processes. The problems of meeting this demand are formidable, given the current institutional status of the discipline and fiscal constraints that confront higher education in the United States. Despite such institutional obstacles, efforts must be made to increase the availability of geography in the nation's colleges and universities. Otherwise, many of this nation's best-educated citizens will lack the factual background and analytical tools to confront the challenges presented by "a warmer, more crowded, more connected but more diverse world" (Kates, 1994a, p. 1-2).
Geographic Competency Among Those Outside the Education Establishment
A large portion of the U.S. population will be untouched by curricular reforms in the nation's schools and universities: those who have completed their education or who otherwise fall outside the mainstream educational structure. Exposure to geography will help these individuals to exercise their responsibilities as citizens in a nation struggling with problems that have strong geographic underpinnings, ranging from urban crime to the role of the United States in distant conflicts. Training in geography will also promote an appreciation for the physical and social environments in which people live and work and an awareness of the environmental consequences of individual activities and actions.
If this nation is to avoid a lag of at least one generation in public awareness of geography, the discipline of geography must provide opportunities for learning in nontraditional settings such as adult education programs and community centers. The discipline also needs to explore ways of bringing geographic perspectives into government agencies, planning boards, and private businesses, so that decision makers will be aware of the geographic dimensions of the issues they face.
Improving the Training of Geographers in Colleges and Universities
This report has outlined a number of important contributions by geography to scientific and decision making issues. When these issues are considered alongside major social trends that are shaping the postsecondary educational environment—decreasing faculty-student ratios, the growing diversity of student populations, and the trend toward early specialization—the need for new approaches to training geographers at the college level becomes apparent. The following section focuses on ways to increase the quality of geography training by improving interactions within the discipline and increasing outreach to other disciplines. The last section
focuses on teaching approaches and emphases to prepare geographers to contribute more effectively to scientific research and policy making.
Improving Interactions and Outreach
Interaction Among Subspecialties Within Departments
Increased specialization is a well-established trend in science, higher education, and society at large. Such specialization is frequently necessary to prepare students for further graduate and postgraduate training, but it should not undermine one of the most important characteristics of undergraduate education in this country: preparation for a lifetime of critical analysis, flexible work, and continuous learning—characteristics needed urgently in times of rapid change.
Despite geography's fundamentally integrative character, increased specialization has occurred at the expense of the common core learning that once existed across the field's subspecialties in both graduate and undergraduate education. As a consequence, the discipline's strengths in the integration of natural and social sciences in place, space, and time have been lessened, and the discipline's distinctive contributions to liberal education and geographic competency have been concomitantly reduced.
Specialization at the undergraduate level in geography needs to be balanced with opportunities for exposure to different geographic subspecialties in ways that simultaneously reinforce the best qualities of liberal education, prepare students for advanced training, and give all students exposure to geographic research and exploration. The establishment of a more equitable balance between specialization and generalization will require lowering the walls that now exist between subspecialties in many departments.
To this end, several approaches deserve consideration. For instance, a number of geographers have designed courses that cut across the boundaries of traditional subspecialties (e.g., see Sidebar 7. 1). These efforts could be built on and disseminated through the geography community. Similarly, physical and human geographers could be encouraged to team-teach courses and to organize seminars and symposia that bridge their subspecialties. Graduate students could be encouraged (or required) to obtain input from faculty outside their subspecialties when designing their thesis and dissertation research programs, and students and faculty could be encouraged to present the results of their research in department-wide colloquia. All of these changes could be made relatively quickly by departments without significant new resources.
Interaction Among Specialists Working in Different Universities
Faculty size in the top departments of geography in the United States is small relative to other natural and social science disciplines (see footnote 3),
despite the fact that the breadth of subject matter of geography is as large as, if not larger than, that of most other disciplines. As a consequence, geography departments have often had to sacrifice depth of coverage in selected subdisciplines in order to maintain breadth of coverage across subspecialties. Yet depth of coverage is essential to conducting cutting-edge research, particularly in departments with Ph.D. programs. One way to obtain depth without increasing department size is to emphasize more team-based, interdisciplinary work within and across institutions, which many geographers now accomplish through interdisciplinary institutes and centers. Another way is to adopt procedures used by organizations such as the National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis, in which groups of fellow specialists from different institutions are established to overview and guide specific research ventures.
Diversity in Students and Perspectives
Colleges and universities throughout the United States are witnessing several dramatic changes in their students: they are older, they often transfer from community colleges, and they have more diverse backgrounds. Very shortly, these individuals also will bring with them far better precollege preparation in geography, and they will be more proficient in the use of information technologies. To provide role models for this increasingly diverse group of students, colleges and universities will be hard pressed—for example, to tap an extremely limited pipeline of talent among minorities. This underrepresentation of minorities in the discipline (see footnote 6) is mirrored in the present student population. Yet in the years ahead a growing number of minority students will be coming from schools with enriched geography offerings, as a result of several developments: the new emphasis on geography as a core subject in precollege education (see Chapter 1), the implementation of precollege geography standards (Geography Education Standards Project, 1994), and more effective teacher training provided by alliances such as the National Geographic Society Alliance. These students will bring with them a mind-set attuned to concerns about the environment; they will be comfortable with CD-ROMs; they will be familiar with cyberspace; and, perhaps most importantly, they will be increasingly sensitive to issues of diversity, whether they come from New Delhi, downtown Baltimore, Nairobi, Quito, or Miami.
Geography has a tremendous opportunity to benefit from the diverse perspectives and backgrounds that these students will bring to higher education. Yet much of geography is not yet ready to embrace this diversity, despite the substantial headway that critical social theory has made in academic human geography. Too often, the geography that is taught in colleges and universities places "otherness" in contrast to middle-class, temperate-zone, North American norms. This tendency is by no means unique to geography, but it has the potential to alienate some students from formal or informal study of the field.
If geography is to draw on the breadth, talent, and insights of students attending U.S. colleges and universities today, it must devise ways of reaching out to those from "other" communities. The geographic approaches outlined in this report have the potential to engage a broad range of individuals and give them the power to interpret and understand environmental, economic, and political events that affect all of humankind. If the growing number of these well-prepared students can be recruited for geography courses, they could bring new and important insights to studies of problems that have a profoundly significant impact on all peoples.
Geography's concern with diversity must extend to women as well. The number of women attracted to the discipline has risen markedly in recent years, but women are still greatly underrepresented in more senior faculty positions (footnote 6). There must be a continued commitment on the part of faculty and administrators to recruit and promote qualified women to senior positions.
Improving Teaching and Learning
Interactive Learning Technology
College students currently taking introductory geography share one commonality: many have never had a geography course and know little about the field. Most precollege teachers lack strong preparation in geography. If they are to become more effective geography teachers, they will need new teaching tools to help them incorporate geography into their courses. Computer and telecommunications technologies provide powerful interactive learning tools to address this need. Such tools can help teachers develop the background knowledge necessary for effective instruction and can give students a chance to learn and experiment at their own pace and in creative ways.
Efforts are already under way to develop interactive learning tools for instruction at the high school level (see Sidebar 7.2). Such tools have the potential to help fill a major gap in the U.S. education system—the paucity of trained geography teachers—by offering approaches to learning that embed instruction in computer software. Although interactive learning has the potential to enhance and individualize learning in all disciplines, it has particular applicability to instruction in geography owing to the spatial and scalar nature of many geographic problems (see Chapter 3). The traditional concern with space and place requires effective cartographic depiction along with other visual representations such as graphs, photos, and remotely sensed images. Geography also emphasizes processes occurring in and across space and through time. Process is particularly hard to illustrate with words and static images. The technology that makes interactive learning modules possible also facilitates the dynamic depiction of process.
Interactive learning tools are most effective when they are coupled with multimedia classrooms that allow teachers and students to work as a group.
Traditional presentations of technical topics such as map projections can be infused with life by the simple expedient of having the spherical Earth transform into flat maps of various projections before students' eyes. Explanations of the Coriolis force in physical geography or processes of disease diffusion in human geography can be made immediately comprehensible through dynamic visual presentations. The same multimedia classroom tools can be used to instruct students in the use of interactive learning modules that build on classroom presentations.
Regional Knowledge and Expertise
What are the major social ramifications of economic restructuring in Eastern Europe? What is the future of democratization in Latin America? What forces
are encouraging the growth of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East and North Africa? Questions of this sort are of concern to both scientists and decision makers, and broad-based efforts to address them often draw on the expertise of regional specialists.
The long-standing tradition of foreign-area research and foreign-area field-work in geography has served the discipline well in terms of its involvement in regional study programs at colleges and universities. It is less clear whether this tradition has been as successful beyond these institutions. Geographers appear to be less well represented on major interdisciplinary boards and committees on geographic regions, such as the Social Science Research Council (SSRC)8 or in
government-sponsored activities specifically designated as regionally focused. Part of the explanation may involve geography's weak connections with the political science community, which strongly influences certain kinds of regional programs, and with institutions of higher learning that have historically fed the U.S. Department of State and other government agencies using regional expertise. At any rate, few geographers have participated in the regional programs of the SSRC, and individuals with geographic training are not consistently represented on SSRC panels. They are also conspicuously lacking from a wide range of other federal and private scientific and policy initiatives that focus on regional issues.
Another reason for geography's poor representation may be that relatively few early-career U.S. geographers define their specialties in regional terms. Foreign students account for many of the dissertations that focus on foreign areas in U.S. geography graduate programs. Substantial percentages of these students return to their home countries after completing their studies (Turner and Varlyguin, 1995). Moreover, the declining number of articles submitted to major professional journals that deal with developments in foreign regions (Rundstrom and Kenzer, 1989; Brunn, 1995) suggests that students doing foreign-area dissertation research switch to other topics after graduation or focus on topical problems at the expense of larger regional developments. Whatever the causes, one of the important learning challenges facing geography is to expand the number of geographers who can contribute to broad-based scholarly and policy initiatives focused on regional issues.
In pursuit of this end, geography needs to consider ways of nurturing students' interest in regional developments and problems and of honing their abilities to analyze such problems using geographic concepts and tools. There are two intertwined needs here. One is to train a significant contingent of geographers in the history, languages, institutions, social practices, and environmental processes of particular world regions so that they can address a wide spectrum of regional issues and problems. In many cases, of course, this raises a further need: financial support in order to spend periods of residence in a region. The second need is to bring the concepts and analytical insights of geography to bear on such regionally focused, multidisciplinary issues as ethnic strife, global economic change, and urban population growth in developing countries.
Geographers are already beginning to respond to these challenges. Interest in regional geography is on the rise, as evidenced by the growth in membership of some of the regionally focused specialty groups of the Association of American Geographers. If these trends continue, geographers are likely to play a greater role in the years ahead in regional programs such as those of the SSRC. It is far from certain that this will happen, however. Geographic considerations are likely to remain marginalized in many efforts to comprehend regional issues unless there are a substantial number of geographers with sufficient interest and training
to understand particular regions—and to raise evocative geographic questions about them. In turn, such efforts would be impoverished by the lack of geographic insight.
Field Exploration and Discovery
The recent development of global databases and remote sensing technologies has tended to direct attention away from fieldwork as an element of geographic research. Rather than making fieldwork obsolete, however, these developments have led to new questions about the meaning and significance of data, about the geographic patterns that underlie and influence data, and about the gaps and shortcomings in databases and technologies for data acquisition (see Chapter 4).
Fieldwork is not only important as a check on datasets and remote sensing imagery; there are enormously important forces at work shaping the geography of the planet that are unlikely to be understood unless one ventures into the field. Many critical issues in physical geography cannot be addressed by using existing data sources and imagery. For instance, most of what is known about vegetation history during the Quaternary, the dynamics of forests, and the behavior of stream channels comes from systematic fieldwork. Moreover, additional field studies offer the greatest potential for expanding our understanding of these topics in the future. In the human arena, for example, no data sources exist on the role of the "overseas Chinese" in the economy of Southeast Asia or the cultural norms that lead various groups in the Nepalese highlands to adopt different land-use strategies. Sole reliance on secondary data sources for investigating social and political developments can produce significant gaps and omissions in research and understanding. Because most economic and political data are nation specific, the development of links between regions on either side of international boundaries—for example, in the Mekong River basin—is likely to be overlooked if geographers rely solely on published data. Most fundamentally, of course, the kinds of spatial variations addressed by geographers are more complex than the boundaries that define most available data.
There is a real need, then, for geography to build on and expand its tradition of fieldwork. Students need to be exposed to field studies and encouraged to develop their powers of observation and analysis in the field. Beyond its importance for research, encouraging fieldwork has several potential side benefits. One is to engage student interest. Many academic geographers were attracted to the discipline by its real world focus, its concern with what one geographer has called "the world you can kick." Incorporating field studies into geography courses is likely to attract students who are interested in connecting the world of the mind with the concrete world in which they live. Moreover, opening up field experiences to students can enhance their understanding of the complexity of the world and heighten their appreciation for the geographic consequences of decisions and actions.
New Geographic Technologies and Data Sources
The discipline of geography is in a period of transition from a past where geographic information was transmitted in the form of paper maps to a future in which most geographic information will be transmitted through digital information systems. The early signs of this transition can be seen in the dissemination of satellite images of cloud cover and other meteorological/climatological data on the Internet. A stream of new technologies such as GPSs will provide georeferenced information on a great variety of activities about which little is presently known. Vast quantities of new digital information about the Earth and its peoples are becoming available, and national and international standards for spatial data exchange are being developed and adopted. Geographers need to learn about these spatial information sources and understand how to use them appropriately in their work. Academic geographers also need to consider how new technologies and data sources will create new opportunities for collaborations with the private sector.
If geography is to meet the challenges of rapid technological change, steps must be taken to familiarize students with new technologies for data analysis and display. The past two decades have seen an explosion in computing power and the ability to process and store data. Technology now plays a preeminent role in a wide range of geographic research. In the environmental arena, for example, parallel processing technologies have opened new possibilities for addressing computationally intensive problems such as global climate change. A broad array of data representing the physical world consists of point samples representing surface or volumetric phenomena. Geographers, and others, have developed successful algorithms for interpolation of surfaces and volumes from such data. Continued advances of this sort will require a substantial coterie of geographers who understand new technologies and can use them effectively.
There are also general computer hardware, software, and networking issues that point to the need for increased technical competence in the discipline. Geographers have come to rely on digital communications networks to support both research and instructional efforts. They also actively use this technology to disseminate information to the broader science and applications communities. For example, the geographic information system listserve (GIS-L) is reported to have a national and international readership exceeding 20,000—almost three times the size of the Association of American Geographers. As the use of digital libraries and such digital information exchange tools as the World Wide Web becomes more common, the importance of technological literacy in the profession becomes obvious. Geographers need to be trained to understand the logic of data processing and networking so that new technologies can be exploited to their maximum potential in the service of geographic research and teaching.