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Improving undergraduate Geography education at third level level

  • #1
    Registered Users Posts: 3,803 El Siglo


    How would you do it? What would you add to degree courses? What changes are needed currently?
    I did a BA in Geography in UCD and found that the only use of my degree was that I could get into an MSc in Environmental Science with it. No discernible skills, just tedious essay writing.
    If I was to change things, I'd introduce more;
    • Statistics (preferably the R programme and Excel),
    • more GIS (Arc and Map Info!),
    • Environmental Chemical analysis (unbelievably useful; stable isotope mass spec, XRD, XRF, ICP-OES etc...),
    • Biogeochemistry (this is massive now),
    • Microscopy and Sedimentology (for foraminifera research, sedimentation rates, provenance of sediments etc...) and
    • Hydrology (speaks for itself really).
    Really the Palaeocene and Holocene is our territory, Geologists are too busy looking at the Permian, Triassic and Jurassic (i.e. looking for oil and gas) so we need to be studying this now at undergraduate level more intensely and not just in a single module.
    The way I see it, Geography is now caught up into the climate change research and to be frank there's no room anymore for learning about cultural/sociology based stuff. It's useless research that has no benefit, not fiscally or academically. I'd probably introduce a BSc in Geography degree (like Queen's or Durham). I don't mind most human geography stuff but there's a fair amount of rubbish being taught (I think Delta Bravo would agree with me on this one;)). Once upon a time, Geographers were regarded as scientists. However, ever since the cultural turn in the 1980s onwards, this has slipped drastically. Now, we're getting geographers that would be more at home in the Sociology department.

    This is just my view, what do the rest of ye think?


Comments



  • I just saw after posting that I have level in there twice, don't worry the irony isn't lost on me!:D




  • El Siglo wrote: »
    How would you do it? What would you add to degree courses? What changes are needed currently?
    I did a BA in Geography in UCD and found that the only use of my degree was that I could get into an MSc in Environmental Science with it. No discernible skills, just tedious essay writing.
    If I was to change things, I'd introduce more;
    • Statistics (preferably the R programme and Excel),
    • more GIS (Arc and Map Info!),
    • Environmental Chemical analysis (unbelievably useful; stable isotope mass spec, XRD, XRF, ICP-OES etc...),
    • Biogeochemistry (this is massive now),
    • Microscopy and Sedimentology (for foraminifera research, sedimentation rates, provenance of sediments etc...) and
    • Hydrology (speaks for itself really).
    Really the Palaeocene and Holocene is our territory, Geologists are too busy looking at the Permian, Triassic and Jurassic (i.e. looking for oil and gas) so we need to be studying this now at undergraduate level more intensely and not just in a single module.
    The way I see it, Geography is now caught up into the climate change research and to be frank there's no room anymore for learning about cultural/sociology based stuff. It's useless research that has no benefit, not fiscally or academically. I'd probably introduce a BSc in Geography degree (like Queen's or Durham). I don't mind most human geography stuff but there's a fair amount of rubbish being taught (I think Delta Bravo would agree with me on this one;)). Once upon a time, Geographers were regarded as scientists. However, ever since the cultural turn in the 1980s onwards, this has slipped drastically. Now, we're getting geographers that would be more at home in the Sociology department.

    This is just my view, what do the rest of ye think?

    A good improvement would probably start by overcoming those sentiments - there is nothing to be gained from this line of thinking. Some of the best work in the field of climate research/sustainable community development is coming from productive collaboration from both human and physical geographers, and there are many sub-fields that have always sat productively between the two (political and medical geographies).

    In my opinion, human geography is fast becoming the most productive precisely because of its ability to evaluate the policy implication/practicalities of environmental modification/change -mainly as you say via GIS.

    [The past isn't as golden either, Geography has been defending its own efficacy since its elimination at Harvard in the 40's, moreso than any other discipline (see Smith)]

    Having said that, the 'bull****' is certainly present, although it is hardly limited to geography (sociology and anthropology being amongst the worst to suffer the 'cultural turn'). Leftism holds sway in academia, and consequently shapes the content of many third level human geography modules - (which in my own undergrad experience translates into theory for theories sake....and by the way here's some GIS).

    Having ended up on the human side of the field, I now regret - and fully agree with you - not having experienced stats training beyond the basics, which again is not limited to geography departments. I'm not sure how useful it is to have a heavy physical slant on a traditionally eclectic degree - it was the integration of theory and practice that drew me from engineering to geography in the first place.

    Allowing students to specialise is a different matter entirely, but in doing so you run the risk of maintaining scattered departments with specialist labs as appendages (something which is happening at my home institution at the moment) - it didn't work well for Harvard either :)


    edit: sorry for the opener - and I'm not suggesting for a second that the areas you mention aren't worthwhile - they certainly are. There is much more to be gained from cooperation however.




  • efla wrote: »
    A good improvement would probably start by overcoming those sentiments - there is nothing to be gained from this line of thinking. Some of the best work in the field of climate research/sustainable community development is coming from productive collaboration from both human and physical geographers, and there are many sub-fields that have always sat productively between the two (political and medical geographies).

    In my opinion, human geography is fast becoming the most productive precisely because of its ability to evaluate the policy implication/practicalities of environmental modification/change -mainly as you say via GIS.

    [The past isn't as golden either, Geography has been defending its own efficacy since its elimination at Harvard in the 40's, moreso than any other discipline (see Smith)]

    Having said that, the 'bull****' is certainly present, although it is hardly limited to geography (sociology and anthropology being amongst the worst to suffer the 'cultural turn'). Leftism holds sway in academia, and consequently shapes the content of many third level human geography modules - (which in my own undergrad experience translates into theory for theories sake....and by the way here's some GIS).

    Having ended up on the human side of the field, I now regret - and fully agree with you - not having experienced stats training beyond the basics, which again is not limited to geography departments. I'm not sure how useful it is to have a heavy physical slant on a traditionally eclectic degree - it was the integration of theory and practice that drew me from engineering to geography in the first place.

    Allowing students to specialise is a different matter entirely, but in doing so you run the risk of maintaining scattered departments with specialist labs as appendages (something which is happening at my home institution at the moment) - it didn't work well for Harvard either :)


    edit: sorry for the opener - and I'm not suggesting for a second that the areas you mention aren't worthwhile - they certainly are. There is much more to be gained from cooperation however.

    Well my academic experience of geography was essentially one based entirely on esoteric litterature that was only vaguely related to the real world. I didn’t say all human geography was irrelavent, just the stuff which I learned (cultural geography, feminist political geography, public policy etc...). I absolutely detest this stuff because it’s entirely subjective and vague and full of made up postmodernist language which is hard enough to pronounce let alone remember!
    My line of thinking is essentially bringing in more ‘hard’ science into the discipline. In UCD there’s only three physical geographers, out of how many human? This is ridiculous because you lose that eclectic appreciation for the natural environment that geography was founded upon, all them years ago with Alexander Von Humboldt swanning around Mexico.
    I don’t really care about what’s going on in anthropology and sociology, I know thought that the leftist turn has affected them hugely to the point that any other thought is considered ‘neoliberal’ and ‘revisionist’ (which is ridiculous).
    The physical slant is hugely important, an example would be sedimentation and estuarine erosion. How can you implement a community management plan without knowing or even appreciating the physical environment or knowing the 'soft' engineering approaches. The same can be said with climate change, how do you expect people to jump on CO2 emissions reductions bandwagons if one is unsure about the physical nature of CO2 emissions.
    Maybe that’s why we need specialists in this I suppose. At the moment we already have departments specialising already:
    • UCD – Human Geography, Planning and Environmental Policy.
    • NUIM – GIS, Spatial Statistics, Public Policy, Medical geography, Climatology.
    • QUB – Sedimentology, Coastal Geomorphology, Palaeoecology, Radiometric dating.
    • TCD – Limnology, Sea level change, Biogeochemistry, Developmental geography.
    Specialising has been taking place for the last twenty years, and they’re going to keep on specialising. What I would suggest is something like:
    • 1st year: do your three subjects or whatever combination;
    • 2nd year: opt for BA or BSc (where 80% of the modules are human or physical based and the other 20% are on practical skills like GIS, Stats, programming, research writing etc... things which are useful to both the human and physical crowd)
    • Final year: continuation of the former with a thesis.
    It would mean smaller class sizes, better quality of lectures, more practical skills regardless of which side of the divide you’re coming from. The ridiculous large classes aren't working, they're too big for practical work and usually revolve around reviewing litterature and producing either an essay or two and/or final exam, a memory test really. This can't continue, not in this day and age anyway, I'd like to think that's something we can agree on!;)
    I do agree that more cooperation is needed, but this business of geogaphy undergraduates escaping nearly every semblage of physical geography is bad form.




  • I came out of NUIM, where we were required to take one physical module per year (from a department with a heavy human slant) - which worked well. Some thrived on the more 'sciency' hydrology, remotes sensing, some were more theoretical - the bonus of mandatory modules from both was you got a solid grounding away from the more abstract theory (which was in no short supply).

    There are two risks in what you are suggesting though - that you end up with specialist research groups indistinct from core science faculties (geology, env. science etc), or a human science degree without a solid theoretical grounding (part of what drove geography into crisis in the first place).

    Geography's greatest strength is in its ability to incorporate theories of human action into an empirically grounded research programme - something sorely lacking in other disciplines. That strength comes from the traditionally broad mix of social and natural science training.

    Despite what you say, I do believe there is immense value in historical (the very foundations of Geography in Ireland as we know it), medical, urban and political geographies - and it worries me a little that you equate academic value with monetary value.

    Spot on with 'postmodernism' though, we have all suffered through it, hopefully a little more hardened and wary :)




  • efla wrote: »
    I came out of NUIM, where we were required to take one physical module per year (from a department with a heavy human slant) - which worked well. Some thrived on the more 'sciency' hydrology, remotes sensing, some were more theoretical - the bonus of mandatory modules from both was you got a solid grounding away from the more abstract theory (which was in no short supply).

    There are two risks in what you are suggesting though - that you end up with specialist research groups indistinct from core science faculties (geology, env. science etc), or a human science degree without a solid theoretical grounding (part of what drove geography into crisis in the first place).

    Geography's greatest strength is in its ability to incorporate theories of human action into an empirically grounded research programme - something sorely lacking in other disciplines. That strength comes from the traditionally broad mix of social and natural science training.

    Despite what you say, I do believe there is immense value in historical (the very foundations of Geography in Ireland as we know it), medical, urban and political geographies - and it worries me a little that you equate academic value with monetary value.

    Spot on with 'postmodernism' though, we have all suffered through it, hopefully a little more hardened and wary :)

    Oh I want to state, that I value historical geography, it really is one of those cornerstones of the discipline which has really kept up with the times (we're still producing solid historical geographers). I don't equate academic value with monetary value, I just don't see the need in certain strands of research, which because money was plenty available at the time that it got funded. Seriously, there has been some serious funding pumped into the postmodernist type geography in the last ten years and what has it yielded, even academically? Buzzwords that get thrown into European Union vernacular, my own experience was researching 'residualisation' while I was working at Maynooth.
    As rounded as geography is, I would like to see graduates who can handle specific scientific work. When you think of it, even from a research point of view, what good is it on a graduates cv that they studied feminist political geography? Really, unless they want to be a feminist political geographer there's no benefit. What I'm suggesting is that having some appreciation of say chemical analysis might be more useful. It's useful in research because you can't take a core sample without knowing the background pH, N, P etc... concentrations. It's useful on a cv because they can tell an employer; "yes I've experience with ICP-OES, Mass Spec, Gran Titration etc..." It's more of a skills base that I'd like to see in undergrads, as opposed to the usual memory test.
    Well geography isn't the only discipline that takes human actions into empirical research, this can be found in most environmental disciplines (every single one really). What's funny about geography and you've pointed it out is that you do end up encroaching on other disciplines, but this isn't just indicative of physical geography, Jesus physical geography is a mixture of hydrology, geology and meteorology at times! Human geography does the exact same thing. What separates geography, is that; it deals with everything from the palaeocene onwards i.e. 'time' (in physical for this one), it involves 'space' of any kind, and it deals with 'place'.
    I suppose I'm just annoyed at the way it was run in UCD, NUIM always had a great reputation (especially the single honours programme, my brother went there and he loved it). UCD was more of mill, where only lip service was paid to physical geography and even then it was God awful (absolutely no practicals, all research). What I'm concerned about is that it's only going to get worse with budget cut backs.


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  • I absolutely hate the word 'postmodernism', I get shivers down my spine even thinking of it.;)




  • El Siglo wrote: »
    Oh I want to state, that I value historical geography, it really is one of those cornerstones of the discipline which has really kept up with the times (we're still producing solid historical geographers).

    They have been hardest hit by the recession in terms of early retirements - I dont think there are many tenured historical geographers left in UCD either, despite its long history, which is a shame

    El Siglo wrote: »
    I don't equate academic value with monetary value, I just don't see the need in certain strands of research, which because money was plenty available at the time that it got funded. Seriously, there has been some serious funding pumped into the postmodernist type geography in the last ten years and what has it yielded, even academically? Buzzwords that get thrown into European Union vernacular, my own experience was researching 'residualisation' while I was working at Maynooth.

    There will always be an inferior other, irrespective of how much any discipline may change - but I do agree that the indulgence of the boom years has cost in terms of credibility.
    El Siglo wrote: »
    As rounded as geography is, I would like to see graduates who can handle specific scientific work. When you think of it, even from a research point of view, what good is it on a graduates cv that they studied feminist political geography? Really, unless they want to be a feminist political geographer there's no benefit.

    If you're working in community development of some sort, it could be essential. But I think we can agree that there is a line somewhere close by where it crosses into nonsense....? :)
    El Siglo wrote: »
    What I'm suggesting is that having some appreciation of say chemical analysis might be more useful. It's useful in research because you can't take a core sample without knowing the background pH, N, P etc... concentrations. It's useful on a cv because they can tell an employer; "yes I've experience with ICP-OES, Mass Spec, Gran Titration etc..." It's more of a skills base that I'd like to see in undergrads, as opposed to the usual memory test.

    Entering a jobs market with fully accredited and underemployed civil engineers would soon render it useless. A core geography degree will never confer skills to a sufficient level with which to compete with a fully specialised BSc/BEng graduate. Such competitive advances for the geographer are made (and made well) at postgraduate level - I'm not sure how much you can do with a three year degree*
    El Siglo wrote: »
    Well geography isn't the only discipline that takes human actions into empirical research, this can be found in most environmental disciplines (every single one really). What's funny about geography and you've pointed it out is that you do end up encroaching on other disciplines, but this isn't just indicative of physical geography, Jesus physical geography is a mixture of hydrology, geology and meteorology at times! Human geography does the exact same thing. What separates geography, is that; it deals with everything from the palaeocene onwards i.e. 'time' (in physical for this one), it involves 'space' of any kind, and it deals with 'place'.

    As evidenced in the growth of human ecology journals and research - disciplinary encroachment IMO has been largely positive (ecological economics, human ecology, climatology). One of the defining characteristics of geography is its ability to merge abstract social theory with empirical data, and it does so powerfully.
    El Siglo wrote: »
    I suppose I'm just annoyed at the way it was run in UCD, NUIM always had a great reputation (especially the single honours programme, my brother went there and he loved it). UCD was more of mill, where only lip service was paid to physical geography and even then it was God awful (absolutely no practicals, all research). What I'm concerned about is that it's only going to get worse with budget cut backs.

    Thats awful, although I ended up in social science, I loved and miss physical geography (and science in general). I suppose it does come down to individual departments - I took geomorphology, GIS and remote sensing throughout my degree and I feel it has served me well. The degree didn't turn out competitive geologists or data analysts, but it did set us up well for further study, which is the best you can hope for in a degree if you have specialist work in mind.

    Overall though I feel our undergraduate programmes could do with some tuning up, I'm still annoyed having had to teach myself stats throughout my postgrad years - todays undergrads are getting away with murder :)


    *As a personal aside I went from a civil engineering degree into a BA, a lot of which served me well (surveying and CAD in particular). I just cant see a geography graduate with a 40% human component 3 year degree competing with a 4-year BEng (no, I am not) for a physical-related job. But again, postgraduate work always levels the playing field well, and it is here I think we should be focusing.
    El Siglo wrote: »
    I absolutely hate the word 'postmodernism', I get shivers down my spine even thinking of it.;)

    Speaking of human contributions.... Well worth a read. Actually Harvey's career is a paradoxical tour of the overall cultural turn. He wrote measurement in Geography (presumably!) before reading Marx's Capital and the rest is history... :)




  • efla wrote: »
    They have been hardest hit by the recession in terms of early retirements - I dont think there are many tenured historical geographers left in UCD either, despite its long history, which is a shame

    When I hear Willy Nolan was retiring, I was fairly shocked, I'll miss the abstract rants and eclecticism he always instilled in a lecture. He really made human geography interesting, which is a lost skill really. Maynooth is extremely lucky to have Paddy Duffy still there.
    efla wrote:
    There will always be an inferior other, irrespective of how much any discipline may change - but I do agree that the indulgence of the boom years has cost in terms of credibility.

    Well that's it really, indulgence was the buzzword. Really sickened by how much was spent on what exactly? Being told a regeneration project doesn't work? Yes because having a PhD really matters here!
    efla wrote:
    If you're working in community development of some sort, it could be essential. But I think we can agree that there is a line somewhere close by where it crosses into nonsense....? :)

    Well that's it you see, I started off as proper human geographer, I mean I really got big into it and then did a David Harvey and took the Dick Chorley and Luna Leopold route on things. I suppose that's the thing with geography, we bridge the gap between the human and the natural environments.
    efla wrote:
    Entering a jobs market with fully accredited and underemployed civil engineers would soon render it useless. A core geography degree will never confer skills to a sufficient level with which to compete with a fully specialised BSc/BEng graduate. Such competitive advances for the geographer are made (and made well) at postgraduate level - I'm not sure how much you can do with a three year degree*

    I agree, but what I'm getting at is I suppose increasing the chances of undergrads getting the places on those postgrad course where they have the 50-50 chance of getting on.
    efla wrote:
    As evidenced in the growth of human ecology journals and research - disciplinary encroachment IMO has been largely positive (ecological economics, human ecology, climatology). One of the defining characteristics of geography is its ability to merge abstract social theory with empirical data, and it does so powerfully.

    I love this to be honest, this is the kind of stuff that keeps geography on top, the pure fuzzing of boundaries that geologists or chemists don't get! It's really where exactly one falls with the merging of social theory and empirical data, I suppose there'll always be some divide between the human and physical geographers!;)
    efla wrote:
    Thats awful, although I ended up in social science, I loved and miss physical geography (and science in general). I suppose it does come down to individual departments - I took geomorphology, GIS and remote sensing throughout my degree and I feel it has served me well. The degree didn't turn out competitive geologists or data analysts, but it did set us up well for further study, which is the best you can hope for in a degree if you have specialist work in mind.

    Well in fairness, ye had Paul Gibson and Ro Charlton, they're pretty damn good at what they do. Again I suppose further study is the key aspect here but some level of practical skills must be introduced.
    efla wrote:
    Overall though I feel our undergraduate programmes could do with some tuning up, I'm still annoyed having had to teach myself stats throughout my postgrad years - todays undergrads are getting away with murder :)

    You wouldn't believe it if I told you. I did no stats in my undergrad, half way through my MSc, start learning the R programme for stats. Great programme but it was like a gimpy child jumping the Grand Canyon - near impossible! So I do think a proper stats module is definitely needed for undergrads.
    efla wrote:
    *As a personal aside I went from a civil engineering degree into a BA, a lot of which served me well (surveying and CAD in particular). I just cant see a geography graduate with a 40% human component 3 year degree competing with a 4-year BEng (no, I am not) for a physical-related job. But again, postgraduate work always levels the playing field well, and it is here I think we should be focusing.

    I don't expect geographers to compete with engineers, I just expect geographers to have some working knowledge of things beyond the readings.
    efla wrote:
    Speaking of human contributions.... Well worth a read. Actually Harvey's career is a paradoxical tour of the overall cultural turn. He wrote measurement in Geography (presumably!) before reading Marx's Capital and the rest is history... :)

    Along with William Bunge I suppose. Harvey's a gas hoore, started off in historical geography, then got big into stats (while at Birmingham, surprise surprise!:rolleyes:), goes to JHU Baltimore and becomes a complete leftist. He's odd to say the least.:D Last I heard, he was lecturing in anthropolgy at NYU, some man for one man!




  • Paddy retired at the end of last year, we dont have any historical geographers on staff as of christmas, aside from a few NCG projects which will probably wrap up when the money runs out. I dont know what the state of play is in other colleges, but it is a huge overall loss in terms of contributions.




  • efla wrote: »
    Paddy retired at the end of last year, we dont have any historical geographers on staff as of christmas, aside from a few NCG projects which will probably wrap up when the money runs out. I dont know what the state of play is in other colleges, but it is a huge overall loss in terms of contributions.

    Serious? Paddy's gone as well? Jaysus, it's not looking good so. Yeh it doesn't look good so, as you say it is a huge overall loss in contributions. The only experienced ones I can think of is Arnold Horner in UCD, Mark Hennessy in TCD and maybe one or two over in Galway that I can't think of right now.


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  • All of this, and no mention of UCC ... which lost WJ Smyth in recent years. His 'Map-making Landscapes and Memory" is brilliant.

    As a human/economic geographer now working in the policy area, I still think geography has a huge amount to bring to policy analysis, and is critical in helping to identify and solve real and pressing problems, not least because of the good old fashioned bridge it forms between the physical and the human. There are some critical improvements that need to be made though, and applied consistently across Departments. I'd start as follows;

    -GIS for everyone, from 1st year on. Focusing on the practical applications.
    -A set of core modules, covering the usual Nature and Philosophy stuff, but with a 'developments in modern geography' section, covering just that, with a particular emphasis on developments in associated fields.
    -Start bringing in lecturers from other faculties. Civil Engineering, Commerce, Economics, Environmental Science, Ag Science, Business, Government - at a push, I might even allow the odd sociologist in. If they're good, to cover both core stuff and to contribute to specialist courses.
    -Focus on real social, political, questions, rather than trying to continually arrive at an even more theoretically obtuse post structurationist, neo feminst conceptualisation of the common toaster (or whatever). A slightly larger issue, I know, but that stuff still annoys me ...




  • Aidan1 wrote: »
    All of this, and no mention of UCC ... which lost WJ Smyth in recent years. His 'Map-making Landscapes and Memory" is brilliant.

    I'm afraid I don't go beyond the pale that often!;) It's ridiculous to see any kind of high quality lecturers go, but this is the reality of the situation I suppose. Good points there, definitely more cross collaboration is needed.
    Without a doubt there needs to be more stats and more GIS, R should be a standard stats programme for all undergrads it's free and relatively easy to use. I'd bring in some form of environmental chemistry, mainly because everything from fluvial to glaciation and climatology stuff requires some working knowledge of environmental chemistry processes. It doesn't have to be indepth, just enough to understand stable isotope ratios N, C and P cycles, you could nearly do it in one module.




  • Aidan1 wrote: »
    All of this, and no mention of UCC ... which lost WJ Smyth in recent years. His 'Map-making Landscapes and Memory" is brilliant.

    Aye, he gave paddy a great sendoff. John Andrews and T. Jones-Hughes come to mind also. I hear the folklore institute is shedding staff also - shame, great resource.
    Aidan1 wrote: »
    I might even allow the odd sociologist in. If they're good, to cover both core stuff and to contribute to specialist courses.

    They're not that bad, are they? The most ironic aspect of the cultural turn is that through human geographers contributions to the debates of the time, they seem to have made greater advances. I should probably have a little more pride as a sociologist, but I'm continually disheartened by our own aversion to statistical methodologies (and there are still the hardcore few on both sides who view anything deductive as naive empiricism-to connect to your point below...). I do agree that in terms of cooperation, policy should be where it is at, and I think we do have our space.
    Aidan1 wrote: »
    -Focus on real social, political, questions, rather than trying to continually arrive at an even more theoretically obtuse post structurationist, neo feminst conceptualisation of the common toaster (or whatever). A slightly larger issue, I know, but that stuff still annoys me ...


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