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Volume 20 Number 1

Special Issue: Papers from the National Center for Research in Geography Education's Research Coordination Network

Message from the Special Editor

Outcomes of 2017 Grantee Projects

In 2016, the National Science Foundation awarded a grant[1] to the National Center for Research in Geography Education (NCRGE) for a five-year research coordination network (RCN) project. Six goals specify the aims of this RCN:

  1. Catalyze research planning with strong potential to result in transformative research projects in geography education.
  2. Facilitate collaborative research among geographers and STEM education researchers.
  3. Attract more diverse cohorts of graduate students to Ph.D. programs in Geography Education.
  4. Increase research productivity and the knowledge base in geography education.
  5. Long-term growth and stability of the RCN.
  6. Promote the use of research to improve practice in geography education.

One of the key mechanisms for building the RCN is an annual transformative research grant program administered by NCRGE. Funds are to be used to support networking and planning activities aimed at implementing the Road Map Project’s agenda for broad-scale improvements in geography education research (Bednarz, Heffron, & Huynh, 2013[2]). Through this program, NCRGE aspires to strengthen geography education research processes and promote the growth of sustainable, and potentially transformative, lines of research.

This special issue of Research in Geographic Education is the second in a planned series that will highlight the results of projects funded by the transformative research program. The second cohort of transformative research grantees began their 12-month projects in July 2017. Each group focused on a different priority area of research identified by the Road Map Project, yet all featured collaborations between geographers and education researchers from other disciplines. Teachers, students, and educational policymakers also participated in these efforts.

In preparing their articles for this issue, each group was asked to consider two questions:

  1. What is the transformative potential of your area of inquiry for geography education?
  2. What is the value of a research coordination network for building research capacity and capability in geography education?

As readers of this issue will soon learn, answers to these questions vary considerably in relation to the nature of the challenges faced by each group. The available literature was deeper for some topics than for others, which gave some groups a clearer sense of how to address significant gaps or issues, whereas others found themselves getting started in a more exploratory position. Gaining access to school classrooms – where the data are – quickly became a salient obstacle for the groups, which they deftly managed by involving teachers and schools with experience in the Geographic Alliance network.

Moving forward, NCRGE will continue working with the 2017 grantees to build upon the foundations laid by their initial projects. This will include new research grant proposals and the development of a research clearinghouse that will accumulate new datasets, validated instruments, annotated bibliographies, and other resources supporting the expansion of the lines of research initiated by the RCN members. The work of the RCN will also receive high visibility each year at a special NCRGE symposium during the annual meetings of the American Association of Geographers and the National Council for Geographic Education.

It is too early to tell whether the foundational work on learning progressions, problem-based learning, and spatial thinking reported in this issues will eventually lead to discoveries that radically transform our knowledge, theories, and practices in geography education. While that certainly is the driving philosophy of the RCN, what matters now is the fact that people are even thinking in these terms. This situation augurs well for the future of geography education. Unlike in the past, we now have the infrastructure, in the from of the RCN, to plan and carry t ambitious, rigorous, and replicable studies across the nation and internationally. 


[1] NSF Award BCS-1560862

[2] Bednarz, S. W., Heffron, S., & Huynh, N. T. (Eds.). (2013). A road map for 21st century geography education: Geography education research (A report from the Geography Education Research Committee of the Road Map for 21st Century Geography Education Project). Washington, DC: Association of American Geographers.

Article 1:

Features and Methods of Designing Effective GIS Professional Development through the Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) Framework

Katsuhiko Oda, Thomas Herman, and Angela Hasan

Volume 20 (2018), Number 1, pp. 11-25

This article reports on the development and implementation of professional development (PD) based on the Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) framework, as well as the subsequent assessment of the PD. Twenty-four middle- and high-school teachers attended our PD and studied teaching with a geographic information system (GIS), with the aim of deepening student engagement and learning in social science and science. We collected and analyzed attendees’ reflective journals. Results suggested that teachers understood the significance of GIS in terms of both benefits for their teaching and for student learning. Furthermore, the participants learned how geospatial technological knowledge could interact with pedagogical content knowledge to create meaningful integration of GIS with classroom instruction. The findings of this study provide implications useful for further research on PD in the GIS domain. The insights on features and methods of designing effective PD should contribute to building the capacity of geography education and research.

Keywords: professional development, TPACK, instructional technology, GIS, geographic literacy 


Article 2:

The Knowledge Base for Geography Teaching (GeoKBT): A Preliminary Model

Jung Eun Hong, Judith B. Harris, Injeong Jo, and Kenneth H. Keller

Volume 20 (2018), Number 1, pp. 26-47

Funded by the National Center for Research in Geography Education, this study investigated the nature of the knowledge needed for geography teaching. Informed by existing research about science and mathematics teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge (PCK), the research group developed a conceptual model of the knowledge base for geography teaching, identifying six key components: (a) orientations toward teaching geography, (b) knowledge of geography curricula, (c) knowledge of students’ understanding of geography and responses to geography learning, (d) knowledge of instructional strategies appropriate to learning geography, (e) knowledge of assessment of geography learning, and (f) knowledge of educational contexts. The conceptual model was refined and revised according to the results of case studies of four expert geography teachers. Data analyzed included classroom observations, teacher interviews, geography lesson video-recordings, teachers’ lesson plans and reflections, and student work samples. The resulting preliminary model (GeoKBT) is offered to the geography education community to inform both geography teacher education and further research on geography-related pedagogical knowledge.

Keywords: teacher knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, geography education


Article 3:

Commentary: Reevaluating the Relationship between High School and College Geography

Anne Mosher, Jamie Winders, and Madison Kovach 

Volume 20 (2018), Number 1, pp. 48-56

Geography educators have lamented the existence of a gap between high school and college geography education since at least the 1970s, noting how the mid-twentieth century rise of social studies reduced K-12 geography education to rote memorization of “capes and bays” (Harper, 1982; Holcomb, 1974; K. Salter, 1990). First-year college students, they observed, arrived in introductory geography courses in need of immediate indoctrination into “academic” geography’s emphases on space, place, region, and landscape as well as map pattern recognition and interpretation (C. L. Salter, 1990). Why not instead develop these academic basics in K-12 learners through a curriculum that demonstrated geography’s relevance for college, career and civic life (Stoltman, 1990)? 


Our group received funding from NCRGE to explore an additional strategy to alleviate the gap. Specifically, we focused on the non-classroom personnel who provide information on choices of college to attend, careers to target, courses to take, and majors to declare. In this commentary, we share some of our preliminary insights about where, when, and how student services professionals—high school guidance counselors, college admissions representatives, and college general advising staff—recommend pathways to college, courses, and careers to students who express an interest in, and aptitude for, geography.