But I thought geography was just about maps?!

I get this comment all the time.  The truth is, we use geography in our daily lives all of the time!  Geography involves thinking spatially about a phenomenon.  For example, we could talk about the spatial arrangement of our activity space: how we move to different places in our day.  Today my spatial thinking about my activity space is relatively brief taking my daughter to a birthday party at the Rec Plex – my route consists of hwy 83 to hwy c to  mb to 165.  After the party, we are heading back home using the reverse route.  Extend this thinking to the arrangement of your house – or even more personal – your bedroom!  Why have you made decisions to spatially arrange objects as they are in your space?

Teachers: think of your classroom and how you’ve arranged your space.  What type of seating arrangements do you have: round tables, rectangular tables, desks, node desks (rolly desk/chair) – and how are they spatially arranged (pods, rows).  Do you have multiple types of seating arrangements within your classroom?  If you are first year teacher, you may have inherited a room with certain types of seating.   Please don’t think of this as permanent.  Talk with your janitors (who know everything), other teachers (who may want to swap), colleagues (who may be getting rid of perfectly fine school equipment), talk with your PTO, apply for grants to create the ideal space for you and your students.  I decided to take chances with my classroom seating: round tables, rectangular desks, rolly desks, pods, and some rows.  There were concerns among some faculty that the rolly desks would be too much of a distraction.  I used this as privilege with students who were interested in this type of seating arrangement, while also realizing  that some students did not like the rolly desks.  We did not have issues with the rolly desks – and in fact for some students, it was what they looked forward to when coming into the classroom.  I used my flexible seating to help create a welcoming environment for students – and one where they had choice in terms of what type of seat they liked best.

The spatial arrangement of the classroom turns space into place – in turn, teachers become place makers.  What messages/images/maps are displayed in the classroom?   Studies show that the spatial design of the classroom impacts learning and academic performance.  What type of environment would you like to be in every day?  College professors: in what type of environment do you teach your classes?   Does your space reflect your teaching style?  If you teach in a space that is designed for lecture, but you engage in group activities, is a better space available?  These are important considerations that are sometimes overlooked.  The best we can do is try and match our space and place with identity.

The digital classroom also has its own dynamic space.  The platforms we use for digital instruction are one layer of space.  The platform layout, aesthetics – user friendliness contribute to the space becoming a positive or negative “learning place.”  Within the platform, teachers can establish forums, multimedia, activities and collaboration.  Finding the right blend helps make the digital space its own type of place.  Taking the physical concept of space and “taking it digital” has its own challenges  including the idea of “presence”- and sometimes it takes failures to get it right.  Inside Higher Ed has some helpful tips for teachers engaging in digital learning – as a start.

The next time someone tells you that geography is just maps, give them a smile and a small lesson.

(1) Comment

  1. autumm

    Parisa – This post reminds me of an exercise that Jesse Stommel https://twitter.com/jessifer does in workshops around critical digital pedagogy. He starts by asking participants to evaluate the room that we are in and how it affects the possibilities on pedagogy. What is the lighting like? Does the furniture move? Is everyone forced to face front? Then he starts to evaluate digital environments in a similar way. What do digital spaces afford and restrict and how does that shape the way that we teach and learn? Fascinating stuff.

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