Developing e-learning in Geography

Rees, Philip; MacKay, Louise; Martin, David; Conole, Grainne and Davis, Hugh (2008). Developing e-learning in Geography. In: Rees, Philip; Mackay, Louise; Martin, David and Durham, Helen eds. E-Learning for Geographers: Online Materials, Resources, and Repositories. Hershey, PA, USA: IGI Global, pp. 1–19.



Technologies offer a range of tantalizing potentials for education – in terms of providing access to media-rich context and for students to visualize and interact with learning materials, as well as a variety of mechanisms for students to communicate and collaborate with their peers and tutors. This book describes the findings of an interdisciplinary research project which provides a contextualized, case study of a concerted attempt to integrate e-learning in one discipline, Geography, across an international context. This chapter outlines the learning philosophies and learning strategies that inform the development of e-learning materials, focusing on a particular discipline context. The chapter authors come from a range of disciplines: geography, education and computer science and out of this inter-disciplinary collaboration has come new understanding of the range of approaches to learning (by the geographers) and new understanding of the enthusiasm of subject specialists (by the non-geographers). We will also report on understanding developed through working with colleagues in another country. In particular we have gained valuable insights into the challenges associated with carry out interdisciplinary research in this area, as well as working in an international context.

At the heart of the work reported here is the notion of creation and use of learning materials for geography. We set down some definitions of learning materials to begin with. We critique the widely used 'learning object' concept as being computationally convenient, but restrictive and argue for a more specialized term which better describes the discipline context. Some definitions demand that a learning object standalone without reference to external resources. Geography teachers usually want their learners to engage with web-based materials. Geographers want their students to tap into a wide variety of digital resources out there in cyberspace that inform them about the world. They wish to guide the students through the resources and their uses, empowering them to make their own explorations in future. To import materials and hermetically seal them within learning objects potentially sterilizes them and presents an oversimplified view of the world. This argument leads to the definition of a learning material unit (�nugget' was the shorthand we debated and developed in the JISC-funded DialogPLUS project, part of the Digital Libraries in the Classroom program) as materials for student use with one or more activities designed to develop understanding, combined with student evaluation of the knowledge gained (tests, exercises, reflections). Nuggets connect to external digital resources held in libraries, repositories or websites. This chapter illustrates how e-learning has developed over time within a masters program, initially in one university but now involving collaboration between three. We conclude by drawing lessons for developing e-learning in geography.

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