Tag Archives: History

Life of the “connected educator?”

October is apparently “Connected Educator Month” so it seems appropriate to add to our Westfield State blog on technology by briefly discussing the use of blogs in academia. Inspired by Worcester State history professor Tona Hangen, I returned to using blogs as a writing platform to discuss my thoughts on books, teaching history, my role as a union representative, and the odd “popular culture” thought or two.  I had experimented with blog use in my high school classrooms while teaching in Los Angeles, and then used a similar setup when I first arrived at Westfield State for my US History survey courses and my American Colonial history class.

I found the tools worked to mixed degree of success due to an existing online platform used at Westfield State. I migrated most of the assignments to that location, providing a digital home for my classes and the basic platform of what became some online course. At any rate, Pr. Hangen’s blog (links below and mentioned on previous blogposts) is an exemplar of academic blogging. The site expertly combines her teaching, research, and public outreach interests. I have used her academic blogging as a framework for my own. Below the links to Pr. Hangen’s material, you’ll see a few other links to materials from other sources on the nature of blogging in the classroom and academia in general. Happy experimenting!

http://www.tonahangen.com/blog/ – introduces the reader to Pr. Hangen’s work

http://www.tonahangen.com/2014/04/chunking-the-chapter/ – specific example of how Pr. Hangen uses the blog to map out how assignments function in her class

http://www.tonahangen.com/projects/digitalworcester/ – a favorite of mine as I went to undergraduate school in Worcester; here Pr. Hangen has helped her students create a digital history project that gets them thinking about the history of the personal and preserves the heritage of an urban, industrial New England region

http://www.lsa.umich.edu/UMICH/sweetland/Home/Instructors/Teaching%20Resources/UsingBlogsintheClassroom.pdf – Using blogs in the classroom from U. of Michigan

http://www.mindthesciencegap.org/style-guide/good-practice-guide-for-writing-science-blog-posts/ – example – U of Michigan, “Mind the Science Gap” blog

http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/integrating-evaluatingmanaging-blogging-in-the-classroom/22626Chronicle of Higher Education article on blogging in the classroom


lessons from a first time course blogger

http://socialtheoryapplied.com/2013/05/07/using-blogging-in-academic-research/Using blogging in academic research

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Here is the place…

John A. Matthews and David T. Herbert, Geography, A Very Short Introduction Oxford University Press, 2008.

Readers may be aware that I have long had an interest in maps, cartography, and geography. Some folks may also know that I minored in geography while completing my Ph.D. In history at the University of Nebraska. These days I spend a significant amount of time on geography in history survey courses, my methods of teaching history course, and various upper division elective offerings including Native American history. In almost all of my graduate readings courses, I will assign a book that has a significant (if not 100%) focus on geography.

Like many of the texts published for this series, the work of Matthews and Herbert functions as a quick introduction to the discipline, including an examination of presumptions, its historical roots, and the variety of fields of focus. The authors immediately point out the difference between the modern study of geography and the “over-simplified” understanding expressed by many people. Geography is much more than descriptions of space and place; the physical and human side of geography are equally important and create bridges between the natural and human worlds.

In surprisingly quick order, the authors are able to give readers a real sense of core geography concepts as well as a more nuanced argument about the future of the discipline.  For example, we are introduced early to struggles over depicting space on a flat surface (the three dimensional planet on a map). The authors also introduce us to the importance of both place an environment in serious geography coursework, research, etc.

The text is replete with illustrations and diagrams that help make sense of theories, ideas, and even the history of geography.  Matthews and Herbert argue that there are five main phases to the study of geography thus far, ranging from exploring and mapping the world to the emergence of divergent interests like integrated, physical, and human geography.  This use of illustrations and diagrams continues, embracing both theoretical ideas (as revealed in the “future of geography” in the final chapter) and little insights into exercises or practices that might be explained and modeled in the classroom.

Much of the academic language is kept to a minimum, so laypeople can get a sense of the discipline without feeling too overwhelmed.  I believe the sheer breadth and depth of additional disciplines that can and do influence geography may be surprising to some readers.  When explaining the nature of physical geography, readers quickly grasp that professionals no something of earth systems, geo-archaeology, climatology, soil studies and more, just to name a few.

While in general the authors strive to choose practical examples from around the globe to illustrate their explanations, if there is a weakness of the text it is a heavy reliance on cases from the United Kingdom.  Therefore, some readers may not see all that the authors do when examining photographs of a rural landscape in Wales or gentrification on Elder Street in a London neighborhood.  This is not to suggest that the authors don’t explain the points they are making with these particular picture choices – they do, and now I know that a Welsh rural tradition is to have a hendre (home farm) as well as a hafod (summer dwelling).

There are a few other minor quibbles, (e.g., discussion of how tobacco barns in the American mid-West are cultural markers? mid-West??  I suppose non-residents might interpret Kentucky as mid-West but…), but over all Matthews and Herbert have offered another quality book to the “very short introduction” series as well as offering their view on the future of geography and the belief that the field of study should renew “focus on the core concepts and methods” while still pulling more ideas and theories from outside the discipline – it’s a model they call the “integrated-development scenario.”

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