Digital technologies and the geography teacher

As a geography teacher, I don’t think I’m alone in priding myself on developing a real passion amongst my students for the world around us. Geography lessons need to be interactive and full of high quality resources targeted at taking our students on weekly virtual field trips. I often spend my Sunday evenings running through the resources I am going to use for the forthcoming week and will use time during the week to mark work. Geography teachers have always done this, but, behind the scenes, I’m finding that the role of a geography teacher is changing dramatically and it is the changing demands on us outside lessons due to the increasing role of digital technologies that I want to explore in this post.

When deciding whether or not they think geography is an innovative subject at options time, students often look for a geography department blog; an up to date section on the school’s VLE; department Twitter and Facebook accounts; a Google Classroom. The way in which we set and collect in work has also had an impact on the popularity of our precious subject; teachers are expected to make use of all the latest technology available to them, otherwise they risk being ‘behind the times’. The question is, have we reached an era where posting links and documents facilitate learning?

Google Classroom, for example, provides teachers with a space in which to upload assignments, make announcements and to pose academic questions. Students can be invited to join a secure classroom and are given rights to either view the content or to edit the content and make comments on posts. As with any learning environment, the quality of the Google Classroom is very much in the hands of the teacher; uploading thought-provoking material is a must but so is the development of engaged students who are able to debate online and draw links between the resources and the examination board’s specification. Yes – we really have reached a point where uploading fascinating links is considered to be less than adequate unless a lively debate ensues.

This brings me to the quality of the material itself, whether it is shared online or in a more traditional manner. Where a specification might ask students to learn about flooding in a more economically developed country, often little extra reading is made available to a student in advance, which is where the teacher will step in. Every time I go about updating a case study that meets the specific needs of the examination board, I have to consider what is happening around the world and how my cohort of budding geographers will respond to the information depending on how it is presented to them.

Excellent practitioners will often wait and see whether a dramatic event takes place prior to teaching ‘the same old Boscastle case study’. Despite the event in Boscastle remaining interesting, and a perfect example of how geography can affect lives (antecedent rainfall, relief, timing and intensity of rainfall, development), the case study is rarely edited ahead of time as teachers are increasingly waiting to see whether new examples emerge.

This year, I’m aiming to make wholesale changes to my ‘go-to’ case studies. To do this, I am going in search of new examples and sufficient information to enable my students to meet strict assessment objectives and level descriptors. Shall I start with the Nepal Earthquake or the floods in The Lake District? Which would you pick?

Nick DNick Dysonyson is currently Head of Sixth Form at Burgess Hill Girls, and also works as an examiner. He has held a variety of teaching roles during his career, including: Newly Qualified Teacher Coordinator, Head of Geography and Head of Careers. Outside of the classroom, he is also a keen windsurfer.