Geography and what it means to the author

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Many global issues are underpinned by geography ranging from environmental issues to social unrest (Viles and Rogers, 1992). Geography is a diverse discipline that embraces the humanities, social and natural sciences. I think that by exploring these modules in depth and by bridging them together, it should provide a holistic and flexible curriculum at university. Students should be able to apply knowledge and theories as they have the ability to understand and grasp issues from a breath of different perspectives. I also think that Geography should aim to enable students to obtain a coherent view of the rapid changing society by equipping them with lifelong skills such as critical evaluation before drawing conclusion, formulating relationships with other fields and problem solving techniques. Other skills like data collection and tabulation, report writing, extensive research through fieldworks and seminar discussions should also be taught in geography. With a wide range of experience and skills being transferred to the students, I believe this will allow them to be highly sought after in the workforce.

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Evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of stage 1 of university curriculum

Strengths

I felt that Geo1096: Geographical study skill is an essential module to help students to adapt to the different methods of learning and teaching used in school to those in the university. This is done by teaching them the essential study skills needed not only for stage 1 of university but also for stage 2 and 3. Essential study skills include evaluative and critical thinking and in depth research which is required at this stage. This is usually through assignments such as essays, project based, report writing and fieldwork journals (Kneale, 2003).

In university, students have to be forthcoming in learning, and unlike school where it is more structured, they do not equip students with the skills needed for university (Clark and Wareham, 2003). Exams are usually straightforward and are often descriptive as students can simply regurgitate facts that were memorized (Bryson, 1997). However, in university, it is important that students learn the skill of how to argue when writing essays for assignment or during exam. A well balance argument showing skills of critical evaluation and thinking will usually garner good grades (Bonnett, 2001). Therefore, this shows the strength of this curriculum at stage 1 of university to help students adapt smoothly from school and not only that, it aligns with my vision for geography.

However, the negative part is that different students have different learning pace. Some might adapt faster than the rest and these faster paced students might find this module unbeneficial to them as they have already grasped the skills. This might cause complacency and poor attendance in university.

The second strength is that stage 1 curriculum in university covers a wider approach to geography as compared to school. In school, huge emphasis is placed on regional, quantitative, very little on radical and none in the post-modern. However, in university for modules like Geo1007: Geographical Imagination and Geo1011: Introduction to Geographical Analysis to name a few, it encompasses all the different approaches. This allows students to have a better understanding of the foundation of geography and how paradigms and revolution changes through the years (Jensen, 2009). Critical thinking and data collection are skills imparted here and therefore this is a strength that differs from school.

Weaknesses

Although the school curriculum teaches both the physical and human aspects of geography, I felt that there is more focus on physical geography. Out of 10 geography modules, 5 modules were on physical, 3 on human and only 3 modules cover both the physical and human geography. Therefore, this shows the imbalance in the curriculum in stage 1 of university. Although Viles (2005) mentioned that geography in general might be a divided discipline due to the overlapping information from other fields and should therefore be taught separately. I believe that there should be a balance in this diverse discipline with depth and by bridging them together; it should provide a holistic and flexible curriculum at university.

The second weakness is the lack of focus in some of the topics in stage 1 university. Such topics include gender, cultural and development to name a few. I felt that it is important to include them, especially, since these aspects of geography are already excluded from school curriculum. Therefore, I think it is worthwhile to include it in the university curriculum as it is relevant to the society today.

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Justification to the topics on the curriculum that will be changed

To improve on the weaknesses as mentioned above, I propose the addition of two modules which I think relates to the society, and by implementing them, students will be able to connect with them easily. Gender and Cultural Geography is one of the modules I hope to implement because, in the past, geography was very much dominated with male perspectives and how it lacks of feminists’ view such as the interpretation of landscape (Morin, 2009). This is also similar in the society whereby the males are seen as the breadwinner while the females play a supporting role (Moser, 1993). With the emancipation and power given to the females today, the voices and the roles of female differ from country to country in the political, social and economic fields (Smith and Owens, 2008). Gender and Cultural Geography will give students the opportunity to research on how it has evolved through time and spatial space. It allows them to analyse deeper to find out how gendered discourses and processes are implicated in the understanding of space and place in geography. The aim of this module is to help students to obtain a coherent view with abilities that work towards fulfilling my vision for geography.

The challenge for geographers is to understand how gender and culture evolve in the rapid changing world through the years, which causes geography to be labelled as a changing discipline (Johnson, 1993). This will also give students the opportunity to evaluate and create testable hypothesis. With the techniques they acquire, they will test the reliability of their hypothesis through a long list of processes before presenting it in a report. Skills like these such as critical analysis and report writing are highly sought after in the workforce. Therefore, with the addition of this module, it helps to make my vision for geography become a reality.

The second module will be the Conservation and Development Geography. This module is also very much relevant to the world today. It integrates both the physical and human geography. The Conservation part allows students to find ways to address the challenges of biodiversity conservation in an integrated and cross-disciplinary methodology (Abbitt et al, 2000). Intensive research is required to highlight the potential areas or animal species that are at risk and try to improve the situation with effective, efficient and feasible methods. Students also need to investigate and attempt to understand the primary causes of ecosystem change (Abbitt et al, 2000). For the development side, it allows student to go beyond the surface to study the challenges faced by the society when striking a balance between achieving wealth, improving the well-being of its people and increasing the standard of living in both the developed and developing countries (Pike et al, 2006). This should be included in the university curriculum because development is an increasing global issue in both the local and region areas today.

I recommend the removal of both Geo1012: Introduction to Earth Sciences and Geo1014: Introduction to Earth Sciences: Quaternary Geology and Northumbrian landscape. The reason is that firstly, there are too many physical modules in the current university curriculum and there should be a balance between physical and human geography. These two modules is a repetition with Geo1013: Introduction to Earth Science: Global Environment. Repetitive topic such as the fundamentals of geomorphology will be covered in Geo1013. By removing Geo1012 and Geo1014, and replacing them with humanities and social related to human geography as mentioned above, it is in line with my vision of providing a holistic and flexible curriculum at university.

Secondly, I felt that these modules are more suitable at school level due to its descriptive contents. What made geography different in university and school is that, in school, subjects are being taught where critical views to the student’s education came directly from the teachers and partially from the textbooks (Clark and Wareham, 2003). However, at university level, the lecturer guides students by describing the overview layout of the module without giving them the standard answer. University students are supposed to read broadly to draw their own conclusion (Clark and Wareham, 2003). Textbooks also differ between schools and university. In university, texts are usually advanced and are evaluative where authors tend to criticise the views of others. However, in school, texts are more structured in argument (Clark and Wareham, 2003).

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Therefore, I really hope that you will consider my recommendations in order to improve the popularity of geography as an academic subject in university among students. Thank you for your time.

Yours Sincerely

Miss Michelle Yeo

Part 2: Summary of the revised curriculum for geography at university level

Modules that are retained

Geo 1005: Environmental Issues

Geo1013: Introduction to Earth Sciences: Global Environments

Geo1095: Study skills for Physical Geography

Geo 1010: Interconnected World

Geo1100: Interconnected World: Economic &Development Geographies

Geo1102: Interconnected World: Foundations &Political Geographies

Geo1007: Geographical Imaginations

Geo1011: Introduction to Geographical Analysis

Geo1096: Geographical Study Skills

The reason why I decided to retain these modules is because they are relevant to the world today and it not only embraces the humanities and social but the natural sciences as well. Skills learned are in sync with my vision as mentioned in the letter earlier. It also consists of postmodern, radical, quantitative and regional approaches to geography.

Modules that should be added

Conservation and Development Geography

Gender and Cultural Geography

The reason for the addition of these two modules is to explore them in depth and by bridging them together with those modules in the first table above. It should provide a holistic and flexible curriculum at university. The challenges are there, but it is rewarding as these modules provide students with lifelong skills such as critical evaluation before drawing conclusion, formulating relationships with other fields and problem solving techniques that are required in stage 2 and stage 3 of university as well.

Modules that should be removed

Geo1012: Introduction to Earth Sciences

Geo1014: Introduction to Earth Sciences: Quaternary Geology and Northumbrian landscape

The reason for the removal of these modules is because it is repetitive and should be taught in school level as it seem to be more descriptive rather than evaluative in nature. This is to allow university students to be exposed to new and wider range of topics that are related to the world today. Students will then have a coherent view of the rapid changing society and these changes should help to make my vision for geography become a reality.

Part 3: Bibliography

Abbitt, R. J. F., Scott, J. M. and Wilcove, D. S. (2000). The Geography of Vulnerability: Incorporating Species Geography and Human Development Patterns into Conservation Planning. Biological Conservation 96 (2000), pp. 169-175.

Bonnett, A. (2001). How to argue: a student's guide. Hemel Hempstead: Prentice Hall.

Bryson, J. R. (1997) Breaking Through the A Level Effect: A First-Year Tutorial in Student Self-Reflection. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 21(2), pp. 163-169.

Clark, G. and Wareham, T. (2003). Geography @ University London: Sage.

Jensen, A. H. (2009) Geography: History and Concepts: A Student's Guide Los Angeles: Sage.

Johnston, R. J. (1993). A Changing World: Introducing the Challenge in Johnston, R. J. (Ed) The Challenge for Geography: A Changing World, A Changing Discipline Oxford: Blackwell.

Kneale, P. E. (2003). Study Skills for Geography Students A Practical Guide London: Arnold.

Morin, K (2009). Landscape: Representing and Interpreting the World in Clifford, N., Holloway, S., Rice, S. and Valentine, G. (Eds.) Key Concepts in Geography London: Sage.

Moser, C. O. N. (1993). Gender Planning and Development: Theory, Practice and Training London: Routledge.

Pike, A., Pose, A.R. and Tomaney, J. (2006) Local and Regional Development London: Routledge.

Rogers, A. and Viles, H. A. (1992). Why Study Geography? in Rogers, A. and Viles, H. A. (Eds) The Student's Companion to Geography Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

Smith, S. and Owens, P. (2008). Alternative Approaches to International Theory in Baylis, J., Smith, S. and Owens, P. (Eds.) The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction To International Relations Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Viles, H. (2005). A Divided Discipline? in Castree, N., Rogers, A., and Sherman, D. J. (Eds) Questioning Geography: Fundamental Debates Malden, MA: Blackwell.