Learning and Teaching

Learning and Teaching Geography Through a Digital Lens

Simon Armitage is the author of ‘Approaches to Learning and Teaching Geography’.

Good teaching helps learning to be more engaging and more memorable. This is one reason why it is so important to consider ‘active learning’ techniques. Active learning is also likely to assist helping students with metacognitive processes – considering bigger questions and ideas that will assist them in the investigation of problems and the application of information that will be such a great help across all their studies and in life to come.

As a Geography teacher, I need to consider how my students gain a deep understanding and appreciation of places which are often very different to that in which they live. This would, ideally, involve plenty of trips to experience each location at first-hand. So what if we hold a digital lens over this particular challenge?

Here are 10 ideas to make learning about places more memorable with digital technology.

  1. Introduce a topic or a place with an image. Make the best use of digital projectors and acquire (download or take yourself if you are lucky to go to the location) the highest resolution image (adjust the search options to select online ‘large files’). Blackout the room to reduce the distractions to the image. Try to transport the students to the location in their minds.
  2. Use audio to increase the sense of immersion in the location. Find some music from the location or play the sounds of the location itself – the roar of the torrential thunderstorm during the wet monsoon is quite different from a ‘spot of heavy rain’ in London!
  3. Take a virtual tour using online mapping application such as Google Maps, Google Earth and Streetview. Views at different altitudes and from different angles will convey a different sense of understanding of the locations and of the geographical processes.
  4. Give students precise tasks as they explore in this virtual world so consider setting a treasure-hunt trail. Take screenshot images from these mapping applications and store them for later use.
  5. 360-degree images are now readily available online which allows students to revisit a location and look around. Virtual Reality (VR) headsets, into which mobile phone devices can be placed, might be considered. You can even make one out of cardboard. Don’t forget that any multimedia phone can be used to generate your own 360 degree images. Try the free Streetview application for this.
  6. Join a collaborative online mapping project such as Missing Maps which aims to ‘map the most vulnerable places in the developing world, in order that international and local NGOs and individuals can use the maps and data to better respond to crises affecting the areas.’
  7. Place data onto a map using free online Geographical Information System (GIS) applications.
  8. With access to tablets and smartphones you have a map of every location in the world at your fingertips. The Cambridge IGCSE Geography syllabus has a digital tablet computer with a 1:50000 scale map on the front cover.
  9. Use augmented reality to overlay an image or video onto a ‘trigger’. You will create a video wall display where students can hold their devices (tablets or phones) up to a trigger image and a video will play through their screens. So, you see an image of a new town development in China and then an overlay video of environmental challenges and opportunities in the same location. Or how about a library book cover being a trigger for a student-made audio or video review? These applications are now readily available, many for free. Try Aurasma , which students can use to create their own.
  10. Don’t be afraid to experiment. We should all be learners!

One final piece of advice is to avoid delivering a ‘digital lesson’.

You might have access to a computer or two, or are fortunate to have a whole class set, but it does not mean that the whole lesson needs to be conducted through the digital lens.

Maybe you will only use digital for 5 minutes of the hour. If that is enough to have the impact and application that you require, then that’s the best use of the resource and everyone should pick up their pens and pencils once again.

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