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Adapting the Grameen Bank Philosophy
to Introduction to Human Geography (GEOG 102)

Helen Ruth Aspaas
Geography Program
Department of Urban Studies and Planning
September 15, 2001


1. What were the objectives of the project and how were they accomplished?

The goal of the grant was to use one month of summer time to reformat the syllabus and course plans for an existing course (Introduction to Human Geography, GEOG 102) in order to accomplish the following:

  • Use the example of the Grameen Bank philosophy to focus on shared learning. I wanted students to become actively engaged in the learning process and the example of shared responsibilities provided by the Grameen Bank seemed the best way to accomplish this goal.
  • Provide a setting conducive to student oral and written presentations and encourage synergism in student small group presentations.
  • Draw on the eclectic academic backgrounds of the students and the diversity within the class to help understand geography concepts.
  • Use Socratic methodology in guiding students to learn geographical concepts and couple this with higher order cognitive processes in learning geographical knowledge.
  • Increase student/professor and student/course interaction through Blackboard Course Management Software.

These goals were all accomplished in the following contexts. Keep in mind that some of these goals are works in progress as we move through the first semester of using this new course design.

  • The course syllabus was revamped to include a strong emphasis on group work and shared learning. Students' course grade allocations will reflect this emphasis. Group work and shared learning in and out of class includes regular contact by email among the group members using the Blackboard option for group emails. Students divide up the guided reading assignment sheet for each week's chapter. (Appendix 1 contains samples of the guided reading for Weeks 2, 3 4. ) Students complete their set of questions and then email their responses to each other. Students bring hard copy to class each Wednesday and are encouraged to bring their lap top computers if they wish. In class, collaborative work includes verification of each other's assignments; group responses to video guided viewing questions and group responses to the end of class quiz. All students do however, staple their own homework/guided reading responses to their quiz for verification that they are contributing members of their groups. Appendix 2 contains video viewing guides for Weeks 2 and 3. Appendix 3 contains end of class quizzes for Weeks 1 and 2.
  • Higher order thinking and Socratic methodology are incorporated through two segments of every class. The guided reading questions, issued to students the previous week, contain questions fashioned after recommendations in Bloom's taxonomy of cognitive processes. While it is true that most of our students have limited geography knowledge, I use the guided reading questions to help them understand basic concepts while at the same time evaluating, criticizing, analyzing, etc. those concepts. In the guided reading, students are exposed to opportunities for seriously evaluating textbook maps and graphics. Note that I am using the 8th edition of the text The Human Mosiac ( Jordan-Bychkov and Domosh, 1999) which is a very popular and well-written introductory human geography textbook.
  • My skills with the use of instructional technology are vastly improved and I now hope to include more options in the future as I become increasingly comfortable with technology. Currently the technology that is used in the class includes Powerpoint presentations for lectures, Elmo presentations for photographs and paper images, slides, videos, Internet and Blackboard course management including frequent email exchanges.
  • Hopefully students' skills with Instructional Technology will improve as well. I announced on the first night of class that students who were unwilling to use email and the Internet would have to drop the class. No one did so I am optimistic of their willingness to use the technology.
  • Visualization is a crucial aspect of geography. Understanding images (of cultures, maps, graphs) is vital to gaining a grasp of geography concepts. Every week, students view a video that corresponds with the material under discussion. Students are always given a guided video viewing sheet which they complete in their groups. Often, the end of class quiz contains visual images which the students identify (not because they have seen the images before, but because they understand that evening's concepts and can apply that understanding to an image). Appendix 2 contains samples of the video viewing guides.

2. How many students, courses or other faculty may be affected by the project?

  • Introduction to Human Geography (GEOG 102) is taught every fall to an enrollment of about 40 students. I expect to continue teaching this course with the same enrollment but can move to higher enrollments if guaranteed the high tech facility that I have now. The room comfortably holds about 50 students. I would like to add that the enrollment in the course is highly diverse in terms of majors and so I feel that I am perhaps having a broader effect as these students take particular skills into their own major areas.
  • I am adapting some of the ideas generated for this course into my World Regions courses (GEOG 307 and GEOG 308). I currently have students engaged in shared learning projects whereby they allocate the burden of responding to the student workbook questions in each chapter and are allotted one special project to complete during the semester. In addition, GEOG 307 is now a Service Learning designated course and we are using some of the shared learning techniques for the Service Learning component. When I instruct Geography of Africa (GEOG 333) in the spring, I will use many of these same ideas for that course.
  • I have informally shown the Blackboard course management setup for this course to colleagues. They are delighted with the options and I am more than happy to help them excel with it. I tell them that if I can do it, they can too. Many are already using email to connect with students and are therefore serious about encouraging student involvement in their courses.
  • I would like to serve as a mentor with anyone who is considering adapting some of this technology or the concept of shared learning to their classes.

3. How has the project helped in your own development as a faculty member?

My B.A. degree was in education and I have completed 25+ hours of graduate course work in education. In addition, I participate in as many miniworkshops and institutes as I can fit into my schedule. I enjoy acquiring new skills and new ideas for making the classroom a more inviting and intellectually stimulating environment. The Blackboard course workshops provided by VCU were a major positive factor in motivating me to apply technology to the classroom. I want to epitomize 21st Century Teaching in my classes. This grant has helped me to reach that goal in the following ways:

  • I have accomplished some nice synergism in the high tech classroom. Technology and a focus on student participation make the classes lively and hopefully a setting conducive to learning. Since the semester is still young, I have to await student evaluations and performance on exams to determine if this teaching/learning style is best.
  • The introduction of more intense Socratic pedagogy is certainly high risk. When I was lecturing, I KNEW that students were given the information. As we all know, this doesn't mean that they necessarily understood or fully digested the material. Now with Socratic teaching, students are faced with questions (about the course concepts) and they must delve into the text to search out the correct and most meaningful answers.
  • My sense of IDEAL instructors is not that of people who see themselves as the fonts of all knowledge, week by week, lecturing away. Rather, I prefer to see the IDEAL instructor as one who sets the stage for best learning to take place. That instructor must plan the week's activities to maximize the learning experience through multiple ways of learning. This approach, of course, moves the burden of learning onto the students and forces them into pro-active modes of analysis and investigation.
  • I can't repeat often enough how useful the technology is for maximizing learning experiences. In the busy lives of students, being connected to each other easily through email allows them to maintain good communication lines with each other and with me. The Blackboard course maintenance package is very useful as an instructional tool and I am eager to read students' evaluations at the end of the semester.
  • The Introduction to Human Geography course meets once a week for 2 hours and 45 minutes. It is a bountiful block of time and is conducive to multiple methods of instruction. All the varieties outlined here are amenable to the course time and setting.

4. How does the project fit into a larger plan of development for yourself or your department?

  • I would be repeating most of number 3 above here but I just want to emphasize that as we revise teaching strategies for the 21st Century, we need to be inclusive of different learning styles exhibited by our students and by the need to develop students' abilities to work with teams and to develop a spirit of cooperation-important assets for the 21st Century workplace not to mention technologically trained students. I am achieving these goals in the course.
  • Our department is very supportive of excellence in teaching. Hence, I am very comfortable about sharing my experience with the Grameen approach and the technology with my colleagues. I have done some sharing informally but would be willing to mentor colleagues interested in making some of these adaptations to their courses. I want to add that our department has invested in good high tech equipment for faculty use so there is good departmental support for moving our classes into the 21st Century.
  • Since my courses tend to attract students who will eventually pursue a masters degree in education, I want to do my best to role model excellence in the classroom. These changes that I have made to the existing course provide further options to be a good role model.
  • I have always advocated the use of higher ordered thinking in my courses and this grant to revise an existing course provided an opportunity to formalize the process through creating guided reading questions, the student project options and the video viewing guides.
  • I will always believe in the voice of the students! Using the Grameen Bank approach has allowed students to be more expressive and to verbalize about concepts they do understand and to get assistance in understanding those that they don't understand.
  • By providing this alternative teaching and learning strategy in my introductory geography class, I am hoping to encourage interest in geography as a major (through the BIS program) or as a minor.

5. Will there be any papers or articles published as a result of the work on the grant?

Two journals in our discipline are supportive of pedagogical strategies in teaching geography. They are Journal of Geography which has accepted one of my manuscripts and The Journal of Geography in Higher Education which has published another of my manuscripts. I will have students complete a midterm and end of term evaluation about the shared learning, the higher order thinking approach and the use of technology. I will use this data to determine if the approach is worth publishing. Informally, I note that even though we have only had two class meetings, students are very cooperative as group members, seem to enjoy the shared learning approach, are completing their designated work and voice appreciation for the classroom setting and technology.

6. Do you plan to extend the grant by applying for more funding from other sources?

Sure, I would like to get more funding. After spring semester, I will be better suited to make proposals. During the spring semester I am involved in Bob Fisher's technology infusion project and will be taking some of the technology approaches listed here into my World Regions (GEOG 308) course. The purpose of this project is to mentor and provide role modeling for students who are moving into the M.A. in education.

Along a different and very exciting vein, I would like to take this approach of shared learning, Socratic teaching and technology to my colleagues at Maseno Unviersity in western Kenya. During the summer I worked at Maseno for three weeks helping to define a plan of action to develop gender awareness on campus. Now I need to move into the funding acquisition phase to help develop institutional capacity. The approaches listed here are certainly amendable to a rural university in western Kenya!
In addition, I would like to extend my experience with the grant by serving in a mentoring capacity with others in the college or university who are interested in applying technology, Socratic teaching, higher order thinking and shared learning to their classes.

Finally, I would like to help the college develop a closer match between faculty who use technology and the classrooms that can support their interests. At present I am not sure that there is the best match between instructors motivated to use technology and the classrooms available for them. I see faculty assigned to high tech rooms who only lecture from notes and I myself am assigned to a room that has become nearly impossible to navigate through because I have had to bring in so much outside equipment in order to do the technology that is important to my style of teaching. I would really like to help make this a better match.

In conclusion, I want to reiterate my appreciation for this most helpful grant. I am excited about the new trends that I am using in my classroom and see this first experience as a proving ground for improved instruction in my other courses. Thank you for such generous support.

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