Promoting spatio-temporal awareness in an international field setting

Authors: Darren Sjogren*, University of Calgary, Andrea Freeman, University of Calgary, Aaron Williams, University of Calgary
Topics: Field Methods, Higher Education
Keywords: Experiential learning, Field Study Programs, Field Learning
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: 8210, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In our international field schools, we have witnessed a gradual deterioration in the abilities of students to make/record meaningful observations and to place these observations into a geographical context. This deterioration has been particularly obvious when students, who grew up with smart phones, began taking these courses. The reduced cost (time and money) of picture acquisition and GNSS navigation are obvious advantages of smart phone technologies, but they have had negative impacts on students' engagement in the environments and have severely eroded students' geographical thinking and navigation skills. It is imperative that we, as instructors, are creative about how we guide students in their use of technology such that the technology facilitates spatial awareness and critical thinking. Therefore, we focus on approaches to slow down the observational processes to promote more meaningful engagement in the subject matter and environment. We encourage students to make thoughtful observations by assigning photo essays that require students to tell scientific stories with photos as the primary medium. These have been very successful in promoting geographic thinking. To promote better spatio-temporal awareness we have developed photographic scavenger hunts that involve historical and geographical elements. We are implementing an approach where the use georeferenced sets of thematic and reference spatial databases will enable students to navigate through historical landscapes. Students will be able to collect spatio-temporal data/observations to be used in their photo essays. By integrating these three approaches we hope to engage the students' technology to encourage, rather than hinder, critical geographic thinking.

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