University Student Perceptions of Geography Key Words and Departmental Names

Authors: Justin Stoler*, University of Miami, Diana Ter-Ghazaryan, University of Miami, Ira Sheskin, University of Miami, Gary Schnakenberg, Michigan State University, Amber Pearson, Michigan State University, Piotr Jankowski, San Diego State University, Kate Swanson, San Diego State University, Thomas Herman, San Diego State University
Topics: Higher Education, Geography Education, Geographic Thought
Keywords: Higher Education, Environment, Sustainability, GIS
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Taylor, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The academic discipline of geography continues to experience programmatic competition on many university campuses in the form of new programs in environmental studies, global and international studies, GIScience, environmental science, and sustainability studies. Many geography programs are struggling to attract undergraduate students in this new academic environment, and have responded with a historically disproportionate flurry of department name changes, new academic offerings, and other rebranding efforts. While such introspection may be healthy for the discipline, many changes have been implemented without an evidence base. This study employs a mixed-methods approach to initiate a new evidence base of student perceptions of the key words that commonly appear in geography courses and program descriptions, and different formulations of geography department names and degrees. We first implemented a short mobile survey at multiple institutions that asks students to rate various geographic terms as they would appear in course titles and department/degree names, and also assesses student demographics, prior geography experience, and subjective numeracy. We then implemented focus groups where students explain how they perceive the highest- and lowest-ranking terms, and rate the most- and least- attractive department names from a list generated from the 2016-2017 AAG Guide to Geography Programs in the Americas. We present the overall survey results, differences within and between institutions, and correlates of select student and response profiles. These results offer an important step toward reconciling contemporary student perceptions of geography and related fields with departmental identities and the disciplinary jargon often used in program and course descriptions.

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