Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Undergraduate classrooms as sites of impact at Royal Holloway

The toolsets described below are meant to give undergraduates (and graduates students as well, in the Practising Sustainable Development and ICT4D streams) at Royal Holloway confidence as they step forward to make claims about the social implications and effects of geospatial technologies.  The combination of the two is a means of counter-mapping hegemonies, powerful mapmaking interests, and negative stereotypes in a series of efforts often aimed at ‘changing the world.’ 

Beyond ‘bums in seats’ and the known quantity of tuition that brings in, what is the impact of a manual used in teaching an undergraduate class?  I was approached one year by an administrative staff member asking me to quantify the amount of ‘stuff’ undergrads were taking away from my class, measured in terms of pages.  I could quite happily point to all of the following (at 140 students per year in the first two years; and half that in the third year, you can do the 'impact' math):

My “Manual of Counter-Mapping” (https://www.academia.edu/8361097/MANUAL_OF_COUNTERMAPPING) is mandatory reading for all third year undergraduates enrolled in my course Critical GIS and the Geoweb.  I’ve been approached by some of my students in recent years telling me that they’re often now administered tests of their GIS skills before being granted admission to postgraduate programmes (e.g. MSc in spatial science).  Several others have obtained gainful employment in industry in part through demonstrated knowledge obtained through three years of GIS practical sessions at Royal Holloway.

Written in response to demand for more maps in undergraduate dissertations is “GIS for dissertations”
(https://www.academia.edu/15030342/GIS_for_Dissertations).  This manual is required reading for students considering dissertation topics in their first or second years, but some use it in the third year as well.  The manual goes through increasing levels of sophistication for the use of geospatial technologies in support, and as drivers of, answering undergraduate level research questions.  GIS can thus be seen as a tool ‘after the fact’ for adding maps, or it can be seen as a methodologically sophisticated mode of critical thinking for weaving the very fabric of the dissertation (its data, observations, and findings) itself.

The GPS handbook
(https://www.academia.edu/17308958/GPS_handbook) is another I wrote after conducting a walking ethnography of Egham, the village in which Royal Holloway is situated.  The purpose of the manual is practical, with tips such as the use of GPS, camera, and notebook in conjunction for producing rigour and rich qualitative data towards generating research questions.  It covers several aspects of mapping, including the use of Google Earth for visualising traversed routes in the landscape; alongside suggestions for loading qualitative data into industry standard GIS software.

How to make a map
(https://www.academia.edu/17309008/How_to_make_a_map) is a general purpose guide intended for those who might knock on my door in a rush, stating that they need a map for their paper, book, conference presentation, or what have you.  The guide explains what it takes to make a map, pointing out that ‘quick fix’ solutions such as Google maps often contain no cartography at all.  The cartographer has been announced as dead in recent years (e.g. by Denis Wood), but we demonstrate conclusively in our undergraduate classrooms that not only is this false, it is part of what is becoming a damaging stereotype of the cartographer as someone suspicious, marginal, and at best a ‘hopeful monster.’  Think Ben Whishaw in Skyfall, or the cartographer in the movie Spy Game (Kent, 2015).

We have physical geographers joining the efforts, taking political stances on terrain mapping, tracking, and securitising geospatial technologies. 


Kent, Alexander.  2015.  A Profession Less Ordinary? The Life, Death and Resurrection of Cartography.”  Bulletin of the Society of Cartographers.  48(1&2).  7-16.