Online Human Geography course helps students understand society


(Photo credit: K. McKeown)

Why do people in North American cities rely so heavily on their cars to get around, whereas people in most European countries tend to walk, cycle or use public transit far more often?

What is it that draws young people to live in particular places after they graduate from college or university?

Why are more and more people moving to rural communities within commuting distance of the city?

Those are the kind of issues undergraduate students will discuss while taking the new Introduction to Human Geography (GEOG 1F90) online course, which is available for the 2014-15 academic year.

“We’re trying to give them a preliminary glimpse at the work human geographers do, how they do it, (and) the different ways that human geographers study places,” said Chris Fullerton, Associate Professor in the Department of Geography, who will join Professor Catherine Jean-Nash in teaching the course. “The essence of human geography is trying to better understand the world and to make sense of all the things happening in it. It is also about looking at how the particular characteristics of places may influence how events unfold in those places and what it means for the people living there.”

The popular on-campus GEOG 1F90 course has been offered for years, but Brock created an online version to reach a broader audience of not only Brock students looking to take a social science context credit, but also adults furthering their education and students from different universities who want a transferable credit.

In addition to web-based lessons and assignments, the 24-week course will ask students to examine first-hand the communities in which they live – urban planning and retail patterns, and levels of socio-economic status, for example – and also to compare their perceptions of that place with Census data.

It’s the real world experiential learning component that makes this online course unique.

“We want to make sure that despite it being an online course, we don’t limit students to only computer-based learning,” Fullerton said. “By actually exploring their own community, they can build a better understanding of what human geographers really do.”

The course is part of a $75,000 grant Brock received to cover the costs of development, staff salaries, software and IT upgrades. In December 2013, the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities announced its $4.25-million Ontario Online Initiative designed to encourage universities and colleges across the province to offer more online courses and to develop a new Centre of Excellence for online learning.

“This MTCU online course development initiative fits perfectly within Brock’s institutional commitment to pedagogical innovation and experiential learning,” said Anna Lathrop, Brock’s Vice-Provost, Teaching and Learning. “Online and eLearning course development is simply one part of a broad spectrum of teaching and learning possibilities that we continue to prioritize at Brock.”

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