3 comments on “Happy New Year

  1. Reblogged this on Progressive Geographies and commented:
    Derek Gregory on teaching and the start of the new academic year. Being in the UK means I have almost another month before this, though our ‘system’ means I’ve already had to do quite a lot of preparation. Don’t get me started on how early we need to specify assessments, give exam questions etc. Some interesting thoughts here on textbooks, writing essays, teaching practices, etc.

  2. Pingback: Derek Gregory on the new teaching year | Thinking culture

  3. I agree with your remarks about textbooks, and I have largely moved away from using such texts in my classes. As you point out in regards to your own courses, obviously that does not mean I don’t ask my students to read. I think of textbooks as works intended to provide students with a ‘standard’ overview of a field or subfield, as opposed to showing original research or advancing a particular theoretical argument.

    The one course where I have not been able to successfully move away from using a textbook is in my introductory cultural geography course. I tried for a couple of years to use other kinds of readings and to knit together themes and content myself through lecture and discussion, but I got too much non-productive resistance from students to make that approach effective. I always ended up with one group who seemed to think that I was not teaching what I was supposed to, and another that would get lost in the material. Sometimes students in the latter group would still get something good out of the class, even if it wasn’t always clearly geographical, and sometimes they would give up.

    When it became clear I needed to take a more traditional (American) approach, I searched for something better than the watered down, behind the curve offerings most publishers have for these kinds of courses, I found Jon Anderson’s Understanding Cultural Geography. Anderson’s text works for me in this course because it gives students at this level solid ground from which to begin thinking like a cultural geographer. I combine reading with in-class review and field exercises, which take place both in and out of class. When dealing with a population who have, for the most part, not seriously studied geography in even a capes-and-bays kind of way, let alone in a disciplinary or theoretical sense, I find it helpful to have a standardized view of the field to work with, and that backing up the text with lecture and discussion is necessary for comprehension. I’d be happy to think that my students only need either a text or my own presentations to be successful, but that often isn’t the case.

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