KD: EUROGEO is a non-profit scientific and educational society open to anyone interested in geography. We have both individual and organisational members, they include teachers, educators and academics as well as small and large companies, NGOs and national geography societies. For example, our membership includes planners, designers, environmentalists, GI scientists, academics, educators and students. So join us now.
The principal aim of EUROGEO is to advance the status of geography. We do this by organising international events and activities, producing publications, supporting geographers in their jobs and careers, lobbying at European and national level, giving advice on geography and making recommendations to decision makers. EUROGEO promotes the European dimension in geographical education as a contribution towards the development of European citizenship.
EUROGEO is the only European organisation lobbying for geography in Europe. The association was established by the European Commission in 1979 and since 1987 we have had participative status in the Council of Europe. This means we are in a good position to inform and influence decision makers. By doing so, EUROGEO encourages the development of a greater European awareness through the medium of geography and increases mutual knowledge and understanding of Europe.
3DVW: We are seeing strong interest in use of 3D technologies that involves geographic elements. Younger people seem particularly keen on working in the areas of visualization, simulation and design. Is your organization involved in this widespread interest?
KD: Yes, EUROGEO has a long history of being involved in innovative geography projects. We organise and run training courses for teachers and educators as well as conferences, seminars and meetings. In May 2012 we held a workshop in Dublin supported by the European Commission on Spatial Thinking. Next year we will plan to hold a number of similar events in different European locations.
EUROGEO is also concerned with non-geotechnical aspects. For example we are a partner in a new European project called Spatial Citizenship (SPACIT). SPACIT will examine the importance of learning about 'how to navigate the world in respect of a) the physical environment, b) the meanings attached to the physical objects and c) the power relations involved in the production of meaning'. SPACIT will create a course for teachers based on the need to establish an active, constructive and participative European identity. In this way, the use of geoinformation is argued from the perspective of participatory and community-based approaches in everyday lives where the appropriation of space is the basis for participation in democratic decision making processes in for example local, urban and regional planning and nature conservation.
We believe that developing this sort of engagement in secondary education will encourage teachers and students to become aware of the power of spatial thinking, geo-media, 3D technologies and the use of the Web as a communicative and participatory tool.
3DVW: Europeans have a vast historical library of knowledge, experiences and interests. Many people often ask us, “how can we get this information and knowledge out to the public? - do you have any thoughts about exposing and opening these large vaults of geographic information?
KD: I like your suggestion. Perhaps an organisation like National Geographic, ESRI or the European Commission would be interested in taking it further? If so we'd love to collaborate with you and them.
The EC Digital Agenda for Europe initiative is about improving access to information. I believe we need to establish a repository of geo-media, for example like Europeana, for example. This is a cultural collection of sources that has been co-funded by the European together with museums, collections and information archives, but without geospatial information.
Unfortunately without the inclusion of geospatial skills in education most citizens will not be able to really benefit from many geo-developments. For example the INSPIRE Directive of the European Commission almost excludes citizens from meaningful access to data. This is why we have been campaigning for the inclusion of spatial thinking as a core competence in European education policy documents.
3DVW: The integration of 2D, 3D and 4D data is high on the agenda today. How are we training and educating people to work through spatial data issues involving integration?
KD: Well, the answer to this is simple. Education systems including initial teacher training, are not training and educating about the integration of spatial data, except through a small number of pilot courses and projects. It is essential we scale-up these efforts. At the recent Geospatial World Forum in Amsterdam, I called on industry leaders to make themselves much more visible and support educators in delivering education and training to meet the needs of companies, scientists and citizens. We need to be pro-active in lobbying for geography at every opportunity we get. An example where we have done this is the final version of the Rio+20 declaration to be proposed by European Ministers.
3DVW: What are the challenges in your mind, that face geographers today? Are they structural, financial, conceptual?
KD: The main issue for geography is visibility. In general, most people do not understand what geography is and geographers do. How many geography graduates call themselves geographers? The main issue is specialisation. In universities geographers are working in many areas, environment, planning, culture, soils, ecology, geomorphology and so on. So being flexible and adaptable prevents us being as visible as other professions. We need to work together to establish greater media impact and political influence of geography.
3DVW: I understand that EUROGEO is involved in the Digital Earth initiative. Can you explain where and how you are involved? What is the benefit of that relationship?
KD: EUROGEO is a core partner in the digital-earth.eu project. This is an education initiative coordinated by Z_GIS (the Centre for GeoInformatics ) at the University of Salzburg. It originates from the Digital Earth vision of Al Gore, whereby geo-technologies would allow us to better understand our world. The project seeks to connect those using geographic (geo-)media in schools and teacher education. The term 'geo-media' describes more accurately the ways geoinformation is presented and communicated today. It suggests that there is a social and communicative construct. It is also much less scary for teachers and educators than GIS or GIScience!
We are involved in running events and disseminating the project outcomes. We are also lobbying for the inclusion of geo-media and spatial thinking to the European Commission and their 'Digital Agenda for Europe' and 'New Skills, New Jobs' initiatives. You can follow the project on Twitter @digitalearth, LinkedIn and Facebook.
3DVW: Spatial data and geography cross many disciplines today. We see activity related to cartography, geospatial and other traditional activities, but we also see people involved in history, culture, medicine and other fields also interested in geography. How are you meeting the needs of these groups and what can be done to involve them more completely?
KD: This is a very interesting question. Whatever the disciplines and groups accessing spatial data, they need to understand geographical perspectives to make real meaning of the information. This is why we are involved in projects like digital-earth.eu and running training in geo-media.
Our recent EUROGEO annual conference was about Geography and Global Understanding and sought to examine ways to connect the sciences. More than 150 professionals, academics and teachers attended, with presentations from environment, design, engineering, history, cartography, economics, politics and climate change. We are also connected to a very broad audience via social media. EUROGEO is very keen to collaborate with other academic and professional bodies.
3DVW: How are we meeting the challenges of providing teachers and educators with materials and knowledge to teach students about geography today? How is EUROGEO involved in this pursuit?
KD: The main teaching and education problems remain; geography in many countries is not taught by specialists and so levels of teaching are poor. As a result, in society, there is a lack of awareness about what geography is about or the activities that geographers are involved in. This is why we created the Geocube Web site. It is a promotional tool for geography, with accompanying literature, which we have used to engage with politicians and decision makers. Geocube gets about 250,000 hits a year.
EUROGEO is very active in supporting teachers and teacher educators. We organise professional development courses for them and meetings for teacher educators to share their research and developments.
Our online journal RIGEO, the Review of International Geographical Education Online offers opportunities to share innovation in geographical education.
We also collaborate with national and international bodies like International Geographic and support national geography associations. For instance in November 2012 we will hold the European Conference on Teaching Geography, jointly with the Spanish Geography Teachers Association.
3DVW: One might wonder, are all students across Europe receiving a similar education when it comes to geography? Or, are there differences in certain places?
KD: No two countries are alike. In some countries geography is recognised by Ministries of Education and policy makers as being important. Unfortunately in others it is not and as a result misguided education policies are proposed to cut and in some cases to remove the 'geo' element of the school curriculum.
Can you imagine young people not learning about many of the big issues we face in the world today? We need to ensure they get the opportunity to study topics like environment, sustainability, climate change, population pressure, food and water supplies, transportation, city growth, energy supplies and so on.
In countries where school geography is under threat, it is often being replaced by either media, social studies or citizenship. We are working hard to lobby decision makers and support local geographers and geography associations in fighting these cuts.
It is my belief that if we are to meet future employment needs of the geospatial industry and also educate citizens to be active and responsible in society, spatial thinking and learning with geotechnologies have to be integrated in school programmes across the curriculum. This is already being proposed in a few of the more enlightened countries. Europe needs young people with geographical skills as they offer unique abilities to business and society.
3DVW: What would you personally like to accomplish in EUROGEO as President while serving in this role?
KD: My dreams are three-fold, firstly I hope EUROGEO will continue to be a sustainable, vibrant and active association that promotes geography in Europe and lobbies on behalf of geographers. To do this we need individual and organisational members from different backgrounds, namely researchers, professionals, industrialists, educators, students and policy makers.
Secondly, I would like to create the legacy such that when faced by geographical issues, European decision makers ask our opinion, as geographers and not others.
Finally, I hope we can integrate geographical perspectives, like geospatial thinking skills, as part of European policy documents like the Key Competences promoted by the European Commission, as these are the basis on which many national education decisions are being made.
Finally one dream is already a reality, in 2009 we transformed EUROGEO so all geographers could participate, this was because not all European countries have national associations, so we now provide a home for these geographers.
Karl Donert is President of EUROGEO and Director of the European Centre of Excellence digital-earth.eu, based at the Centre for GeoInformatics, University of Salzburg, Austria. He is a member of the Education and Culture Group at the Council of Europe and an expert for the European Commission. Karl is a UK National Teaching Fellow, Director of his consultancy company (Innovative Learning Network Ltd) and was coordinator of the HERODOT Network for Geography in higher education.