National Center Established to Build Research Capacity, Collaborative Partnerships for Geography Education Research

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As a major component of National Geographic’s Road Map for 21st Century Geography Education project, the Association of American Geographers organized a Geography Education Research Committee (GERC) to identify significant gaps in geography education research that must be addressed to attain large-scale improvements in the quality of geography teaching and learning.

GERC conducted an extensive review of the existing geography, education and cognitive science research literature for information about how geographic knowledge, skills and practices are learned by individuals in different settings and across time (Bednarz, Heffron, & Huynh, 2013). When considered alongside earlier assessments of the state of research in geography education (e.g., Butt, 2010; Segall & Helfenbein, 2008; Bednarz, Downs, & Vender, 2003, Forsyth, 1995), the Road Map GERC report reveals a field that at present is generally disconnected from educational research in other disciplines and characterized by studies that are mostly descriptive and anecdotal. Compared with educational research in mathematics and science, geography education has few examples of longitudinal studies and research designs that lend themselves to replication and theory-building. The need for geography education researchers who understand scientific approaches to educational research planning and design has been longstanding, first noted by Downs (1994).

In this context the Road Map GERC report presents a series of recommendations for research and capacity-building efforts for systematic improvements in U.S. geography education. One recommendation called for “the creation or designation of an institution to coordinate the implementation, dissemination, and knowledge transfer of research results,” noting that “the ability of the Road Map Project research agenda to inform and catalyze systemic changes in U.S.-based geography education is limited by the absence of a mechanism for coordinating research activities among scholars in geography and cognate fields” (Bednarz, Heffron, & Huynh, 2013, 60).

Seeking to provide additional momentum and support for implementing the types of research activities needed to advance geography education at all levels, the AAG and Texas State University have established a National Center for Research in Geography Education (NCRGE). Working in close collaboration with disciplines and organizations involved in geography education research, NCRGE will undertake a variety of activities in support of its mission to coordinate, support and build capacity for research on key topics such as those identified in the Road Map GERC report.

NCRGE’s first project, GeoProgressions (, recently received funding from the National Science Foundation to build capacity for learning progressions research in geography. Popularized in math and science education, learning progressions were identified in the Road Map GERC report as having considerable potential for producing evidence of how students learn core concepts in geography across successive grade bands. This area of research also offers ample opportunities for geographers to forge interdisciplinary collaborations with researchers in math and science education.

In the coming months GeoProgressions will produce a research handbook and sponsor a workshop to train researchers in principles and methods of developing hypothetical learning progressions related to thinking, communicating and learning with maps and geospatial technologies (with specific connections to the U.S. national geography standards). NCRGE will coordinate the future research activities by the participants, compile and synthesize findings, and issue reports through a research clearinghouse on the NCRGE website (

For additional information about NCRGE and how to get involved, please contact the Co Directors Dr. Michael Solem (msolem [at] aag [dot] org) and Dr. Richard Boehm (rb03 [at] txstate [dot] edu) or visit

The Road Map Project reports are available at


Bednarz, S. W., Downs, R. M., & Vender, J. C. (2003). Geography education. In G. L. Gaile & C. J. Willmott (Eds.), Geography in America: At the dawn of the 21st century (pp. 679–690). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Bednarz, S.W., Heffron, S., & Huynh, N.T. (Eds.). (2013). A road map for 21st century geography education: Geography education research (A report from the Geography Education Research Committee of the Road Map for 21st Century Geography Education Project). Washington, DC: Association of American Geographers.

Butt, G. (Ed.). (2010). Guest editorial and introduction to the special forum: Perspectives on research in geography education. International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education, 19(2), 79–125.

Downs, R. M. (1994). The need for research in geography education: It would be nice to have some data. Journal of Geography, 93(1), 57–60.

Forsyth, A. S. Jr. (1995). Learning geography: An annotated bibliography of research paths. Indiana, PA: National Council for Geographic Education.

Segall, A., & Helfenbein, R. J. (2008). Research on K-12 geography education. In L. S. Levstik, & C. A. Tyson (Eds.), Handbook of research in social studies education (pp. 259–283). New York, NY: Routledge.