NSF Funds Research Coordination Network for Geography Education

The National Science Foundation, through its Geography and Spatial Sciences program, has awarded the AAG and Texas State University a five-year, $400,000 grant to develop a research coordination network (RCN) for transformative research in geography education. The RCN will be a project of the National Center for Research in Geography Education (NCRGE) under the direction of Dr. Michael Solem (AAG) and Dr. Richard G. Boehm (Texas State University).


In 2007, NSF adopted the following working definition of “transformative research”:

Transformative research involves ideas, discoveries, or tools that radically change our understanding of an important existing scientific or engineering concept or educational practice or leads to the creation of a new paradigm or field of science, engineering, or education. Such research challenges current understanding or provides pathways to new frontiers.

What might transformative research look like in the context of geography education? This question was given in-depth consideration by The Road Map for 21st Century Geography Education project from 2011-2013. The Road Map Project issued a landmark study that considers many substantive issues as to what research topics, questions, and methods are most critical for ensuring long-term progress and improvements in student achievement. It concludes with a set of recommendations for building research capacity and capability in geography education. These recommendations emphasize scientific approaches to research planning and design as a strategy for moving beyond the descriptive, singular, and anecdotal studies that abound in the geography education literature.

RCN Goals and Activities

NCRGE will facilitate research coordination, collaboration, and information sharing among geographers and educational researchers in other disciplines. Funding from the NSF grant will be invested into the RCN over the next five years to establish research groups and support research planning and networking activities that ultimately result in sustainable lines of research tied to the Road Map Project agenda. The research groups will be interdisciplinary, involving geographers and experts in STEM, the learning sciences, cognitive science, and other fields of educational research. International collaborators will also be included in the RCN.

Any researcher who wishes to support NCRGE’s mission for transformative research in geography education is welcome and encouraged to participate in this project. Students and early career faculty are especially encouraged to get involved.

By joining the RCN, researchers will work together to raise the profile of geography education as a research field, recruit more diverse cohorts of graduate students, and promote the use of research to improve the quality of geography teaching and learning in local communities. The long-term vision is to support the development of evidence-based practices, new knowledge and theory, more robust curricula, better standards and assessments, and expanded access to high-quality teacher training programs in geography. An online RCN membership application is available at www.ncrge.org/rcn.

Upon joining the RCN, new members will receive access to an online social network community that provides a variety of communication tools for growing and sustaining the network. All RCN members will have access to blogs, forums, and many other resources that can be used to cultivate a community of practice.

Upcoming Activities

In the coming months NCRGE will be sponsoring a variety of activities for RCN members. First up is a workshop for early career scholars on May 15-18 in Lafayette, Louisiana. This workshop will draw on NSF- funded research investigating the integration of geospatial content and skills into pre-service teacher training courses in math, science, and social studies. NCRGE is now expanding this research to involve in-service teachers and students. Workshop participants will review content enrichment modules, enhance each module with geospatial technology, and develop questions for a spatial thinking test that aligns with the content modules.

Later this summer the first cohort of research groups established under the Transformative Research grant program will be introduced at the National Conference on Geography Education in Tampa, Florida on July 27-31. This conference will be one of many important stages to launch and showcase the work of RCN members.

Another important activity for NCRGE will involve a collaboration with the National Geographic Society to include the Geographic Alliance Network in research activities. Several Geographic Alliances are already part of the RCN and have proven critical in providing access to schools for data collection on innovative topics such as learning progressions.

Looking ahead toward the 2017 AAG Annual Meeting in Boston, NCRGE will sponsor the 2nd Annual Symposium for Transformative Research in Geography Education on Saturday, April 8. This event will feature plenaries by leading geographers and educational researchers, presentations by NCRGE grant recipients, workshops, and other capacity-building and networking activities.

For more information about the NCRGE research coordination network, visit www.ncrge.org.