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Applied Courses and Active Learning

GEOG 365: Advanced Spatial Analysis

Looking for a place where students are an active part of the learning process?  A place where the instructor and students collaborate to solve real world problems?  Richmond’s Spatial Analysis Laboratory is the place to be! Students who enroll in Geography 260 (Introduction to Geographic Information Systems: GIS) and Geography 365 (Advanced Spatial Analysis) will ‘learn-by-doing’ in these applied courses.  Instead of being lectured to or reading about how to do GIS, students are actively engaged in the learning process by participating in real world projects.  In 2008-2009 students mapped the University of Richmond Campus – a project which resulted in the replacement of all official campus maps with student-driven work.  In 2009-2010 students mapped and analyzed protected lands and indigenous territories of the Amazon Rainforest.  The result: students learn the basics of GIS and much more!

Here’s what students have said:

“… by allowing us to work on a project with substantive meaning and community significance, we are more accountable and more actively engaged in understanding our work.” 

“Honestly, these are the best classes I have taken here at the University.”

“Thus far this class has been the only one that my work has actually affected real people on the campus.”

“This class opened my eyes to SO MUCH MORE than GIS and ArcMap.”

GEOG 220: Ecotourism

This upper-level seminar gets students out of the classroom assessing the sustainability of Virginia's ecotourism along Chesapeake Bay and the James River. In March of 2009 this class visited Tangier Island for an overnight field trip with community service components. In April of 2009 seminar students visited Pony Pasture and Belle Island in the James River Park System. In upcoming seminars students will focus on urban ecotourism in the James River Park System. We will develop environmental curriculum for youth in local area schools to highlight the ecological and social values of these natural areas in the heart of Richmond.

Here’s what students said about their trip to Tangier Island:

 “I really enjoyed the trip because it allowed me to really see the impact that certain regulations have on fishermen… It’s easy to impose policies for conservation but environmentalists don’t always see the negative effects that these regulations have on watermen, who depend on the crabbing industry for their livelihood.”

“I went on the trip not knowing what it would bring or what I would learn but I really appreciated the time I spent on Tangier, both for my research and the experience as a whole.”

GEOG 345:  Society, Economy and Nature: Global Perspectives on Sustainable Development

What course allows you to research and justify the conservation status of the Imperial Eagle and also question the sustainable development approach funding that same conservation initiative?
In GEOG 345 students combine applied research on species conservation with a critical analysis of international sustainable development.  In 2009 students wrote Species Assessment Reports for the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Afghanistan office.  These reports contributed to Afghanistan’s environmental laws and had students recommending their listings in front of the Afghanistan Wildlife Executive Committee using Skype technology.  Even as students practice applied research, they also critically analyze the process of sustainable development through the detailed examinations of key development and conservation institutions (World Bank, USAID, WWF…) using specific case studies from around the globe.

Here’s what students said about the course:


“I walked away from the experience with the knowledge that not only was my contribution of international importance for conservation, but also that I was part of something that reached far beyond my preconceived notions of undergraduate work.”

"Never do you have the satisfaction at the end of a class of realizing, 'I could have changed the lives of people half a world away.'"

“This class was one of the most unique classes I have ever taken. The Afghanistan project brought it to a whole another level -- it was very practical and educational.”

“I really thought this class helped me apply school knowledge to something bigger, which doesn't happen much in college."

“I loved the material and I learned so much about Afghanistan. I wouldn't have been able to point out Afghanistan on a map before taking this class, and now I feel like an expert, though there is always so much more to learn.”

Read more about active learning opportunities in the Department of Geography:

Article in Richmond Times-Dispatch: UR students' research helps protect wildlife and plants in Afghanistan

Article in Richmond Now: Afghan wildlife and plants benefitting from UR students’ research