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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Why is Elmhurst College Offering an AP Human Geography Teaching Certificate?

Today I learned that Elmhurst College, a small liberal arts school outside of Chicago, will be offering a five course, fully online graduate certificate aimed at instructors of Advanced Placement Human Geography (APHG). High school advanced placement courses prepare students for exams that can be used for college credit and/or to skip ahead in college.

I've been watching the proliferation of online and residence GIS certificates and masters degrees over the past few years. I could easily tie the schools' decisions to offer them to the Dept of Labor's (DOL) statement about the need for more geospatial practitioners. I'm aware of public, private, and for-profit schools offering such GIS programs and virtually all are aligned with either entry level career opportunities or advancing one's career within geospatial technology.

That's why I'm a bit perplexed at Elmhurst's new program. While teachers are in short supply in various parts of the United States and the world, I can't say I'm aware of excess demand for AP Human Geography teachers. Instead, the demand for English, STEM and special education teachers at the K-12 level seems especially high, at least here in the Massachusetts.

Elmhurst's collateral on the program does not have the punch of DOL statistics quoted for virtually every GIS certificate or degree program. Instead, it states:
More than 96,000 students took the AP Human Geography exam in 2012 and it is estimated that there are 3,200 AP Human Geography teachers nationwide. As demand for APHG exams increase, so will the demand for qualified teachers.
For comparison, Wikipedia reports "In May 2011, the AP U.S. History Test was taken by 402,947 students worldwide." I agree that as more students want to take the geography exam, demand for teachers will increase too.

Is there data suggesting more students want to take the exam this year or in the coming years? Are there changes in educational policy at the local, state or federal level that will cause demand for the APHG exam to rise?

Is it possible that The Geography is Fundamental (TGIF) Act will pass? Is it possible there will be a concrete reaction to the recently released (but not yet publicized) National Science Foundation funded geography road map reports? Or, perhaps there are other initiatives of which I'm not aware that will push geography back into the high school and college curriculum? And, maybe there is funding coming from foundations or other sources? I hope one or more of these possibilities turns out to be true.


  1. Thanks for giving the Elmhurst College Advanced Placement Human Geography (APHG) Graduate Certificate Program some press. I appreciate the opportunity to respond to your blog, Adena.

    The APHG Program at Elmhurst College brings with it a professional partnership with the National Council for Geographic Education (NCGE) and fulfills a need for APHG teacher training. Recent NCGE Webinars have all captured a spirit of need from the teachers. The APHG Program is founded on the request of teachers for alternatives to taking 3-day expensive workshops at remote locations whereby they have to leave their families for some time and pay for airfare and lodging (often out-of-pocket) while attending. The Program is comparatively lower priced than any 3-day workshop for APHG teachers and lasts eight weeks (per course) in duration. It presents a pedagogically-based approach to teaching APHG and offers participants the opportunity to link with other APHG educators on a national basis, putting them in touch with their State Geography Alliances and the NCGE. Indeed, we are offering this program at the request of the APHG teachers and to assist them with their teaching. Ultimately, we envision interest from high school students in geography such that they may embark on a future career. Unfortunately, that is unlikely because APHG is usually taught in 9th grade and there are three subsequent years where students may not even take any geography coursework. Until that changes, there is little, aside from building coursework in the later grades, (perhaps in geospatial technologies) which can speak to that. Stay tuned for an upcoming announcement on this…

    The APHG Program has little to do with the USDOL declarations for the geospatial industry. Our next program, launching in Fall 2014, will speak to that. The APHG Program expects to help teachers and the rising demand for students taking the APHG exam. True, history AP tests have more demand than APHG, but then again, I don’t see History Programs stepping up to build any professional development programs. Maybe they don’t need to do that. APHG does.

    Your questions, “Is there data suggesting more students want to take the exam this year or in the coming years? Are there changes in educational policy at the local, state or federal level that will cause demand for the APHG exam to rise?” are all good ones. Analysis of the number of administered tests in AP Human Geography from 2001-2012 provides us with clear evidence for future needs: http://www.ncge.org/aphg None of us have a crystal ball to predict the future, but the trend is crystal clear and the need for professional development for the APHG teachers is very real. Just ask them.

    Time will tell if GIF will pass and if the RoadMap project will be as successful as it was planned to be. Again, I don’t have a crystal ball. However, ask any APHG teacher what they need and they will tell you that professional development is critical since many of them are assigned the task of teaching APHG with little time for prep. The APHG teachers have expressed “dire need of assistance” to get themselves up to speed for teaching APHG since many have never taught it previously. The shocking part is that many have never taken a geography course. They really do need the training and the opportunity to gain graduate credit in order to move up on the salary scale as well.

    There are future initiatives coming that will speak to both your statement of the DoL declaration of geospatial workers and the need for future geospatial workforce. In the meanwhile, let's help support the APHG teachers to introduce geography to their secondary students. We'll build on that to create future coursework in the later grades and develop initiatives which speak to the geospatial workforce. Baby steps for now leading to giant leaps later. Geography and geospatial technologies has a future and the geospatial workforce will be provided for…we’ll see to it…all working collaboratively.

    Dr. Rich Schultz
    Elmhurst College APHG Graduate Certificate Program

  2. A shorter response to this, and perhaps more practical than Dr. Schultz's, is that unlike a topic like history, which social studies ed students are overloaded with in college, many of the teachers asked to add AP Human Geography to their course load *have never taken geography*. Or have taken one course. I know some of these teachers, and they are very grateful to receive more education in a topic that they have to then go out and teach their kids. This does not apply to AP U.S. History, so that is not an apt comparison.

    You're right, too, that GIS is booming. GIS without a Human (or Physical) Geography background is a technical skill, which can be taught in a vocational school. GIS with Human Geography is a college-level degree that teaches students how to think spatially, and how to analyze the data they're mapping, and how to visualize it in an accurate and compelling manner.

    It's disappointing to read a column like this coming from a geographer. I'm glad you're hopeful for the future need for this class, but there's certainly compelling reasons to offer it right now.

  3. Thanks for your input; it's clearly a different perspective than Dr. Schultz's.

    I'm sorry my column disappointed you. I'd be curious as to how I did so.



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