The 2012 Geography Association Conference was held at Manchester University, from April 12th to 14th. If any of the notes here are of interest, resources from each of the lectures/workshops will soon appear on the GA web site and will be available to download.
On Thursday morning, I joined the field trip organised by the Manchester GA Branch along the Manchester Ship Canal to Salford Quays. This gave me the chance to see see a classic regeneration case study at first hand. The 200 acre site of ‘MediaCity’ was particularly impressive, and has been developed by the Peel Media Group since as recently as 2007. It is amazing to think that this was an empty brownfield site only 5 years ago! Peel’s Head of Communications, Paul Newman eloquently described the development of the site and answered pertinent questions.
It was interesting to see that the regeneration here is a mixed land use, with some small scale commercial development, residential units (mainly luxury flats), a Holiday Inn hotel, retail units and some public space – but primarily media based industry. The BBC already occupy 2 of the largest buildings, and one of these – Quay House – is now home to Breakfast TV and BBC Sport, following decentralisation from London. ITV Granada is currently relocating here, and future expansion plans include the siting of a new Coronation Street set and studios. Metro Link public transport has been extended to Salford Quays to connect this area to the city centre. Across the water could be seen the impressive Imperial War Museum North, as well as the Lowry Arts Centre.
Reflection Points: (a) Discover more about Peel Media, and their plans to redevelop ‘water space’ in northernEngland. (b) How does the idea of privately owned public space sit with in urban developments? (c) What would local opinion be regarding this development? Few of the media jobs have been taken up by local people, although new employment opportunities have been provided in cleaning, security etc (d) Do local people consider this area ‘public space’, and therefore claim any social ownership of it? (e) Why did the BBC choose to relocate into 2 separate buildings in this new development, and not one single purpose-designed premise?
I had to move fast to get back to the University in time for the public lecture where Marina Lewycka, author of ‘A short history of tractors in Ukrainian’, discussed the challenge of representing cultural differences in fiction. The annual awards presentations followed the lecture.
Reflection Point: (a) Purchase Marina’s book titled ‘Two Caravans’ about migrant farm workers in England.
I have to admit to being late for the opening lecture slot on Friday – probably due to ‘train lag’ after my journey from Devon, but I made it on time for the Presidential Lecture from Dr Fran Martin. She launched the conference theme of ‘geographies of difference’, and considered the challenges facing teachers today in helping students develop positive dispositions towards difference. Fran suggested examples to illustrate the dangers of mistreating issues of difference in our classrooms, and the TED film by Chimamanda Adichie ‘The Dangers of a Single Story’ seemed a useful resource:
Fran used a series of maps of London (OS, tourist, water taxi routes & East Enders intro) to demonstrate different ways of viewing a place and avoiding a ‘single story’. I also loved the Hale and Pace clip used to illustrate stereotypes:
Reflection Points: (a) Do we fall into the trap of exoticising places and therefore just exaggerating differences through themed events such as ‘Africa Day’ etc? (b) We must take care in the way we form questions for students. Note the great difference between ‘Sri Lanka: paradise or land of problems’ and ‘Sri Lanka: paradise and land of problems?’
Next, I attended a workshop examining the use of free Microsoft tools organised by David Rogers and his team from Priory School. David has nurtured a first class team of young geographers who collectively work at the cutting edge of the subject and and are not frightened of taking risks. They recognise that the best student learning takes place at the edge of the comfort zone, and are constantly pushing boundaries. They serve as an inspiration for us all. David outlined how his school uses a range of free Microsoft tools, and I was particularly impressed with ‘montage’ which I have not previously seen. Sam outlined a geo-caching project that was featured on BBC news programmes, while Jo described her work with the Microsoft Partners In Learning European Forum.
Reflection Point: This session gave me sufficient inspiration to continue to push ahead a plan at my own school to widen the use of mobile devices.
After lunch it was time to consider global energy dilemmas with Professor Bradshaw. As he examined recent trends and future predictions, Michael introduced us to a number of interesting terms including ‘energy security’, ‘globalisation of demand’, ’embedded carbon’ and the ‘Kaya Identity’ – a method of quantifying energy impact.
Reflection Point: (a) The growth of economies in sub Saharan Africa will be the next world energy challenge. (b) Although the UK appears to perform well in terms of meeting Kyoto carbon emissions targets, how does it fare when embedded carbon is considered? (c) Are we heading for a ‘perfect storm’ where all energy sources develop significant drawbacks of one type or another?
From energy to water, and the lecture on water security from Professor J A Allen. Here, we discovered the difference between ‘blue water’ and ‘green water’, and heard terms such as ‘food water’, ‘virtual water, and ‘water footprint’. Professor Allen stressed the main issue of water in our food chain, and pointed out the vital role farmers have in managing nearly all the green and much of the blue water in our environment. He also revealed some fascinating figures about the water needed to produce a ton of wheat compared to a ton of beef (16 times as much!)
Reflection Point: The key issue to examine is the sustainable intensification of water – how can we get more of a return from the water we use?
Next up was a lecture showcasing the Digital Earth project, presented skilfully by Alan Parkinson, John Lyon and American geographer Doctor Michael Solem. A number of technological supports for geographical study were described under the umbrella term of ‘geo media’, and demonstrated from the resources available on the digital Earth web site.
Reflection Points: (a) Investigate the use of ‘I Can Go’ GPS trackers as demonstrated by John Lyon. (b) Check for the new Association of American Geographers web site available in May.
The final lecture of the day was delivered by Charles Rawling and investigated how geography departments might keep up to date with subject content. Charles in his own engaging provocative style urged us to drop a number of ‘crusty old favourites’ from our teaching – including Burgess’ ring theory (1920s), Warren Thompson’s Demographic transition model ((1929), Rostow’s economic development model (1960), the Brandt development line (1980) and Pacione’s classification of British towns (1961).
Reflection Points: (a) Is there still a place for these geography theories in today’s classroom? What do other teachers think; (b) China currently consumes over half the world’s cement – discuss (c) Is it fair to say that the exam boards need to move faster with content change to keep the subject up to date?
The evening was spent at the fringe Beer Meet at the Peverill in the Peak pub. Kind thanks to Richard Allaway for organising the event, and providing free goodie bags for all who attended. It was great to socialise with the Priory Geography team who proved equally as enthusiastic in the bar as in their conference presentations. Nice too to see a number of exhibitors at the pub.
To open the programme on Saturday morning I attended the provocatively titled debate ‘Is physical geography essential?’ chaired by the incredibly enthusiastic Duncan Hawley. Stephen Brace spoke in support of physical geography as a strong and distinctive component of the geography curriculum, and used a clip of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows film where limestone pavement featured. Following this, Charles Rawling produced a contrasting argument of a more incidental or passive physical geography. I felt that the two speakers were not actually too far apart in what they were saying, and enjoyed reflecting on the role of physical geography topics in my own schemes of work.
Reflection Point: Should we not all strive to be ‘geographers’ rather than specialists in either physical or human issues?
Professor Gill Valentine delivered the keynote lecture which examined how our capacity to live with difference in a post modern world. I was particularly interested by the references to Gordon Allport’s ‘contact hypothesis’ where prejudice is reduced through contact between different groups, and the opposing theory of Puttnam who state how social diversity increases, trust declines.
I find Doctor Stephen Scoffham a really easy speaker to listen to, and for my final lecture, enjoyed his examination of core knowledge in geography.
Reflection Point: (a) Should we equally consider ‘whose’ knowledge as well as ‘what’ knowledge when we plan our curriculum? (b) What are the core concepts that make knowledge geographical? (c) The clearer we are as geographers with this question, the stronger our position will be when a new curriculum is being shaped.
I must make a special mention about the high quality of exhibitors at this year’s conference, and cannot close without a big thank you to Lucy Oxley Anna Grieves for all their hard work. I am already thinking about Derby in 2013.
And the legendary Blue Peter Garden? At Media City I was able to pay homage to the statue of Petra – but was shocked at its small size, no more than 30 feet by 20 feet! Oh, the magic of television in giving it such a grander appearance!