The NAU Approach


This page provides an overview of our new undergraduate major at NAU (approved in March, 2011), officially dubbed Geographic Science and Community Planning (GSP). Links to detailed documents are found below, followed by a brief history of our curriculum redesign process and how it represents a Geodesign framework.

Announcements and Updates from NAU

Links to our New Curriculum and the Redesign Process

The Longer Story: Background and Rationale

Background:  During fall, 2009 our Department was accepted to participate in the university’s Student Learning & Curriculum Design initiative, sponsored by the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and facilitated by the Office of Academic Assessment. The process involved a thorough curriculum mapping approach that allowed us to document and understand how learning outcomes are stranded, or scaffolded, through the curriculum both before and after the redesign.

We did not initially intend to build our new major around Geodesign; rather, it became clear after the Geodesign Summit in January, 2011 that we were well situated to do so. We viewed this as an opportunity to improve the cohesiveness and quality of the curriculum. The original initiative to create a merged degree was based on our unfortunate loss of two faculty members to retirement, without funding to replace them.

How could we turn this into an opportunity to update our curriculum without compromising our existing geography and planning undergraduate programs? We accomplished this in part with a core, interdisciplinary major that branches into two optional emphases — one focused on geography and GIS, the other on community planning and development.

After collective resignation set in, we got to work and moved through a highly collaborative process to create a new degree. We maintained our enthusiasm by using the curriculum mapping process as a way to strengthen various areas of skills and knowledge that we felt should be common to all geography and planning majors — ones that we know employers are increasingly seeking.  

Process and Results:  Following the established guidelines of the Office of Academic Assessment, the geography and planning faculty moved through three phases of the redesign initiative:

  1. Spring, 2010: All nine full-time faculty members met regularly and completed lengthy surveys that delineated all course learning outcomes, essentially allowing the faculty to discuss everything that is currently taught in the core curriculum. Research Specialist Melinda Treml (Office of Academic Assessment) compiled this material into a comprehensive curriculum map that indicated how students currently move through the major(s). In this way, holes and redundancies in the curriculum were discovered with respect to the student learning outcomes deemed necessary by the faculty.
  2. Summer, 2010: A working group of five faculty members met regularly with Melinda’s assistance to determine how learning outcomes and lessons could be “packaged” into a more meaningful degree progression that would enable all undergraduate students to obtain vital learning outcomes through beginner, intermediate and advanced levels of competencies. The working group assembled a new core curriculum that would apply to both geography and planning majors whether or not they enrolled for one of the additional emphasis areas. Two emphasis  areas were designed based on the two primary career paths available for students: Geospatial Sciences (including GIS), and Community Planning and Development. The curricula for the core and emphasis areas were designed with career paths and experiential learning in mind. Essentially, our previous geography, GIS, and planning majors were retained (with the additional emphases), with a more comprehensive set of outcomes for all students.
  3. Fall, 2010: The full faculty was reassembled to enhance the working group’s draft curriculum and to collaborate on the formulation of potential names for the new degree and emphasis areas. By November consensus had been reached on the curriculum and favored identity (i.e. name) for the new degree. The term “Geodesign” was seriously considered as part of the new major’s title, though at this time the faculty agreed that the concept was too young to take the risk. Still, this could be a possibility for the future!

For now, we will continue to create opportunities (such as the degree’s catalog copy and our gateway Mapping the World course) to introduce the Geodesign concept to our majors and other constituents. Within the major, students will essentially move through one version of a Geodesign curriculum in which they gain applied, interdisciplinary skills that bridge geographic sciences, GIS and related techniques, planning and urban design, and place-based community research and public participation.

2 responses to “The NAU Approach

  1. Pingback: New Blog Launched: GeoDesign in the Curriculum « GIS and Science

  2. Pingback: GeoDesign Learning Outcomes for Undergraduate Programs | GeoDesign in the Curriculum

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