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Geography by Rail®: a New Twist on a Romantic Concept

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Based on William Morris Davis’ great Transcontinental Excursion of 1912, this article assesses and reviews the Geography by Rail® program (GbR) – a unique, short-term, field-based study abroad experience that takes an uncommon-in-the-US approach to international exploration and fieldwork, incorporating on-the-ground, regional geography-based learning experiences. Though it could be used as such, this is not intended as a “how-to” article, but instead, an examination of how the program’s alternative approach to short-term, field-based learning increases student engagement, enlivens the discipline of geography by championing the regional geography approach, and bridges the physical-human divide in geography. Examples are given of assessment techniques, relevant skills gained by student participants, student feedback received, and potential limitations of such a program. Our main goal rests in demonstrating that by being in the landscape, practicing in it, students often gain a perspective not achievable in the traditional classroom setting. In the regional and romantic geography sense, favoring breadth of learning over depth, we further argue that GbR represents a novel way to accomplish this important-yet-not-often-fostered and, oddly and unfortunately, difficult-to-find-in-geography concept.
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Journal of Geography in Higher Education
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Geography by Rail®: a new twist on a romantic
concept
Casey D. Allen & Jon M. Barbour
To cite this article: Casey D. Allen & Jon M. Barbour (2016): Geography by Rail®: a
new twist on a romantic concept, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, DOI:
10.1080/03098265.2016.1201801
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JOURNAL OF GEOGRAPHY IN HIGHER EDUCATION, 2016
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03098265.2016.1201801
Geography by Rail®: a new twist on a romantic concept
Casey D. Allena and Jon M. Barbourb
aDepartment of Geography and Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado Denver, Denver, CO, USA;
bTravelography PC, Boulder, CO, USA
ABSTRACT
Based on William Morris Davis’ great Transcontinental Excursion of
1912, this article assesses and reviews the Geography by Rail® program
(GbR) – a unique, short-term, eld-based study abroad experience that
takes an uncommon-in-the-US approach to international exploration
and eldwork, incorporating on-the-ground, regional geography-
based learning experiences. Though it could be used as such, this
is not intended as a “how-to” article, but instead, an examination of
how the program’s alternative approach to short-term, eld-based
learning increases student engagement, enlivens the discipline
of geography by championing the regional geography approach,
and bridges the physical-human divide in geography. Examples are
given of assessment techniques, relevant skills gained by student
participants, student feedback received, and potential limitations of
such a program. Our main goal rests in demonstrating that by being
in the landscape, practicing in it, students often gain a perspective
not achievable in the traditional classroom setting. In the regional and
romantic geography sense, favoring breadth of learning over depth,
we further argue that GbR represents a novel way to accomplish
this important-yet-not-often-fostered and, oddly and unfortunately,
dicult-to-nd-in-geography concept.
Introduction and background
… nothing reminds geographers of how much they share – and how much geographers dier
from colleagues in other disciplines – than a multidisciplinary transect through almost any
landscape in the world. (Abler, Marcus, and Olson 1992, p. 2)
To say that eldwork represents the hallmark of geography, its very heart, would most
likely not be disputed. Many a geographer – these authors included – have been inuenced
by geography’s strong eld tradition that, since its beginnings as a discipline thatwrites about
the Earth, has involved rst-hand experiences. e Romantic Geographer was an explorer,
seeing each landscape anew and oen traversing great distances in their quest for learning
(Tuan, 2013). ese traits also were true of most explorers, regardless of their disciplinary
training (Nielsen, 2012). An eective way for today’s students to experience the same geozest
as their predecessors rests in study abroad programs. Whether short- or long-term, these
KEYWORDS
Fieldwork; regional
geography; study abroad;
romantic geography;
experiential education;
concept map
ARTICLE HISTORY
Received 18 March 2015
Accepted 2 March 2016
© 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Casey D. Allen caseallen@gmail.com
Supplemental data for this article can be accessed here
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2 C. D. ALLEN AND J. M. BARBOUR
international learning experiences continue to be a popular way for students to earn credit,
gain practical and transferable skills, and perhaps most importantly, learn about themselves.
And many geographers remain strongly involved in the process, as showcased in the Journal
of Geography special issue on Geography, Geographers, and Study Abroad (2009).
Of course, geographers are not unique in conducting eldwork or providing/leading
study abroad/eld-based opportunities, as other disciplines (geology, anthropology, biology,
etc.) also have strong eld traditions (Evenson, 2013; Foskett, 1997; Fyfe, 2012; Gimenez
et al., 2013; Goulder, Scott, & Scott, 2013; Nielsen, 2012; Scott et al., 2012). e aspect that
sets geography apart from these other disciplines, however, rests in how geographers see the
landscape, how they put it into practice (cf. Allen, 2011b; Allen & Lukinbeal, 2011; Lewis,
1979; Meinig, 1979a, 1979b; Relph, 1979). Abler et al. (1992, p. 2) also note geography’s
dierence among the disciplines, stating that:
Only the geographers – again, regardless of specialty – will incessantly rubberneck, gawk,
point, explain, speculate, and argue about what they are seeing, more or less without regard
to whether it is urban or rural, physical or anthropogenic, beautiful or hideous. In real places
… what unites them becomes vividly obvious.
Taking the lead from William Morris Davis’ (and the American Geographical Society’s)
great Transcontinental Excursion of 1912, Hart’s (1982) sanguine advice of regional geog-
raphy being “e Highest Form of a Geographer’s Art,” and a love for exploration spurred
on by several undergraduate, graduate, and professional experiences, this article dissects
an intense, short-term, international study abroad/eld study program of the lead author’s
creation: Geography by Rail® (GbR). At its core, the program strives to give students an
experience that can be learned no other way, except for engaging in it. Today, especially
outside the US, the rail oen remains a country’s primary mode of cost-eective, long-dis-
tance travel. For students from the US – and particularly the American West, Midwest, and
South – however, it represents a nostalgic, perhaps romantic way to traverse a landscape,
and one that few of them have ever used signicantly.
ough it took nearly two decades to come to fruition, 2014 marked the GbR programs
fourth year with an Excursion to Morocco (2014–2015). e Appendix includes a basic
itinerary of activities and places visited during the Morocco program. Previous programs
included “England & Scotland” (2013–2014, utilizing Britrail exclusively as well as London’s
Tub e and bus service), “Tokyo and Imperial Japan” (2012–2013, via the Shinkansen, local
subways, and local trains), and “London and Paris” (2011–2012, using the Tube , Metro,
and Eurostar). Drawing on experiences from these locations, but focusing on the most
recent iteration (Morocco), this article dissects a new type of eld-based course that takes a
once-common-in-the-US approach to (international) exploration and eldwork, and com-
bines it with on-the-ground, place-based learning experiences, in the spirit of the great
Transcontinental Excursion of 1912. is article is not necessarily meant to be a guide,
but rather a report and analysis of how the course’s novel and non-traditional approach
can benet student learning, (re)invigorate the discipline of geography utilizing a regional
geography lens, and help bridge the physical-human divide in geography.
To address these topics, we begin with a quick overview of regional geography’s impor-
tance, and why GbR sits nicely positioned to champion its precepts, before reviewing the
1912 Excursion specically and how it helped shape the program and student learning
environment. We then allot a portion to discussion of relevant eld skills students come
away with upon completion of the program. ese sections are then followed by an outline
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JOURNAL OF GEOGRAPHY IN HIGHER EDUCATION 3
of assessment parameters used – including a brief overview and analysis of concept mapping
for the programs summative evaluation – alongside accompanying student feedback. Finally,
before oering a succinct conclusion focused on the overall impact such a program can have,
we outline and discuss several potential limitations of the GbR program. roughout the
article, concepts from regional geography (based on the neglecting of regional geography
in the discipline at large, see Akimoto, 2014; Harrison, 2015; Hart, 1982; Johnston, Hauer,
& Hoekveld, 2014; Jones, 2014), the 1912 Excursion (see American Geographical Society
[AGS], 1915), and Tuans (2013) concept of Romantic Geography are woven-in to help
demonstrate the powerful connections students can and have made as part of this short-
term study abroad program.
Regional geography and GbR’s contribution
A key strength of regional geography lies in its ability to utilize both hemispheres of the
discipline, and Geographers-past appreciated the importance of regional foci, regardless
of their disciplinary specialty. roughout geography’s history as a discipline, as it does
today, understanding regions via a spatial lens plays an integral role helping geographers
assemble pieces to larger puzzles in the landscape. “Places and regions,” Abler et al. (1992,
p. 3) reminds us, “… are pebbles and gures in a global mosaic” – and this coming from a
human geographer (Abler), a physical geographer (Marcus), and a specialist in geo-spatial
techniques (Olson). Indeed, it is precisely the regional perspective that allows testing of
empirical theories and unies geography as a discipline (Hart, 1982). While one is oen
studied without the other, upon closer inspection, the dividing lines between human and
physical spheres are not as distinct as some like to think (Inkpen & Wilson, 2013, see Figure
10.1 especially), with the o-separated halves being, perhaps, potentially osmotic when
perceived as actor-networks (Allen, 2011b). Other researchers have been advocating this
bridging of the human-physical geography gap for years (cf. Massey, 1999a, 1999b), and
recently new ways to connect human and physical geography are coming to light (cf. Allen,
ompson, & Hansen, 2013; Dixon, Hawkins, & Straughan, 2013). Regional geography’s
popularity is oen described as cyclical, falling out of favor for a decade or so, then reap-
pearing, then dissipating again, with the cycles oen linked to world events (cf. Johnston
et al., 2014; Pudup, 1988) or trends in geographic thought (cf. Sayer, 1989; ri, 1991). For
all its potential applicability, regional geography fails to stay at the forefront of geography
(Harrison, 2015; Kellerman, Meir, & Larrone, 2015), even though it usually comes rst
when studying a landscape (Claval, 2007), and can be used as a way toposition research
agendas more favorably (Allen, 2012; Murphy & O’Loughlin, 2009).
When it comes to the future of regional geography in terms of student engagement, how-
ever, the applicability still remains uncertain (Johnston et al., 2014; Wei, 2006). Centered
on the regional geography concept, GbR allows students to grasp just what a region is,
realizing that multiple phenomena go into the creation of a region, that the resolution of
those features matter, and that each component aects the landscape dierently (Allen,
2011a; MacLeod & Jones, 2001; Stern, 1992). Students participating in GbR also learn that
regions can be distinct in size, shape, and transition, or not (Stern, 1992). ey learn rst-
hand what constitutes a region – why it is, the way it is, and what lies at its core (ri,
1994). Further, even though they may experience diculty in the eld, students learn that
all regions have value (Salter, 2001).
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4 C. D. ALLEN AND J. M. BARBOUR
Finally, the GbR program thrives on the regional geography approach and, instead of
focusing on solely physical geography (cf. McEwen, 1996) or solely human geography
(cf. Semken & Freeman, 2008), aids students’ understanding of both, as well as interactions
between the perceived divides, echoing the needs of the discipline (Harrison et al., 2004;
Johnston et al., 2014). Almost without fail, by the end of the GbR program, participants
in the GbR program come to realize geography’s o-perceived halves as complementary,
even necessary – there is just as much physical geography at play in an urban location as
there is human geography, for example – and this inuences their view of the landscape in
question. ey understand regions are important for understanding landscape and, perhaps
even moreexciting, can articulate various specic components of the region, oen making
connections where nothing previously existed (see Assessment). While not necessarily given
as formal assignments, these regional geographer skills remain inherent in the GbR pro-
gram, with most every student participant coming away with at least some of these traits.
Indeed, the budding geographer as an explorer and seeker of new and exciting landscapes
embodies romantic geography.
By “romantic geography,” we are not referring to geography during the Romance Age
(Wiley, 1998), but rather Tuans (2013) recent description. At its core, and as dened by
Tuan (2013), the romantic geographer relied/s on intrepid, extended, and sometimes per-
ilous exploration to learn about, analyze, and study a region. is certainly represents an
admirable way to learn regional geography: seeking and exploring new and exciting land-
scapes, understanding a place by becoming part of it. Yet while he may repeatedly invoke
the intrepid explorer as paragon for the romantic geographer, Tuan (2013) uses the term
romantic to evoke a sense of nostalgia in his reader. e region in question and the precip-
itous journey need not always be in a faraway place to be romantic, he notes. Kitchen work,
such as doing dishes and cooking Tuan (2013) informs us, can also be romantic in that it
might awaken a longing for the past, although it may require looking through rose-tinted
glasses to do so. Romantic geography then, remains entwined with regional geography in its
quest for learning as much as possible about a region, regardless of whether the phenomena
are seen as human geography- or physical geography-based.
For a short-term, intensive study abroad program, Tuans (2013) romantic geography
has a certain draw: explore landscapes and enhance understanding of a region. But can
GbR’s short-term format give students enough time to fully understand a place, or are
glimpses all they receive? Europeans crossed vast distances, including slow-going ship across
the Atlantic Ocean, just to participate in the 1912 Excursion (see below). Most likely the
journey to America for these scholars was lled with learning and adventure, just as it
oen is for GbR students. en, once they are on the ground, a new array of observations
and experiences occur. Are these mere ashes of the region being explored, or do they
instead represent components that, when put together, give a clearer picture of the regional
landscape? Instructors, of course, play an important role in helping piece together seemingly
disparate observations. Whether students realize it or not, learning is constantly happening,
though it may take extended time before that learning becomes fully realized, even with
the most gied instructor as a guide. We argue that, by focusing on the regional geography
perspective via GbR, a sense of romantic geography occurs: participants cross vast distances,
explore regions they may never see again, and formulate, explore, and discuss explanations
for what they see alongside colleagues (guided by the instructor(s), of course). Taken in this
light, and because of its focus on traversing landscapes instead of staying in one location
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JOURNAL OF GEOGRAPHY IN HIGHER EDUCATION 5
to learn about a region, the GbR program reects the main character of both romantic
geography as outlined by Tuan (2013), and traditional regional geography (as noted by
Hart, 1982) that remains entrenched in discussion and languishing in practice (Harrison,
2015; Johnston et al., 2014; Kellerman et al., 2015).
No other (American) study abroad program utilizes the rail specically and in-depth
asa conduit for both travel and learning. By exploring a place in the same fashion many
geographers have in the past, students also come to understand implications on the world
stage generally, the region a bit more specically, and themselves very intimately. e GbR
program utilizes long transects rather than staying in a single, specic location and taking
short treks out and back (the so-called hub-and-spoke model). is represents an important
part of GbR because, even in a region proper (“e American South” or “Northumberland,
for example), dierences in physical and human geographies remain. By traveling long dis-
tances across a landscape, more of the region is experienced. And this gives participants a
chance to interact with various components of the region and landscape rather than merely
one specic location with perhaps only asmidgen of other important nearby places. In short,
drawing on insights from a regional geography perspective via the travel experience, GbR
represents a unique way to understand landscape (as the Actor-Network, see Allen, 2011b)
more fully (ri, 1993), just as the 1912 Excursion did.
The Transcontinental Excursion of 1912 and GbR’s learning environment
The Excursion
e GbR program follows a pattern similar to the great Transcontinental Excursion of
1912: take the train for some amount of hours across amazing landscapes, engaging with
colleagues, locals, and other travelers along the way, and end up at some place to be explored
– sometimes formally guided, sometimes not, sometimes utilizing other forms of transpor-
tation, sometimes by foot – for an aernoon or a few days. en repeat the experience until
the program ends. e brainchild of William Morris Davis, and perhaps devised to promote
his own ideas on physical geography (see Clout, 2004), the Transcontinental Excursion of
1912 invited scholars from around the world (mostly from the US and Europe) to partici-
pate in a geographic transect of sorts across the US. Davis suggested the Excursion would,
… increase the knowledge of American geography by Europeans, and … promote the
acquaintance of European geographers with Americans” (Davis, 1915, p. 4). In fact, there
were 43 European geographers and about a dozen US geographers on the two-month-long
Excursion. Beginning at Grand Central Station (Manhattan, NY), the Excursion headed
west to Chicago (IL) via, basically, the future route of Interstate 90, before turning north-
west along present-day I-94 to Duluth (MN). From there, the Excursion headed almost due
west to Seattle (WA) via Butte (MT) and several memorable stops, including several days at
Yellowstone National Park (WY). From Seattle, the Excursion headed south to San Francisco
(CA) via Portland (OR), and then east to Salt Lake City (UT) following almost present-day
Interstate 80. en, the Excursion traveled south to Phoenix (AZ) with stopovers along the
way, including the Grand Canyon. From thence, the Excursion kept going east to St. Louis
(MO), before dipping south to Memphis (TN), traversing the Appalachian Mountains, and
ending with a four-day stint in Washington, DC (Figure 1).
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6 C. D. ALLEN AND J. M. BARBOUR
At each stopover, the participants were met by (sometimes prominent) locals and other
academics while also sampling regional food and entertainment. When sites of interest
were too far to walk, participants were chaueured by locals. But there was also plenty of
time to, for example, spend hours waiting for lesser known geysers to erupt in Yellowstone,
or take part in “broncho [sic.] busting … and a hundred-foot table of sliced watermelon
at Grand Coulee, Washington (Bingham, 1915, p. 15). Many of the European participants
wrote about the Excursion in their respective languages across journals, and many more
are chronicled in the AGS (1915) Memorial book.
GbR’s learning environment within the Transcontinental Excursion’s framework
Rather than directly recreate the 1912 Excursions experience, the GbR program instead
utilizes its spirit. at is, Davis’ Excursion serves as an inspiration for GbR, and many of its
components have been recreated for GbR. As a mobile classroom, the rail aords oppor-
tunities to observe a lot of landscape in a relatively short amount of time. And the learning
that takes place during GbR is oen similar to that which occurred in the 1912 Excursion,
including getting to know other people (locals), dining en route on regional specialties,
spending time discussing specic topics in-depth with colleagues, and trying to discern
geography in twilight and evening hours, or sometimes in complete darkness. But learning
does not happen only on the train. Like its early twentieth-century counterpart, instead
Figure 1.Route of The Transcontinental Excursion of 1912, arranged by William Morris Davis and sponsored
by the American Geographical Society.
Notes: The Excursion began at Grand Central Station in Manhattan (NY) and ended in Washington, DC. Map by K.M. Groom,
after Clout (2004).
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JOURNAL OF GEOGRAPHY IN HIGHER EDUCATION 7
of quickly traveling past important sites, GbR makes use of strategic stopover locations –
specic locales that oer students a chance to assess places in situ, instead of eeting glimpses
from the window. e notion of including stopovers, as found during the 1912 Excursion,
allowed participants to become familiar with not just a specic location, but even specic
topics. ese now-oen-nostalgic peripatetic actions (i.e. “walking,” see Adams, 2001; Tuan,
2015) saw participants on the Excursions four-day stopover at the Great Salt Lake studying
rsthand, “… the splendid beaches of Lake Bonneville …” and “… climb over the faulted
moraine at the base of the Wasatch …” before bathing in the Lake itself, “… where some of
the heavy-weights of Europe demonstrated that even they could not sink in brines so dense
as the lake aords” (Bingham, 1915, p. 25).
Similarly, GbR participants have heard the haunting, near-simultaneous evening Call to
Prayer from Fezs (Morocco) 360+ minarets, wandered through the sensory-overloading
Nishiki market in Kyoto (Japan), and spent time exploring ancient empires at Volubilis
(Morocco). Regardless of locale, student interaction with locals is always a highlight. As
one student noted in a blog entry (2015):
Aer we checked into our riad and dropped o our bags, I walked around with [ve other
students]. Our intent was to nd a cafe with wi so we could all check in back home, but we
met a Berber artisan who makes metal cras decorated with silver thread. We went into his
shop and he showed us how he makes each piece, ring the metal twice, scouring it, polishing
it, and shaping the nal piece. I bought a bracelet and ring from him for an incredible low
price and then he invited us to sit in a back room lled with killim rugs. We sat around and
he made each of us a cup of mint tea (everyone here calls it Moroccan Whiskey or scotch. It
is LOADED with sugar!) He was so kind and taught us the history of each of the four types
of killims … [He then took us to a friend’s] home that doubles as their family restaurant, and
we ended up learning about traditional food and cooking while we ate a scrumptious meal.
Interactions such as this provide strong evidence that, when strategically placed during
eld excursions, stopovers generate a rich tapestry of learning capable of being discussed
in greater depth along the way, as regional applications of topical concepts become woven
into from-the-train observations. e above experience served as a springboard during our
next short train ride to discuss the concept of “Moroccan hospitality” and its inuence on
the touristic landscape. Every student participates in these discussions, and not just because
doing so is a program requirement (see Assessment). As with the 1912 Excursion, by the
time it ended, “… no one cared to distinguish between geography and the geographer”
(Bingham, 1915, p. 30) – that is, specialties were of no consequence, as each participant
contributed to the group’s knowledge base both in situ and en route – and it remains the
same with GbR. Students become so engrossed in discovering the landscape and relaying
experiences and knowledge to each other that they oen suer from “sheer fatigue of the
body” (Bingham, 1915, p. 11) just as participants in the 1912 Excursion experienced. While
they oen get sick, fatigued, and overloaded with information along the way, with all but
a single exception, every student has completed the GbR program, including interacting
with their landscape at each stopover site. Even so, they note that it is in fact those types of
struggles that help them get to know themselves better.
Students oen use the word “intense” to describe GbR’s learning environment (see
Appendix). From the outset of applying for the GbR program, students are told of its inten-
sity: how hundreds of kilometers will be covered in aernoons, that lodging will be in local
(sometimes Spartan) establishments, that food may sometimes be scarce along the way,
that indoor plumbing might not be a regular occurrence. As a reward for handling these
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8 C. D. ALLEN AND J. M. BARBOUR
uncomfortable situations, however, they will be richly rewarded with unsurpassed expe-
riences, amazing interactions with the locals and landscape, learn more about themselves
than they previously thought possible, and engage in geography by being in the landscape
(all representative of student comments in their travel and eld journals). For the less
intrepid, this style of learning-while-traveling can be tiring. Yet, as one participant found,
that is not necessarily a bad thing:
I feel this was something a lot of people in the program may not have noticed while abroad,
but I am sure they realize it now. Being worn out and yearning for a small taste of home means
you were thrown out of your comfort zone. It means you did not spend your time in some
luxury suite all day, but actually among the people and within the culture and landscape. We
are not there to be on vacation, but to explore a new place few have ever dreamed of visiting.
is will make you tired, but when you step away from it, you feel the journey was earned.
(quoted from students reection essay, 2015)
An enlightening statement, to be sure. And students are desiring these types of experi-
ences more and more, with the popularity and accessibility of short-term study abroad
experiences increasing steadily over the past decade (IIE, 2014). Past experience of GbR
coincides with studies (see Angulo, 2008 for a full review) demonstrating that students
gain more from international experiences when they have some background in the topics
covered (regardless of major), perform adequately at home (i.e. an average student), and
have a strong desire to participate beyond supercial means – more than wanting the pub
experience or just go on a “trip,” for example. Yet with GbR’s compressed timeframe, as
opposed to the Great Excursion’s two-month long foray, how can a true understanding
of regional geography be achieved, especially when language represents a key regional
perspective facet (Molinsky & Perunovic, 2008)? In the GbR program, this is achieved in
at least two ways: requiring students to become “travelwise” in the host country’s language
(see Formal Participant Assessment, below) and requiring that they interact with locals in
everyday life. In other words, students go into GbR knowing they must learn at least a bit of
language (or colloquialisms, if in an English-speaking country) and make a conscious eort
to learn about local lifestyles, which oen involves communicating with those people. Of
course, some students accomplish this more readily than others, but focusing on learning
objectives aids in creation of a stronger learning community, while keeping students of all
kinds and learning styles engaged (Abedini, Gruppen, Kolars, & Kumagai, 2012; Dunphy
& Spellman, 2009; Fyfe, 2012; Gunstone, White, & Fensham, 1988).
In few places are dierent learning styles and expectations more clear than the split
between traditional and non-traditional students (Bye, Pushkar, & Conway, 2007; Forbus,
Newbold, & Mehta, 2011; Newbold, Mehta, & Forbus, 2010). Cost-eective programs tend to
be more attractive to students and, as non-traditional student populations increase nation-
ally (Compton, Cox, & Laanan, 2006), time becomes just as valuable as money. Short-term
study abroad programs, such as those occurring over inter-term breaks like GbR, have at
least three distinct advantages over the traditional, semester- or year-long programs: they
usually cost less, can result in the same depth of learning and transformational experiences,
and t non-traditional student lifestyles. As a bonus, owing to GbR’s compressed timeframe,
many students who would be unable to have an international experience otherwise, such
as non-traditional and minority students, are able to participate. In fact, four-hs of past
GbR participants come from these demographics (i.e. non-traditional and/or minority/
non-white students).
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JOURNAL OF GEOGRAPHY IN HIGHER EDUCATION 9
Formulated, shaped, and inuenced by the 1912 Excursion and personal professional
experiences within a regional geography lens then, GbR relies on a ve-fold set of student
learning outcomes (goals) that has participants:
(1) Engaging in basic international eldwork.
(2) Meeting and interacting with locals to enhance their own regional and topical
expertise.
(3) Being exposed to a diverse cultural sphere that may oen seem dierent to the
US, but in fact has many similarities.
(4) Enhancing their international perspectives and fostering international
understanding.
(5) Acquiring practical, hands-on skills, and/or experiences they can use in their
future or current careers.
Of course, learner-centered experiences represent the most important component in the
educational process (see Cornelius-White, 2007 for a full overview). When conducted
appropriately with well thought-out goals and assessments, study abroad programs, as
with all types of eldwork, remain a signicant way to engage students in the landscape
(Allen, 2014a). Active learning continues to be a hallmark of any well-constructed study
abroad program, and few places display this process better than on-the-ground, in-the-
eld opportunities (Allen, 2014b), just as in perusing the many personal experiences from
the Transcontinental Excursion, it becomes clear that such opportunities were present and
eye-opening (AGS, 1915).
Field skills
For decades across disciplines, eld studies and other experiential learning activities have
remained valuable pedagogical tools that enhance deep learning (Allen & Lukinbeal, 2011;
Cloke, Kirby, & Park, 1981; Day, 2012; Drummer, Cook, Parker, Barrett, & Hull, 2008;
Dunphy & Spellman, 2009; Foskett, 1997; Fuller, Edmondson, France, Higgitt, & Ratinen,
2006; Gold, 1991; Goulder et al., 2013; Higgitt, 1996; Hope, 2009; Kent, Gilbertson, & Hunt,
1997; Wheeler, Young, Oliver, & Smith, 2011). Field skills gained in experiential settings are
also well-documented (see Rydant, Shiplee, Smith, & Middlekau, 2010, pp. 221, 222 for a
solid overview), though length of the eld experience related to learning potential has been
addressed less. Angulo (2008) discovered, however, that approximately 14days in-country
appears to be the learning plateau for students to gain self-awareness (e.g. what they can
and cannot handle), while Abedini et al. (2012) note as few as seven days being eective
for hyper-focused and highly engaged research-based programs. e GbR program works
within these timeframes, being conducted during inter-term breaks, and participants report
that, though they are “worn out” and “tired” aer a fortnight or so of continual exploration
(typical quotes from post-excursion reections, see Formal Participant Assessment, below),
they begin to feel more comfortable in an unfamiliar locale by the end of GbR’s in-country
portion.
In one instance, on GbR: Moroccos last Excursion in Casablanca, two female (non-
geography major) students noted, “… just when we were feeling comfortable with the
culture, we have to leave.” Judging from other assessment measures (see Assessment,
below), this anecdotal sentiment is shared by many GbR participants. Comments such
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10 C. D. ALLEN AND J. M. BARBOUR
as this display a level of comfort with the foreign only achievable on the ground – just as
Romantic Geographers of yesteryear realized. Additionally, in every GbR iteration, at least
a handful of students stay longer in-country, exploring on their own. Informal reports of
these excursions, usually undertaken with other members/now fast friends from the group,
attest to the signicance of practical and personal skills learned during GbR.
e eld setting also allows for more uidity between physical and human geography.
Yet the disciplinary arena where this task is perhaps the easiest to perform – regional geog-
raphy – still remains under-utilized in geography (Harrison, 2015; Harrison et al., 2004;
Johnston et al., 2014; Kellerman et al., 2015). People are continually inuenced by their
landscape, and understanding their sense of place can help make sense of the why’s and
how’s of our global networks (Allen, 2011b; Bruun & Langlais, 2003). In few places can this
be learned better than studying landscape on the ground. e GbR program oers a way to
both keep the regional geography tradition thriving, while also training the next generation
of geographers to employ regional analyses (see Assessment). Or, at the very least, help them
to appreciate and gain understanding of the importance a regional perspective can play in
their future research specically, but also in their lives more generally.
Studying outside the formal classroom can, and usually does, enhance student learn-
ing, but especially so when an international component is involved (Lee, erriault, &
Linderholm, 2012; see also Veeck & Biles, 2009 for overview related to Geography). For
example, when a group of any size remain in close proximity with each other for an extended
time, conicts are bound to occur – whether borne of diering personalities, diering
course expectations, or diering personal schedules (e.g. sleeping, writing, talking, etc.)
In the eld, peoples true personalities manifest themselves, sometimes in quite shocking
ways. Regardless of when they occur, students must understand that, just as in professional
settings, conicts will happen. As conicts during the GbR program arise – and they always
do – students slowly realize (sometimes through instructor-led interventions and special
meetings) that they are usually tries in comparison with the bigger picture and, beyond
that, they only have to deal with the conict for a limited time, just as in the professional
world. e importance of this life skill – understanding and dealing with conict – should
not be overlooked, and GbR allows students a chance to prepare for future work place
disagreements.
Alongside people skills, students consistently gain other more personal, transferable skills
as part of the GbR program. On the practical, eld-based geography-skillset side, these
include the basics of enhanced observation and eld journaling. e former may seem like
common sense, especially for a geographer, yet it is not a commonly taught skill (Baker &
Twidale, 1991; Tuan, 1979, 2002, 2004, 2013). Unlike the classroom setting, students engaged
in the eld encounter scenarios every day that help them realize their a priori knowledge. A
strong trait for a geographer to have, particularly in the twenty-rst century, where we oen
take for granted technology that seemingly does everything. Yet by requiring students to
keep a pen-and-paper eld/travel journal, GbR helps students gain keen observational skills.
Field journaling remains a quintessential component of geography – physical, human, or
otherwise – but it too remains scarcely taught. As students record their daily log of events,
thoughts, experiences, and reections while in the eld, their observations become more
astute and, along the journey, lead to better formulation of cogent discussion and dissection
of topics. Just as they spurred-on in-depth debates and conversations for the 1912 Excursion,
these two seemingly simple skills remain ingrained inthe GbR curriculum.
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JOURNAL OF GEOGRAPHY IN HIGHER EDUCATION 11
Translating these skills into employability, however, oentimes leaves students unsure of
how to market them, mainly because they oen have trouble identifying them in the rst
place (Rydant et al., 2010). To aid with this, Rydant et al. (2010, see Table 1, p. 224) estab-
lished a hierarchy of “Generic Skills” and “Award Skills” outlining specic characteristics
students gain during eldwork, and components of each skillset are found within the GbR
program. Each skill is broken-down into smaller components that could be used to explain
to an employer those skills gained as part of the experience, including:
Level 1: observation, basic problem-solving, recording and measuring, and safety;
Level 2: observation and recording, data analysis, experimental design, and safety;
Level 3: advanced design methods, advanced analysis, and safety.
Observation remains foundational to successful eldwork (Allen, 2014b) and, since GbR
contains eldwork components such as gathering primary data, analyzing ndings, keeping
precise records, designing research frameworks, and staying safe, students gain skills across
all three of Rydant et al.’s (2010) levels, allowing them to communicate to potential employers
the skillsets they learned as part of the program. Additionally, in the regional geography
tradition, GbR participants learn how to become keen observers of places, landscapes, and
peoples, while also gaining practical experience in the interpretation and analysis of those
observations.
Tied to the regional geography approach of strong observational skills, students also
gain practical experience in both the physical and human geography arenas, understand-
ing how, in truth, the two are really inseparable (Inkpen & Wilson, 2013; Massey, 1999a,
1999b). Academias and Researchs focus on inter-, multi-, and trans-disciplinary initia-
tives is well-known. e establishment strives for these traits while, ironically, requiring
students to become specialists – irrespective of which interdisciplinary center or program
they come from or engage in, because working at the human-environment interface does
not necessarily come easy for most people (Graybill et al., 2006). Yet this trait, inherent in
regional geography, represents “e Highest Form of the Geographer’s Art” (Hart, 1982).
When it comes to research, geographers – whether they like to admit it or not – oen use
both human and physical geography components. rough a eld experience like GbR,
students discover powerful connections between the two, which greatly enhances learning
potential (Baker, 2004; Drummer et al., 2008; Hope, 2009), while engraining two of regional
geography’s main tenets in their minds: (1) you have to be there to get a more holistic pic-
ture, and to accomplish that you must, (2) account for both physcial and human features
(Harrison, 2015; Hart, 1982; Johnston et al., 2014).
is is not to say every GbR participant achieves all of Rydant et al.’s (2010) skills, or that
every GbR participant grasps these regional geography concepts readily. Still, the program
itself strives for demonstrating the importance of regional geography, without taking away
too much freedom from the participants. For example, students are required to stay awake
on all non-overnight train rides (overnight trains are kept to a minimum so as to maximize
the landscape observation potential) and, because most train rides begin in the morning
(“too early” for some students), sleeping on the train can be a problem if students are allowed
too much free time in the evenings with no curfew. Being part of the landscape, practicing
in it (Allen, 2011b; Allen & Lukinbeal, 2011), represents one of regional geography’s core
components, and like many regional geographers, (most) GbR students learn that on many
occasions free time and learning time become the same thing. Further, taking into account
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12 C. D. ALLEN AND J. M. BARBOUR
an individual’s wishes, even when traveling with a smaller group, is dicult. Being able to
see/experience everything that each individual has an interest in is usually not feasible and,
just as Davis did for the 1912 Excursion, sometimes places, sites, and experiences must be
pre-selected for participants.
Yet this is a ne line, as strict curfews, rules, and pre-determined visits can defeat one of
the program’s main goals: experiencing a dierent culture and interacting with locals. e
German participants on the 1912 Excursion, for example, relished the chance to partake
in Budweiser beer which they described as being unusual to the palate (AGS, 1915). Had
they not been able to taste a quintessential American beer, an important-to-them cultural
experience would have been lost, just as forbidding students to try a local sake while in
Japan or a Guinness in the UK could be disheartening for some. Finding the right mix of
eld time, free-time, and pre-selected excursions/activities/tasks remains paramount to a
successful GbR experience, just as it was for the 1912 Excursion, and just asit is for the
regional geographer (Arreola, 2001). Although things never go according to plan, to date,
all GbR participants, including the most hyper-focused majors and non-major participants,
have reported GbR as valuable or extremely valuable to their overall professional develop-
ment, while also citing “regional geography” as one of their most important lessons from
the program (see Student Feedback in the subsequent section). is is heartening, knowing
that twenty-rst century students appreciate traditional regional geography. In the end, just
as a regional geographer would, many GbR participants develop keen observational and
personal skills that lead to astute connections between peoples and landscapes of the region
under study (Hart, 1982; Johnston et al., 2014; Salter, 2001).
Assessment
Formal participant assessment
While participants in the 1912 Excursion were not necessarily assessed per se, Davis did
supply them with study aids, dierent maps of all sorts, and condensed guides, as well as
requiring each to contribute their knowledge en route and report their experience upon
completion (AGS, 1915). For a formal program where students earn academic credit how-
ever, assessment must be more prescribed. Evaluation of GbR participants begins with
on campus pre-travel meetings. Each participant and instructor is expected to attend all
pre-travel meetings and briengs where course outcomes and guidelines are discussed and,
perhaps more importantly, group development can begin – an important trait forin-country
participant cohesion. At these meetings, participants are also informed of all assessment
objectives and how each element will be assessed.
As the GbR program is meant to be transferable among instructors, course assessment
includes ve key components, with an optional location-dependent sixth. e rst three
components are logistical, requiring students to be on task as they would for any other
regular course: attendance at all meetings (pre-departure, in-country, and post-program),
participation in all program-related activities, and positive group dynamics.
e last three items are more specic, and meant to push the students beyond their
comfort zones, helping them grasp regional geography concepts more readily, and reect
on/learn from lessons learned along the way. ese include:
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JOURNAL OF GEOGRAPHY IN HIGHER EDUCATION 13
(1) SODA projects and eld/travel journal
(a) Each participant is required to Speculate, Observe, Describe/Data gather, and
Analyze a minimum number of self-determined (though approved by the
instructors) questions. ese are devised both pre-departure and in situ, as once
on-the-ground, students’ perceptions (and abilities) change quickly, just as with
any regional geography eldwork scenario.
(i) e SODA method encapsulates similar traits toLemmons, Brannstrom, and
Hurd's (2013, p. 101) assessment that uses repeat photography to increase
cultural understanding and awareness, though SODA takes a more empirical
approach, basically following e Scientic Method.
(ii) is exercise was also designed with the Romantic Geographer in mind,
helping spur along the budding geographer (regardless of major) into
intrepid explorer, questioner, and knowledge seeker (see Tuan, 2013).
(iii) Detailed explanations of the SODA method are covered in pre-departure
sessions, and can be found online [see Teaching & Advising at http://caseal-
len.com].
(b) How participants record their ndings is up to them, but the concepts of travel
and eld journaling are explained in detail during the pre-departure meetings.
Specically, participants must include, at a minimum in their records, a mod-
ied “Luna Leopold-style” eld journal. As Luna taught his students, all eld
journals must include at least: the date/time of the observation, the location,
accompanying personnel, pertinent notes, and the all-important remembrance.
ese components remain paramount for a regional geographer (and regional
analyses), and students practice this skill pre-departure and then hone their
style in the eld – personal details and air remain important in regional geog-
raphy, aer all (Arreola, 2001; DeLyser, 2001; Doolittle, 2001; Hart, 2001).
(c) Alongside the Luna Leopold style journal, GbR requires students to also include
at least a daily reection/narrative and collection of mementos (e.g. ticket stubs,
passes, post cards, etc.) into the journal en route.
(i) While students are allowed to use multi-media and new media techniques (e.g.
blog, vlog, host a Facebook page, etc.), they are still required to maintain a hard
copy (e.g. a traditional eld journal) of their experience and SODA projects.
(d) is assignment helps foster personal and professional development, allowing
each participant to create their own research scheme, while revealing how each
participant sees the landscape dierently, akin to Meinig’s (1979a) Ten Versions
of the Same Scene. It also fosters strong regional geography skills, especially
when observations are compared to peers and the instructors during de-brieng
meetings in situ and at the post-program meeting.
(e) Participants present their SODA project ndings in a formal, written technical
report format, and give a short oral report either at the home department once
the program has concluded, or in situ at an in-country-ending meeting.
(2) Post-excursion essay
(a) Upon return, participants compile their thoughts and experiences into a critical
yet objective analysis and reection essay. e essay has no word or page limit,
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14 C. D. ALLEN AND J. M. BARBOUR
but represents an account of fervent insights about the landscape, places, and
peoples visited/experienced, as well as their own personal growth.
(i) e travel/eld journal represents an ideal way to record observations for
this task and, along with their SODA experience, usually turns out to be the
favorite souvenir.
(ii) is formal write-up serves to help students formulate their experiences into
a clear and concise analysis, incorporating newly acquired regional geography
concepts and connections.
(3) Language knowledge (optional, location-dependent)
(a) If exploring a non-English speaking region, participants must become “travel-
wise” in that/those languages. How much of the language should be learned for
a short-term program depends on personal preference but, as with any regional
geography experience, learning basic words and phrases always extends the
learning opportunity.
(b) For GbR, yes, no, please, thank you, hello, good morning, goodnight/good evening,
goodbye, where is, and how much are required, but students must also learn ve
additional words/phrases on their own during the program (assessed at the
nal in-country meeting).
(c) In true regional geography fashion, communicating with locals is paramount.
While today many people speak at least some English, beginning that contact
in the native tongue remains an important relationship-building function, as
regional geographers (at least used to) know (Wei, 2006).
As GbR is open to all majors, some students are unfamiliar with eld journaling. While
shown several examples in pre-departure meetings of the modied Luna Leopold-style, it
can still take a few days in situ before they hit their stride. We strongly believe, as do many
of our colleagues (Arreola, 2001; Drummer et al., 2008; Ellis & Rindeisch, 2006; Goulder
et al., 2013; Hope, 2009; Lemmons et al., 2013; Rydant et al., 2010), that good record keep-
ing, especially in the eld, remains one of the most important components a student can
learn in a regional geography program. Indeed, the importance of precise record keeping
cannot be underscored enough, and that is also precisely why the eld/travel journal is the
most heavily weighted in terms of grading. We work very hard to make sure all students
come away with the knowledge and practical experience of eld journaling, regardless of
their pre-conceived notions, prior exposure to eld journaling, or post-graduation plans,
so their record keeping emulates a regional geographer’s. In fact, on more than several
occasions – both majors and non-majors included – similar sentiments to this student’s
experience regarding eld journals have been recorded in formal end-of-program surveys:
inking back on it, it [the program] was not an easy thing. I had to get along with people I
didn’t know before. I nearly froze one night in a riad. I ran out of money before the end and had
to borrow some. I wouldn’t trade any of it … Of all the amazing experiences I learned about
on this program, and all the amazing things I got to do in just a couple weeks, the TJ [travel
journal] was the best thing I did. I didn’t believe them when they said it was important. I wasn’t
even sure how to put the thing together, really. I watched what other students were doing, but
really didn’t get it until the professors took time to show me dierent ways of keeping track
of things we did. While we were wooshing by on the train, they took time to look over my TJ
and give suggestions on how to improve it. What they said in class began to make to sense and
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JOURNAL OF GEOGRAPHY IN HIGHER EDUCATION 15
looking back I can see how my TJ changed throughout it [the program]. It changed so much
that I am now seriously considering going back and redoing my entire TJ to be more like the
last part of it. (excerpt from student comment on formal course survey, see Student Feedback)
e importance of eld journaling notwithstanding, all components are compiled into
a rubric that represents a straightforward assessment technique for student projects and
interactions. Each of the above ve or six components is weighted, according to the instruc-
tor’s preference. We suggest a heavier weight on the eld/travel journal and post-excursion
essay, as these represent two of the most important facets of eld-based learning (Day,
2012; Drummer et al., 2008; Marshall, Gardner, Protti, & Nourse, 2009). No matter how all-
encompassing such a rubric may seem however, what tends to be missing, are measurements
of participant learning related to regional geography at large and overall learning objectives
(goals). To remedy these two shortcomings, and based on success in the lead author’s other
short-term study abroad and eld programs (Allen, 2011a; Allen & Lukinbeal, 2011), con-
cept mapping exercises pre- and post-excursion serve asa mechanism to more objectively
evaluate the program’s overall goals (see Novak & Canas, 2008 for full overviewof concept
mapping), and a university-required survey helps measure overall program quality.
Overall program assessment
ough many factors can aect assessment practices (Fuller & Skidmore, 2014), the impor-
tance of meaningful assessment cannot be overstated, especially where study abroad and
eld-based are concerned (Dunphy & Spellman, 2009; Evenson, 2013; Fuller et al., 2006;
Fuller, Rawlinson, & Bevan, 2000; Fyfe, 2012; Scott, Fuller, & Gaskin, 2006; Scott et al.,
2012). While not a formal assessment per se, the AGS (1915) report of the Transcontinental
Excursion is replete with anecdotes, learning experiences, and astute (in)formal observations
from nearly all participants. e GbR program strives to mimic those outcomes through
the required components (previous section), but at the same time must also include a for-
mal assessment of the program in its entirety to satisfy institutional requirements. To this
end, GbR utilizes concept maps as a way to evaluate student learning before and aer the
program. Concept map scores are not gured into the formal grade, but instead are used
as a twofold mechanism to, (1) help instructors understand student shortcomings before
going into the eld, and (2) measure the amount of knowledge gained by participants
upon completion of the program. When it comes to the program itself, the Oce of Global
Education (OGE) (the entity in charge of all study abroad opportunities at our University)
requires a survey for students to assess their overall experience during the program, and
these are used to help enhance each iteration of GbR.
As the GbR program developed each year, qualitative analyses – such as the formal,
university-required assessments, eld journals, and reection essays – demonstrated some-
times huge leaps in student understanding of the region being studied. Seeing this trend
and identifying the need to quantify it, the lead author utilized his experience and expertise
with concept maps to assess and verify this perceived increase in student learning.
Concept map essentials and analysis
Used for years in medical schools, concept mapping has slowly made its way into other
disciplines, and has been used as an eective evaluative tool in geography (Allen, 2011a;
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16 C. D. ALLEN AND J. M. BARBOUR
Allen & Lukinbeal, 2011). At their core, concept maps represent a straightforward and
ecient way to assess student knowledge (Novak & Gowin, 1984), allowing students to
quickly encapsulate their thoughts into a representative framework of knowledge, while also
allowing the instructor to evaluate the student’s progress toward specic goals (Homan,
Trott, & Neely, 2002). In eld situations, concept maps are noted for their ability to quickly
assess complex concepts in a short timespan (Kinchin, Hay, & Adams, 2000; Ruiz-Primo
& Shavelson, 1996). One point of a concept map rests in evaluating whether or not stu-
dents increased their knowledge regarding the topic at hand. is can serve as a formative
assessment (evaluating along the way), as well as a summative assessment (by comparing a
pre-knowledge concept map with a post-knowledge concept map and identifying changes).
In the case of assessing student learning in GbR, a summative assessment is used, and this
involves assigning a score to the concept map.
Scoring concept maps can be done a variety of ways (Edmondson, 2000; Novak, 1991,
1998; Novak & Canas, 2008) and, having used a modied version based on Hsu and Hsieh
(2005), West, Park, Pomeroy, and Sandoval (2002), and Stoddart, Abrams, Gasper, and
Canaday (2000) in previous studies to demonstrate their ecacy, we employed the same
strategy for the GbR program (see Allen, 2011a; Allen & Lukinbeal, 2011). is scoring
technique assigns point values to the overarching concept, as well as each sub concept(s)
and cross-links, to determine a nal score. Students are required to complete a concept
map pre-departure and then create a second concept map upon return. Total point value
can vary depending on the concept and how much/which sub concepts and cross links
the expert deems as most important. An “expert score” or rubric is oen designated as the
maximum possible score, and is usually created by the instructor, though for GbR, there is
no expert concept map, nor maximum score. For the Morocco GbR program, pre-program
concept maps were administered six weeks before departure – while students were still in
fall semester courses and had not yet begun to study the location – and post-program con-
cept maps were administered six weeks aer the programs completion, allowing students
time to reect on the experience as a whole. is will be the norm in future GbR programs.
As the GbR program’s main focus rests in helping students gain a regional geography
perspective, the overarching concept given represents the country or region under study,
though other concepts could also be used. For the GbR: Morocco program, as an example,
students were given ve minutes to create a concept map of “Morocco.” e time was strictly
monitored, and the ve-minute time-limit was used for both pre- and post-program exer-
cises, following the framework used successfully in previous studies (Allen, 2011a; Allen
& Lukinbeal, 2011). While the number of students is small (n=10) in the GbR: Morocco
example, comparison between pre- and post-experience concept maps are striking, with
the overall average score increasing by 28 points (Figure 2). Changes in concept map scores
are even more revealing when realizing that for every student, this was their rst time in
Africa and, perhaps more importantly, in an Islamic State. Further, none of the students
who participated in GbR: Morocco had ever taken a regional geography course, and those
non-Geography majors had limited-to-no exposure in formal geography courses.
While this quantitative change is encouraging, qualitatively speaking, the post-program
concepts represent much more focused and honed connections. For example, while students
5 and 7 had near identical pre- and post-program scores (Figures 3–6), one was a geog-
raphy major and the other was not. Yet both students had a stark change in score, as well
as terminology and connections/crosslinks. Even student 9, whose post-program concept
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JOURNAL OF GEOGRAPHY IN HIGHER EDUCATION 17
map earned the highest score, had signicant changes in content and connections/crosslink
(Figures 7 and 8). ese examples, alongside formal student assessments and both formal
and informal student feedback, give strong evidence for increased learning related to not
just short-term study abroad programs, but the GbR program specically.
Student feedback
For many students, GbR represents “… a way to experience a new life, a way to know a new
world, and also a way to realize that the best thing for a journey is you can go home when
you feel tired” (excerpt from student’s travel journal, 2012). Other sentiments that ring true
with nearly every student who has participated in the GbR program include an increase
in mental toughness, self-actualization, a realization that “… people want basically the
same thing,” and a sense of accomplishment. ese sentiments are corroborated by formal
surveys the OGE administers aer each program. Since OGE began conducting surveys,
100% of GbR students (n=42) “Agree” or “Strongly Agree” that not only was the program
… a valuable learning experience” (question 1 on OGE’s survey), but also that “I learned
about the culture and areas as well as the course topic (geography)” – OGE’s second survey
question. Even more poignant, 93% (n=42) agreed or strongly agreed that “is program
will make an important contribution to my professional goals.” When queried about “e
strongest aspect of the academic coursework,” students across the board listed “rst-hand
experience,” “daily journal,” and “regional experience,” indicating they not only appreciated
Figure 2.Pre- and post-program concept map scores of GbR: Morocco participants.
Notes: The pre-program average was 47, and the post-program average was 75 (average increase overall of 28). Student 1 is
an undergraduate International Studies major, student 2 is a graduate student in Environmental Science (no formal geography
course), students 4 and 9 are undergraduate Communication majors, and student 7 is an undergraduate Elementary Education
major. All others (students 3, 5, 6, 8, and 10) are undergraduate Geography majors. Since concept maps are meant to be
personal and allow for individual creativity, a low score does not necessarily mean a student does not understand the concepts
at hand – as is the case here, where student 10 had lower scores because they lumped together several concepts into one
“box” rather than expanding the boxes. Had student 10 opened their few boxes instead of keeping them contained, the
score reported would be more than double. These scores are representative of other previous short-term international field
study courses offered by the lead author.
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18 C. D. ALLEN AND J. M. BARBOUR
getting eld-based experience and techniques (i.e. eld journal), but also that they gained a
regional geography perspective. In terms of GbR’s short-term pedagogy, however, perhaps
the most important assessment question rests in how the program compares to traditional
in-class courses. In this instance, nearly 93% of students said they felt they learned “Much
more” (~69%) or “More” (~23%) than a regular, 16-week course at the university. e
remaining ~7% felt they learned “About the same.
is is not to say everything occurs awlessly with GbR, as those who supervise and
run any type of eld-based program know. For example, although extensively briefed on
the intense walking, sometimes meager (read: non-Western) accommodations, and the
program’s focus on group camaraderie/team building, a few students in each iteration noted
their disenchantment with some or all of those components, and some were especially
critical when free WiFi was not available. Still, perusing student journals, it is clear even
the cklest come away from the experience with a “… very full brain” and “… stu that will
stick with me forever,” as one particularly dicult student noted. In fact, overall, as quotes
taken from travel/eld journals demonstrate, GbR earns high praise from students for being
“innovative,” an “amazing experience,” a “fantastic way to see a place,” a “good mix between
cultural and physical geography,” and a “life changing experience.” Students also note it as
their “best experience ever,” and a “once in a lifetime experience,” while being integral in
helping them keep an “… open mind” and to “be exible in life, just like in the eld.
All these realizations are traits found in the Romantic Geographer (Tuan, 2013) of old,
and similar comments litter the 1912 Excursion report (AGS, 1915). Just as the great minds
Figure 3.Pre-program concept map for student 5.
Notes: This student is a senior Geography major with an interest in physical geography and environmental science. This was
their first experience outside of the US. Concepts in this map are general in nature, and seem focused on what the student
is looking forward to experiencing and hoping to discover, rather than specific regional concepts. Digitally redrawn by the
lead author for clarity, but text alignment, spelling, spacing, and capitalization has been left as in original concept map. Circle
size and text angle has been recreated as close to the original as possible, but no correlation has been shown between circle/
box size and concepts. Compare with Figure 4.
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JOURNAL OF GEOGRAPHY IN HIGHER EDUCATION 19
Figure 4.Post-program concept map for student 5.
Notes: Much more detail is present in this concept map, with extremely specific concepts such as zalije, cubism, particular
types of prevalent food, and even karst landscape features being included. Notice also the cross-link centered on “Moroccan
tea,” between “Culture” and “Food.” Compare with Figure 3.
Figure 5.Pre-program concept map for student 7.
Notes: This student is a sophomore elementary education major, focusing on grades K-3 specifically. This is only the second
time this student has been outside the US, and only their second geography course. Very broad concepts adorn this map,
with only one uncertain crosslink between “Berber” and “Arabic.” Compare with Figure 6.
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20 C. D. ALLEN AND J. M. BARBOUR
of that day and age – each a Romantic Geographer in their own right – regaled each other
with stories, expounded upon landscape dynamics (physical and cultural), debated phenom-
ena they encountered, interacted sometimes very closely with locals, and experienced places
they oen never saw again in their lives, so is it the case, mostly, with the GbR program.
When it comes to understanding places, and regional geography specically, there is no
substitute for rst-hand experience. And that trait, supported by student feedback, rests at
the heart the GbR program, as well as the 1912 Excursion and the Romantic Geographer.
Potential limitations
For all its apparent success, however, the GbR program encounters at least a few obstacles.
While some are common in eld study programs, others are not. For the former, and
unlike traditional study abroad programs run by a provider, GbR relies on the instructor
for everything from location selection and lodging to purchasing train tickets and safety
in order to remain cost eective. Taking this into consideration, creating and supervising
any study abroad program remains a grand undertaking, usurping large chunks of time,
and sometimes requiring extreme adaptability, exibility, and patience. Why would anyone
voluntarily conduct such a program when, if anything goes wrong, the instructor must take
care of it? For this reason, doubling up on instructors has been the norm for GbR, as has
a strong infrastructure. In GbR’s case, the University’s OGE has specic instructor train-
ings focusing on risk management issues, including health and safety while abroad. ey
also provide international insurance for all participants and manage the credit-granting
Figure 6.Post-program concept map for student 7.
Notes: Notice the attention paid to cross-links between “Muslim” and “Islamic” culture, “Culture” and “tea,” and the interesting
connection that “language … creates … Culture” and “Culture … [is] also … Food.” Also of note is the notion of food being
contaminated because of “modern pollution.” For an elementary education major with no formal geography training other
than one previous GbR experience, these represent significant extensions of learning (compare Figure 5).
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JOURNAL OF GEOGRAPHY IN HIGHER EDUCATION 21
process. Drawing on decades of international travel experiences, the instructors conduct all
preparatory and in situ legwork, working with local colleagues and/or new-found friends
in-country to set up specic site visits, lectures, walks, transportation, and lodging. is,
alongside dealing with student illness, homesickness (yes, on a fortnight excursion, some
students get homesick), and general complaining about how unlike home the place is, can
really wear out even the most stalwart instructor.
Still, as with other international eld-based programs, GbR can benet the instructor.
When focused around specic topics of inquiry related to the instructor’s research focus,
short-term international eld-based programs like GbR aord the instructor a chance to
enhance their research portfolio. For example, with GbR: London and Paris (2011–2012),
students gathered data related to the instructor’s research program, providing a rich data-
set perhaps not as quickly attainableotherwise. is data-set also laid the groundwork for
upcoming cultural heritage assessment projects in Paris with, yet again, students gathering
and analyzing data (under the direction of the instructor). Without GbR, gathering the data
would have taken several trips or one very long stay in Paris – neither of which is neces-
sarily a bad thing, but the costs associated with gathering international data solo, or even
with a colleague, increase quickly. Having a cadre of trained researchers/data gatherers (i.e.
students) at your disposal, however, raises the chance for success.
Figure 7.Pre-program concept map for student 9.
Notes: This student is a non-traditional senior majoring in communication. It displays the student’s enthusiasm with words
like “excitment [sic],“new relationships,” and “values” from “cultural differences.” Few specifics about the country itself are
mentioned however, other than apparent concerns about disease (“ebola”) and “tensions” that lead to “safety” issues. While
most of these concepts are important – especially to this student – and well-linked, they generally skip over basic geography,
regional studies, and landscape knowledge. Compare with Figure 8.
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22 C. D. ALLEN AND J. M. BARBOUR
Even so, whether formally collecting specic data or not, eldwork tends to tire most
students. If not in the rst few days, then by the last few. e GbR program is no dierent.
Some students, who are indeed not used to intense and day-aer-day travel or being in
the eld for an extended period of time, complain about staying awake on the train, even
though it is a program requirement. In their eld/travel journals and surveys, participants
note their continued weariness and inability to stay awake on long train rides can be a
deterrent to learning. Yet, as assessment data attest, even these students come away from
the program with a greater knowledge of not just themselves, but also regional geography.
Another potential limitation found across all study abroad formats, rests in the conun-
drum of students (and to some extent instructors perhaps) being cast as either an observ-
ing-participant or participant-observer: the former oen viewed as an outsider-looking-in
and thus, perhaps being seen as taking a more objective stance in analyzing a situation,
and the latter sometimes associated with being an insider-looking-out and thus, maybe
being seen as a bit more biased analyst (Hirsch, 2015; Johnson, Avenarius, & Weatherford,
2006; Sullivan, 1953). Granted, that basic denition represents only part of a vastly more
complex issue, and this is not necessarily the venue to elaborate. But for the purposes of a
study abroad program, it suces. Still, in each instance of outsider or insider interaction,
Figure 8.Post-program concept map for student 9.
Notes: This student was only allotted the regular 5min to create this concept map, but it represents precise terminology
and concepts, as well as multiple linkages across main concepts and even third-, fourth-, and fifth-level concepts as well as
“nested” major concepts like “Architecture” and “Geography.” Compared to Figure 7, all major and minor topics experienced
during this program are displayed in this concept map – and some beyond, suggesting a very rich learning experience for
this non-geography major student for whom this was their first geography course.
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JOURNAL OF GEOGRAPHY IN HIGHER EDUCATION 23
participants may struggle with expressing their ndings, irrespective of their working
knowledge (Hirsch, 2015), and it is up to the instructor to help with interpretation. For
example, although student participants are not fully trained ethnographers, they may use
ethnographic components to complete their required tasks, recording observations as more
of an onlooker from the outside (e.g. learning about religious devotion by observing locals’
behavior during the Call to Prayer). Similarly, just as participants are not necessarily pro-
fessional geomorphologists, they might use some of that discipline’s principles en route for
making connections in the landscape by experiencing them from the inside (e.g. gaining
insight into karst landscapes by hiking through a polje). To gain maximum pedagogical
benet in each situation then, the instructor must be well-informed in terms of both disci-
plinary/regional knowledge and appropriate methods/techniques, and be ready to impart
knowledge and expertise as necessary.
To make GbR work as intended – as a true regional geography eld experience, like the
1912 Excursion – this oen entails two instructors, with student participants also gaining
expertise, via self-study but as part of the program requirements, pre-departure on their
personal topics of interest (see Assessment). As an educational endeavor, the idea of having
co-instructors for GbR remains important, especially as regional geographers become more
and more dicult to nd (Harrison, 2015; Johnston et al., 2014; Jones, 2014; Murphy &
O’Loughlin, 2009; Tuan, 2013). In short, the instructor(s) must be (or become) a regional
geographer for the location under study.
Related to this, as student participants begin to move beyond their comfort zone and
interact with locals and the landscape, whether they realize it or not at the time, they oen
experience a pressure between the insider and outsider perspectives. How such stress is
handled can dramatically impact the students’ experience – with the locals, the rest of
the student group, themselves, and the instructors. In short, what participants think they
observe may actually be dierent from reality. But without the instructors being literate
in both physical and human geographies as a regional geographer should (and, arguably
understanding both insider and outsider viewpoints), perceptions could easily be tainted,
and disheartening and/or disingenuous experiences may occur – not just among students,
but the instructors as well. GbR’s short-term, intensive eld-based focus helps address
these stresses in more productive and transparent ways. One student on the Morocco GbR
program, for example, had a keen interest in food geography made friends with a local
who invited them to their home to learn how to make traditional Harira (a very tasty, but
notoriously dicult to make soup). On one hand, the student was honored to become so
connected with the locals, but on the other hand, the student did not feel right about asking
if the entire group could also participate, and was afraid of being singled out by their GbR
peers as not playing well with others (part of GbR program requirements, and a compro-
mise was devised). In a similar vein, on several other occasions the group as a whole was
invited for tea at a local’s house, only to be shown cras for sale. As revealed in the daily
de-brieng aer the rst tea invitation, some students (perhaps the observer-participant/
outsider) felt scammed by famed Moroccan hospitality, thinking they had to purchase
something, with one student thinking it was rude when other students did not buy any-
thing. For the instructors who had an understanding of the culture though, it made for a
great discussion since, culturally speaking, there wasno obligation to purchase any item.
Moroccan hospitality is what it seems: having tea is just having tea. ere is no expectation
of the guest to buy anything.
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24 C. D. ALLEN AND J. M. BARBOUR
In the end, regardless of outsider or insider status, we would argue that, when con-
ducted as intended and guided by adequately prepared instructors with a regional geography
background, students participating in GbR tend to experience both insider and outsider
roles across the landscape more oen in the compressed timeframe than traditional (i.e.
hub-and-spoke) study abroad programs. ese opportunities, usually run by a third-party
provider and typically for several weeks’ (or longer) duration, benet from their centralized
hub-and-spoke model and their ability to remain intensely focused on a subject in a specic
location – helping the student become, hopefully, an “insider,” at least for that specic loca-
tion. Oentimes day or weekend trips are oered to dierent locales (usually for an extra
fee, and usually involving some type of activity such as paragliding), and these may give
students a quick glimpse of the region. But the focus remains on the hub’s location and/or
on a specic subject. e GbR program sacrices this apparent hub-based depth for breadth.
at is, instead of hyper-focusing in one exclusive locale and its surroundings, it ventures
into the landscape, even crossing smaller sub-regions, allowing students to be involved in
a wider range of experiences. While this may be seen by some as an outsider-looking-in
program, in fact, it is one of GbR’s core functions to thwart this notion, opening-up a
dialog between students and their landscape broadly speaking – not just the place, but the
practicing occurring in it by actors (Allen, 2011b; Allen & Lukinbeal, 2011; Ingold, 1993).
Having participated in both provider-led and instructor-led study abroad programs as a
student and instructor, we prefer – and argue that any good regional geography should focus
on – the breadth. Getting to know a region in its entirety allows for greater understanding
of it, and landscape exploration across vast distances (an important facet of romantic geog-
raphy) remains a key driver in gaining that breadth. Take Morocco as an example. Many
traditional study abroad providers house students in a main location, such as Marrakech,
and usually focus their curriculum around foreign language, history, and/or archeology.
Side-trips (usually for an extra cost) are oered to other places such as Quarzazate, Meknes,
and perhaps even Chefchaouen. But in these cases, students are shuttled, perhaps with
accompanying tourists, to and from the places, with no set learning experience other than
to tour the place, end up at a souvenir shop, and then return, baubles in hand. e GbR
program on the other hand, spends time not just in Marrakech, but several other cities,
including those not on the usual tourist circuit, such as Taza (see Appendix for full sample
itinerary). Further, while traversing the distance between, say, Marrakech and Meknes, GbR
students are required to stay awake, observe and record landscape changes, and interact
with locals where possible (see Assessment for specics). ese international exchanges have
resulted in rich learning experiences and, in many cases, international friendships via social
media for the participants, fostering perhaps a twenty-rst century version of the intrepid
romantic geographer/explorer.
One limitation that GbR is unable to overcome, however, is locational restriction. at
is, the program can only operate where access to a train (and inexpensive trains) is possible.
While (parts of) Africa, Australia, Canada, Central America, New Zealand, Russia, South
America, and Southwest/east Asia have rail options, the locations they traverse/serve are
limited and highly specic, negating the regional and romantic geography approach central
to the GbR program. Other places such as the Caribbean, (most of) the Mediterranean,
(most of) the Middle East, northern Fennoscandia, and Turkey are mostly undoable by rail.
And train travel in the US remains high-in-cost compared to other countries. Remember
that the Transcontinental Excursion had a full two months and a wealthy benefactor to
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JOURNAL OF GEOGRAPHY IN HIGHER EDUCATION 25
explore the country in its entirety. In the end then, GbR would be hard pressed to function
as designed outside of Europe, Japan, China, India, or Morocco – all places that maintain
vast rail infrastructures and oer competitive pricing for students.
Locational constraints aside, in this section we have oered ways to turn potential limitations
into positive experiences. We also argue that putting a lot of stress and strain on the instruc-
tor (pre-program, in situ, and post-program), wearing out students in the eld, and oering
a breadth of learning as opposed to depth, are not necessarily negative things. Moreover,
we recognize that the GbR program does not t every pedagogy or situation, but instead
oers an alternative for short-term eld-based programs desiring more breadth (i.e. regional
geography) and exploration (i.e. romantic geography). In short, we believe any prospective
limitations of GbR are signicantly outweighed by the resultant student outcomes.
Conclusion
Like its 1912 counterpart, the GbR program helps bridge the physical-human geography
divide. e place where this is perhaps the easiest to connect – regional geography – remains,
currently (and oddly), under-utilized in geography (Allen, 2011b; Harrison, 2015; Harrison
et al., 2004; Johnston et al., 2014; Kellerman et al., 2015). Every regional geography course,
regardless of overall course focus, begins with a physical geography overview. So did the 1912
Excursion. So does GbR. Once a student grasps the physical setting, the human situation
then has a context from which to be discussed, and physical-human connections in a region
can be better explored in more depth. And in few places can the physical-human dialectic
be learned better than studying a specic region on the ground in the landscape, learning
rst-hand by being there, expounding on learnings to colleagues and others throughout
the Excursion and upon your return – a true experiential learning experience. e GbR
program oers a way to both keep the regional geography tradition alive through times when
it becomes threatened, while also training the next generation of geographers to employ
important regional analyses. Or at the very least, help them to understand, appreciate, and
communicate the important role a regional perspective can play in their future. As one
student noted in their daily reection:
We were at Msoun for sunset, and let me tell you that you have not really seen a sunset until
you’ve seen it over the Sahara. e colors were incredible: purple, pink, orange, yellow, red,
green, blue, and colors I can’t even describe. For me it was an emotional experience and it quite
literally brought tears to my eyes … I love experiences that make me feel small and, for lack of
a better term, inconsequential. e world is a big, beautiful place and we are simply a blip on
its timeline. I have been thinking about [the story of] e Little Prince ever since. It will be a
very long time before I have an experience that rivals this one.
Creating and overseeing any type of international study program, short or long-term, can
be daunting. Likewise, designing assessments to enhance student learning along the way
while balancing cost-eectiveness and participant expectations remains a formidable task
for even the most seasoned traveler and instructor. Yet the rewards for doing so can be great.
In the end, even short-term, international eld-based programs make a dierence for stu-
dents when it comes to broadening their world view. And that, in turn, shapes the way they
perceive their role in a global society. International experience, when tied to the regional
geography lens specically, should be included in all young geographers’ education, and
represents something to which geographers should (continue to) lay claim. e GbR pro-
gram represents one perhaps novel way to keep geography’s rich regional studies tradition
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26 C. D. ALLEN AND J. M. BARBOUR
thriving, while providing students of any major a mechanism for exploring, understanding,
and appreciating landscapes through a geographic and spatial lens.
Invariably, eld-based experiences enhance students’ overall potential for learning real-
world, hands-on skills appropriate for today’s workforce. Couple the eldwork with a short-
term international component such as GbR, and students gain a perspective unreproducible
in the classroom. rough its interactive style, and like the great Transcontinental Excursion
of 1912, the GbR program oers students (and instructors) a chance to experience the
all-important yet o under-utilized regional geography. Studying landscapes by being in
them, practicing in them, (Allen, 2011b; Allen & Lukinbeal, 2011), transcends any class-
room activity, no matter how involved or provocative an in-class pedagogy is employed.
And engaging students in the landscape – whether through eldwork, a local eld-trip, or
international study abroad program – remains one of the most important contributions
geography educators can make to society. e GbR program embodies the hallmarks of
eldwork, of geography as a discipline, and retains key aspects of the Romantic Geographer
such as exploration, traversing great distances, and searching for meaning in the landscape.
Limitations notwithstanding, we maintain that, as designed, GbR exemplies the regional
geography perspective, retains the spirit of the 1912 Excursion, oers students a dierent
approach to the traditional hub-and-spoke study abroad model, and allows for interactions
with colleagues/peers, locals, and the landscape, while also providing a breadth of learn-
ing not necessarily available by didactic pedagogy, but essential for a twenty-rst century
(Romantic) Geographer.
Acknowledgments
A grateful and gracious thanks to all GbR participants. Your intrepid spirit and desire for
exploration fuels the GbR program. Great appreciation and thanks also goes to Drs Deon
Greer and Julie Rich (Weber State University) for instilling the travel bug in a young, inex-
perienced undergrad all those years ago. In terms of the article itself, several anonymous
reviewers’ and editors’ suggestions helped shape the overall presentation, structure, and
ow. We sincerely appreciate their time and eorts in enhancing this manuscript.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the authors.
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