“Geography education, in this project, is broadly defined not simply as the learning that takes place in geography classrooms, but also other disciplines, and in spaces of our everyday lives,” she explains.
One of these spaces, of course, is the classroom-based geography education in which students are encouraged to identify places on maps.
While important, Kerr stresses that this sort of study and understanding of geography education is limited.
“For example, understandings of geography allow us to ask questions about the why of where,” says Kerr. “Why something happened where it did allows us to make sense of content not only in geography classes, but also in history, economics, and civics classes, as well as the social world at large.”
In fact, Kerr stresses that we are constantly using geography knowledge without even realizing it.
“In our everyday lives, we use geography, and its connection to spatial thinking, all the time. One must think spatially when choosing the most efficient route to travel to work, deciding upon a neighborhood/city within which to reside, and even how to make all one’s belongings fit in a piece of carryon luggage.”
It is this separation between real-world geography and classroom-based geography that Kerr hopes her research will bridge.
“What has become clear to me through my research, reading, and teaching, is that there is an enormous gap between the exciting work that occurs in the field of geography, and what actually occurs in spaces of P-12 geography education. I decided to pursue a doctorate in education to explore and aid in the closing of that gap,” she states.
Kerr is especially interested in how topics related to geography content come to be understood and used in a variety of contexts.
“Ultimately,” Kerr says, “my dissertation research asks: How does geography education operate at different scales, for different people and in different contexts? And then: What are the implications for the formal spaces of geography education?”
“To begin answering these questions, my dissertation study includes: a large-scale international survey of geography teachers, interviews with practicing teachers about their use of geography content in different disciplines, an analysis of Twitter “chats” between teachers interested in improving their geography pedagogy, practitioner-geared exploration of using place-based social media (e.g.: Snapchat, Instagram, Periscope) for the teaching and learning of geography, design-based interventions in geography classrooms, and practice-based research in teacher education spaces.”
Upon completion of these data collection projects, Kerr aims to interpret and represent this data through the creation of various maps.
“These maps will range from the traditional G.I.S-created models of space to system maps that take the appearance of sporadic networks and chart not only physical space, but also typically ‘unmapped’ things like networks of discourses, practices, and understandings.”
Kerr hopes that these maps will help illustrate where and how geographic learning takes place – understandings, she says, that are needed to improve geography education across the country and the world.
“I believe that learning should be available to all, and that we should recognize and validate the idea that learning happens not only in school classrooms, but also in the informal processes, practices, and places of our everyday lives,” Kerr concludes.
After graduation, Kerr would like to continue to do research and teaching that helps inform the policies and practices related to geography education and education broadly.