Publication Date


Degree Program

Department of Geography and Geology

Degree Type

Master of Science


The most recent Roper Survey (2006), a study of geographic literacy among 18-to 24-year-olds, found that despite constant coverage of the war in Iraq since 2003, 63% of Americans surveyed could not find Iraq on a map. Similar shortcomings abound in the poll, pointing to what must be considered a "geographic illiteracy" among Americans. This national geographic illiteracy has global implications that range from the local to the global scale, including issues of politics, economics, foreign policy, environmental policy, and resource use to name just a few. How badly prepared, then, are students entering colleges and universities in terms of basic geographic knowledge? What are the societal consequences of failing to address geographic ignorance, and what instructional methodology could successfully address the problem? Once baseline geographic knowledge is assessed in the classroom, how can it be improved? The hypothesis of this study is that teaching students geography through a rigorous system that reinforces the Five Themes of geography through regular analysis of current events can help to improve geographic knowledge and understanding, and that this heuristic device can be expected to increase students' base geographic knowledge by at least 30% over the course of a semester, bringing average pre-course F grades to a B within a short period of time. The study group was comprised of three World Regional geography classes offered during the spring 2007 semester at Western Kentucky University's Glasgow campus. Students took a pre-course survey prior to any lecture over the subject material. This same survey was administered at the end of course prior to the final exam, with the difference between the two representing the improvement score. During the semester the students were given eight assignments where the students had to analyze a current event using the Five Themes, with the expectation that these assignments would increase their knowledge content over the semester by the target average of 30%. The study returned a below-target actual increase of 15% - nonetheless a significant increase - but this increase could not be statistically attributed to the Five Themes rubric. The Five Themes heuristic did not appear instrumental in improving geographic knowledge during the course of a semester as the study duration may have been too short. However, the significant level of student improvement suggests that this concept warrants further investigation as a pedagogical methodology through a much more extended set of trials. Although this study, as designed, produced inconclusive results, it unexpectedly revealed evidence that factors of age and gender may strongly affect geographic learning, raising questions about adopting any one-size-fits-all approach to geography education. The study also suggests that the current trend of providing a single course in geography in pre-college education does not suffice in bridging the gap of geography illiteracy in America. The results argue for suggesting a need for new directions in educational policy and practice at both the secondary and post-secondary levels.


Education | Geography