Using the GLOBE tool in an undergraduate geography class
SSC Member Darla Munroe's undergraduate class using GLOBE

Learning about land systems through case studies: Using the GLOBE tool with undergraduates

Related GLP Member: Darla Munroe

Editor’s note: SSC Member Darla Munroe uses GLOBE for one of the assignments in her course, Geography 5402 - Land-use Geography. Below is a report on the assignment as well as the students’ assessment of the platform. She also offers some ideas for how GLOBE could evolve further to include higher-level frameworks.

About my course

I currently teach an elective course in the Department of Geography at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, that introduces advanced undergraduates (senior level) to major trends in land use (resource extraction, forest recovery, rural development) with reference to underlying processes (globalization, neoliberalism, post-Fordist production systems). An overarching theme of the course is getting to know the interdisciplinary field of land-change science with the goal that students will be able to analyze land-use issues and problems; and summarize the major processes, actors and themes at work.

The class currently has 55 students enrolled and is a mixture of traditional lecture and small group work. One week’s topic is “Resource Peripheries” about understanding rural areas that have traditionally provided food, fuel and fiber to cities. Such areas may be particularly characterized by periodic cycles of “boom and bust,” investment and disinvestment.

GLOBE Assignment

The goals of the week’s in-class assignment were:

  • To get hands-on experience with various internet tools to study land change
  • To find examples of important land-use trends discussed in class lectures and readings
  • To engage in peer-learning – practicing new knowledge by explaining to peers and helping each other with questions

The reading I assigned (Hayter et al. 2003) provided a conceptual framework pointing to four cross-cutting themes in questions of natural resource extraction in far-flung rural places:

  • Industrialism (understanding the dynamics of the industries involved)
  • Environmentalism (what are the environmental consequences of this extraction?)
  • Aboriginalism (what are the cultural dimensions of extraction? How are local people affected?)
  • Imperialism (what are the geopolitical dimensions of the extraction)?

The paper asserts that this framework is a basis for looking at social and environmental consequences common to many rural areas whose function has historically been the provision of natural resources to “core” (urban, industrialized) areas of the world.

For their assignment, students had to explore GLOBE, the Global Collaboration Engine, read the About page, and sign up for an account if the student thought he or she might use it in the future.

They then had to explore the site, pick 2-3 Global Variables and examining the trends in Ohio, Argentina, west Africa and Thailand (land-based commodities from these regions were covered in recent readings and prior discussions).

Then they had to search the Public Cases on some key terms like “mining” or “palm oil,” or “coffee” (their choice). They had to note the places where these terms pop up. I gave them a  hint that many of the linked reports are World Bank development projects, and I asked them to find one that seems interesting and look through the links.

They had to discuss their finding and then write them up based on the following questions:

  • What patterns did you see in the world regions mentioned above?
  • For “public cases”, what’s the distribution of these projects spatially? What is expected or surprising in where these commodities are to be found?
  • According to Hayter et al.’s framework, resource peripheries are characterized by the dimensions: industrial, geopolitical, environment and indigeneity. Which of these likely apply in the World Bank report you reviewed?

Assessment of the assignment and GLOBE

Students were generally intrigued by the GLOBE tool. They found it to be intuitive, and liked the map interface linked to cases. Below are a few specific examples from the student write-ups illustrating what they learned from the tool.

“When we typed in coffee, the places that showed up were primarily in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Vietnam, and Papua New Guinea. What is in common with all of these results is that each area is a part of what is considered the Global South, and where we see a lot of coffee come from. We expected areas like these to come up when we typed in “coffee,” although we did expect a little more in Africa (only 3 showed up and 2 were in Cameroon).”

“Coffee is spatially located around the equator; nothing is located north or south of the equator line. We expected this to be in the tropical climates. However, we were surprised how centrally located the growing of coffee is around the equator.

“We investigated soybeans. Spatially, they were distributed in the Tropics, specifically South America around Brazil and Southeast Asia as well as northeastern China near the Korean border. This distribution makes sense because the climate and ecology of these regions makes sense, however, northern China is surprising because of the climate. Economically, all of these regions are relatively poor and close to very globally core countries.

[Editor’s note: Reference to screenshots in the next quote was from student report. Images are not included here.]“The two screenshots above are just an example of the clustering of projects spatially. It is not  surprising that certain commodities such as palm oil and coffee that thrive in certain climates are  grouped at the same latitude, as shown in the tropical regions in the pictures above since they are grown in that temperature, elevation, humidity, etc. Spatially, I was surprised that most of the raw goods came from the same regions.  Looking deeper into this you can see that these regions rely heavily on agriculture and exporting natural resources.”

This in-class exercise using the GLOBE tool went well, and was complementary to the reading we had completed for the week. Approximately 40 students were all accessing the tool at the same time, and no technical difficulties were experienced. I had to help a few students figure out which menus to click through, but some learning curve is to be expected; this tool is more intuitive than others we have used.

Regarding linking to the Hayter et al. framework, we could do much more in this regard to extract evidence for the four dimensions to natural resource extraction. In a subsequent class, I provided a debriefing to link back to the framework. One idea for future versions of GLOBE is to tag variables at a higher level with one or more conceptual frameworks (e.g., Forest Transition Theory, Telecoupling, or Resilience), so users can also search by framework.

Hayter, R., Barnes, T. J., & Bradshaw, M. J. (2003). Relocating resource peripheries to the core of economic geography's theorizing: rationale and agenda. Area, 35(1), 15-23.