Geography Teaching Innovations
[ Logo Image: Old map of Planet Earth fading into images of 
California State University, Long Beach ]
      Department of Geography
College of Liberal Arts
1250 Bellflower Boulevard
California State University
Long Beach, CA 90840-1101 USA

Geography Teaching Innovations at the Beach


[ * ] The Geography of Mars
[ * ] Introduction to Russia: Study Abroad
[ * ] International Exchange Course in GIS
[ * ] Online GIS in World Regional Geography
[ * ] CLA Collaborative Research Award
[ * ] Learning Alliance and Beach Beginnings
[ * ] Introductory Physical Geography Online
[ * ] Collaborative Hazards Web Project


The stated primary mission of the California State Universities, as stated in the Master Plan created by the Donahoe Higher Education Act of 1960, is "undergraduate and graduate instruction through the master's degree in the liberal arts and sciences and professional education, including teacher education." Instruction, thus, is a central concern of faculty in the Department of Geography at California State University, Long Beach. Much of the research activity in the Department is targeted to maintaining faculty currency for the benefit of their students (and much of it provides direct financial support for our undergraduate and graduate students). The faculty of the Department endeavor to be effective teachers, and the purpose of this page is to showcase some innovative instruction by our faculty.


Mars: A Regional Areography

Dr. Chrys Rodrigue developed a Special Topics course on the geography of Mars for Spring 2007. This course, an outgrowth of her research on risk perception and communication issues in the space program, is the first geography course on Mars offered in the country! It covers the history of Mars exploration from naked eye observations to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, examining the kinds of sensors sent to Mars and the kinds of information they make available. The course then goes over the physical landscapes of the Red Planet, structuring discussion of the many controversies around the old "orders of relief" schema once used to present the physical geography of Planet Earth. After that, it covers Martian climate and weather processes. The class ends with discussions of the effect Mars has had on the human imagination, from the "canals on Mars" and "face on Mars" crazes to more sober treatments of the possibilities of human settlement of Mars. The course home page is


Introduction to Russia: Short-Term Study Abroad

Dr. Dmitrii Sidorov co-taught an innovative summer class with Dr. Harold Schefski, the CSULB Russian Program Director, in Summer 2005. The course is an interdisciplinary course offered through the College of Liberal Arts, CLA 410, and it is entitled, "Introduction to Russia: Short-Term Study Abroad." Drs. Sidorov and Schefski brought seventeen CSULB students to Moscow and St. Petersburg, where they taught the elements of Russian language, the history of Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church, the literature and art of Russia, war and the geography of Russia, and popular culture and nightlife in Russia. The itinerary may be viewed at This course is an outstanding example of the Department's efforts to make international experience part of the education of a CSULB geography student and its encouragement of interdisciplinary collaboration.


International GIS Service Learning Exchange

Dr. Frank Gossette, in collaboration with his friend, Dr. Josef Strobl of the University of Austria, Salzburg, have conducted a unique International Coöperation in GIS course in the spring of 2002, the fall of 2003, and the spring of 2005. International student exchanges are a very desirable form of education, but, for many students at CSULB, the cost is prohibitive and spending a full semester or year abroad endangers the jobs on which they depend to work their way through school. Dr. Gossette came up with a way in which CSULB (and Austrian) students can have this wonderful and eye- opening experience on the cheap and in a time-frame most can handle.

The semesters in Salzburg and in Long Beach turned out to overlap substantially, but the CSULB semester started and ended a couple of weeks earlier than the Salzburg semester. So, Drs. Gossette and Strobl agreed essentially to co-teach a course in service learning for GIS students at their respective institutions. The Austrian students come to Long Beach for the first two weeks of the CSULB semester and stay in the homes of their American counterparts. The American and Austrian students then do a GIS project together, a pro bono custom mapping project (for the Aquarium of the Pacific in S/02). The Austrian students then departed to take the class from Dr. Strobl while the American students continued on in Dr. Gossette's class. At the end of the semester, Dr. Gossette withheld the CSULB students' final grades, so that they could go to Austria and stay with their counterparts and do a service-learning project (for the Austrian National Park Service in S/02). Each group of students, thus, gains a wonderful international exchange experience and gets to apply their GIS training on behalf of society -- and all they have to come up with was the air fare to the other country!

Drs. Gossette and Strobl, furthermore, involved the administration of the two campuses (Dr. Frank Fata, then Associate Dean, College of Liberal Arts, traveled to Austria to meet his counterparts). As a result, there is now a coöperative agreement between CSULB and Salzburg, such that students from each institution can now take classes at the other and have them count as courses in their own universities and just pay the regular fees they would have had they taken classes at home! This short-term international service- learning exchange has created an ongoing partnership between the two universities for those students who can somehow swing a semester overseas!

To learn more about future offerings of this course, please contact Dr. Gossette.


College of Liberal Arts Collaborative Research Award

Dr. Dmitrii Sidorov, together with Dr. Vlatka Velcic of the Department of Comparative Literatures and Classics and Dr. Caitlin Murdock of the Department of History, won a CLA Collaborative Research Award. This is a new initiative in the College of Liberal Arts, and its purpose is to get three different departments and faculty to collaborate on a research project that involves undergraduate students as researchers. The faculty team is to design a year-long seminar for the participating student researchers. Drs. Sidorov's, Velcic's, and Murdock's winning project is entitled, "Evolving Borderlands: Frontiers, Borders, and Boundaries in (post)- Soviet Eastern Europe." Only three awards were made in this inaugural year, and the Department of Geography is proud that a proposal submitted by one of its faculty earned an award, and we look forward to seeing this innovative research/teaching/service collaboration evolve over 2005-06.


Collaborative Web Reports

Dr. Chrys Rodrigue taught a new course in hazards assessment and risk management in Spring 2003. The course now appear in the catalogue as Geography 458/558 but was taught as Geography 497-01 in S/03. One of the assignments in the class was a team project to design informative web sites on four disasters: The St. Francis Dam Collapse of 1928, the Santa Ana River floods of 1862 and 1938, the Oakland Hills Firestorm of 1991, and the Koyna Dam Earthquake of 1967 in Maharashtra State in western India. The teams consisted of three students, except for the Koyna Dam project, which involved two graduate students. Each report covered the timeline of events in the disaster, the physical dynamics causing it, its human impacts, and the societal response to the disaster, and each report provided references for further information. More challenging for the students was an interinstitutional collaboration built into the assignments: Each team had to collaborate with six students in two cartography classes at California State University, Chico. The classes were taught by Professor Steven Stewart, who had as one of his class assignments the construction of maps for one of the CSULB class. The Long Beach students then selected the map that best met their needs and incorporated it into their web reports. One of the teams extended the collaboration to include a student in Dr. Judith Tyner's advanced cartography course, GEOG 484/584. The result of this intraclass and intercampus collaboration can be viewed at The Oakland Hills Firestorm project, furthermore, was presented by the student teams from the hazards and cartography courses at the Southern California Conference on Undergraduate Research, where it attracted the attention of a Los Angeles Times reporter, David Reyes, who wrote about it in an article entitled, "Rabbit diets were just for starters: More than 500 undergrads from 90 schools show research projects at UC Irvine" (Times, California section, 23 November 2003).


Learning Alliance and Beach Beginnings

A number of Geography faculty at CSULB have participated in the very innovative Learning Alliance and Beach Beginnings program. These are unusual programs that try to prepare often first-generation college students for their college education and increase student retention by creating a small liberal arts college experience within the vast CSULB campus. Learning Alliance participants go through their general education programs together. The GE classes are paired and their instructors work together to create a unified experience for the Learning Alliance students. For example, a world regional geography course could be paired with an English composition course. The instructors in the geography and English courses would collaborate, such that the English course would have writing assignments about the content of the geography course. The result is an intensely rewarding college experience comparable to what is sometimes experienced in a small liberal arts college, with much one-on-one student and faculty interaction, peer mentoring, and opportunities for students to form deep friendships. In Geography, the following faculty have taught Learning Alliance or Beach Beginnings courses: Drs. Dmitrii Sidorov, Vincent Del Casino, Unna Lassiter, , and Irisita Azary.


GIS over the Internet for Geography 100

Mr. Norm Carter has designed a number of activities for his Geography 100, World Regional Geography, course that incorporate GIS over the Internet. Specific modules include such basic geographic fundamentals as major world regions, global climate patterns, language and nationality in Europe, and colonial empires. Students develop proficiency in using the Internet for learning rather than just for leisure, and the Internet basis of these modules means that they are interactive learning tools that students can use as often as they want. The exercises also provide a "hands-on" introduction to GIS. To explore these activities, you are welcome to visit and click on "Internet Activities," or you can go directly to if your browser doesn't support frames. Mr. Carter queries his students each semester for feedback on the activities assigned, and the vast majority are very enthusiastic about both the interactive GIS activities and what they have learned. Mr. Carter offers these materials to any other faculty who would like to use them in their own classes (thanks!). You can reach him at or at (562) 985-5482.


Introductory Physical Geography on the Web

Dr. Chrys Rodrigue volunteered to create a completely web-based course for the Department of Geography (one not based on Beach Board but on her own HTML skills). The result was a section of Geography 140, introductory physical geography, that has been offered several semesters since Fall 2000. Converting dog-eared hand-written lecture notes into web pages turned out to be far more work than she had anticipated: Each lecture took from 25-45 hours to develop (manual retyping/formatting, doing graphics and scanning them for the web or finding appropriate images to link to, checking facts and figures and currency of concepts), and there were eventually 37 of them! The class still takes a lot of maintenance, however, because the links to other people's web pages often come up dead as they re-arrange their own web pages. Dr. Rodrigue anticipates eventually having to ask for copyright permission on these images, so that she can download them and install them permanently on her own web page. This is problematical, because no-one knows who holds copyright for many of the images on the web today -- there's no-one identifiable to ask! So, until then, the Geog. 140 lecture images entail links to others' computers and so trawling for dead links will remain a time- consuming chore. That said, the class is working quite well, and students (especially older working students) report appreciating its availability. It has become a resource for others, too: A Chico State student took the course a few years ago, with Dr. Eugenie Rovai handling the supervision and grading of Dr. Rodrigue's exams from afar! The current state of the course may be viewed at: Apologies for dead links! An assessment project comparing the online and lecture sections of the course was presented to the California Geographical Society in 2002 and is available at

To learn more about this course, please contact Dr. Rodrigue.


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Last revised: 02/27/07