This week I had a meeting regarding one of the units I tutor for. The class isn’t until second semester, but the new unit coordinator is enthusiastic and can’t wait to get things moving so the class can be updated, improved, organised and all things amazing.
But there’s a problem. I’m kind of over the unit.
It’s not that I don’t like the content, in fact I LOVE the content. The problem is that I have been involved with this unit for too long. I started my involvement with this unit over a decade ago as it was my first human geography unit way back in 2004. It was, in fact, the unit that made me decide to do a major in human geography.
I had never really been able to pinpoint where my interests lay in terms of a discipline area. The last time I took geography was in year nine, and it seemed to be involved entirely in drawing and memorising maps (a sub-discipline of geography I would later find out is called cartography). We did some work on physical geography – cloud patterns and different streamflow shapes – but we didn’t really do human geography. We didn’t look at the intersection between growth in populations and resource consumption, or the link between development and demographic change. We didn’t look at environmental policy, planning or practices and all the things that I came to understand were part of human geography.
Then I took what was then called Dynamic Planet: Human Perspectives. Here was everything I had always found interesting and important! Here was where I could battle with people about the ethics of population control (I had been terrified at the thought of 6 billion people in high school – ha!). I could learn more about national and international environmental conventions, and how human activity changed the land, sea and air.
But the passion isn’t quite there anymore. And there’s one clear reason for it. There’s only so many times you can say something on repeat before it starts losing all meaning. And after taking the course in 2004 and then teaching it in 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, I’m just a little bit too close to the material. I’ve stopped checking my references before class. I’ve stopped reading the news for stories that I could relate to the reading material. I’ve stopped wanting to engage with my students and instead run through some kind of formula with them. I’ve rote-learnt my classes just as students rote learn for exams. And it benefits no one.
My supervisor previously coordinated the unit and expressed similar feelings to me about his role. This was exacerbated with the massive drop in students attending lectures, from 80-90% when I took the class in 2004 to approximate 10-15% in 2015. Students wanted to go online, but the course wasn’t there yet.
My reduced enthusiasm, as well as the reduced enthusiasm of my supervisor, has me worried about a potential career in academia. If I was bored with content after what was really only a few years, how would I feel about carving out a niche and sticking to it for the rest of my life? And how would I adjust to a group of students who are less engaged in person than I was used to?
Luckily, help is available. By engaging with the online and in-person communities of academics experimenting with ways to mix things up in the classroom, universities will (hopefully) be able to engage students in these important topics (even, dare I say it, outside of human geography!) for years to come. And hopefully technology will mean that academics can hit ‘resend’ on content that doesn’t need to be fresh each year and devote themselves to providing fresh new case studies for everyone’s enjoyment, including their own!