GSA starts today!

Today is the first day of our new Gecomputation and Spatial Analysis (GSA) pathway on our undergraduate degree. Over the summer Jon Reades, Naru Shiode and I have been developing module material and today we (well, Jon and I) finally get to use it with our students. We provide a very brief overview of the pathway on the About page of this website, but I thought today is opportune moment to discuss it in a little more depth.

As highlighted in a recent report by the UK Economic and Social Research Council, human geography in the UK has been recognised for its conceptual innovation, but its current low levels of quantitative and technical training is of concern. For example, concerned with such low levels of training in quantitative methods, in a recent paper Ron Johnston and colleagues argued that the curricula of current undergraduate programmes in geography are failing to develop graduates that can “appreciate the underlying principles of quantitative analyses and their important role in the formation of an informed citizenry in data-driven, evidence-based policy societies”.

These societies are produced as digital technologies become pervasive throughout society and science. Global positioning system (GPS) technologies that allow the precise location of mobile devices on the Earth’s surface have become miniaturised and mainstream (e.g. in smart phones), generating geo-data not before available. Governments and other organisations are now opening up their digital databases on schools, crime, health and other public services for re-use and investigation by others (e.g., UK OpenData). Investigation of these (often) geo-referenced and large digital datasets requires computation to ensure patterns can be identified efficiently and in a reproducible manner. Put together, as Elvin Wyly recently discussed, the multiple aspects of this ‘big data’ digital revolution create new geographies and provide new means to explore and understand geography. Although an older concept, this has led to a resurgence in the idea of Geocomputation.

Recognising this issue, and in the context of the importance of the ‘big data’ revolution and the increasingly pervasive influence of computing devices outlined above, we set out to develop the GSA pathway. The pathway will enable students to develop the skills needed to undertake independent geographical inquiry using the latest datasets and computational tools, and to understand how they do and can shape the geographical world. Important for developing a curriculum in this context is acknowledging that the aim is not to produce computer programmers with no means of thinking critically about how their tools inform or change the geographical world, but to produce geographers that comprehend how new data and computational tools can be used to understand geography and that have the technical skills to use those tools.

Geography as a discipline has often had a critical or radical streak aiming to promote social change or combat oppression (e.g., see Antipode). If our future social and geographical world is to be based in-part on ‘data-driven evidence-based policy’ as Johnstone argues then Geography students at least need the basis of the technical skills and understanding to contribute to driving social change in that data and technology-driven world. A significant challenge for the GSA pathway then is the need for students to learn new skills such they are empowered to be able to employ computational techniques for data analysis.

This first module on the pathway, named simply Geocomputation, is foundational in that students will be learning skills and methods that they are unlikely to have encountered previously but which they will need if they are to continue to use understand the possibilities of (and use!) these new forms of data and technology in future. However, it is also important that whilst skills are learned the curriculum is not so narrow as to prevent curiosity about the geographical world or inhibit  the geographical imagination. Consequently, we’ll be pushing students to ‘learn by doing’ and take an inquiry-based learning approach – my own experience of learning computational skills shows that these skills are best acquired when using them to work towards answering some particular question.

We’re looking forward to putting this theory into practice. We start today but hope to continue learning through the process and will post updates here when we can…

New Students: Induction Impressions

King’s Water welcomed a new cohort of undergraduate geography and postgraduate Water: Science and Governance students to King’s College London last week. In this post, new King’s Water member Rebecca Peters reflects on her first week at King’s.

Induction week for the King’s College Water: Science and Governance MSc students began with Aquatic Science on Monday afternoon. In anticipation of several days of fieldwork in Preston Montford Field Studies Center next week, Dr. Mike Chadwick used our first class meeting for introductions and to show us the lab. My peers are all interesting people from around the world including Hong Kong and Canada with a range of water related interests, from WASH to environmental conservation. After weeks of communicating over our group webpage, meeting in person and putting personalities to names was great.
The rest of induction week included important sessions on campus resources, the student union, interfaith opportunities, sexual assault prevention, research centers, and the nuances of the Geography Department. Hearing from Dr. Nick Clifford, Head of Department, served as an excellent reminder of the status of KCL in the international research community and its highly ranked place among elite universities producing critical insights into environmental processes, climate change, and urban development.
My initial impressions of the Water MSc program, intimate with just twelve students, are informed by the broad backgrounds from which we each arrived at KCL. We include a coffee shop entrepreneur, several fresh out of undergrad Geography students interested in both environmental management and social aspects of water, a mid-career professional from Kazakhstan, and a couple of students passionate about watershed data collection. I see my peers all drawn to KCL’s unparalleled faculty, investment in postgraduate education and pedagogy, and ample opportunities for practical application of our academic studies.
Some meetings were program specific, but having the opportunity to speak with the other Physical Geography postgraduates demonstrated the diversity of students attracted to KCL. As we each introduced ourselves, some twenty countries and over sixty undergraduate degrees were represented. Geography is also one of the largest programs in the university and in the UK, which means ample opportunities to meet engaging people from a variety of experiences. Building community amongst ourselves over the year with this diversity is one of the facets of the program of which I am most looking forward.
To my pleasant surprise, administrative tasks during the week such as getting an ID and signing up for the gym were smoothly facilitated by the presence of friendly King’s staffers around main buildings. Having a peer who just finished his undergraduate degree at KCL for Geography in my program is also an advantage to navigate the wide-spread city campus, as well as to learn the best spots on and around campus for cheap eats and nice views (stay tuned on the blog for more on this!).
Overall, induction week was a fabulous welcome to KCL, the Geography Department, and the specifics of the MSc Water program. Getting to meet my peers, bonding over the frustration of figuring out Keats (the online class registration system), and wandering around the lab was a great start for the year to come. Looking forward to sharing more about this exciting year as it progresses!

About the Author
Rebecca Peters is a 2014 Marshall Scholar currently a Water Science and Governance MSc candidate at KCL. She recently completed an MSc in Poverty and Economic Development at the University of Manchester focused on land use change, water governance, and irrigated agriculture in South Africa. Her previous research in Bolivia and Mexico as a Berkeley Law Human Rights Fellow and Blum Center for Developing Economies Fellow included peri-urban water access and rural sanitation issues. In the future, she will dedicate her life to public service and academic leadership related to water justice.

Intrepid Explorers: sharing experiences and learning from field research

The work of PhD students Briony Turner, Faith Taylor, and Kate Baker in founding Intrepid Explorers has been highlighted on the Learning and Teaching Blog of the RGS-IBG Higher Education Research Group. Check out their reflection on presenting at the 2015 Annual International Conference in a session convened by King’s Water’s own Becca Farnum:

King’s Water at RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2015

Amiera Sawas - RGS 2015

Several students and staff from King’s Water, including Amiera Sawas, shared their work at the recent RGS-IBG Annual Conference in Exeter

King’s students and staff were well represented at the 2015 Annual Conference of the Royal Geographical Society, with King’s Water research presented in multiple sessions.

PhD student Becca Farnum’s work with the Kuwait Dive Team was highlighted in a session on “Geographies of the Deep”.
The hydro spiral, a participatory tool interrogating social-natural interactions around hydrological movements developed in partnership with the London Water Research Group and University of East Anglia’s Water Security Research Centre, was debated in a double session on water knowledges and discourses convened by ‘hydro-citizen’ researchers from the University of the West of England.
A morning panel on the last day of a conference considered both of the above King’s Water presentations, along with several others taking place in “Wet Geographies” sessions. PhD student Becca Farnum was asked to contribute reflections on the interaction between art, geography, and water in its various forms. Her contributions included the idea that not all water is wet – take, for example, the ‘virtual water’ theorised by King’s Water Professor Tony Allan.

Kate Baker - RGS HERG

King’s Water PhD Student Kate Baker tells the story of Intrepid Explorers during a session on university engagement

A session sponsored by the Higher Education Research Group exploring questions of university community engagement in sustainability included the work of Intrepid Explorers, presented by PhD researcher Kate Baker. Ongoing teaching work in Norfolk at the Holt Hall Outdoor Education and Learning Centre that involves PhD students like Dan Mills was also included as a successful case study of partnerships between education and enterprise.



Several King’s Water students joined the RGS Coastal and Marine Research Group for an informal dinner Thursday evening, talking informally with other researchers from around the world on issues of fisheries, offshore renewable energies, and water-based ecosystems.


Maria Rusca - RGS 2015

Maria Rusca from UNESCO-IHE is heading to King’s Geography Department this fall

The final afternoon of the conference included a session co-sponsored by King’s Geography and our partner institution UNESCO-IHE. King’s Water PhD student Amiera Sawas kicked things off with an overview of her doctoral research on water, sanitation, and hygiene in Pakistan. Maria Rusca, previously a Senior Lecturer in Water Governance at UNESCO-IHE who is now coming to the King’s Geography Department, introduced the technologies of water infrastructure systems in Lilongwe, Malawi, and examined how inequalities and poor public services co-produce each other. Klaas Schwartz, Associate Professor of Urban Water Governance at UNESCO-IHE, built on Maria’s presentation, exploring water users associations in Lilongwe and demonstrating the sad reality that the poorest and most disenfranchised people often pay the most for water. King’s Water Reader in Politics and Environment Daanish Mustafa spoke of how “water scarcity is a politically mediated reality”, especially in Jordan, while considering the politics of water users associations.

Daanish Mustafa - RGS 2015

King’s Water Professor Daanish Mustafa speaks on the politics of water user associations in the Jordan Valley