In January of 2015 the Department of Geography contacted the current undergraduate community as well as the previous four cohorts of Geography alumni to request their participation in a survey regarding several aspects of the Department. In total, 1247 people were invited to participate in the survey. From this, 87 current undergraduates and 67 alumni responded, for a total of 154 respondents, or roughly a 12% response rate (18% response rate for current students, 9% for alumni). In general, survey participants were very positive about the Department and their respective programs; however, the qualitative results balanced with the quantitative data demonstrate areas in need of strengthening.
The biggest area of concern that was brought forward in the survey is in relation to courses. Participants identified that the largest barrier to their success within the Department’s control is course availability. Specifically, participants noted that a lack of summer course offerings and lack of online courses made doing their degree more difficult. Another prominent issue in relation to courses and coursework gleaned from the data was a sense that courses do not provide practical or technical skills, or were not ‘career oriented’. There was an identified need for more GIS and Cartography courses, as well as a call for more critical content and greater engagement with geographic areas and concepts outside of North America or beyond a Euro-centric perspective.
The Survey committee discussed the possibility of providing more and/or larger courses throughout the year that cover a wider range of topics and theoretical perspectives. There was also discussion of making more explicit the practical and technical skills that are already being offered in courses or for an effort to provide more practical assignments. The idea of a capstone course also figured prominently in the committee discussion as a way of bringing degree programs together and connecting the classroom to the outside world in a practical way. The other main area of concern was the overall condition of the Geography building and a lack of quiet space in which to do work. With regard to the condition of the building, this cannot be improved without the noise associated with renovations. Thus, addressing one concern aggravates another. Furthermore, there are budgetary constraints to improving the physical structure. In terms of providing a quiet space for undergraduate work, the committee discussed the possibility of the Geography Student Association (GSA) approaching the Geography Graduate Association (GGA) to determine if an arrangement could be made to allow undergraduate access to the Ross Mackay Lounge as a quiet space to do work. This would be contingent on the GGA having no other plans for the space.
In April of 2015, Dr Marwan Hassan met with members of the Undergrad Survey Subcommittee and the Geography Students Association (GSA). In this meeting, possible next-steps were discussed for both the Department and the GSA to undertake in order to move towards rectifying some of the issues raised in the survey.