The Importance of Training to Internet-Based Geography Courses:

A Case Study at Texas A&M University-Kingsville

By Michael Andrew McAdams and Victoria Lynn Packard


"There has to be a dialog mechanism in which an individual can engage in a discussion with others to improve their understanding and to enhance their confidence. Effective learning can only be deemed to have taken place when the student can communicate accurately and with confidence." (Thomas 1997,138)

There is a wealth of regional geography, Geographic Information System (GIS), cartography, and Remote Sensing information on the Internet today. Many geography instructors are developing Internet-based courses, which are utilizing the existing material, and are often creating original material for their courses. In advanced courses, instructors are requiring student projects on the web. What is often forgotten is that all students do not have the same level of computer or Internet skills. Therefore, even though the instructor may have a well-designed Internet-based course and have excellent links to other sites, it may be ineffective if there is inadequate student training. As a result of this lack of skill, training is necessary to use the current technology in an efficient manner within Geography.

The authors developed a training program to acclimate students to Internet-assisted geography courses and geography related web based materials. This program was developed because they found that you can not teach geography effectively today if you do not use the Internet and you can not use the Internet if the students are not trained properly. In many areas of Geography, particularly Remote Sensing, GIS, and Cartography, students have to be adept with not only computers, but also the Internet.

History of Development of Internet Elements in Geography Courses

The process of introducing the Internet in geography courses at Texas A&M University-Kingsville (TAMUK) was a gradual and incremental process. In the fall of 1997, Dr. McAdams introduced the Internet into his classroom. The first semester Internet components consisted of an online syllabus for both a World Geography and a Computer Cartography class. The syllabi were also distributed in paper form. The student's interaction with the web was minimal . 

Ms. Packard was already conducting classes for the library concerning the Internet and had specialties in Government Documents and Maps. She developed a program particularly tailored to geography students introducing them to geographical websites or those that have significant geographically related content (i.e., Federal Government Sites, Texas Government Sites, Cartographic/Geographic Sites, Gazetteers, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) sites.

In the spring of 1998, the first training session for world geography was conducted. At the same time, the Internet was introduced into Dr. McAdams’ advanced GIS classes. Internet training concerning e-mail, listservs, threaded newsgroups, basic and advance Internet searching with emphasis on Geography and GIS. The students who completed the surveys had the same demographics and were taught the same program. This allowed us to use the same survey for all groups.

In the summer of 1998, the World and Regional Geography course was taught as an Internet course. The course included online notes, online exercises, online grades, chat rooms, threaded newsgroups.  The course could be taken entirely via the Internet

In the fall of 1998, the World and Regional Geography courses were fully operational Internet-assisted courses using the material that was developed in the summer of 1998. This included an Internet connection in all instructional classrooms. The Internet and computer-based software (i.e. Encarta Virtual Globe) became the sole teaching aid, replacing overheads, class notes, and maps. Students were expected to do the following: use e-mail, download online class notes, participate in threaded newsgroups, submit online exercises and use online preliminary examinations for review. The students were encouraged to use the Internet for all aspects of the class and extra credit was given for additional Internet training. For further information, go to the homepage of Dr. McAdams ( and .)


In the spring of 1999, all the components of the Internet were still being used with the exception of the use of the chatroomIn the advanced courses of GIS, Computer Cartography, and Remote Sensing, students were expected to create project web pages and access data from the Internet. Without training, these elements of the class would have been overwhelming for the majority of the students. We found that computer literacy cannot be compared to Internet research skills.

In the fall of 1999, the threaded newsgroups were expanded so the students responded to the topic and then critically commented on other students’ postings. Prior to this expansion the students were responding to topics and not reading other student’s postings.

In the spring of 2000, the course was taught by another instructor and a teaching assistant who had previously worked with Dr. McAdams and Ms. Packard, the Internet trainer and developer of the library portion of the program. Even though; the instructor had not used the Internet in the classroom before, there was a minimum of difficulty. 

 The elements of the course vary in terms of the type of skills necessary for success. The World and Regional Geography course required online exercises, threaded newsgroups, and online notes in addition to e-mail and group e-mail. In the advanced courses of GIS, Computer Cartography, and Remote Sensing students were expected to access links related to the week’s topics, submit take-home examinations via e-mail and construct a web page in accordance with the individual project assigned to the class.


Student Evaluation of Internet Training 


In fall of 1998 and fall of 1999, evaluation surveys were administered in the World Geography class to determine the effectiveness of the Internet training. The age groups represented in both survey periods had a majority of students between seventeen (17) and twenty-five (25) years. of age. The distribution of freshmen to seniors was also fairly uniform in both (See Figure 1: Demographics of Classes.) In the fall of 1999, the students reflected a greater knowledge of the Internet than the students surveyed in the fall of 1998.In their case, it appears that the jump to an Internet-assisted class was not as difficult as in the previous years (See Figure 2: Knowledge of Internet.) In both surveys, students reacted positively to the training. In the fall of 1999, sixty percent and fall 1998 forty-five percent rated the training "useful." The highest evaluation ratings were given to the ability to communicate with the professor via e-mail, threaded newsgroups, and online examinations (See Figure 3: Evaluation of Internet Elements of Course.) These surveys are an indication of Internet training. The surveys focused on the effectiveness of training in conjunction with Internet competency and research skills. The knowledge that students gained from training was the primary focus for the surveys regarding the effective use the Internet for World Geography and GIS. 


The following are some overall recommendations for developing Internet training for geography courses based on our experience: 

1. Require all students to attend a mandatory Internet session developed for a specific course.

Don’t assume all your students have the necessary Internet skills. We found that students with advanced Internet experience still required further training in search strategies and research skills. 


2. Realize that there will be an adjustment period.


3. Be specific about the content that is included in the introduction session.
If the class is composed of Internet novices, basic training techniques are required. If the professor is teaching a topic such as economic geography, the trainer should cover links related to that subject.


4. Have an instructor/staff member who has experience in Internet training teach the introductory session.

You may know your particular course material and be familiar with the Internet, but not be able to effectively train students on Internet basics.

5. Change the content of the training classes based on the particular tasks for that semester.

Each semester, you will find elements that need to be added or removed. Consult with your trainer prior to the session about these concerns.


6. Add elements of the Internet incrementally to your course. 

Some elements may work well and others will not. You may want to start off with an online syllabus and requiring e-mail addresses for all students. Later, you may want to add more advanced Internet tasks, as you get more comfortable with using it in the classroom.



Teaching a class using the Internet is very time consuming and intensive. Links must be updated, lecture notes, class syllabi, threaded news groups, and other mail services take an enormous amount of time to develop and can be quickly become outdated and rendered useless

The Internet is a rich source of information that naturally lends itself to the teaching of world geography, GIS, Remote Sensing, and cartography.

Training is the most essential element in making sure that your students are able to take advantage of the material on your web page or the assigned Internet related tasks. Future Internet training will probably concentrate on using the Internet for geographical research.  With Internet and computer skills being taught in junior and high schools, the class will be constantly evolving.


The Internet is transforming education and leading it into an entirely new direction. It will never replace the personal contact of the classroom but will be a powerful enhancement tool. The professor in this environment becomes more of a guide, leading the students to material and being available to share his or her knowledge to help the student with the material in any geographic location.


Aangeenbrug, R.T., and J.D. Althausen. 1998. Web access opens GIS. GISWorld 11:58-60.


Benyon, D., Stone, D., and M. Woodroffe. 1997. Experience with developing multimedia courseware for the World Wide Web: the need for better tools and clear pedagogy. International Journal of Human - Computer Studies 47:197-218.
Bishop, M.P., J.F. Shroder Jr., and T.K. Moore. 1995. Integration of computer technology and interactive learning in geographic education. Journal of Geography in higher education 19:97-109.


Bork, A., and D.R. Britton Jr. 1998. The web is not yet suitable for learning. Computer Magazine 31:115-116.
Butler, J.C. 1995. An introduction to geoscience education resources on the Internet. Computers & Geosciences 21:817-824.

Krieger, J. 1996. Virtual office hours project links students, professors at UCLA. Computers & Engineering 25:37-38.


Lamberson, M.N., M. Johnson, M.L. Bevier, and J.K. Russell. 1997.Insights on WWW-based geoscience teaching: climbing the first year learning cliff. Computers & Geosciences 23:533-548.


Leach, J.A. . Distinguishing characteristics among exemplary trainers in business and industry.

Maki, W.S., and R.H. Maki. 1997. Learning without lectures: a case study. Computer Magazine 30:107-108.

Research committee, Library Instruction Round Table. 1996. Evaluating library instruction: sample questions, forms, and strategies for practical use, D.D. Shonrock ed. Chicago, Illinois: American Library Association


Robin, B.R. and S.G. McNeil. 1997. Creating a course-based web site in a university environment. Computers & Geosciences 23:563-572.

Thomas, P. 1997. Teaching over the Internet: the future. Computing &Control Engineering Journal 8:136-142.

Weimer Ph.D., M., J.L. Parrett Ph.D., and M.M. Kerns M.S. 1988. How am I teaching? Forms and activities for acquiring instructional input. Madison, Wisconsin: Magna Publications, Inc.