Spotlight on Interdisciplinary Initiative Grant Projects
"Heritage Map Design and Cultural Tourism: Real World Problem-Solving in Marion County, GA" Spring 2016
Dr. Amanda Rees, Professor, Department of History and Geography
Professor Chuck Lawson, Department of Art
With the soft opening of Pasaquan, Marion County's visionary art environment, in summer 2016, and its grand opening by Columbus State University in fall 2016, the Marion County Chamber of Commerce requested that the Columbus Community Geography Center partner to develop a heritage tour map of the county for welcome centers across the state. This small rural county of 8,700 residences, 60% white, 30% black and 7.5% Hispanic. One fifth of the population live below the poverty level. It recently lost several hundred jobs with the closure of the local chicken processing plant. Plans to launch a tourism program are understood to be of great importance to the community.
CSU's Dr. Amanda Rees, Professor of Geography, and Professor Chuck Lawson, Department of Art, College of the Arts joined forces to create a heritage tour map of Buena Vista and Marion County. Geography students ran a community workshop to identify twenty-one county and city heritage sites for inclusion. They researched and wrote short descriptions for the map and extended histories for an accompanying web page to be accessed from the map with a QR code. Students also produced an accurate map of each site and the major roads and other primary physical features of the county and city. Graphic design students then received the map text and GIS maps of the county and the city. Students designed three "roughs" of the map for external review. The first review included Marion County leaders, state tourism representatives, and several faculty in art, GIS and geography. The roughs were then refined and presented again to a group of reviewers.
This project proved to be a good fit for CSU's QEP "Real World Problems Solving" project in its testing phase in spring 2016. This interdisciplinary "service learning" project offered high impact educational practices, fieldwork, student-led heritage workshop in Marion County, critical feedback from community members on writing, and design. This interdisciplinary project was aligned with CSU's mission to support alternative pedagogical approaches to address the needs of millennial learners.
The process of discovering our "real world" problem had several phases as discovery never happens at once time. The following discovery process informed our classes:
- Marion County Chamber of Commerce Director, Debby Ford visited the Cultural Geography classroom along with the chair of the county's Tourism Committee Ginger Swint. Our visitors talked about the economic and cultural challenges their community faced in recognizing the heritage resources within the community as a possible economic ing, their focus on a plan to develop tourism in the county, and how a heritage tour map was the first step in their tourism plan.
- Both classes read the state tourism committee's report on Tourism in Marion County that identified the need for heritage tourism, and the audience for the heritage tourism map.
- Cultural geography students also welcomed the regional director of the Presidential Pathways tourism program and several state welcome center managers to talk about the role of heritage maps and shared several examples of maps for review.
- Both classes took a day-long field trip to Marion County. In the morning Ginger Swint a lifelong resident of the community took the students on a tour of some of the major county sites likely to be on the heritage map.
The design process involved developing sense of the audience, how to effectively engage with the audience, and critical feedback on the content (visual and textual) that asked each class to respond and modify content.
- Both Graphic Design and Cultural Geography students read the county tourism report that identified the map's primary audience (demographics): heritage tourists, decision-making by mid 20s to mid 40s women, high levels of tertiary education, a desire for authenticity. http://www.marketgeorgia.org/master/files/resources/582/GDEcD%20Tourism%20Resource%20Team%20Report%20-%20Marion%20County%20-%202014.pdf
- Through in-class discussion with visiting community leaders, students also learned that there was a second audience, internal to the county, who would be educated by the map about their own cultural resources.
- Georgia Department of Economic Development's tourism specialists met with students to talk about effective tourism map development, information for where maps will be placed in the state, and how to consider the primary audience. The same specialists were also part of the review team of both the "roughs" (when graphic design students first presented designs) and in the review of the final submissions.
- Text was assessed by community representatives separately from the design.
- Students helped to create an innovative method of holding public history workshops. Using maps to focus on community member's sense of locations that were important to the county's heritage, students were able to identify a series of major sites to be included in the process.
- Graphic design students pitched their three designed twice to a panel of reviewers (community leaders, Georgia tourism representatives, art and geography faculty). The graphic design students listened and then responded to the panel's comments.
- Cultural Geography students text for the map and the extended web page for each heritage site was shared with county leaders and the editing process lasted 4-5 weeks.
- Students reflected on the process using the QEP assignment.
- Cultural geography students prepared a large, final paper reflecting on the process and impact on their professional and personal lives.
- Both classes prepared a final one-two sentence reflection to share in a video of the process. These reflections were used to assess themes connected to impact.
- When designing a Real-World Problem solving project there is perhaps one more step to the process that we use in Community Geography and in Graphic Design: presenting the project to the community partner/client and sharing the response to the project.
- While the Graphic Design students were able to share their prototypes and final submissions with the jury for review and receive feedback, the Cultural Geography students were only able to meet with the community partners early on in the process. They did receive written feedback in the form of editorial comments electronically. So, the Director of the Marion County Chamber of Commerce Debby Ford sent a letter letting students responding to their work, and placing it in the larger context of the tourism plan for the county. She also extended an invitation to the Pasaquan open house in fall 2016.
At the end of the course we asked students in both courses to summarize their project experience in written form to be shared in a short video about the process. Their responses fell into six themes, with several responses reflecting more than one theme. Click here to read the students' summaries.
- Exercising Disciplinary Knowledge and Skills
- Community, Connection, and Belonging
- Discovery Process
- Engaging Multiple Perspectives
- Team Work
- Real World Experience
- Working with Dr. Rees on this difficult, yet rewarding project was invigorating. Her experience in the field of geography and cultural heritage was extremely useful. Her connection with the various constituencies (Marion County leadership and Georgia Tourism folks) was another important aspect of the project. Her class was jovial, timely and focused. Dr. Rees also had superior skills in bringing together other colleagues with expertise in these fields.
- Most important to this entire process was that my students gained knowledge in critical thinking and real world problem solving. They had to work with mapping and cartography and had no prior experience. Two of the three groups used Ortellius software that was specifically purchased for this project. I found the students to be autodidactic when problems of software were concerned.
- This project was difficult. The experience echoes that of collaborative work and dealing with a large client base and many avenues of input. I truly believe that these students are better prepared to deal with actual clients after this immersive experience.
- I have found a great, patient colleague in Chuck Lawson. He is committed to supporting his students in creating engaging visual representations. Geography is ultimately a very visual discipline, from looking at the cultural landscape and working to interpret space in a creative manner for the tourists (the focus of our class) to the art of cartography. Working with Chuck has allowed me and my students to produce a very professional looking and engaging map for our community partners. It has certainly enriched my student's experience as they saw the evolution of a publishable map with their text content.
- The class developed a new method of engaging community members in identifying important heritage sites and this will form the basis of one of the cultural geography student's conference posters in fall 2016.
- The theme of authenticity shaped a lot of the student's work and it was exciting to explore this theme as it is presently impacting a book-length manuscript I'm writing on tourism.
- If I was planning this again I would make sure that Chuck's and my classes overlapped as it would have been profitable to have students meet directly at several points in the process. Instead Chuck and I visited each others classes to give updates, provide feedback and give input into each others parts of the project.