Students in Scott Lussier’s Virtual Global Trekking class feel as if they have the whole world at their fingertips.
And in a very real way they do.
Students click once on the classroom computers and they’re exploring the Highlands of Scotland. Two clicks and they are in the South Asian nation of Bhutan, famed for its high Himalayan peaks and lush subtropical plains. Click again and they’re in Egypt, exploring the Nile River, while another click brings them inside the British Museum for an up-close look at its world-renowned collections.
Extensive use of Google Earth is “a great way to teach about cultures and traditions across a variety of nations,” said Lussier, a practitioner in residence at Suffolk’s Center for Urban Ecology and Sustainability whose specialty is geographic information systems.
Virtual Global Trekking puts an emphasis on how “one’s location dictates your creative thoughts,” said Lussier. “Getting away and viewing how other people live often changes your perspective and helps you to gain new insights.”
The students come from across the United States and from overseas. Their varied national origins add another global dimension to the class, which fulfills the undergraduate Creativity and Innovation requirement, which draws on “a movement in higher education where collaboration and creative thinking are being taught--not to seniors, but to freshmen,” said Professor and Theatre Department Chair Marilyn Plotkins.
Topics sometimes hit home
And in turn, “everyone is learning quite a bit from our international students,” said Lussier.
Alexis Shaftel of West Long Branch, New Jersey, a shoreline community that sustained significant damage from Tropical Storm Sandy a few years ago, knows from experience the power of wind and water in a coastal area and the role geography plays.
“I like the way Google Earth has been creatively incorporated into the course,” said Shaftel, a Management major. “It really widens your view of the world when you see the geographical features on the screen. I’ve always liked traveling in the U.S. This course makes me want to travel internationally.”
Lussier uses freewriting as one way to spur creativity. In a typical freewriting exercise, students might be given the start of a statement such as “I remember when I was a child I…” and then be asked to complete the assignment around that theme, spending five to 10 minutes using pen and paper to write down whatever comes to mind. At other times, the assignment is entirely open-ended, without a starter theme statement.
“It can really get your creative juices flowing,” said Lussier.” It’s a way to get your ideas on a piece of paper. The idea is you never stop writing during the session.”
Mapping the familiar & the aspirational
The students also learn how to navigate, how to fly around the earth, and how to add pinpoints and their own photographs. “I’ll have them map out their hometowns and their dream vacations,” said Lussier.
That had special appeal for Rashida Sesay, a Sociology major who combined her knowledge of Google Earth and skills developed through freewriting assignments to plan out a weekend trip to her hometown of Raynham, Mass.
“I really liked mapping my hometown,” she said. “In the freewriting assignment we could write about anything; I would write about one topic and that topic would connect with another topic.”
Combining assigned homework readings with Google Earth classroom sessions proved illuminating.
“We do the readings, and then when we come to class we actually see how the people live in that community. Using Google Earth we can actually see the infrastructure of buildings,” said Aryeetey. “It opens our minds.”
A typical assignment might be to read a piece in The Best Travel Writing 2015 and then follow up with class discussion and a customized version of the author’s trip put together by Lussier using Google Earth.
“It allows you to virtually experience all the geographical components of the places mentioned in the story,” said Lussier. “It adds context to the piece. It enhances the reading tremendously.”
The course had its genesis when Plotkiins suggested to Lussier that his interest in travel and his knowledge of maps and computer programs might make for a stimulating course.
“I’ve always been a traveler,” said Lussier, who spent time studying overseas during his own student days. “Plus I love maps. Give me an atlas and I’ll spend an entire afternoon with it.”
Lussier hopes his class will inspire students to further broaden their worldviews while at the University.
“We have a very good study abroad program here at Suffolk,” he said. “It’s my hope that as many students as possible will avail themselves of the opportunities offered to them through that office.”