Western Michigan University

Pure Michigan, Pure Mallinson: Bringing Science Education to Great Lakes Tourism

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Joe Lane, Mallinson Institute for Science Education
Joe Lane, Mallinson Institute for Science Education

Joseph Lane, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Mallinson Institute for Science Education, is dedicated to bringing together science education and tourism in Michigan. His research and dissertation focus on informal geographic education, specifically, exploring how science and geographic information could potentially be integrated into existing guided tours around the Great Lakes. For his dissertation, he is working with two touring companies — the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association and Shepler’s Mackinac Ferry. Typically, these cruises offer historical tours of the offshore lighthouses and areas around Mackinac Island and St. Helena Island, usually carrying 100 people per 3-hour trip, and providing narration by trained educational tour guides. Joe has been working with the tours to collect data about how science education could be incorporated into these already popular tours. This kind of informal education could have wide effects, as these particular tours usually attract several thousand people per year, and his research would certainly be relevant to these kinds of historical tours all around the country.

Joe’s interest in the integration of science education and tourism grew out of his previous history as a volunteer tour guide on St. Helena Island, as well as his desire to be an educator. Originally intending to teach geography, Joe came to the Mallinson Institute because he wanted a more interdisciplinary program — something that would allow him to teach a variety of courses in scientific fields. The MISE Ph.D. also requires an “early research” project, so Joe drew on his history with the St. Helena Island tour and his interest in Great Lakes education to develop his project. He credits his advisor, Dr. Joseph Stoltman (Distinguished Professor in the Department of Geography and MISE), as being a major influence on the direction of his program and for helping him turn good ideas into research.

Photo credit: Joseph Lane
Photo credit: Joseph Lane

Joe’s work has had an excellent reception from audiences in academia and in the tourism industry. Recently, he has presented at several conferences, including The Great Lakes Place Based Education Conference (GVSU, Grand Rapids) and the East Lakes and West Lakes Division of the Association of American Geographers conference (WMU, Kalamazoo). “Informal and nonformal scientific education,” says Joe, “is a new and expanding field, and there’s a lot of interest in this approach to teaching. And we’re getting faculty from different backgrounds to relate to each others’ research… people see this as cool stuff!” Following his presentations to academic audiences, Joe has authored or co-authored several papers in peer-reviewed journals, including “An Exploratory Qualitative Study of Anthropogenic Climate Change Skeptics’ Messages on YouTube” (2014), published in GSA Annual Meeting Abstracts,[1] and “What Supports or Promotes the Development of Geographic Knowledge, Skills, and Practices?: Pedagogy and Research Priorities to Improve Geography Teaching and Learning at the K-12 Level” (2013), in Research in Geographic Education.[2] His work is getting good reviews outside of the academy, as well — “I’m seeing a lot of enthusiasm from tour guides,” he reports. “They’re as excited as I am about these kinds of partnerships!”

Though working toward the end of his doctoral program, Joe reflects that he’s had a very good experience in the Mallinson Institute for Science Education (MISE) and in the Department of Geography. “It’s a place I’ve enjoyed being, and it feels as though I’m meant to be here. I’ve had a very rewarding experience where I’m not alone. These departments have been so supportive of me over the years. It’s just a continual expression of support.”

— Ilse Schweitzer VanDonkelaar, WMU Graduate College

[1] Bentley, A.P.K., Jones, J., Lane, J., Petcovic, H., (2014). An exploratory qualitative study of anthropogenic climate change skeptics’ messages on YouTube. GSA Annual Meeting Abstracts With Programs, Vancouver, British Columbia, v. 46, p. 601.

[2] Battersby, S.E.; Mohan, A.; Cooper, C.W.; Curtis, M.; Lane, J.; Tabor, L.K.; Wessel, J. (2013). What Supports or Promotes the Development of Geographic Knowledge, Skills, and Practices?: Pedagogy and Research Priorities to Improve Geography Teaching and Learning at the K-12 Level. Research in Geographic Education. Vol 15. No. 2. The Gilber M. Grosvenor Center for Geographic Education.