Geography Learning Objectives and Outcomes Project (G-LOOP)
Learning Objectives Overview: Economic Geography
December 2000 -


Quick Index:

  1. General & Overarching Program Objectives for Economic Geography
  2. Specific Learning Objectives with Learning Outcomes
    1. Location and Spatial Organization [Theoretical Understanding]
    2. Regional Economic & Market Area Analysis [Analytical Skills]
    3. Spatial Interaction [Theoretical Understanding and Analytical Skills]
    4. Regional Economic Development, Technology and Local Labor Markets [Theoretical Understanding]
    5. Professional Technical Skills
    6. Resource Skills
    7. Research Competence
    8. Projects & Collaboration
    9. Interdisciplinary & Holistic Perspectives

    The following peripheral sections have been deactivated to avoid any and all misunderstandings. [Readers interested in these sections should click here.]

III. General Content and Structure of the Program
IV. Process of Achieving the Program's Learning Objectives and Outcomes
V. Course-Specific Learning Objectives and Outcomes
VI. Students' Jobs and Careers after Graduation
VII. History and Background of the Program
VIII. Bibliography

  1. General & Overarching Program Objectives for Economic Geography

    We hope that students approach the program with questions about how economic actors (workers, consumers, governments, firms) and systems (subsistence, collectivist, capitalist) create and make use of resources (including physical infrastructure, social institutions, and human resources) that differ across places.

    Thus, we hope that students complete the Economic Geography program with the ability to:

    1. Merge and exploit the unique qualities and advantages of the "economic" and the "geographic" perspectives within the social sciences, particularly the rich tradition of abstraction and rigor in thought processes in Economics and the insights about how society organizes itself in space across different scales and spatial resolutions in Geography. This includes the ability to:
      • Identify the shortcomings and dangers of writings and analyses that ignore geographic relationships.
      • Appreciate the relationships between "economic" and other phenomena.

    2. Isolate and conceptualize variables, distinguish (for analytical purposes) between dependent and independent variables, search the fields of geography and economics, and where appropriate, other disciplines, for models suited to interrelate these variables.

    3. Develop hypotheses, select and evaluate analytical methods and data sources and generate empirical evidence and insights related to Economic Geography. This includes the ability to
      • Think analytically about the location of economic activities, the circulation of information and materials, and the development of regional economies.
      • Explain selected aspects of the location of economic actors, their interaction across places, and the growth and change of regional economies;
      • Demonstrate an understanding of the nature of deductive models that use simplifying assumptions to relate measurable variables (distance from a point of maximum accessibility; size of local economies; capital and labor resources) to measurable outcomes (rent levels; trade flows between regions; economic growth).
      • Demonstrate a familiarity with some inductive models or frameworks that reflect regularities that researchers have found in regional development processes, corporate decision-making, workers' migration, etc.
      • Acknowledge that all models are context-dependent, and, thus, recognize the limitations of specific models and frameworks.
      • Demonstrate an understanding of the nature and role of the behavioral and institutional assumptions of traditional, neoclassical models of land use, location, spatial interaction, and economic growth.
      • Demonstrate an understanding of
        • How economic geographers have developed new models in the past and
        • The limitations of such models.

    4. Demonstrate an ability to interpret economic and socio-economic realities, ask critical questions, apply deductive reasoning skills and suggest actions and solution to problems.

    5. Conduct research using relevant information.

    6. Critique constructively the basis and conclusions of statements about economic activity.

  2. Specific Learning Objectives with Learning Outcomes

    1. Location & Spatial Organization: Gaining an Understanding of Locational Explanations and Acquiring Location-Analytical Skills:

      Our program in Economic Geography is structured on the basis of the distinction between
      1. explanations of locational behavior and resulting spatial structures
      2. analysis of economic phenomena and processes within and between regions
      3. behaviors, patterns and processes of spatial interaction
      4. explanations of processes of regional economic development
      There are other categorizations presently used for the programmatic organization of content. Among these, the distinction between micro- and macroeconomic perspectives and approaches is particularly important due to the pervasive reliance on economic concepts, principles and tools in our program.

      In this context of microeconomic, location-theoretical approaches to the spatial organization of the economy, students completing our program could be asked and should be able to

      • Explain the fundamental forces which differentiate economic activities in space, and recognize the way in which these forces interact in realty: distance (costs) and scale (economies), land-intensity of activities and accessibility, agglomeration and neighborhood effects, considerations of "place" and "locality", historical inertia, etc.
      • Recall, explain and actually use in (provide examples for) geographic contexts a few fundamental microeconomic concepts (such as):
        1. Opportunity costs (next best use) of resources
        2. Principle of comparative advantage (what a person, organization [corporation etc.], city, region, nation etc. does relatively cheaper, faster, better than it does other things)
        3. Principles associated with "marginal analysis" (the analytical approach which stresses importance of the margins of an activity: what happens to the costs, benefits [utility, profits] or combination of substitutable facets or activities as incremental changes are made to an independent variable e.g. in search of an equilibrium [a maximum, minimum or optimum]).
      • Demonstrate an understanding of the nature of deductive models that use simplifying assumptions to relate measurable variables (distance from a point of maximum accessibility; size of local economies; capital and labor resources) to measurable outcomes (rent levels; trade flows between regions; economic growth).
      • Interrelate "spatial variables" with (what has traditionally been considered) non-spatial facets.

    2. Regional or Market-area Analysis: Gaining Analytical Skills in a Regional Context

      Here, economic phenomena are grouped in "regions" serving as "analytical containers". Concepts and tools are the same or similar to those employed in macroeconomics.

      At the end of their studies, our students could be asked and should be able to

      • Recall the attributes and trace some of the interdepencencies and processes related to the "inner-workings" of regional economies.
      • Explain the importance of "basic" and "non-basic" actors and components of the regional economy and the relationships between the two.
      • Identify the assumptions and shortcomings/caveats associated with specific types of economic base analyses.
      • Explain why regional economic analysts are interested in economic developments outside their focal region and identify how such developments can be theoretically and analytically tied to developments within the region.
      • Recall, demonstrate an understanding of and apply principles underlying the aggregation and disaggregation of data categories, involving regionalization, categories of industrial sectors, employment categories, job skills, socio-economic and socio-demographic groupings, and other "containers" for the analysis of economic data in geographic contexts.
      • Explain the different roles of regional economic analyses using insights related to
        1. the composition of a regional economy and changes in such composition (of firms, industries, employment sectors, occupational categories, etc., as, for example in location quotient- or in shift-share analyses) and
        2. the interdependencies within and between industrial sectors and regional economies (as in flow analysis and input-output)
      • On this basis of this understanding, students should then be able to draw inferences from knowing "what is where" to suggesting "which region is likely to interact with which other region" and "which region will develop faster than which other region."

    3. Spatial Interaction: Gaining an Understanding of the Causes and Consequences of Trade, Transportation, Migration, and Communication

      Our late colleague, Edward L. Ullman defined geography in explicitly functional terms as the study of "spatial interaction". However, it is not only this tradition, but, more importantly, the trade, transportation, migration and communication environments we are living in, particularly here in the Pacific Northwest, which remind us of geographers' responsibility to contribute to society's understanding of processes of spatial interaction and circulation.

      Thus, at the end of their studies, our students could be asked and should be able to demonstrate their understanding

      • of the underpinnings of economic movements and exchanges in space.
        1. How do information processes, behavioral variables and decisions affect interaction
        2. Patterns of interaction
        3. Impacts and implications of interaction

      • as to how
        1. transportation and commuting
        2. interregional & international trade and capital flows
        3. in- and outmigration
        4. telecommunications
        are affected by and affect local, regional and national economies as well as international economic relations.

      • how these different forms of interaction interrelate, i.e.
        1. Complement each other. For example
          1. Migration initiated by and resulting in information flows (possibly leading to cumulative processes)
          2. Telecommunication messages preceding, concurring with and following the flow of transported goods as part of a trading activity.
        2. Are substitutes for each other, as they are, for example,
          1. when commuters switch to patterns of partial tele- commuting, or when
          2. businessmen alternate between physical meetings and tele-conferences.
      • as to how
        1. past interaction patterns (e.g. former colonial ties in present trade)
        2. socio-economic conditions and relations affect the formation of interaction network (ethnic or gender based information networks used for securing jobs)
        3. existing segregated residential location patterns or other forms of localization may lead to spatial mismatches and inefficient patterns of interaction or may prevent interaction (e.g. between central city dwellers and suburban job opportunities)

    4. The study of "Regional Economic Development": Gaining an Understanding of Why (and How) some Regions Grow While Others Stagnate or Decline and Why (and How) Regional Growth is Associated with Intra-Regional Differentiation and Inequality.

      Regional economic development has become a field of inquiry where many of the facets of location, economic, spatial and social interdependence and geographers' understanding of "time" and "change" intersect. Geographers, or so it seems, have often an easier time to bridge the gaps between microeconomic and macroeconomic, behavioral and structural, and between deductive and inductive perspectives and approaches due to the confluence of these perspectives at the "local" or "small-area" level. Here the small size together with the internal complexity of the aggregates frequently necessitate the explicit recognition of behavioral, organizational or institutional facets as well as an eclectic approach to learning and critical inquiry.

      Thus, our students could be asked and should be able to

      • Demonstrate their understanding of the relationships between locational, interactional and macroeconomic phenomena in the context of the study of regional economic development; for example,
        • How do the location decisions of individual firms affect economic well-being in regions through changing access to employment opportunities and changing structure of multiplier processes and economic linkage systems?
        • How is the knowledge of new technologies diffused through space and how does the geographical differentiation of innovation affect local economies and groups within such economies?
        • How do organizational structures and processes of organizational change (mergers, alliances) affect the spatial distribution of employment opportunities (by skills, gender etc.)
        • How does local or national regulation of production or labor affect the location of production or people?

    5. Acquiring Professional Technical Skills:

      The faculty who are primarily facilitating the program in Economic Geography recognize the supreme importance of technical skills for today's graduates.

      Thus, in addition to acquiring basic understanding and skills in the following three areas, students are given the opportunity to deepen their competence in any one or a combination of these skills areas. Thus, graduating students could be asked or should be able to

      1. Describe the general nature and demonstrate the application of one or more methods of quantitative regional and/or spatial analysis
      2. Demonstrate a general understanding of the use of GIS methods to spatial-economic problems, such as in market area analysis or marketing.
      3. Demonstrate a general understanding of alternative methods (and the competence to apply selected methods) of communication and presentation of intellectual ideas and practical projects and the usefulness and importance of such methods in processes of student (and "life-long") learning as well as in and among economic activities.

    6. Acquiring Resource Skills:

      Economic Geography has traditionally been a resource and information dependent discipline. Today's vastly improved access to important secondary information is increasingly shifting the resource focus toward selection, evaluation, and creative use of secondary information as well as imaginative search for new types of primary information.

      Thus, our students upon completion of their studies could be asked and should be able to

      • Explain the reasons for and difficulties of primary information collection.
      • Explain how case studies of people, places, or organizations can be compiled as a useful basis for research.
      • Demonstrate a critical awareness of secondary information sources that permit comparisons of economic activities across places.
      • Demonstrate an ability to trace the original sources as well as to assess shortcomings (and their analytical consequences) of each data source.
      • Demonstrate an ability to compare and assess the consequences of the (lack of) correspondence of the regional and activity categories for which secondary data are supplied, on the one hand, and the "ideal" categories for the relevant research questions, on the other hand (including an ability to discuss selected issues related to the aggregation of spatial and economic data).
      • Demonstrate an understanding of the confidentiality restrictions on government-collected data.

    7. Acquiring Research Experience and Competence:

      Faculty are increasingly accepting the premise that "undergraduate student research" supports old and new learning objectives. Such research can be conducted in the traditional contexts of class papers and projects, independent research & writing, or undergraduate thesis preparations, or it can be done in collaboration with faculty as research internships and the like.

      Thus, our students upon completion of their studies could be asked and should be able to:

      • Suggest questions that would be useful or interesting to answer
      • Conduct research that relates some empirical information to a deductive or inductive model or framework, in order to: make sense of an empirical pattern (or lack of a pattern); propose some action for a worker, consumer, business, or agency; uncover the shortcomings of the model or framework; and identify the sorts of information needed to fully understand the relationships being studied.
      • Move from a general question to a specific question that can be addressed clearly and directly in a single piece of research. (" How does internet-based commerce affect international trade?" is a general question. " Did automobile-parts manufacturers who adopted internet-based procurement, inventory, and distribution systems change their facility locations in different ways than their non-adopting competitors?" is a researchable question.)
      • Suggest ways in which the model or framework can be made operational? What variables are implied by the model or framework? How can you measure or get indicators for the variables?
      • Identify the general information that would be useful to answer the question, and then identify what specific information can be compiled.
      • Use tools of analysis (logic, statistics, mathematical models, cartographic tools, qualitative interpretation) to ask whether the model or framework helps make sense of the specific information.
      • Draw conclusions that help guide anyone to whom the research question is important.
      • Present the results of research.
        • Explain why the question was important, how the operational framework was created, how information was selected (with the shortcomings of this information and its sources), the way the information was analyzed or interpreted, and how the conclusions were developed.
        • Be able to present these results in writing and orally, with appropriate (carto)graphic and tabular support.

    8. Acquiring Project Management & Collaboration Skills:

      The economic geography faculty recognizes that active-learning "projects" have the potential to mirror the increased project-orientation of businesses and non-profit activities. Such projects may reflect complex logistics involving multiple participants, diverse resources, deadline-dependent project stages, forms of presentation and other modes of accountability. It is also suggested that communication technology competences (including the active use of the Internet) promote and facilitate collaboration and acquisition of teamwork skills increasingly expected both in education and professional activities.

      Thus, we expect our students to be able to demonstrate that they can

      • Organize and execute individually and collaboratively projects which combine insights and skills from different sub-fields of geography and different investigative phases allowing students to relate their academic endeavors to their own areas of interest as well as to gain practical project management skills.
      • Interact with peers including help others and receive help from others during the course of their project-related research (for example, guide a colleague to identify a researchable question or an appropriate interpretation) and other tasks (such as collaborating for an effective presentation).
      • Provide constructive feedback for student presentations, just as they would of published papers, newspaper articles or public officials' statements.

    9. Gaining Interdisciplinary, Boundary-Spanning and Holistic Perspectives:

      No departmental concentration is the proverbial "island". Disciplinary divisions entail a high degree of arbitrariness and historical inertia. In addition, the mere circumstance of spatial proximity and organizational integration should be expected to create continuously constructed spillovers, symbioses and economies of juxtaposition. Most importantly, our students circulate between classes, disciplines and subdisciplines on a daily and routine basis and often wonder aloud why there is so little collaboration between departments, faculty and related subject areas.

      Thus, those of our students majoring in geography with a concentration in economic geography are expected to be not only economic geographers, but also "geographers" and students of the "social sciences". Such students could be asked and should be able to articulate a multitude of relationships between economic geography and other geographic subdisciplines and other social sciences.

      Students who are not concentrating in economic geography but only taking one or a few courses in our field should be able to articulate equivalent ties between economic geography and their own major, areas of academic interest as well as identify an appropriate position of economic geography in the family of sciences.

      It is recognized that the recent expansion of social-political-geography perspectives in the department places a particular responsibility onto the economic geography program to seek new symbiotic relationships and facilitate students' struggles to reconcile potentially or seemingly conflicting faculty views. A first step has been taken by formulating "themes" on the department's home page. Some of these themes (and sub-themes) have more immediate relationship to economic geography than others. Increasingly, students, majoring in geography, should be able to articulate (and demonstrate by presenting examples) the meaning of these themes from the perspective of their individual program and subdiscipline, including economic geography:

      1. Access (to information, goods, services, livelihood, through transportation, communication, education, restructuring, cultivating community and democratic institutions, and other processes)
      2. Citizenship and accountability to place
      3. Globalization (of business location, transnational procurement, flows of capital, information, people, etc.)
      4. Movement (spatial interaction, and its effects; our transportation courses)
      5. Scale (local impacts and bases of global economic change; the cumulative effect of scale and agglomeration economies on growth (Krugman); micro- vs. macro perspectives etc.
      6. Sustainability (this is a point that needs development in our curriculum).
        • Ability to articulate the ways and extent in/to which the geography of natural resources affect economic location?
        • Ability to identify ways in which economic production (of different types, in different economic systems, at different locations) affect the natural environment?