Marymount professors publish new book on place-based learning amidst backdrop of COVID-19

New Book Publication Photo


The coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc across the globe while Marymount University’s Dr. Elizabeth Langran, Professor in Education, and Dr. Janine DeWitt, Professor in Sociology, were finishing their new book, “Navigating Place-Based Learning.” 

“The spread of the pandemic highlighted how place matters in our daily lives, as well as how some communities deal with more challenges than others,” Dr. Langran explained.

In the book published by Palgrave Macmillan, Dr. Langran and Dr. DeWitt propose a critical pedagogy model, or approach to teaching, to unlock the potential of place-based learning for all students. 

“We enjoyed experimenting with the teaching potential of new technologies and we craved opportunities for getting students outside the four-walled classroom! Coming from two different disciplines…we found common ground in place-based learning,” Dr. DeWitt added. “Although our formal training was not in the discipline of geography, we were drawn to geospatial questions out of curiosity and a spirit of adventure. We took a leap and decided to ‘play’ at teaching and learn by doing.”

The authors explore ways in which a student’s understanding of a given place is shaped by contextual factors, including the histories of inequality. These contextual factors must be explicitly addressed when designing place-based assignments.

“We often suggested that our colleagues add a spatial component to their assignments,” Dr. DeWitt said. “Without realizing it, we had discovered the added value of using spatial tools to promote critical reasoning. We began to consider how spatial analysis could make visible complex social phenomena.”

Unlike other books on the topic, Dr. Langran and Dr. DeWitt address how to design strategies for facilitating critical place-based inquiry. Educators interested in engaging students in geospatial projects will find ideas for mapping with mobile technologies, as well as community engagement projects.

At Marymount, Dr. Langran has been training current and future teachers at both the graduate and undergraduate levels in educational technology, secondary methods, cross-cultural/international curricula and research methods, and will be teaching the educational technology leadership course in Marymount’s new Ed.D. in Educational Leadership. She regularly brings Marymount students and local teachers to Marymount’s partner primary school in Uganda known as REACH for Uganda.

Dr. DeWitt began her teaching career in 1992 at Marymount after completing her doctorate in Sociology from Duke University. She enjoys teaching undergraduate Sociology courses using experiential learning activities in which her students learn from one another’s life experiences and gain a deeper appreciation of their own place in the world. 

Last fall, Dr. DeWitt was on sabbatical, initiating a project titled, “Mapping Place Matters: Restrictive Covenants in Arlington.” She is building an interactive map that can be used by scholars, community members and educators who are interested in studying how housing policies create and maintain racial segregation.