Friday, September 7, 2012

UAF SNRAS welcomes visiting KU professor for one year

At home in Lawrence, Kansas, Terry Slocum (pictured at right) frequently checks the Fairbanks winter weather conditions online. That didn’t stop him from selecting UAF as the location for his year-long sabbatical.

“My wife Arlene and I have always had an interest in Alaska,” he said. “We think the people are interesting and independent. It’s a unique place.”

It doesn’t hurt that his good friend Cary de Wit is a geography professor at UAF. Their friendship stems from de Wit’s graduate school days at KU, when Slocum was on his committee.

While here, Slocum is teaching introduction to statistics for fall semester and cartography in the spring. He is also writing the fourth edition of a textbook, “Thematic Cartography and Geovisualization.”

“We have to keep up with technology,” Slocum said. “My co-authors and I are analyzing spatial data and writing new chapters, revising the rest.” The last edition was published in 2009.

Another focus is a National Science Foundation-funded project that will examine the effectiveness of stereoscopic displays in the classroom. The method is thought to enhance geography studies through the use of stereo images presented via a pair of stacked computer projectors and viewed via specialized glasses.. “Do you learn more if you see in stereo is what we are asking,” Slocum explained.

The data has already been collected at KU and Haskell Indian Nations University but not analyzed. “It may turn out stereo does a poorer job,” Slocum said. “Certain images may not pop out immediately and sometimes they are reversed so that mountains are seen as valleys. As many as 10 to 15 percent of people can’t see in stereo at all; they are stereo blind.”

He had a related paper published in the Journal of Geography in 2007. The paper centers on a focus group analysis of faculty members' thoughts about the use of the GeoWall for teaching and is entitled "Evaluating the Potential of the GeoWall for Geographic Education."

Another area of research is analyzing change in thematic map design over the course of the 20th century. Slocum is studying maps in the .Geographical Review and the Geographical Journal to determine the effectiveness of map design. “I have found the best maps to be from the 1940s because professional cartographers were designing the maps,” Slocum said.

He has been intrigued with maps since childhood. “I would look at maps of Switzerland and think how attractive it was and I thought about travel.

‘I love maps because I can see the spatial distribution and wonder why things are located where they are,” Slocum said. “But I am definitely not an artist.”

Slocum grew up in Wellsboro, Pa., and Corning, N.Y. He earned a B.A. in geography and a master’s in cartography and quantitative methods at the State University of New York at Albany and a doctorate in cartography at KU. He has been on the KU faculty since 1981 and served as the Department of Geography chair from 2003 to 2012.

In his spare time, Slocum loves to run, bicycle, swim and play table tennis.

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