Joel Quam is fascinated by places. And that fascination is shared with students in his Geography classes.
“Teaching gives me the opportunity to continue to study places that fascinate me,” he explained. “Additionally, I find it satisfying to promote geographic interest and understanding in my students, especially at a time when geographic literacy is weak.”
Quam, who started his 24th year at College of DuPage in fall 2020, employs innovative ideas into his classes. For example, one activity he uses each semester is a combination final exam and party. At the end of the semester, Quam invites community members to mingle with his students and ask them questions about states, provinces and countries.
During the semester, other exams—or, as he likes to call them, “information festivals”—feature unusual elements, such as music videos, T-shirts, movie clips and TV trailers. Quam wants his students to gain a perspective on geography that is different than solely a mundane grasp of facts.
"I hope that my students gain considerable geographic knowledge from my classes, but also I want them to begin to think geographically," he said.
Quam empowers his students to learn, remember, increase awareness and think critically. Above all, he hopes they are as fascinated by the subject as he is.
In 2017, along with his history colleague Ben Whisenhunt, Quam led a group of students and community members on a field studies trip to Russia. It was a timely point to visit St. Petersburg and Moscow, being the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution.
Beginning in fall 2020, Quam’s students in Geography of the Western World will use a free online textbook that he wrote with his Geography colleague Scott Campbell. This collaboration combats the high prices of textbooks and presents an unusual format of daily geographic readings.
"I like the way that geography allows me to take a multifaceted view of people and places. Given my interest in area studies, in particular my interest in Russia, this broad approach to understanding places is very useful."