We’re a US-based consultancy centered
on the water-food-energy-community nexus.
Refocusing relationships between humans and the environment
Visual Teaching Technologies was started in 2002, dedicated to helping students learn how to relate to the world around them from a geographic perspective.
Today VTT’s work portfolio has expanded to include not only students and educators, but also public agencies, private businesses, non-government organizations, and community stakeholders who can benefit from visualizing complex problems through a geospatial lens.
And over the years, the VTT philosophy has remained constant:
- Mental construction of content is as important as presentation of content (“teaching”). Each person receiving information brings her/his prior experiences and knowledge to a situation, and each person processes information presented through her/his own cultural and psychological screens.
- Communication is necessary to check for understanding. Visualization is a critical part of communication.
- A multimodal approach to learning and sharing information is ideal. We all process information differently, so it is critical to provide and solicit information in many different ways to address the different ways we each understand the world. Though the focus of VTT is on visualization, we believe in the combination of visual, auditory, linguistic, and kinesthetic.
- Intelligence is expressed in at least eight different ways. Drawing on the work of multiple intelligences theory (Howard Garner and Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education), we create opportunities for engagement in deeper thinking by intentionally incorporating different intelligences: Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Logical-Mathematical, Naturalist, Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Linguistic, and Musical.
- When learning is relevant, the desire to learn increases and so does the level of understanding. The degree to which people become engaged in the learning process is related to relevance. Engagement can be at a variety of spatio-temporal scales.
Here’s what we prioritize.
Our water integrity conviction
Meet the VTT team.
I love the timing and beauty of a Rube Goldberg machine and believe this infatuation started as a kid when I got the board game Mouse Trap.
I love the unknown unknowns of the world we live in and the flexibility and agility and reimaging it takes to find solutions.
And I love the boldness it takes to make course corrections when a solution isn’t working out as planned.
Before I began working at the U.S. Army’s Geospatial Research Laboratory, the Army’s approach to water was simplistic. (Is surface water in the area of operations potable? If not, where do we drill a well?) My training in education, geography, and ecology and resulting out-of-the-box thinking widened the military and intelligence communities view of water and boundaries. Leaders and decision-makers, through my bioregional framing and compelling multimedia river GEONarratives, began to see water as part of far more complex social-ecological systems, defying silos and sectors.
My work reached across the “3-Ds”: Defense, Diplomacy, and Development. Through my deployment with the U.S. Marines and work with the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, I was able to show how the availability, accessibility, and governance of water influenced poppy cultivation in Helmand Province, Afghanistan; Boko Haram terrorist activities in Nigeria; U.S. - Russian diplomacy associated with Arctic waters; and drug smuggling in South America.
Now in my role as a consultant for those working in the water sector, I bring lessons learned about the water-food-energy nexus with the addition of a water integrity component.
As I engage with stakeholder groups and tackle blue economy issues, it is clear that countries impacted by fragility and conflict face water crises and the potential for corruption and illicit financial flows associated with water sector projects. I see it as critically important to add a water integrity component to stakeholder dialogue. "Water integrity" here refers to transparent, accountable, and inclusive decision-making by water stakeholders striving for equity and sustainability in water management. When water integrity is lacking, reform and projects fail, and corruption (to whichever water sector work is particularly vulnerable) diverts resources from where they are needed.
Throughout my life, my travels have always involved a wandering river, a shallow bay, a ragged cliff, or rolling shoreline… anywhere the land meets the water. If I’m in San Diego, South Africa, Barbados, Myrtle Beach, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, or some island off Honduras, my fishing tackle travels with me, no matter if I’m there for business or not. When at home, any free time will surely take me to the Potomac River, which I’ve mapped with my dry feet hiking, my wet waders, or in my kayak, where everything gets wet. Even after decades of adventure, each outing provides me something new.
My post-school life began with truck driving, fence building, tree-cutting, and brick laying, intermingled with unforgettable stints in the traveling rock and roll world, and performing in acrobatic diving shows with The Great American High Diving Team.
At some point in my mid-20’s, I was encouraged to buy a three-piece suit (and get a haircut). I trained in an entry-level junior technical service position, working primarily in government buildings and locations within and near Washington DC. I had the pleasure of working in the Pentagon, in the Old Executive Office Building, and every Intelligence or military installment one can imagine. After earning my stripes, I was promoted to management. I felt quite successful, but with two young kids, I felt spread thin and stressed out. So, I became a Stay-at-Home Dad! As my schedule allowed, I began to rekindle my love for the sport of Springboard Diving, and was slowly able to begin a now 20-year career of coaching. Starting off in High School coaching, to Summer League and Club Diving, I’ve been at American University as a Division-1 Diving Coach since 2007.
Through many positions and very different stages, my work life has always shared some common themes. Being creative, building relationships, renewing and teaching processes, and recruiting the best partners to join in my adventures.
Most of my 35-plus years of travel (much in the Caribbean) have educated me with lessons from the locals (mostly fisherfolk) I’ve met and those I’ve come to know. I am more thankful, more empathetic, and I better understand the dichotomy of life in such amazing and beautiful places. After 35 years of travels, and all my experiences and connections to coastal communities, the wonderment is still palpable… but it is cut with a heavy shot of impending doom.
At every turn, I’ve always looked for new ways to stay connected to the water. My journey has been a full one already, but there is still much I can do. With urgent environmental conditions to address, and losses of coastal habitat, there are young people to inspire (as Mr. Cousteau did to me). There are still other people to convince and partner with in industry and in office. There are actions we all can take to heal our once-pristine waters.
My efforts hope to allow future generations to feel the same fascination with Earth’s waters that helped form the person I have become.
Although the precise roles of the environment and the state vary depending on the place and situation, greed, poor governance, and environmental degradation—depletion and pollution of freshwater, depletion of fisheries, loss of biodiversity and agricultural lands, threats to food and health safety, extreme weather—are underlying causes of unrest, instability, movement and conflict as well as 2nd or 3rd order consequences.
Understanding social-ecological systems and resolving environmental problems, such as transboundary water issues, eases tensions, facilitates economic and political stability, and may prevent future conflicts.
Current projects involve formulating arctic and subarctic GEONarrative schemas, outlining unique vulnerabilities and resiliencies of coastal megacities, and exploring the role of scientific information and various forms of media in geographic imagination and the production of place.
Dr. Ward serves as adjunct faculty with East Carolina University’s Department of Geography, Planning and the Environment and is the new editor for the Journal of Military Geography.
Prior to joining GRL, Dr. Ward served as executive director for Waterkeepers Carolina and Barton College’s stand-alone geography professor, teaching world, physical, regional, cultural and political geography classes. Early in her career, she spent four years as an intelligence analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), traveling widely in Europe and briefing U.S. policymakers on weapon systems, arms trade, and nonproliferation politics. Major Ward also enjoyed an accomplished career in the United States Army as both an active-duty military police officer and reserve intelligence officer.
She received the 2008 Walter B. Jones Memorial Award for Excellence in Coastal and Marine Graduate Study, while serving as the science communications fellow for North Carolina Sea Grant, two U.S. Army Commendation Medals, an Achievement Medal for Civilian Service, and three awards for Exceptional Performance from the CIA.