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Monday, February 6, 2012

DiBiase Speaks Truth to Power on GIS and Education

Do you want some straight talk on GIS in education? How about these quotes from Matt Artz's interview with Esri's Director of Education, David DiBiase? (Disclosure: I worked for Matt at Esri and David at Penn State.)
What is the mission of Esri’s Education Team?
David: The overarching objective of Esri’s Education Team is to cultivate the next generation of ArcGIS users and Esri customers. ...By his [Jack Dangermond's] reckoning, the education market accounts for 40% of Esri users.

As the Education Team begins its third decade of operation, how are changes in geospatial technology changing the way GIS will be taught?
All of this progress and diversity, which a recent public media project dubbed “the geospatial revolution,” has made it both easier and harder to teach with and about GIS.  Easier because the tools are better and more accessible; harder because the diversity and rapid evolution of the tools makes it harder for educators to keep up.
Would you say that GIS has been an easy tool for educators to adopt?
David: No. ...Expanding access to real GIS software is one obstacle we can do something about.

How much of this is about GIS or other geospatial technologies, vs. the more basic goal of teaching spatial thinking skills?
David: As the National Research Council report Learning to Think Spatially points out, our professional-grade tools are not particularly well suited to teaching and learning with, as opposed to about, GIS.
You'll want to read the complete responses for full context. It's gratifying to see the leading GIS software vendor, with some 40% of its users in the education market, clearly stating its vested interest in creating new customers, the challenges in gaining adoption and the technology's limited role (to date) in teaching spatial thinking. While Esri has "won" the war by getting its software into many schools, the smaller and perhaps more difficult battles are still to come. Esri, with all those schools using its software should be among those tackling the next big challenges and questions including:
  • How can GIS use in schools help in student's knowledge of geography and its principles? Did you see the mixed results on the last Assessment of Academic Progress in Geography (All Points Blog)?
  • Can GIS help keep students, especially secondary students, in school? There are recent stirrings from the president suggesting all states up the age until which students must attend school to 18 (NY Times).
  • Can GIS use in secondary schools help students get jobs? That's clearly a focus in junior and community colleges.
  • Can GIS help students develop critical thinking skills required for higher learning?
  • Can GIS help get federal funding for geography education in the United States either via a STEM focus or some other way? Geography education enhancement is still unfunded. (Speak Up for Geography)
I'm looking forward in the coming months and years to hearing more about GIS' impact on education in these less sexy and sometimes harder to measure areas.

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