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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Does Advocating for GIS Preclude Advocating for Geography Education?

The New Hampshire Sentinel Source has an article about the state's new K-12 statewide education license of Esri software. The article offers a responsible look at the potential uses of GIS and the challenges of educating teachers to use the technology and apply it across the curriculum.

What jumped out at me was this:
Bryant [Lara M.P. Bryant, an assistant professor of geography at Keene State College] also is the coordinator for the New Hampshire Geographic Alliance, which spent almost two years advocating for a statewide license for the software.
Best I understand it, the New Hampshire Educational GIS Partnership (NHEdGIS which includes the NH Geographic Alliance and partners) spent two years advocating  to sign a contract with Esri for its software for use in public and private schools across the state. And it was successful!

And, here's a key bit of the deal, that seems to have been at Esri's prompting:
For the partnership, the institute [Esri] wanted a commitment from the state education department that the department would teach instructors how to use the software, so the full potential is achieved, she said. The partnership calls for a $45,000 match in professional development for teachers to learn about Geographic Information Systems.
That's a great addition since as we know, software without training and professional development, just sits there!

This success story highlights yet another divide in geography education advocacy. I wrote in the past about how it's tough to promote GIS because it's got a dual personality as both social science (humanities) and STEM. We may have the same dual pathway issue in advocacy.

The Geographic Alliance and its partners decided to use its energy to go after a statewide K-12 GIS license from Esri. I do not know when or how that decision was made. But based on the various partner websites, that focus overshadowed others advocacy efforts including support for for federal funding of geography via Speak Up for Geography (which in turn supports TGIF, the geography is fundamental act).

Is it possible that efforts to get technology (in this case Esri software) are pre-empting advocacy efforts to enhance geography education and geography professional development in particular (TGIF)? It is possible this is akin to energy put into getting a 1to 1 iPad or laptop program into schools without  a clear picture of how it will help second graders to learn how to read?

I do not mean to criticize the efforts of the organizations of NH. I'm sure they made the choice they felt best enhanced geography education in that state. I just wonder if having this "tech route" (Esri K-12 license) vs. the "PD geography route" (TGIF) implies a split loyalty across the country and hence a split set of advocacy efforts. Could these different (and I should be clear, compelling) advocacy options be part of what's holding back success in broader geography education?