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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?

1 comment:

  1. After admitting you “do not know when or how the decision was made” to pursue a statewide license, you blog about it. The New Hampshire Geographic Alliance (NHGA) would like to correct your misperceptions and inform your readers how they can advocate for geography. NHGA is part of a national network working to improve geography education at local, state and national levels. Even though we do recognize GIS as a potential tool to achieve our goals of geographic literacy, the statewide license is one example of many efforts over the past 20 years. As part of our current strategic plan, one of our goals includes a tech strand for geographic literacy. It was developed after a concerted effort to identify needs in our state, which included surveys, and brainstorming sessions with education stakeholders around the state. This is why it was a two-year process.
    You assume all we do is advocate for GIS. The article selected was about the license, not the alliance. Our volunteers have undertaken many efforts while simultaneously working on the statewide license. Each year we participate in Geography Awareness Week (GAW). This year GAW has been a month long event with a giant map of Africa visiting four locations across the state. We have started monthly workshops including GIS, field excursions, and “best practice” sessions. Alliance members were part of a national task force that aligned the new national geography standards (which would not exist if not for the efforts of the network of alliances) with the new ELA Common Core; developing and identifying exemplar use of informational texts in social studies. Past activities include creating a paper state atlas, professional development institutes, and aligning state and national standards. NHGA was involved in reintroducing geography as a high school requirement. We are determining how we can support districts not meeting this requirement. While each state is different, many programs are collective and share national resources in advocacy efforts for broad geographic literacy. This is a connection, not a dual personality. GIS should be a tool to connect grade levels and disciplines. We are being strategic about vertical alignment and interdisciplinary support and are aware and sensitive to these connections while planning our activities.
    You assume that Esri prompted the license with the implication of financial gain. Yes-no one can deny the business incentives for getting software into schools. Esri supported us in finding a way to make GIS available to schools. There has been no exchange of money and Esri is accepting in-kind matches of teacher time spent in PD, volunteer hours, etc. It is not a true match in grant terminology. The point is to ensure the license would not sit unused and teachers would have access to professional development. In a political climate of decreased public support for education, we should acknowledge private support for such endeavors. No money was reallocated from another project.
    Alliances have been very active in advocating for TGIF. Yearly alliance members from 50 states ‘storm the hill’ together, meet with Members of Congress, inform them about TGIF and advocate for federal funding. The campaign last year in NH resulted in 120 letters to our congressional members. To answer your question, “Is it possible that efforts to get technology are pre-empting advocacy efforts to enhance geography education and geography professional development?” We would say no.
    We invite your readers to contact alliance coordinators in their state to find out how they can be positively involved in advocacy for geographic education at http://ednet.consensusdev.com/ . For example, the Massachusetts Alliance has a bill in their state legislature regarding geography education and is seeking people to testify at a congressional hearing http://www.massgeo.org/geo_bill.html. The Nebraska Alliance is trying to keep their State School Board from cutting geography from their state standards http://www.education.ne.gov/standardssurvey/


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