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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Do you want to use online GIS with your students?

The title comes from a tweet from an Instructional Technology Resource Teacher. The whole tweet reads:
Do you want to use online GIS with your students? @EsriCanada has extensive resources. http://bit.ly/VvLiQ4 Start with Map My Community.
While I think the goal is to point out the valuable resources at the website, I'm more interested in the question posed, ideally to educators, "Do you want to use online GIS with your students?" The tweeter used to teach geography and finds GIS and GPS interesting, so the question seems quite natural.

And yet that question causes me some discomfort. While I'm a fan of GIS and GPS, as an educator, I've been trained to lay out, or learn of, existing educational objectives (what the students will learn to do) before determining the form of the course or the tools to be used.

I recall a similar discomfort when meeting one of the geography textbook publishers at a conference. He assured me his text was the best for my World Regional Geography course at the community college. The problem was, in my version of that course, there was no text, just an atlas.

While I'm hopeful more and more students will be able to take a dedicated geography course in their K-16 experience, I believe most will only "run into" geography and its related technology in small "injections" along the way. John Caris at Smith College and  Sharron Macklin at Williams College take that approach in their small liberal arts colleges. David DiBiase, of Esri presented a vision for that sort of "injection" at in a presi titled Spatial Thinking Across the Curriculum at the Specialist Meeting on Spatial Thinking Across the Curriculum, Santa Barbara CA, December 10-11, 2012. I think as geographers we need to think about a geography curriculum that addresses both those taking a dedicated course or degree, and one that injects key ideas across a broader liberal arts or engineering program.

How would I rephrase the question for the latter vision? Here's a starting point:

Do you want to ...
  • practice critical thinking
  • develop spatial literacy skills
  • explore visual communications
  • evaluate Web data resources
  • learn to use Web services
  • consider epidemiological spread of disease
with your students?

The answer? Then you might want to consider teaching with GIS!