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Monday, October 12, 2015

GIS Education Brief: Goal First, Tech Second

Learning about Learning via People I don't Know via Twitter

Jennifer Maze (‏@JenGrayScience) is middle and high school science teacher in Colorado. I don't know her, but somewhere along the way I learned she was an educator to follow on Twitter. I've not been disappointed!

If I parsed her tweets from this weekend correctly, she attended a Google for Education Global Summit. She offered a torrent of tweets, one of which I'll tackle in Thursday's newsletter/post. Today I want to consider this tweet from Sunday.
NASA World Wind is a great tool.
What goal would an educator have
for its use in or outside of class?
Pick the learning goal, then the strategy, then the tool -- NEVER start with the tool! #gafesummit
That's the process I learned from my instructional designers at Penn State. I also learned that at Penn State classes are not aimed at teaching software packages. I'm guessing those who formally study education learn these ideas even earlier in their professional development than I did.

Goal-> Strategy -> Tool

In an ideal world, all educators, from K-12 up through graduate school, would identify learning goal(s), then select strategies and then find the right (technology) tools. Those marketing the educational technology tools commonly present their wares by leading with the tool. I'm thinking particularly of horizontal tools like GIS.

Here's how Esri markets its free access to ArcGIS Online for virtually any U.S. K-12 educational program via the ConnectED initiative:
Take Your Students to New Places

Free online mapping tools and activities for your school!
Further down the page there are references to inquiry and project based learning.

I think of inquiry based and project based learning as rather high level strategies. ArcGIS Online (the unnamed "online mapping tools" at the top of the page) is clearly a tool. Where are the goals that Esri hopes to address with these strategies and tools? In the activities.

The activities are not front and center but back and out of the way. That page lists resources likely familiar to my readers but not to most science, math or social studies teachers: GeoInquiries, Mapping our World and Thinking Spatially using GIS. The topics under each are not instructional goals, but topics: Remote Sensing, Geology, The Animal Kingdom.

Only when an interested educator digs down into the material will he or she find the goals.  The standards supported and learning outcomes from the Remote Sensing GeoInquiry (pdf) include:
MS-ESS2-2 – Construct an explanation based on evidence for how geoscience pro- cesses have changed Earth’s surface at varying time and spatial scales. 
• Students will assess housing choices based on natural hazard risks.
• Students will determine the type of data necessary to assess natural hazard risk.
Other GIS Education Pitches

I highlighted Esri's efforts since its has a strong history of supporting GIS education from K-graduate school. Other companies and organizations looking to follow suit have typically focused on college and beyond, but with similar pitches that focus on the tool rather than educational goals:

  • Mapbox: The wide world of mapping technology, now free for students and teachers.
  • CartoDB: CartoDB is an affordable, open-source platform for students and educators to create, share, and publish scientific, data-driven maps. 
  • Hexagon Geospatial: We realize the future of the business and academic communities are inevitably intertwined, and by working together, we can help the world make smarter decisions.
  • Geo for All: The motto of ICA-OSGeo Lab initiative is "Geo For All". Having free and open GI software is key for making possible for students from economically poor background worldwide also to be able to get geospatial education (without the need for high cost proprietary GI software ).  

Thinking Out Loud

I wonder if responses of educators to Esri's ConnectED might be different if Esri lead with the educational goals that it can help achieve rather than the tools or the strategy? I wonder if GeoMentors would feel more comfortable introducing Esri's ConnectED as a way to tackle one or more educational goals rather than as cool technology?

I wonder how educators would respond to materials that detailed what goals educators had, the strategies they chose and details about the tool they ultimately chose? Would that be more compelling than the "tool first" communications that are so common?