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  • Geography, GIS, and K-12 Education: Moving to the Web

    By Alex Philp, President, GCS Research LLC (September 30, 2002)

    Understanding cause and effect relationships across spatio-temporal matrices represents a key element in geographical investigation. Associated with the fundamental concept of landscape, inculcating an appreciation for change remains a significant challenge in geographical education today. Often geography teachers lack the professional development necessary to move beyond superficial analyses and explore the interdisciplinary intersection provided by geographical disciplines. However, the recent convergence of geospatial technologies combined with a thorough familiarization of geographical themes provides educators with a new set of tools. The tools, when utilized in conjunction with field-based programs, project-based learning, and sound geographical mentors, provide a means to understand the complexity of landscape change over time.

    GIS (Geographic Information Systems) is such a tool. Increasing numbers of K- 12 educators and their students have been exposed to an increasing amount of spatial information. Through the power of data visualization, teachers and students are investigating geographical information and exploring landscape relationships in unprecedented ways. Today, GIS and the Internet are intersecting. The result is the realization of geospatial information technology and the promise is revolutionizing access to geographical information across an endless array of themes. In sum, Web-based GIS or mapping systems moves beyond the paradigm of disconnected geographers anchored to an individual computer and its associated software. Web-based mapping systems and their interconnection via the Internet provides educators with a constant array of dynamic tools to broaden their exploration of geography. For many educators, Web-based mapping systems represent a useful evolution of the tool allowing for greater usability, flexibility and efficiency in the instructional realm. Combined with discrete thematic lesson plans, association with national standards, i.e., geography, and assessment components, Web-based mapping services represent a more effective model for a greater number of educators as they search for ways to embrace technology in general. Given declining budgets and increasing time constraints, Web-based GIS provides an inviting platform upon which geospatial technologies can be integrated into the classroom.

    Clearly, this trend does not prohibit increasing levels of sophistication and analyses provided by more traditional forms of GIS technology. Rather, such a movement as evidenced by the overwhelming popularity of the National Geographic Society’s “Map Machine” can be viewed as a starting point for many who would have been unable to unlock the wonders of geographical information for their students. As such systems expand, proponents of geography education are combining these Web- based tools with associated field studies, thematic immersion, and project-based learning to examine the fundamental concepts of Earth’s dynamics. The key is to combine all aspects of geography education into a comprehensive and sophisticated approach that draws upon the qualitative and quantitative breadth of the discipline. Such an emphasis recovers the power of geographical thought, embraces its incorporation of sophisticated geospatial tools, and emphasizes an understanding of the landscapes in which we are a part.

    © 2002 by GCS Research LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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