Fulfilling the potential of geospatial technology
Spatial thinking and geospatial technologies remain unrealized opportunities for much of higher education. For example:
- There’s now compelling evidence suggesting that spatial abilities prepare students for success in STEM coursework and early employment. However, no college or university includes such preparation among its overarching general education objectives.
- Despite the synthetic power of the spatial perspective, research discoveries too often remain segregated and hidden in disciplinary silos.
- For nearly a decade, the US Department of Labor has highlighted career opportunities associated with geospatial technologies. Still, relatively few higher education institutions offer advanced, practice-oriented educational programs to prepare students for such opportunities.
- Geospatial technologies enable students to perform valued service learning projects in their communities. Even among those colleges and universities that have institution-wide service learning programs, however, precious few prepare students to leverage GIS.
- Enterprise GIS infrastructures offer the potential to save money in campus planning, operations, and facilities management. Given the severe fiscal challenges that confront most higher education institutions, it’s remarkable that so few institutions have realized this potential.
There are plenty of reasons why spatial thinking and geospatial technologies have yet to fulfill their transformative potential in higher education. However, it’s likely that concerted efforts by a few key institutions could have a dramatic impact. Mindful of this, it is apparent that there are five characteristics of “The Spatial University”:
- Spatial thinking is included in the institution’s general education objectives. Courses that prepare students to fulfill the objective are available across the general education curriculum.
- The institution hosts and disseminates multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research enabled by the spatial perspective and geospatial technologies.
- The institution hosts specialized certificate or degree programs whose curricula align with geospatial work force needs.
- Students are required or at least encouraged to participate in community-based service learning projects or internships, and they are prepared to use GIS and other geospatial technologies as part of those projects.
- An enterprise GIS infrastructure is in place to support campus planning, operations, maintenance, and sustainability.
Some higher education institutions have several of these characteristics, and a few may have all five. However, no institution has made a point of declaring its commitment to fulfilling the potential of spatial thinking and geospatial technology. This is likely a missed opportunity. In an increasingly competitive higher education marketplace, we believe that a commitment to be a spatial university would be a valuable differentiator.
The distinction is appealing primarily because of a genuine conviction that a spatially literate populace is essential for a sustainable future, as well as a belief that GIS technology can empower spatial thinking.