Planning an Introduction to Spatial Thinking Course

A question that gets increasingly asked on listservs and forums these days is advice by those who are planning a course at their university that focuses on spatial thinking. These courses may be entitled “Introduction to Spatial Thinking” but there are numerous variations, depending on the goals of the university and hosting department. It is exciting to learn about these new courses and those who are planning them, because it shows that the message that we in the geospatial education community have been sharing for years is at last getting out beyond our own community. That message has consistently been that spatial thinking and spatial analysis are too valuable to be held by a single department, program, or school on campus, whether it is Geography, Natural Sciences, or anything else. Rather, spatial thinking and analysis, and the use of GIS technology and methods as an aid in teaching those concepts, are valuable to the student’s overall education, career skills, and to society. These concepts and skills therefore need to be embedded in all departments on campus as part of a rigorous and innovative 21st Century education. Such courses not only provide theoretical and practical background for GIS courses, but also for any discipline in which the “where” question is important—in business marketing, environmental design, wildlife biology, history, civil engineering, geology, epidemiology, geography, and beyond.

How should such a course be planned and built? Fortunately, some good models exist. For example, the course developed by the GeoTech Center provides a checklist vetted by numerous GIS education professionals on what might be included. Dr Bone at the University of Oregon is developing a freshman-level course entitled Our Digital Earth, which will provide hundreds of students annually with an appreciation of the ubiquity of geospatial data and technologies in their everyday lives, and how the geospatial revolution is shaping societies around the world. Dr Diana Stuart Sinton developed courses at the University of Redlands such as Foundations of Spatial Thinking. Other example courses can be found in the “case studies” section of the Esri EdCommunity and in the pages of Esri publications ArcWatch, Esri News for Education, and ArcNews. I will follow this post with my own thoughts about what might be included in such a course in future blog essays.

In the meantime, please share your thoughts: What would you include in a course on spatial thinking?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

Tom Baker

About Tom Baker

Tom Baker is an Esri Education Manager, specializing in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education, teacher education, and educational research. He regularly publishes and presents on geospatial technologies across education.
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  1. pld113 says:

    Thank you for the plug to our Spatial Thinking course, by Ken Yanow of Southwestern College. This course outline contains Syllabus, Student Learning Outcomes, Grading Matrices and other resources for designing a custom course that meets the GTCM requirements. Find all the material for the Geo 100 course here: http://moodle.delmar.edu/moodle/