Tag Archives: critical thinking
The phrase “spatial thinking” has been receiving increasing attention over the past decade, encouraged in part from the National Research Council’s report Learning to Think Spatially: GIS as a Support System in the K-12 Curriculum. However, in many ways, we in the GIS education community have been immersed in promoting and supporting spatial thinking in education for far longer than that; indeed, for over 20 years. Beginning in the early 1990s, a handful of innovative K-12 teachers, along with a few interested faculty in universities, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies working closely with K-12 educators, as well as the Esri Education Team (which began in 1992), to bring spatial thinking through the use of GIS tools to primary and secondary schools. At the same time, the Esri Higher Education program began. At the university level, spatial thinking has long been nurtured by research and practice from the fields of geography, science education, cognitive psychology, human-computer interaction, and others.
What exactly is spatial thinking? There have been many attempts to define it. My interest in it lies mostly on the geographic side, so, perhaps my definition is better labeled as “geospatial thinking.” This overlaps some with “geoliteracy“, which has also been receiving increasing attention. My working definition of spatial thinking is “Identifying, analyzing, and understanding the location, scale, patterns, and trends of the geographic and temporal relationships among data, phenomena, and issues.”
More important to me than the definition, though is that the diverse communities of scholars and practitioners who care about this topic work together to ensure that it is supported, taught, and put to use in education and in society. What is our goal in terms of spatial thinking? I like how the NRC report puts it: It is to cultivate the spatial thinking “habit of mind.” This habit of mind is the geographic perspective on how the world works, including how systems function, how and why certain relationships exist, and also how we might approach and solve problems. How can we cultivate spatial thinking? That, friends, is the subject of many of the essays that appear in this blog, from pedagogical strategies to specific skills and technologies used. What could be our measure of success? If we can identify key points in the educational curriculum where spatial thinking can enhance what and how we are teaching, and in those points, to put spatial thinking skills into practice, then I think we have succeeded.
What is your definition of spatial thinking? When, where, and how do you think spatial thinking should be put into practice?
Is your data any good or is it “CRAAP”? Assessing spatial data quality grows in importance as it grows in volume and diversity and as it becomes easier to access. Research and development on metrics and standards to measure data quality took off during the mid-1990s, and thus there is no shortage of evaluation instruments to choose from. Even so, it often is difficult to evaluate the quality of a data set you are considering using.
People in library science really understand data and their implications, and some of the metrics I find most useful come from the library and information science community. My colleague Linda Zellmer, Government Information and Data Services Librarian at Western Illinois University, uses a “CRAAP” test, originally from CSU Chico and based on the CRAP test from LOEX. This is a schema to evaluate information: Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose. When I teach with or about GIS, to get across the point that assessing data quality ultimately depends on metadata, I frequently refer to the FGDC’s “top 10 metadata errors” document. The document’s number one identified error is “not doing it!”: ”If you think the cost of metadata production is too high, you haven’t compiled the costs of not creating metadata, including loss of information with staff changes, data redundancy, conflicts, liability, misapplications, and decisions based upon poorly documented data.” Ouch!
One of my favorite papers examining measurement standards comes from Dr Jingfeng Xia of Indiana University, who, in his research published in Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship, proposed a set of dimensions for data quality measurement. He discusses measures such as accuracy, consistency, completeness, and integrity, but also accessibility, validity, timeliness, currency, conformance, uniqueness, and others. One of his main points is that both quantitative and qualitative metrics are essential for determining the quality of geospatial data.
As my co-author Jill Clark and I point out in the book The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data, it is more important than ever before to document your data, and understand what you are using, because with each passing day it becomes easier to combine data from an amazing array of sources. With opportunity comes responsibility!
“The illiterate of the 21st century,” wrote Alvin Toffler, “will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
Toffler’s words seem particularly appropriate to the GIS profession. In 1983, I was among the last of students who for over 10 years were using the SYMAP program to create 3D mesh terrain surfaces. My colleagues and I at the US Census Bureau used GIS to develop the TIGER system during the late 1980s. I started using ArcInfo in 1989 at version 4 at the USGS. Despite the huge changes that occurred in GIS at that time, I firmly believe that I have seen more change in the past 3 years than I did for the previous 30 years. The open data movement, crowdsourcing, cloud computing, attention to spatial thinking, mobile apps, and SDKs are among the forces that are modifying huge portions of our profession, from the technology to the number and variety of people in it.
Changes in GIS and society are having an enormous impact on GIS education: What must we teach to help learners update their current skills and prepare them for the future? How must we as GIS educators most effectively educate ourselves? To think about it as Toeffler might, think about all that you have learned, unlearned, and relearned in GIS over the years. (I confess that I am still wondering about Toeffler’s “unlearning” process. Do we really “unlearn” or do we just forget some of the details of what we no longer need to know?) I remember the time I invested in learning how to download, format, and use SDTS-formatted spatial data, and then creating a 25 page document to help others do the same. Is that document still needed? Do most GIS folks today even know what SDTS is? I had to learn how to use that type of data, and then relearn how to use spatial data when the formats and the software changed. Today, with the coupling of desktop and web-based GIS, software updates no longer occur annually, but at least quarterly if not more often. You cannot effectively use all of the ArcGIS Online resources if your version of ArcGIS for Desktop is a few versions behind. New data, apps, and other resources appear daily. GIS seems to me to be the perfect example of why lifelong learning is essential.
Furthermore, something common to every GIS professional is the experience of having difficulty with getting a task in GIS to work, modifying it, trying it again, and assessing the results. I recently had difficulty matching an ArcGIS Online basemap with a set of data, because I had guessed incorrectly at the projection that the vector data was in. While these experiences can be frustrating, we tend to more clearly remember their details than when our problem solving workflow is smooth and easy. In short, the difficulties we experience in learning and relearning actually help us in the learning process.
I see Toffler’s point but I also think that reading and writing are important 21st Century skills, and are more critical now than ever before. In my role on the Esri education team, I spend more time reading, writing, and communicating than I do on other tasks. Yet even the bulk of time I spend reading, writing, and communicating is with the objective of learning and relearning, and teaching others.
How does GIS require and foster lifelong learning? How can you model lifelong learning with GIS with your students?
In my last post, I made the case that Jukes, McCain, Crocket, and Prensky’s book Understanding the Digital Generation holds key lessons for those of us who are involved in teaching with GIS and teaching about GIS. Yet the characteristics of these digital learners that I described in that post are not the only instructive elements of the book. The authors’ discussion of changes in the 21st Century world of work I believe are helpful for curriculum developers, instructors, and administrators who seek to embed the geographic perspective, spatial content, and geotechnology skills into instruction at all levels.
Jukes et al. say that to prepare for the 21st Century world of work, while we will continue to teach many traditional skills, there will be a shift in emphasis on the importance of those skills. The authors go on to say that we must adjust teaching to match the new world of technology. New skills must be considered as part of the basic literacy skills of any student. Why have these skills received a promotion? Quite simply, because of technology.
The authors prefer the word “fluency” over literacy because for them it conveys a sense of lifelong learning, such as becoming fluent in a language–in this case, the language of technology. There are five types of fluencies that are important: (1) Solution fluency: This is whole brain thinking, including creativity and problem solving applied in real time. (2) Information fluency: The ability to access digital information sources to retrieve desired information and assess and critically evaluate the quality of information. (3) Collaboration fluency: This “teamworking proficiency” is the “ability to work cooperatively with virtual and real partners in an online environment to create original digital products.” (4) Creativity fluency: The “process by which artistic proficiency adds meaning through design, art, and storytelling.” (5) Media fluency: The ability to look analytically at any communication media to interpret the real message, determine how the chosen media is being used to shape thinking, evaluate the efficacy of the message, and the ability to publish original digital products to match the media to the intended message.
My question for instructors: How have you observed students acquiring these five fluencies when you have taught GIS? My question for students: How has using GIS enabled you to prepare for the world of work?
To encourage students to think critically about two sides of an issue, to think spatially and geographically, and to use web-based GIS as a key part of analyzing an issue, I created a map and a lesson about a proposed new road through the Serengeti.
The lesson is inside the metadata for the map, which includes background information and readings, and 15 questions that invite students to critically assess the issue and its geographic implications. These questions include describing the issue, the physical and cultural setting of the issue in Tanzania, analyzing the distance, ecoregions, and landforms that each of the proposed routes traverse, and assessing the merits and impacts of each. Students are then asked to create an ArcGIS presentation to communicate what they have learned.
You and your students can use ArcGIS Online to analyze other issues that you choose or that they choose. And from an instructional standpoint, embedding the lesson in the map’s metadata is an easy and quick way of creating a “one stop shop” for everything you need to teach about that issue.
How might you use this technique of coupling a web map with the map’s metadata for instruction?
A recent article in Canada’s National Post newspaper expressed dismay that despite the arrival of a globalized society, university students cannot locate the Atlantic Ocean on a world map.
My colleague and chair of Canadian Geographic Education Connie Wyatt Anderson wrote a response to this article, stating that this lack of geographic content knowledge is the result of decades of “the erosion of geography as a curriculum staple.” She called on parents, curriculum developers, education authorities, and educators to be advocates to return geography to its rightful place throughout the educational system.
The National Post article reflects something that we in the geography and GIS education community have become used to and frankly, rather tired of. We are now in the 30th year after the first of the dismal reports from National Geographic and the National Assessment of Educational Progress about geographic illiteracy. While I salute the Post for caring about geography education, these types of articles and reports about students not knowing where Alberta or Addis Ababa are interesting and well-intentioned, but I think are asking the wrong question.
Yes, it is unfortunate that some students do not know the location of major oceans, continents, or countries, let alone the location of their own ecoregion, watershed, or neighborhood in their own city. We can bemoan what we consider the lack of core content knowledge not only in geography but in any other discipline. But now more than ever, students can look up that information in a flash. Yes, they need to be critical consumers of that data when they look it up, most certainly. However, in a book I recently read entitled Understanding the Digital Generation, the authors claim that the model of the educator dispensing facts for students is increasingly out of touch not only with societal needs, but out of touch with how students learn. The results are increasing disengagement by students to their own education, and a tragic under-utilization of their talents and skills.
The real tragedy is not that students don’t know where the Atlantic Ocean is, but how oceans function, why oceans are important to the health and climate of the planet, how oceans support economies, about coral reefs and other ocean life, about threats to the ocean, and so on. The tragedy is that very little of what I consider to be true geoliteracy is being rigorously taught and engaged with around the world: Core geographic content (such as sustainability, biodiversity, climate, natural hazards, energy, and water), the spatial perspective (such as holistic, critical, and spatial thinking about scale, processes, and relationships) and geographic skills (such as working with imagery, GIS, GPS, databases, and mobile applications). While there are many fine exceptions, we need a much greater global adoption, beginning with valuing geography and geospatial as fundamental to every student’s 21st Century education.
As a consequence, I am concerned that the the key issues of the 21st Century will not be well understood and be able to be grappled with graduating students as our future decision makers. I firmly believe that geotechnologies have a key role to play to help enable effective teaching and learning of the above three pillars through inquiry. And then along the way, students will also be learning core content; even the location of the Atlantic Ocean!
Do you think we are asking the wrong question?
Every four years, the USA undergoes a bit of revolution. Some years are bigger than others. For the first time, I got to see it live. For friends and family around the world, I joined over a half-million to bear witness.
Along the way, I used my smartphone’s ArcGIS app to gather data and photos. The data proved not sufficiently useful; that’s sometimes the way it goes with science. But the practice was valuable. And the photos tell a story.
After taking the oath of office, President Obama talked about what we the people can do, and must do. Education was front and center. Liberty and equality, prosperity and happiness, present and future, all rely on collective action. We need to build understanding of complex phenomena, strengthen our capacity to solve problems, and can only do so together.
I looked around at the sea of people … all sizes, ages, races, and stations. I looked at the little device in my hand. With it, I had gathered data, captured images, transmitted content, and shared the experience. I had prepared for this mission by integrating multiple devices, considering various layers, learning different applications, and deciding on a plan.
This is what we can help young people do. Citizen science is the product of we the people. It depends on we the people valuing the principles and skills of science, the interwoven stories of both natural and human worlds, the integrative perspective of geography, and the immense capacity of technology. We the people can share these with each other, young and old alike, and build a better world, if we do it together. We have serious challenges ahead, for which our only hope is education. We the people must commit to building and sharing knowledge together.
- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager
“Please computer show me all features where…” I think this is the sweetest phrase in all of GIS. Why does GIS rock? Analysis! It’s technology’s marvelous ability to sift through a bunch of data, and show the answer to a compelling question. The user has to provide the data and craft a clear and meaningful question that the computer can answer. For an educator, this is magic! It is a wonderfully simple, clear, and potent demonstration of problem-solving. The guts of GIS is features and their attributes, but the brain of GIS is analysis.
The latest upgrade to ArcGIS Online now makes it easy to see and practice analysis, allowing educators to build problem-solving skills from even a young age. Any feature service can now display a table of attributes, where users can sort and select and see relationships even more clearly. And properly formatted data can be filtered with queries, sifting out features that meet specific criteria.
To demo, I downloaded some data about US states – four years of 8th grade math scores in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test. In Excel, I collected summary scores from 2011, 2009, 2007, and 2005, and calculated the difference between 2005 and 2011. (For such a demo, I could have used as few as three features and three attributes, but making it realistic adds power.) I used Esri Maps for Office to convert the spreadsheet into a map layer, and then shared that layer through my ArcGIS Online organization.
Back in a classroom, students on computers or iPads could practice analysis, using the map, table, and filter tools! This is a fabulous workflow for educators – build a simple data set, publish it to ArcGIS Online, let your students bang away on it! In addition to the classification and symbolization that is a hallmark of GIS, now students can explore that table and select features of special interest.
Students can then filter out according to carefully crafted criteria, with simple queries about a single thing to very complex and even parameterized queries! And users don’t even need to be signed in if the data is shared with the public! This is awesome!
Education policy leaders are yearning for analytical thinking. Employers seek workers who can analyze information. The new geography standards and next generation science standards both call for students to demonstrate analysis. The Common Core State Standards call for analysis. STEM fields require constant analysis. This is why I’m so excited about the powerful combination of ArcGIS Online as a critical thinking arena, especially when used in conjunction with Esri Maps for Office. Opportunities for students to build analytical power are endless!
- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager
In a recent essay, I asked “Is Everyone a Geographer?,”given the advent of easy-to-use geotechnologies that have enabled the general public to use many of the same tools and data that were formerly only used by GIS specialists and geographers. I received some intriguing responses as did a book in which my colleagues and I asked this same question, entitled Practicing Geography. In the essay I contended that geography is a three-legged stool, with supporting legs representing content knowledge, geographic skills, and the spatial perspective.
The advent of geotechnologies has elevated the importance of geography to a level unprecedented in the history of the discipline, reinvoking inherent tensions between the integrity of the field as a discrete academic discipline, on the one hand, and its generalist appeal on the other hand. Although this tension within geography is not new—William Morris Davis reacted to it over one hundred years ago—some say that geography has never been more prominent within the everyday human experience than it is today.
Personally, I’m not so sure about that. We spend so much time indoors these days. At one time we were all directly depending on the landscape for food, water, and shelter, we were very much attuned to local geography—where to plant, where not to plant, where the safe drinking water was, where we could set animal traps or fishing lures, and other actions that our very lives depended on. That has changed for many, though certainly not all, of the planet’s inhabitants. In the past, the ability to use “geographic data” depended on one’s five senses. I suppose we could have a lively debate on whether geography is more prominent in the human experience now or in the past. What is clear that the 21st Century certainly has seen society’s valuing geographic tools in everyday life. This is different in many ways from the previous 100 years, where the ability to use geographic data, in the form of increasingly sophisticated paper maps, and later, databases and software, did require extensive geographic training. Now, many of these tools are as common as the smartphone or the Internet itself.
The rise of geographic tools such as web GIS, GPS, data collection via smartphone, and easy-to-use GIS software means that we now have the capability of making decisions more rapidly and more wisely than ever before, and most importantly, use the spatial perspective in making those decisions. Geotechnologies have no curricular “home” in most educational systems at the present time. Thus, one challenge in education is convincing educational authorities and organizations, and even individual educators and parents, that these geographic tools enhance teaching and learning at all levels. They are valuable tools with which to learn history, earth and environmental science, biology, geography, mathematics, language arts, and many other subjects, encouraging holistic and critical thinking. However, they are also valuable to learn for their own sake, as technologies for an ever-expanding array of careers, from medicine to marketing, from engineering to ecology, from business to biology, from public safety to planning.
How can we connect the rise of geographic tools to the need to be using these tools throughout the educational system?
-Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager
Forty years ago, Apollo 17 journeyed from Earth to moon and back, the last time a manned mission has done this. One of the astronauts captured this breathtaking view of Earth.
Image credit: NASA
Getting people to the moon and back took long-range vision, planning, careful science, methodical capacity building, systems thinking, and much collaboration. Those same powers have recently generated a stunning nighttime view of Earth.
Science, technology, engineering, and math – STEM – got us to the moon and back. STEM skills have powered unfathomable innovation. But the issues facing us today go beyond STEM, because they include many tangled layers of the complex human experience. Life on Earth is not just a collection of incontrovertible and one-dimensional facts.
1972 saw about 3.8 billion people on Earth; today there are over 7 billion. Forty years ago, the climate was already warming; a preponderance of data from NASA and many others shows it. With stresses from a dynamic planet and limits to resources come issues of food production, human health, economic vitality, and political stability. For each issue there is not one single view but many to consider. Synthesizing any situation today takes particular clarity of vision, and a grasp of the ways in which mindsets and perceptions can influence one’s view of phenomena. Only by illuminating the patterns and relationships within these complex views of the many layers of our world can we hope to find sensible choices. GIS helps people explore data, uncover these patterns and relationships, ask critical questions, and seek holistic solutions.
Students today can go far by building capacity in STEM fields. But a strict interpretation of these fields cannot solve all challenges before us. That small blue marble viewed so powerfully by those voyagers to the moon looks lovely and serene, but is subject to many forces, visible and hidden, natural and human, galactic and individual, with consequences intended or not. Building skills for tackling complex questions that go beyond “pure data and simple physics” to incorporate the ideas and values of those affected will enrich understanding of the problems of today. Only the broadest view of STEM can help us move closer to the serenity viewed by those of Apollo 17.
- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager