Tag Archives: spatial thinking
Visitors to Esri often pause for pictures beside an ivy-covered wall emblazoned with the word GEOGRAPHY in raised metal letters. The inscription speaks to an ingrained belief that geography offers a unique framework for organizing the world’s knowledge in a way that fosters better decision-making and a more sustainable future. Consistent with this belief, the education outreach team I lead at Esri does what we can to nurture geographic thinking and methods across the spectrum of academic disciplines.
That’s a big job. Disciplines have proliferated since the advent of the modern university in the 19th and 20th centuries. Consider this concept map of contemporary academic disciplines. Few disciplines depicted explicitly recognize geography, let alone GIS, as an integral way of understanding the world. Given the longstanding claim that a science of geographic information undergirds GIS (Goodchild 1992), you might suppose that Information Science is one of the disciplines that’s likely to appreciate the special properties of spatial data. If so, you’d be surprised to find that there’s precious little “G” is IS.
If you are a geography educator or GIS professional, you might say that “spatial thinking” is a way of reasoning about the world, facilitated by maps. However, if you are a science educator whose students need to make sense of 3-D molecular models or of cross-sections of a plant, “spatial thinking” is likely to mean something quite different. So too for cognitive psychologists who employ experimental methods to understand how people learn.
A recent Specialist Meeting on “Spatial Thinking across the College Curriculum” highlighted these different perspectives. The meeting’s purpose was to “identify the current state of our understanding of spatial thinking, identify gaps in our knowledge, and identify priorities for both research and practice in educating spatial thinkers at the college level.” Forty-three thought leaders were invited to participate, including those from Geography and GIScience, cognitive and developmental psychology, research librarians, and science education, history, landscape architecture, philosophy, and political science. Continue reading
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.
Bringing spatial awareness into your mission
Before making a decision, military commanders gather a lot of information to analyze. First, they ask the same six questions journalists ask when gathering the news: who, what, where, when, why, and how. The critical question that ties the others together is where. Knowing the answer to where often helps the commander determine the who, what, when, why, and how. When you understand where and take advantage of that knowledge, you will make better decisions. You will, in many cases, get a sharper, 360-degree view of what’s happening within your area of operations, when and why it’s happening, and who is involved. Continue reading
Have we yet reached a sort of “critical mass” where more educators know about geospatial technologies than don’t know about the technology?
Maps and mapping are certainly part of more people’s day to day lives than ever before. For example, we know that mapping applications are among the most popular apps for smartphones. However, map awareness doesn’t equate with GIS awareness. Relatively few educators, researchers, administrators, and students know how GIS can support learning, help produce research insights, realize efficiencies and better decisions, and provide an edge in the job market. Furthermore, despite the mass market appeal of web mapping, resistance to incorporating GIS assignments in curricula in disciplines like business, economics, education, engineering, political science, and others, persists.
Mobile computing, social media, “the cloud”, and other technology trends are not only changing the way we use GIS; they’re also changing the way we teach and learn GIS. Just how are these changes affecting education? I recently spoke with David DiBiase, Director of Education at Esri, about the opportunities and challenges ahead. [Note: This is the first half of the interview; you can read the second half here.]
Many industries have suffered during the current economic downturn. So why is it that during this same period, demand for geospatial technology professionals has grown significantly?
I think that this trend is due to the growing understanding of the value of spatial information and analysis. There are many reasons to implement GIS, but the benefits that we see driving organizations in lean times are cost savings resulting from greater efficiency. And as we come out of this economic downturn, the efficiencies realized from GIS will become a standard way of doing business, so the need for geospatial professionals will increase even more.