An analysis of GIS as a high-tech support system for spatial thinking in K-12 education is timely because, given the increasing use of GIS in the workplace (government, industry, business, and academia), education and training in GIS is also increasingly important, especially at higher grades. Given efforts to incorporate GIS into the K-12 context (Appendix G), there are some data and experiences with which to assess GIS against the design and implementation criteria for support systems for spatial thinking.
Using the frameworks laid out in Chapter 6, this chapter addresses the question of whether GI S can provide an effective foundation for teaching and practicing spatial thinking in K-12 education. The committee appraises the current status of GIS in terms of (I) the requirements of a system for supporting spatial thinking, (2) the criteria for the design of a support system in the K-12 context. and (3) the criteria for the implementation ofa support system in the K-12 context. This assessment is based on readily available versions of GIS. Readily available versions are products that are available off the shelf, not those extended by various scripts, third-party software, or Visual Basic, Avenue, or AML programming. These off-the-shelf systems are the ones that schools and teachers are most likely to use. Software products that are commonly used in K-12 education are listed in Table 8.1.
The products of ESRI dominate the K-12 market and dominate the assessment that follows. However, the results of the committee’s analysis are reflective of the general issues of the design and implementation of a GIS for the K-I2 context. The strengths and weaknesses of ESRI products, while specific to those products, would be matched by another set of different but sometimes overlapping strengths and weaknesses reflecting the particularities of another software package. Our purpose is to illustrate the challenges and potentials of implementing GIS in K-12 education and, thus, to answer the charge posed to the committee.
Software changes rapidly, with new releases replacing prior versions and offering increased functionality, capacity, and performance. Thus, this analysis is based primarily on ESRI’sArcView 3, although the committee recognizes that subsequent releases of Arc View have addressed some of the design and implementation problems identified here. The point remains, however, that the frameworks for analysis, presented in Chapter6, are an appropriate way for analyzing any high-tech support system for spatial thinking. Moreover, the types of problems identified by the committee will probably exist until GIS is designed from scratch with students and teachers in mind.
It must be stressed that GIS was not designed with educational applications in mind. It is a working system for the handling and analysis of geospatial data, designed by and for experts. It is an “industrial-strength” system that far exceeds the needs and capabilities of most teachers and students (indeed, most users). Nevertheless, GIS has been and is being used in educational settings, and ESRI itself has been very supportive of such efforts. Thus, the committee’s analysis reflects a transitional stage in the evolution of GIS software. Just as specialized versions have been developed for specific user communities, such as business logistics or infrastructure design, the committee fully expects that versions will be developed with education in mind. These analyses are intended to aid in such development.
This chapter examines the strengths and weaknesses of currently available off-the-shelf versions of GIS as a teaming environment. In making its judgment on the capacity (Section 8.2), design (Section 8.3), and implementation (Section 8.4) of GIS as a support system for spatial thinking in the K-I 2 environment, the committee relies on primarily oral presentations and written statements from system designers, researchers, and school and university educators (Appendix B). Each section follows a similar format. In the case of system capabilities, for example, there are three requirements: the capacity to spatialize, to visualize, and to perform functions. Each requirement is analyzed, and the committee’s observations are summarized in two ways: (I) by means of a list of observations and (2) by means of an assessment table at the end of each section. Based on the results of this analysis of the current status of GIS in K-12 education, Section 8.5 examines organizational models for redesigning GIS software to fit the needs, constraints, and opportunities of the K-12 context.
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