Category Archives: education

Global Conversations around GIS and Education

Tomorrow we’ll host the 2nd in the Americas’ series of panel discussions around what it means to be a resilient educator of GIS and GIScience, and what it means to implement technologies in support of that outcome. The Europe/Africa one has already taken place, the Asia-Pacific one yet to come. Info about these can be found here:, and I encourage people to join, listen, share.

COVID has been a disruptive factor, obviously, but these conversations have uprooted much more that has been problematic for years. Too much expected of too few, too little capacity to connect dots. Why every summer do we keep wondering what textbook to adopt when only a fraction of students buy or read the book? Shouldn’t we be doing something a little differently? A lot differently?

a GIS kind of week

A friend from work asked me today if I quilted and from there it became an opportunity to upload some new quilt pictures, then it became pretty clear that I hadn’t actually posted anything new in a very long time.

We all know what kind of crazy it’s been this COVID-year so no need to go there. So I’ll just talk about the last five days: compiling these GIScience/GIS instructional resources, getting news that the article I wrote with Tom Wikle about GIS Certificate programs was now out in Transactions in GIS, wrestling with the new server that hosts the GIS&T Body of Knowledge and chatting with colleagues about its future platform, making more plans for the global Resiliency in GIScience Education panels that are taking place, and writing letters of support for in-going proposal to do great things with GIS & GIScience.

I’m now starting to update my own upcoming fall 2020 class at Cornell (Intro to Mapping & Spatial Analysis with GIS) to use QGIS instead of my usual ArcGIS Pro. Why? The labs, which will have maybe 20% of the students in-person, at least that’s the plan today. Most are Mac-users, living and learning who-knows-where in these times, and most of the class will be online and otherwise suffering through small-laptop-screen-itis via the painful clumsiness of AppsOnDemand, plus its awkward data saving manipulations. Just can’t do it. Way too many other stressful factors in the world today to not simplify this one thing, for at least this one semester. And this way I also get to work more with Keith Jenkins, our very own QGIS superstar support colleague, who was super busy last month with the QGIS North America conference. Yay for Keith.

Sharing the GIS Gospel in Belize

For the last few days I’ve had a chance to serve as an “Ambassador” for GIS – on behalf of Esri – in Belize City.  We’ve held two workshops for educators, one yesterday for primary school teachers and the second today for secondary school teachers. At both workshops, teacher educators (faculty who teach pre-service, future teachers in schools of education) were also participating. These experiences are both inspiring and humbling, encouraging and frustrating. Passionate teachers who want to learn new technologies and are committed to their students’ learning, often stymied by lack of computers and unreliable or absent Internet.

I’ve been interviewed twice by local TV stations, first yesterday on The Morning Show on LOVE/FM, and today by Channel 5 (video can be seen via Facebook, and here’s a link to just our story itself). One of the highlights for this trip so far has been connecting with a new friend and colleague Loretta Palacio, the epitome of beautiful and wound-up GIS energy. Loretta runs the Esri distributorship for Belize.

Interested in sharing your #GIS passion with other educators?  The Ambassador program is one way to gain experiences.

Tomorrow, onward to a big Expo for GIS Day. Over 700 children will be there! I’ll be helping teachers and students explore mapping tools.

Geographicity? Say that 3 times fast.

Learned a new word today, geographicity. It’s in the title of an upcoming edX MOOC offered by a group of Swiss geographersExploring Human’s Space: an Introduction to Geographicity. A class designed to “explore how geography, cartography, urbanization and spatial justice play a role in shaping the notion of human space.”  Sounds marvelous and could be, if done well, an interesting entry into the somewhat opaque social-science side of my beloved discipline of geography.

The word itself – geographicity – is unlikely to ever make the OED. It was coined sometime after 1999 by two philosophers, Gary Backhaus and John Murungi. I first saw its definition (geographicity = the spatial component of all phenomena) in the preface of their 2007 book, Colonial and Global Interfacings: Imperial Hegemonies and Democratizing Resistances.  Geographicity also figures prominently in Esoscapes: Geographical Patternings of Relations, and Lived Topographies and their Mediational Forces.

passage about geographicityHere’s a passage from where I first saw the term discussed, from the preface of the Colonial and Global Interfacings books. Go ahead, read it through and challenge yourself to understand. I have, several times, and I’m still clueless.  Absurdly and gratuitously confusing academic-speak.

I really do have much respect for social theorists. Some of my best friends are social theorists. (okay, not really).  I’ve enjoyed the rich dialogue between fellow geographers about just this topic recently.  In this case, it’s philosophers writing and not geographers, but, still, I’d argue that this passage lies at the extreme edge of English-language communication.

Future of R with GIS

I was a total newbie to R before spring 2014. Then it was a little trial by fire, trying to learn just enough to keep up with grad students in a class I was co-teaching. Thank goodness for the “co-” part, as my partner was an expert in the topic, and I could contribute in my own areas of expertise, which were/are not R!  But I finished the semester with a new-found respect and, frankly, awe for what is possible with R. I have much to learn, and maybe, someday, the time.

Fast forward a few months and the topic keeps cropping up.  I shared a beer in Salzburg with Lex Comber and learned about one of his forthcoming publications, an Intro to R for Spatial Analysis and Mapping. Haven’t got my own copy yet, but if it’s what it seems to be, it’ll be one of my assigned texts in the future. In one of our webinars, Trisalyn Nelson spoke about her use of R with her graduate students. And today, I silently scanned through Alex Singleton‘s recent presentation on the Changed Face of GIS, in which R figures prominently for him.  There’s something going on here that some smart people have figured out.

new article linking spatial thinking with multiple school topics

Temple University’s Nora Newcombe is well-versed at writing about spatial thinking in a way that makes the topic accessible to lay audiences. New to me: a piece called Seeing Relationships (pdf) in the Spring 2013 American Educator. Now she can share the results of the large meta-analysis recently completed, that documents our mind’s capacity to become more skilled at spatial tasks.  She’s still firmly grounded in her own disciplinary perspective, cognitive psychology, but here she ventures into examples involving geographic space and geospatial technologies, not only mental rotation in abstract space. This piece includes call-outs to the Geospatial Semester program at James Madison University and Stanford’s Orbis project.

Nora’s oft-cited, oft-shared 2010 American Educator piece, Picture This, is still available too.

the NYT and its geography lessons

A great idea for a newspaper, to direct readers to educational activities that link to their own content.  The New York Times just published ideas for teaching geography, with relevant connections to the new national standards in both geography and English & language arts.  Guess this has been going on for a while!  Here are links to geography lessons published at the end of each school year, from 2010 and 2011.

What’s the value of geographic memorization? Practiced and applied, towards geoliteracy.

In my online Foundations of Spatial Thinking class, we’ve been discussing the relative merits of having students memorize places and locations. The 50 States, their capitals, countries around the world and their capital cities too. For me this type of “place name geography” is necessary but not sufficient. Yes, we should be expected to know these attributes of our own country, and (at least the general) global locations. We should begin to memorize them early, in elementary school, just the same way that by 3rd and 4th grade we are memorizing our multiplication tables, how to spell difficult words (handkerchief, neighborhood, independent, committee), and distinguishing among words commonly confused (their/there/they’re; its/it’s).

Mastering these basics are the building blocks for later “literacy” – in math, in writing, and in geographic thinking. The trick is that with our times tables and with spelling, we have countless opportunities to continue to practice and apply these basics, year after year. If we mistakenly calculate the product of 8×7, for example, we will reach the wrong solution in a math equation or hand somebody the wrong amount of change from a cash register, and we’ll be reminded of our error. When we misspell “disseminate” now, our computers will remind us by underlining the word with a squiggly red line.

But there are precious few opportunities to practice and apply the geographic knowledge that we manage to accrue during our early years. And if we never practice recalling and applying those “facts” again, they will, eventually, or even immediately, just slip from our mind, like all the other scraps of minutiae that our formal education presents us with. So isn’t it really part of a much bigger problem, really, that many later forget which one is Iraq and which one is Iran?

There are no “map” checkers built in to our computer programs.  Copy editors are paid to check for careless mistakes before written material goes to press, but there are no such skilled people employed by many media outlets. Mistakes are common (CNN and Fox both make fairly regular errors), and usually more amusing and inconvenient than damaging.  Of course it’s Apple’s maps that are the topic du jour.

So, memorization is necessary but not sufficient. Our geography education should not neglect this process, but it should also and then expect teachers, and students, to master this step and move beyond it to the applied knowledge part. Asking, understanding, and answering questions about our human and environmental interactions, without having to spend precious hours returning to the basics.

One more note on memorizing our States. Peter Gould and Rodney White, in their studies of our mental maps, found that some States are more difficult to learn than others. Shown below are the ones more likely to be confused, at least by college students in Pennsylvania in the early 1970s. Maybe these are the ones for which we just need to practice more. Just like to, two, and too.

more examples of linking geography and history via maps, some digital

My friends at the UVa Scholar’s Lab shared with me their new Neatline project earlier this week. I don’t know much about Omeka, but I always trust these guys to do good work with a wide range of OS tools. I do like the interface, the rapid loading of georeferenced maps, and the additional interactive functionality on the main screen. If I can figure out more about this, I have a stack of projects ready to try!

In Time & Place is oriented to secondary school learning. This will be a good resource for my Spatial Literacy students, and I’ll see about modifying things for my higher ed students too.  Not sure how I wandered across this site this week. I need to click on fewer windows to make h/t’ipping easier.

Conflict History is a Google Maps mashup. I like the timeline and the thorough “info” available.  This interface and collection really highlights the disparity between how few military conflicts we’ve had on US soil versus the rest of the world, and how relatively high Europe and Asia are. Not news, but interesting to see it in this way.  H/t to Google Maps Mania.


Considering Spatial Citizenship

I’ve just completed Day 1 of a SPACIT meeting, the semi-annual gathering of partners working on this Comenius funded project. Very interesting ideas coupled with very ambitious plans! Combining GIS&T, geography, philosophy, politics, the act of “participating” – or engagement, pedagogy and teacher professional development, communication, and other technology, especially via geomedia. Here’s a recent paper, GI and Spatial Citizenship (pdf) authored by 3 of the lead partners, Inga Gryl, Thomas Jekel, and Karl Donert.

I’m contributing on behalf of NCGE, and I have much to learn from these discussions. And did I mention we’ve gathered in Salzburg, Austria, at the university where the GI Forum and AGIT is about to happen?  Geo everywhere.