As a software system for data analysis and automated cartography, GIS is used in a vast range of applications, covering virtually any industry or agency concerned with the surface of Earth and with the human activities and physical processes that occur on or near Earth’s surface. These include scientific research in the physical and social sciences and in the humanities; management of land and natural resources; modeling of environmental and ecological processes; routing and scheduling of vehicles; and management of urban, utility, and transportation assets. The introductory textbooks cited earlier provide abundant examples of GIS applications, and there are specialized books on the role of GIS in most major application areas.


Currently, GIS is the accumulative result of continual additions and occasional restructurings, over a 30-year period, to a complex architecture. It is expert driven and, therefore, oriented to the needs of professional practitioners (Foresman, 1998). Designed for solving practical problems, GIS is used primarily by high-tech practitioners in industry, business, government, and research. For these practitioners, GIS provides an excellent vehicle for integrating and analyzing large amounts of geographic data rapidly, accurately, and reliably. It also provides a basis for decision support systems to facilitate management and planning decisions in both the public and the private sectors. A GIS supports decision-making by providing ways to examine and choose among alternative solutions to problems.

GIS was not designed with either children or learning in mind. Since it was introduced to schools in the 1980s, there has been very little adaptation of GIS for K–12 education. Moreover, the rate of adoption of GIS by schools has lagged far behind the rates for business and government. By 2003, GIS was used in only 1 percent of American high schools (Kerski, 2003, p. 128). This minimal level of adoption may be attributed in part to the name GIS. Because geography is such a small component of the K–12 curriculum, GIS may be marginalized. To be sure, the low level of

FIGURE 7.7 Phases in the scientific method. SOURCE: Gahegan et al., 2001, p. 2. First published in Cartography and Geographic Information Science 28(1):29–44. Reprinted by permission from the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping.

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