8
An Assessment of GIS as a System for Supporting Spatial Thinking in the K–12 Context

8.1 INTRODUCTION

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 GIS 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 (1) 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 of a 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–12 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’s ArcView 3, although the committee recognizes that subsequent releases of ArcView (e.g., ArcGIS, ArcView



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Learning To Think Spatially 8 An Assessment of GIS as a System for Supporting Spatial Thinking in the K–12 Context 8.1 INTRODUCTION 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 GIS 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 (1) 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 of a 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–12 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’s ArcView 3, although the committee recognizes that subsequent releases of ArcView (e.g., ArcGIS, ArcView

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Learning To Think Spatially TABLE 8.1 Major GIS Software Products Used in K–12 Education Programs World Wide Web Address ArcExplorera http://www.esri.com/arcexplorer ArcView http://www.esri.com/software/arcview ArcVoyagera http://www.esri.com/industries/K-12/voyager.html Atlas GIS http://rpmconsulting.com/ Autodesk Map http://usa.autodesk.com/adsk/servlet/index?siteID=123112&id=3081357 GeoMedia http://imgs.intergraph.com/geomedia/default.asp GRASS http://openosx.com/grass/ Idrisi http://www.clarklabs.org Mac GIS http://dslmac.uoregon.edu/macGISinfo.html MapInfo http://www.mapinfo.com Maptitude http://www.caliper.com/ Mfworks http://www.keigansystems.com/Products/Mfworks/Mfworks3.html My Worlda http://www.worldwatcher.northwestern.edu/MyWorld aSoftware programs customized for K–12. 9) have addressed some of the design and implementation problems identified here. The point remains, however, that the frameworks for analysis, presented in Chapter 6, 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 learning 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–12 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: (1) 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. 8.2 THE CAPACITY OF GIS AS A SUPPORT SYSTEM FOR SPATIAL THINKING For current GIS software products to support the teaching and learning of spatial thinking in the K–12 context, they must have the capacity to (1) spatialize data sets by providing spatial data

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Learning To Think Spatially structures and coding systems for nonspatial data, (2) visualize working and final results by providing multiple forms of representation, and (3) perform functions that manipulate the structural relations of data sets. The capacity to spatialize data sets motivates the process of spatial thinking, the capacity to visualize is integral to the process of spatial thinking, and the capacity to manipulate structural relations is the essence of spatial thinking. The following sections discuss the extent to which current GIS software products meet each of these three specific requirements of a support system for spatial thinking. 8.2.1 Capacity to Spatialize Inside a typical GIS, space is defined by a combination of geometry, projection, and registration data. The structures of space and geographic data are so tightly bound in the software that they are inseparable at the application level. This strong bond sets a GIS apart from most other kinds of information systems by providing the infrastructure necessary for the direct support of geographic operations that can be performed on that space (e.g., registration, re-projection, neighborhood and distance calculations, network analysis, spatial interpolation). Because of the bonds between space and geography, a GIS is a system that is designed to handle geographic data, but in principle, data defined in any spatial domain are also amenable to handling with GIS. The adjective geographic refers specifically to Earth’s surface and near-surface, and the more general adjective spatial refers to any space, including the space of Earth’s surface. Thus, GIS methods have been applied to nongeographic spaces, including the surfaces of other planets, the space of the cosmos, and the space of the human body. GIS has also been applied to the analysis of genome sequences of DNA. Attempts have been made to estimate the amount of data that are geographic. It is estimated that between 70 to 80 percent of the data generated and used by local government organizations are geographic (Longley et al., 2001). Local governments use geographic data to improve the quality of their products, processes, and services. Typical GIS applications of geographic data include inventorying resources and infrastructure, planning transportation routing, improving service response time, managing land development, monitoring public health risk, and tracking crime. These applications of GIS often require databases that can easily reach a gigabyte or more in size (Table 8.2). To be used in a GIS, data must be spatialized. Spatialization is the process of attaching coordinate codes to each data item (e.g., x and y in the case of two-dimensional spatial data, or latitude and longitude in the case of two-dimensional geographic data). A GIS does a fine job of spatializing spatial data. Once spatialized, these data can be presented in a visual representation such as a thematic map. In contrast to spatial data, GIS give limited support for the spatialization of nonspatial data. For example, a GIS can draw a map of the Internet in which nodes are mapped by their geographic location. However, current versions of GIS cannot draw a map of the Internet based on bandwidth TABLE 8.2 Potential GIS Database Volumes for Some Typical Applications Database Volume Application 1 megabyte 1,000,000 Single data set in a small project database 1 gigabyte 1,000,000,000 Entire street network of a large city or a small country 1 terabyte 1,000,000,000,000 Elevation of entire Earth surface recorded at 30 m intervals 1 petabyte 1,000,000,000,000,000 Satellite image of entire Earth surface at 1 m resolution NOTE: Volumes estimated to the nearest order of magnitude. Bytes are counted in powers of 2. SOURCE: Longley et al., 2001, p. 6. Reprinted by permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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Learning To Think Spatially accessibility or connection speed without “fooling” the GIS into thinking that bandwidth connections are actually “on” Earth’s surface. Unlike GIS, however, visual exploration systems can readily spatialize nonspatial data. For example, they can draw a map of Internet bandwidth connections where nodes with low-bandwidth connections would be far apart and nodes with high-bandwidth connections would be close together. Thus, a GIS can produce a map of the Internet where space is defined geographically, whereas a visualization exploration system can produce a map of the Internet where space is defined by accessibility or connection speed. Although GIS does support the x and y dimensions, it gives limited support to the z (or vertical) dimension because it uses only two-dimensional surfaces as a data type. For example, GIS cannot represent an overhanging cliff because some points in the x and y dimensions would require more than two z values. Likewise, a GIS cannot represent layered models of the solid Earth, atmosphere, or oceans because z values would be required for each x,y location. Many applications in science and geography also involve the representation and analysis of the vertical dimension in ways that cannot be represented adequately by a two-dimensional surface. This limitation of GIS does not occur, however, in many of the children’s software games that fully support the construction and exploration of three-dimensional structures. For example, using the video game The Sims Superstars, children can design houses with multiple floors and connecting corridors and stairs, promoting the understanding of true three-dimensional structures. From this analysis, three observations can be made about the capacity of current versions of GIS to spatialize data sets and, hence, motivate spatial thinking: GIS does a fine job if the data are geospatial; GIS provides limited support for the spatialization of nonspatial data; and GIS does not support a true three-dimensional model of space. 8.2.2 Capacity to Visualize The advent of GIS and computer displays of geographic data has reinvigorated the ancient field of cartography (Longley et al., 1999; NRC, 2002a).They give map designers new potential to express knowledge of Earth’s surface and new powers to display aspects of this knowledge that were previously beyond the powers of traditional graphic visualizations. The term geovisualization captures this new potential and is the focus of an active and growing research community (NRC, 1997, pp. 63–65; http://www.geovista.psu.edu//sites/icavis/). A GIS is, however, far more than a computer-based map-making machine. It can supplement maps with textual information, digital images, diagrams, and other graphical information. However, the portrayal of information in a GIS need not be limited to visual display. It could, but currently does not, provide full media support (e.g., sound, hyperlinks) to enhance the learning experience by creating an engaging and challenging environment. Full media support would provide more opportunities for self-paced exploration and support for distance or asynchronous learning. Nonetheless, maps are the primary GIS products. One task of a GIS user is to transform geographic data in digital form into a visual product, a map, that is accurate, informative, and user-friendly. The appearance of data displayed as a map by a GIS is governed by several factors, including the types of display geometry provided (e.g., symbols, line styles, polygonal regions, images); the visual variables that these geometries can support (e.g., size, density, color, shape, texture, orientation; Bertin, 1983) (see Figure 8.1); and

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Learning To Think Spatially FIGURE 8.1 Six graphic variables that can be used to symbolize geographic phenomena. SOURCE: Bernhardsen, 1999, p. 275. From Geographic Information Systems: An Introduction; Copyright 1999 T. Bernhardsen. This material is used by permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. the mapping tools used to assign values in the data to these visual variables (e.g., line thickness, symbol size, color hue). The cartographic capabilities of most GIS are quite advanced, providing users with perceptually valid color spaces and symbology. Yet GIS are not yet as graphically advanced as information visualization systems (e.g., Advanced Visualization System, Data Explorer) because not all visual variables are under the direct control of the user. GIS provide only a partial set of visual variables to communicate meaning. Some representational techniques are not supported (e.g., transparency, movement, height); others are accessible only via predefined, hard-coded paths. On the positive

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Learning To Think Spatially side, these paths constrain the options available to users to those that, in the judgments of system designers, make the most cartographic sense in practice. It is, therefore, difficult or even impossible for users to do things to the data that are inappropriate cartographically. By contrast, information visualization systems do not have the geospatial option constraints of GIS. Typically, systems such as Advanced Visualization System or Data Explorer do not enforce projection and registration constraints, thus providing flexibility but also allowing for the problems of misplaced data in the display. A GIS has the capability to produce high-quality graphical representations, especially maps, making it a potentially valuable support system for the process of spatial thinking in the K–12 context. However, users must be aware of and understand the importance of data quality. Professional-looking final products may conceal data errors. These errors may be referential (i.e., an error in specifying something such as a street address), topological (i.e., a linkage error in spatial data such as an unclosed polygon), relative (i.e., an error in the position of two objects relative to each other), or absolute (i.e., an error in the true position of something such as a floodplain boundary not aligned with property boundaries) (Tomlinson, 2003). Currently, no GIS can automatically handle data error problems in a satisfactory manner. Moreover, products may be graphically misleading. No GIS can guide K–12 operators in the choice of map symbols and other graphic effects. The process of exploring data on a GIS-produced map could be enhanced if users had real-time control over the visual display. Most information visualization systems provide user interface controls that remain “live” after the display is constructed. This enables users to change the appearance of features in the display interactively (e.g., a color ramp, a size control for point symbols, a transparency control for an image layer). Currently, GIS lack such a capability. GIS provides poor support for the modeling of time (Peuquet, 2002) and related presentations via animation (MacEachren, 1994). Unlike animation systems such as Director and Flash that explicitly represent time (t) values, existing versions of GIS have no temporal “coordinate” as in x,y,t. Although there are ways to work around this problem, achieved by stacking map layers in a temporal sequence of cross sections that can be refreshed several times per second (Goodchild, 1988), they lead to a noncontinuous sense of time for users. Many important aspects of science and geography revolve around processes occurring through time (e.g., carbon and water cycles, glacial change, migration, urban expansion). Although GIS lacks the capability to examine processes that occur continuously through time, technology exists for large-scale geospatial virtual representations of the entire Earth over time and in three dimensions. Keyhole Inc. Images (http://www.earthviewer.com) provides users, even those with legacy computers, with access to terabytes of imagery and GIS files to view Earth as a three-dimensional object. Figure 8.2 shows screenshots of Earthviewer (http://www.earthviewer.com), which allows users to zoom smoothly from a whole-Earth view to resolutions as detailed as 1 m and to “fly” over a realistic rendering of Earth’s topography. The data to support these views are fed over the Internet, so a broadband connection is required for adequate performance. Earthviewer and similar developments come close to the vision of “Digital Earth” outlined by former Vice President Al Gore in Earth in the Balance (Gore, 1992). Earthviewer accommodates varying spatial resolutions, building its views dynamically from a patchwork of data obtained from various sources. 8.2.3 Capacity to Perform Functions As an engine for performing transformations, operations, and analyses, GIS displays its full power for supporting spatial thinking. The earliest GIS was developed in response to the need to make accurate measurements of the size, shape, and characteristics of areas from large numbers of paper maps (Foresman, 1998), a task that is inaccurate, tedious, and expensive when performed by hand. This vision of a GIS as a calculating machine dominated thinking well into the 1990s, and

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Learning To Think Spatially FIGURE 8.2 Two screenshots from Earthviewer. This web site allows users to zoom smoothly from global to submeter resolutions and to combine data from a patchwork of coverages. (a) A continental view, showing the patchwork of higher-resolution data available for U.S. cities. (b) An oblique view of the Santa Barbara coastline, combining high-resolution imagery with terrain. SOURCE: http://www.earthviewer.com/.

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Learning To Think Spatially by that time, a vast array of techniques had been implemented, either as part of the basic GIS products offered by vendors or as extensions developed by users. Several texts describe the advanced analytic capabilities of GIS (Burrough and MacDonnell, 1998; Fotheringham and Rogerson, 1994; Lee and Wong, 2001). In principle, there is no limit to the range of functions that can be implemented in a GIS, but in practice, priorities are established by the demands of different user communities. There have been several efforts to systematize the often overwhelming range of functions and to make it easier for users to navigate through them. These efforts range from simplifying schema to interface formats. Tomlin (1990) devised a schema termed cartographic modeling that has been widely adopted as the basis for spatial querying and analysis, despite the fact that it is limited in scope to operations on raster data. The schema classifies GIS transformations into four classes and is used in several raster GIS as the basis for their analysis languages: (1) local operations, which examine rasters cell by cell; (2) focal operations, which compare the value in each cell with the values in its proximate cells; (3) global operations, which produce results that are true of the entire layer, such as its mean value; and (4) zonal operations, which compute results for blocks of contiguous cells that share the same value. The development of so-called WIMP interfaces—based on windows, icons, menus, and pointers—has also helped user interaction, allowing spatial querying and analysis through pointing, clicking, and dragging windows and icons (Egenhofer and Kuhn 1999; Figure 8.3). Nonetheless, navigating through the multitude of capabilities of a modern GIS remains challenging, especially given the lack of a standard nomenclature for operations. Much work remains to be done to simplify user interfaces, standardize terminology, and hide irrelevant detail if GIS is to be adopted widely for use in K–12 education. A typical GIS can be expected to perform a wide range of transformations, operations, and analyses. Transformations include changes in the map projection or coordinate system. For example, one can change the familiar Mercator projection to one more suitable for areal comparisons, such as the Albers Equal Area, which unlike the Mercator does not distort areas. Transformations might also include conversion from a raster to vector data model, or the reverse. An example of an operation is the point-in-polygon operation, which identifies whether a given area contains a given point. Operations in a GIS may be performed on points, lines, or areas and may involve considerations of spatial proximity or of changes over time. These operations, often highly complex, enable the analysis of spatial data. They can be used to detect whether clustering exists in patterns of points, to select optimal locations for new roads or businesses, and a host of other tasks. More specifically, the major operational functions of a GIS include (1) query, (2) buffer, (3) overlay, (4) proximity, (5) connectivity, and (6) modeling (Box 8.1). Various combinations of these functions are commonly used during the data analysis process. By and large, the analysis capabilities of a GIS are more advanced than those that will probably be needed in most K–12 education applications. For students, the software’s functionality is generally more complex than is necessary. However, system designers could help students perform analyses with the provision of age- and task-appropriate assistance in the form of wizards, which would guide students through the morass of functionality and options exposed on standard user interfaces. There is one potential exception to the statement that GIS has more analytical capabilities than most students will ever need. In some desktop GIS, such as ArcView and MapInfo, there is a lack of support for topology, which is the science and mathematics of relationships and is one of the most important parts of geometry. Although topology is a difficult subject, it does present an excellent opportunity to explore and motivate logic-mathematical skills (such as reflexive, transitive, and symmetric relationships). Where special-purpose analysis capability is missing in GIS, it can usually be added via the API that exposes some of the basic product functionality to a conventional programming language

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Learning To Think Spatially FIGURE 8.3 The WIMP (windows, icons, menus, pointers) environment for computing. SOURCE: Longley et al., 2001, p. 266. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Reproduced with permission. (e.g., Visual Basic in the case of ArcView and MapInfo). Using existing functionality as the building blocks, a programmer can develop special-purpose methods. Both ArcView and MapInfo connect to Visual Basic at the interface level, but the core of the GIS software is not directly accessible. Once new functionality is constructed, it can be made accessible by connecting it with menu items added to the interface. By contrast, a GIS such as Smallworld has a much smaller core, with most of the functionality and interface being developed using a custom-built programming language called Magic. Using Magic, developers can engage in “deep editing” in which the core functionality can be changed or augmented in major ways. The ability to customize software with the use of programming languages to meet the specific needs of students would be valuable in the K–12 context. Customization does, however, place significant demands on the curriculum developer or teacher. From this analysis, four points can be made about the capacity of GIS to perform functions. GIS is a very powerful tool for performing transformations, operations, and analyses. The capacity of most GIS software to perform functions is greater than K–12 students require. The complexity of existing product functionality is greater than is desirable for the K–12 context. The flexibility to add functionality, although attractive and desirable, may be too challenging in most educational settings.

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Learning To Think Spatially BOX 8.1 Functions of a GIS Query. A query is a question asked of the support system. For example, a GIS could be asked to show all primary schools, water wells, or markets within a specified geographic area. Queries with more specific conditions might include the following: Where are all the lateritic soils? Where are croplands that are at risk from high erosion? Where are all the paved roads in an administrative area? Buffer. Buffer analysis is a geographically or temporally constrained version of query analysis. The GIS creates a buffer or boundary of a specified distance (measured in units of length or time) around an object represented as a point, line, or polygon. The buffer is then used to constrain the queries to within that specified distance. The types of questions that might be asked using buffer analysis include the following: Where are all the people that fall within a specified distance of a clinic (a point)? Or within a specified distance of a river (line) (e.g., to determine a region’s dependence on a particular water system)? Or within a specified distance of a city boundary (polygon)? Overlay. This analysis involves the “electronic stacking” of thematic layers of spatial data (e.g., human population, land cover, soils, hydrology) on “top” of each other so that the geographic positions within each layer are precisely registered to all the other data layers in the database (Figure 7.4). Queries that might be answered using overlay analysis include the following: Show all locations where a particular vegetation type is growing on a specified soil type (vegetation layer and soil-type layer). Determine the distribution of people exposed to disease-vector (e.g., mosquito) habitats to show populations at greatest risk of health problems (population layer, hydrography layer, elevation layer, health center layer). Identify those areas where agricultural production may be most feasible and provides the greatest benefits (soil-type layer, vegetation-type layer, population density layer). Proximity. This determines the characteristics of features that are in close proximity (neighboring) to an object or an area of interest. A moving window is used to define proximity; for example, a window might be moved systematically across a data layer to determine the statistical characteristics of the pixels within the window. Connectivity. This is used on vector-based data sets to determine such network characteristics as the shortest route to a clinic. Modeling. GIS can serve as a tool for analyzing processes, analyzing the results of trends, or projecting the possible results of decisions. Changes in the geographic characteristics of features such as size or shape can be modeled over time. For example, land-use changes, such as changing farming practices, can be modeled to predict per-hectare loss of soil over time. SOURCE: NRC, 2002b.

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Learning To Think Spatially TABLE 8.3 Assessment of the Capacity of GIS to Spatialize, Visualize, and Perform Functions Requirements High Medium Low Capacity to spatialize data sets   +   Capacity to visualize   +   Capacity to perform functions   +   8.2.4 Discussion Summary Table 8.3 gives the committee’s assessment of the capacity of GIS to spatialize data sets, visualize, and perform functions. Overall, GIS software products possess many of the requirements of a powerful support system for thinking spatially in general and in the K–12 context in particular. However, whether GIS does so in practice in the K–12 context is a function of two additional sets of criteria for its design and implementation. The next section turns to a discussion of the ten general criteria for the design of a K–12 support system and measures GIS against them. 8.3 THE DESIGN OF GIS AS A SUPPORT SYSTEM FOR SPATIAL THINKING IN THE K–12 EDUCATIONAL CONTEXT Chapter 6 identifies 10 general criteria considered as desiderata for the design of a support system to aid spatial thinking in K–12 education. Here, the committee examines each of these criteria and assesses the extent to which current versions of GIS satisfy them. In essence, this section explores what GIS does well and not so well with respect to each criterion. To organize this assessment, the committee uses the framework established in Chapter 6 in which the 10 criteria are grouped under the headings of (1) meeting educational goals, (2) fitting student needs, and (3) adapted to the educational context. 8.3.1 Meeting Educational Goals This subsection considers the ability of GIS to meet four educational goals: (1) be supportive of the inquiry process; (2) be useful in solving problems in a wide range of real-world contexts; (3) facilitate learning transfer across a range of school subjects; and (4) provide a rich, generative, inviting, and challenging problem-solving environment for the users of the support system. After considering each goal in turn, the committee provides a summary and an overall assessment of the ability of GIS to meet the four educational goals. 1. Be Supportive of the Inquiry Process. Learning is a process of exploration and discovery driven by curiosity (see the Jerome Bruner example in Chapter 1). Whether in the science or social studies classroom, the inquiry process is the same. Students are expected to develop questions based on their curiosity and interests; acquire data relevant to the questions they have asked; observe and explore patterns and relations within the data; analyze and draw inferences from observed patterns and relations; and generate possible answers and act upon their new understanding.

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Learning To Think Spatially GIS vendors (especially ESRI through on-line training sessions, conferences, and the promotion of “GIS Day”) provide considerable logistical support to schools. Traditionally, they have been highly active in encouraging schools to adopt GIS and in offering heavy discounts on software. Several statewide agreements have been made to provide access to proprietary software and data for any school in the state. However, such agreements have occurred in the absence of GIS designed specifically for schools. A specialized GIS to support thinking spatially in K–12 would require a specialized business plan and continuous technical support that would provide an adequate return to the designers and developers and adequate performance for schools at affordable prices. 8.4.3 Instructional Support Teacher training is fundamental to the successful implementation of GIS as a support system for spatial thinking. Pre-service and in-service teachers should acquire training in basic GIS skills (see Box 8.6) and how to use the technology effectively in the classroom. With this training, teachers are more likely to be comfortable using the technology in their instruction. Given appropriate technical support and training, we can imagine the characteristics of a BOX 8.6 What Teachers Should Know to Be Successful with GIS in the Classroom To be successful with GIS in the classroom, teachers do the following: Master basic computer skills. In particular, they should be fluent in drive-path-file navigation and file management. Within GIS, teachers must be able to open the software, open a project, save a project, and operate the menus, buttons, tools, and extensions; pan or zoom; identify, find, and label; engage in logical query development; classify and symbolize; identify the sources and nature of data that can be used by the software; set the coordinate system in which data are stored and the projection within which the data are viewed; and generate export displays—layouts, printouts, screenshots—in hard-copy or digital format. Be skilled seekers and evaluators of data from the Internet. Understand the value of metadata (or data about data). Teachers should know that anyone can produce data and distribute it over the Internet and, therefore, the data vary in quality and utility. Good data providers give solid metadata, and good teachers know how to “mine” the metadata. Be disposed to learn. Because students growing up in a digital world are apt to acquire GIS skills quickly, teachers must continually seek opportunities to acquire new skills for themselves. Also, teachers have to be prepared to learn GIS skills from their students. Be comfortable leading projects and activities that span more than one class period, involve multiple disciplines, and require collaboration with other teachers or members of the community at large. Be skilled at asking and exploring spatial questions. Understand “maps as models” and such fundamental geospatial issues as scale, resolution, accuracy, coordinate systems, and projections.

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Learning To Think Spatially successful GIS classroom teacher. Ideally, such teachers infuse the technology into the curriculum rather than making the technology an end in itself. They have training in both curriculum integration and basic technical skills. These well-trained teachers, who use GIS regularly in their classes, are comfortable with problem-based learning and inquiry-based learning and they are knowledgeable about the subject matter they teach. (GIS is not restricted to the geography classroom: indeed its greatest impact will be in school subjects such as science and mathematics.) In addition to appropriate teaching methods and subject matter competency, these teachers have acquired basic GIS skills. They are comfortable with file navigation and management and with databases. They are adept at visualizing, sorting, classifying, querying, selecting, subsetting, and combining data. They know about important GIScience issues such as data currency, data accuracy, data format, projection, scale, and representation issues. These teachers also appreciate that many students, even in early grades, may have more computing skills than they do. Rarely do pre-service teachers have an opportunity to learn GIS and how to use it in class. Only about 10 percent of pre-service teachers are even introduced to GIS, and only a few institutions such as the University of Minnesota’s School of Education offer a teacher training course in GIS (Bednarz and Audet, 1999). Consequently, the most common way for teachers to learn GIS is through in-service teacher training courses. Although there is as yet no formula for successful professional development in GIS, there are lessons to be learned from the experiences of teachers who have become GIS users and from GIS teacher trainers. Teachers who have a one- or two-day GIS training experience and then return to their schools without receiving subsequent contact or support are unlikely to use GIS with their students. In one or two days, trainers can provide hands-on practice in basic GIS operations and can demonstrate examples of the power and potential of GIS in the classroom. However, trainers cannot provide the foundation that most teachers need in order to integrate GIS into the curriculum. To be successful, teacher-training courses in GIS have to combine training in basic technical skills with curriculum integration in content areas. Moreover, the training should be ongoing. Whether the initial experience is a short introduction to the technology or a lengthy training in GIS and curriculum integration, a key to successful teacher training is for participants to know that there will be instructional support for implementation and opportunities to address procedures and problems after the course ends. Without effective teacher-training courses, most teachers are ill-prepared to incorporate GIS and other digital technologies into their classrooms. According to a survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, only 1 in 10 teachers felt very well prepared to integrate technology into his or her teaching methods (NCES, 1999). Slightly more than half (53 percent) of the teachers surveyed felt somewhat prepared to integrate technology into their classes, and 13 percent stated that they were not at all prepared (NCES, 1999) (Figure 8.20). Whether teachers use GIS or other digital technologies in their classrooms depends heavily on the amount and type of professional development they receive. Teachers who receive 11 or more hours of curriculum integration training feel much better prepared to integrate technology into their lessons than do teachers who receive fewer hours of training. Teachers who receive both basic technology skills training and integration training tend to feel better prepared than those who receive only one type of training (Fatemi, 1999). While teacher training has a big impact on the use of computers in the classroom, the number of years of teaching experience appears to make little difference. Teachers with 5 or fewer years of teaching experience are no more likely to use computers in the classroom than teachers with 20 or more years of teaching experience (Fatemi, 1999). In recent years, many efforts have been made to provide professional development opportunities for teachers and support for GIS use in the classroom. For example, the Earth System Science Internet Project (ESSIP) at the University of Wyoming provides teacher-training courses in the use of GIS technology. GIS vendors have been active in providing opportunities for K–12 teachers to acquire and use their software, and to present their results. Intergraph

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Learning To Think Spatially FIGURE 8.20 Teacher’s feelings of preparedness to incorporate digital content into their classrooms. SOURCE: NCES, 1999. (http://www.intergraph.com/schools/), Idrisi (http://www.clarklabs.org/), and ESRI (http://www.esri.com/industries/k-12/atp/courses.html) are among software vendors that offer GIS teacher training courses. Organizations such as the National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis (NCGIA) (http://www.ncgia.ucsb.edu/) provide teacher workshops. The National Science Foundation (http://www.nsf.gov/) has a history of funding educational initiatives such as the Technology in Education Research Consortium (TERC) (http://www.terc.edu/) Mapping Our City project and the Extending Scientific Inquiry Through Collaborative Geographic Information Systems (http://www.gis.kuscied.org/) program to promote the use of geotechnologies in K–12 science education. The National Geographic Alliance network (http://www.nationalgeographic.com/education/) has been active in enhancing GIS opportunities in many states. The professional development effort, however, has serious shortcomings. It tends to concentrate on technical skills and pay insufficient attention to curriculum integration. The focus is on higher grades. The effort is minuscule in relation to the size of the K–12 sector and the number of subject areas with potential interest in GIS. Moreover, the effort is uncoordinated, haphazard, and based largely on a few enthusiastic, pioneering champions. Clearly, the vast majority of teachers and, therefore, children are being left behind in terms of their exposure to GIS as a tool to support spatial thinking. 8.4.4 Curriculum Support At present, there are no voluntary national or state spatial thinking content standards. Consequently, there is no leverage to integrate a suite of low- and high-tech tools to support spatial thinking as part of a larger mechanism for systemic change in American schools. If written, spatial thinking standards would provide an opportunity for spatial thinking to be recognized as crucial across the curriculum in K–12 education and would specify what students must know and be able to do throughout their school careers. Standards would offer an educational goal toward which all students would strive and a benchmark against which teachers could measure student performance. The standards must also be linked with the development of tools for assessing levels of student performance in spatial thinking. Although the standards would provide the basis for a scope and sequence document, they would not constitute a curriculum. The committee urges that consider-

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Learning To Think Spatially ation be given to the development of spatial thinking standards and assessment tools. In their absence, the systematic incorporation of GIS and other support tools for spatial thinking across the K–12 curriculum will never occur. Because of the absence of spatial thinking standards, there is little incentive to develop a curriculum and curriculum materials to support spatial thinking skills and abilities through the use of GIS. However, there are programs and projects that do generate GIS learning materials; these generally support the existing curriculum and are designed primarily for the middle and high school grades. These materials have come in part through a top-down process, in which experts develop and test learning modules, and in part from peer-to-peer exchange, in which teachers develop, test, and share materials among themselves. A sharing infrastructure exists to support both modes, through Access Excellence (http://www.accessexcellence.org) and the Digital Library for Earth System Education (DLESE; http://www.dlese.org). DLESE has more than 3,000 items indexed and described in terms of age applicability and subject, and most of the items are designed for K–12 education (Figure 8.21). In an initiative similar to DLESE, ESRI’s Geography Network site (http://www.geographynetwork.com) links a large number of resources, including data sets and functionality, but it is not specifically organized around educational needs (Figure 8.22). A welcome addition to these initiatives would be the creation of a central clearinghouse for GIS educational materials. A variety of GIS-based curriculum materials, courses, and competitions are available, and they offer some support to middle and high school teachers who have implemented GIS. Examples follow. Curriculum Materials. Examples of GIS materials for teachers and students that can be integrated into the existing curriculum include those developed by the Saguaro Project (http://saguaro.geo.arizona.edu), Kansas Collaborative Research Network (KanCRN; http://kangis.org/lessons), Missouri Botanical Garden (http://www.mobot.org), and ESRI (http://gis.esri.com). The Saguaro Project has developed modules on cyclones, the dynamic Earth, and hurricane hazards. KanCRN provides two modules, one that spatially relates tornadoes and average jet stream positions and another that analyzes leaf samples for ozone assessments. The Missouri Botanical Garden has developed six natural science modules. Each module comes with a tutorial and data set as well as instructions on how to view data and conduct analyses using GIS. ESRI has developed materials that both promote its GIS software and support the teaching of science, social studies, and community-based studies through GIS. ESRI’s ArcLessons web site offers 110 downloadable lessons covering a range of topics from social studies to life sciences (http://gis.esri.com/industries/education/arclessons/titles_only.cfm), and the Explore your World web site offers 50 lesson plans for use in the classroom (http://www.esri.com/industries/k-12/download/docs/explore.pdf). Mapping Our World: GIS Lessons for Educators (Malone et al., 2002) teaches how to use GIS software through standards-based lesson plans. Community Geography: GIS in Action (English and Feaster, 2003), which assumes that teachers and students are already using ArcView, contains case studies of community projects completed by U.S. students. Courses. Digital Quest’s (http://www.digitalquest.com) SPACESTARS program and the Looking at the Environment (LATE) project (http://www.worldwatcher.nwu.edu/late/LATEpublicpage/index.html) have developed courses for the upper school grades. Digital Quest’s SPACESTARS curriculum consists of three turn-key GIS related courses for grades 9–12. The courses, which provide an introduction to GIS and working with GIS, are based on the terminology, key concepts, and core applications of social studies and science topics. The purpose of the SPACESTARS courses is to teach decision-making and problem-solving skills using GIS. The courses, which are tailored to the school and other regional contexts, are intended to

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Learning To Think Spatially FIGURE 8.21 Browsing the DLESE library for educational resources by subject. The source of this material is the DLESE web site at http://www.dlese.org. All rights reserved. prepare students for the “cross-curricular” world of work by implementing interdisciplinary teaching methods in three ways: through cross-disciplinary core subject matter, interoccupational skills instruction, and utilization of multidisciplinary data. LATE has created and tested a one-year high school environmental science course that uses geographic visualization and data analysis tools to promote an inquiry-based approach to science education. The curriculum is designed to implement national content standards for science, geography, and technology. The curriculum is made up of four units that explore environmental issues at all scales. The first unit—populations, resources, and sustainability—introduces the techniques that students will use throughout the year. The second unit—meeting the demand for energy—focuses on electrical power generation, growing energy demand, and associated environmental consequences. The third unit deals with managing water resources. The final unit, investigating the local environment, provides students with an opportunity to conduct field work and to use geographic and attribute data from their own community to investigate a local environmental issue. Each unit has a culminating activity that allows students to analyze data and develop a set of recommendations using GIS. Competitions. Community Atlas (http://www.esri.com/industries/k-12/atlas) and My Community,

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Learning To Think Spatially FIGURE 8.22 A page from ESRI’s Geography Network web site from which users can access a huge collection of geospatial datasets.

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Learning To Think Spatially Our Earth: Geographic Learning for Sustainable Development (MyCOE; http://www.geography.org/sustainable/) are projects designed to encourage students and teachers to use GIS in pursuit of curriculum-related goals. This description of some of the largest and best-known GIS education efforts by the private sector and academic institutions illustrates the diversity and creativity of efforts to infuse GIS into the existing school curriculum. These much-needed efforts, though uncoordinated, have produced some high-quality and challenging learning materials that are helpful to pioneering teachers. Enthusiastic teachers who have implemented GIS have done so through a reorganization of their curriculum and a shift to problem-based learning (Bednarz, 2000; Donaldson, 2001). However, because of the current emphasis on high-stakes testing in only a few school subjects, most teachers are reluctant to reorganize the curriculum for their students. Clearly, it will be difficult to integrate GIS and other support tools into the instructional process without the muscle of national spatial thinking standards and assessments. If spatial thinking standards were enhanced by the addition of GIS content and performance benchmarks or indicators, it would reinforce the concept of teaching with GIS instead of teaching about GIS. Spatial thinking standards would legitimize GIS as a support tool that can foster and strengthen critical thinking, analysis, and problem-solving skills. Standards would lead to the development of new curricula that are appropriate in terms of scope and sequence and that use GIS as part of a suite of tools to support spatial thinking across a range of subjects. 8.4.5 Community Support Before there can be community recognition of the educational value of GIS, there must be community recognition of the universal practical value of GIS. GIS is not yet a household word and it is often confused with GPS. At best, most people think of GIS as “map stuff,” a way of producing maps. A major task for proponents of GIS in K–12 education, then, is to find a way to raise awareness of the analytic power and utility of this technology among the general public. One way to raise awareness of the power of GIS is for schools to undertake community service projects. The following examples illustrate how students working with GIS made a difference in their communities. Reducing crime: Students in grades 10 through 12 at Bishop Dunne Catholic School in Dallas, Texas, put GIS to work to answer the simple questions of where and when the Dallas Police Department should assign task force patrols in order to reduce crime. After acquiring robbery data from the police department, students geocoded robberies to create points, calculated robbery surfaces, identified hot-spot areas, digitized task force patrol zones, and created daily robbery maps. Next, the students analyzed the geographic patterns. The analysis indicated the most effective patrol areas and times. Finally, recommendations were provided to the police department, and when they were applied, there was a reduction in crime. As a result of the success of the project, the students continue to work with the Dallas Police Department. Monitoring river water quality: Students at Red River High School in Grand Forks, North Dakota, took part in a year-long study of the Turtle River to determine which parts of the river were healthy, which sites would support trout habitat restoration, and what influences the water quality of the river. The students obtained GPS locations for selected sites along the river, collected water quality data for each site throughout the year, and acquired base map data of the area. They explored the data by mapping water quality variables (e.g., alkalinity, hardness, dissolved oxygen, phosphates, turbidity). They analyzed the data to identify temporal and spatial trends. Following the analysis, students summarized the results and gave presentations to local television stations and campers in the Turtle River State Park. In their presentation to the campers, students explained why

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Learning To Think Spatially different parts of the river are better for fishing than others. This presentation caught the attention of the Red River Regional Council (RRRC), a government organization conducting environmental projects that benefit the local economy. The RRRC was interested in evaluating the student data for a possible trout habitat restoration project. Identifying point-source pollution: High school students at Crescent School in Toronto, Ontario, conducted a study of abandoned landfill sites in Toronto to answer the following questions: Is there a pattern to the location of abandoned landfill sites across the metropolitan region, and what levels of danger do these sites pose to public places and the environment and water resources? Students collected landfill location and attribute data. They also obtained base map data such as local street data for mapping major streets, rivers, lakes, landmarks (e.g., schools, hospitals), land use, and census information. They analyzed the proximity of abandoned landfills to rivers, schools, hospitals, and parks. Their analysis identified potential environmental hazards. The results of the study were presented to environmental groups such Lake Ontario Keeper, whose staff were interested in learning more from the school about how GIS can assist them in their own research. These three studies demonstrate how GIS can be used by students to address community issues. Students asked questions. They gathered data, and they explored and analyzed them. Finally, they took the knowledge gained to their local communities. In this way, students learned how to use GIS to answer questions about real-world problems, and communities recognized that GIS is a tool that can be used by decision makers to make better decisions. Community support in the form of recognition of the educational value of GIS is negligible in relation to the number of schools in the United States. 8.4.6 Discussion Summary From this analysis, the following observations can be made about the implementation of GIS as a support system for spatial thinking (Table 8.8). Nearly all schools have access to instructional computers and network connections to run some current versions of GIS and have the connectivity to download data. Most schools, especially poorer ones, have legacy computers and are in no position to upgrade their hardware every few years. Schools are forced to use software packages developed for the business, government, and higher education markets. Without software that suits the specific needs and constraints of K–12 education, the use of GIS in the curriculum will be severely limited. TABLE 8.8 Assessment of Programs for the Implementation of GIS as a Support System Criteria High Medium Low Material support   +   Logistical support     + Instructional support   +   Curriculum support   +   Community support     +

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Learning To Think Spatially In nearly all school systems, the logistical support necessary to maintain computing equipment is spread dangerously thin. Successful implementation of GIS in schools requires a support team to ensure that the hardware, software, and networks are integrated and work properly. A few pre-service teachers are taught how to teach GIS, but rarely are they taught how to teach with GIS. Professional development is the most common way in which teachers learn about GIS, and it is becoming more common through after-school classes, workshops, summer institutes, and on-line course work. Most of this training fails to develop spatial thinking skills for the participants. The professional development effort, which suffers from a lack of follow-through, is insignificant in relation to the size of the K–12 sector. There is no standards-based approach to teaching spatial thinking, even though a suite of low- and high-tech tools is available. Consequently, there is no incentive to develop a curriculum or learning modules to guide the teaching of spatial thinking with GIS. Instead, there are many uncoordinated efforts that produce high-quality materials for use by teachers who wish to integrate GIS into the existing curriculum. These valuable efforts, though uncoordinated, have produced some challenging learning materials that are helpful to pioneering teachers. Clearly, it will be difficult for teachers to integrate GIS and other support tools into the instructional process without the muscle of national spatial thinking standards. Until there are spatial thinking standards, the implementation of GIS across the school curriculum will be unsystematic and unsuccessful. Community support in the form of recognition of the educational value of GIS is negligible in relation to the number of schools in the United States. Because most communities are unfamiliar with GIS, they are unlikely to recognize the educational value of GIS before schools demonstrate what they can accomplish with GIS. 8.5 MECHANISMS FOR THE REDESIGN OF GIS EDUCATIONAL SOFTWARE A redesign of GIS software is a key step if GIS is to succeed as a tool for supporting spatial thinking in the K–12 context. Among the GIS design issues that must be addressed are the following: broadening its accessibility to the full range of learners; strengthening the capacity to spatialize nonspatial data; overcoming the visualization weaknesses; providing graded systems of GIS that are age and/or experience appropriate; redesigning interfaces to be more intuitive and to provide help and guidance; and making the software customizable. The committee recognizes that many of these design challenges are not specific to the K–12 context and that their solution may not occur with that context in mind. Should this be the case, then someone must take responsibility for adapting the solutions to the particular needs of teachers and students. Teachers and students should not be expected to adapt to a one-size-fits-all GIS that does not reflect their special needs. In this section, the committee examines how a redesign of GIS to accommodate the needs of the K–12 education community might take place and suggests how it might be managed. The committee identified three mechanisms that led to the development of current versions of GIS software: the academic model, the commercial model, and the collaborative model. The academic model was based on researchers writing their own software. Changes in operating systems and hardware architectures led to the demise of many such systems, but Idrisi is one example that has flourished. It is priced for the academic market and for use by large classes at the college level. Its business model relies on sales as well as grants from agencies to pursue specific goals. The

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Learning To Think Spatially commercial model, exemplified by companies such as ESRI, Intergraph, and Autodesk, is market driven with a business model that reflects the need to balance the costs of software development and support against income from the open market. The educational market plays little or no role in this model. The collaborative model views GIS software development as a collaborative process, underpinned by an open foundation of standards and basic functions. Thus, in the 1980s the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers developed the Geographic Resources Analysis Support System (GRASS ) package and fostered a community of users who contributed extensions to the package. In this model, there is no distinction between users and developers. GRASS was built as open software, with no proprietary restrictions on access or use. Despite its success, it was seen as competing unfairly with the commercial market and, therefore, its support was terminated in the early 1990s although a residual community continues to use it. These three models offer distinct options for the redesign of GIS software for the K–12 context. For the collaborative mechanism to succeed, a community would have to be identified, comprising specialists with sufficient technical skills to share the development of appropriate software, and with sufficient scientific understanding of the needs in the K–12 context. An organization such as the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science (UCGIS) might be appropriate to facilitate collaboration, with sufficient funding from an appropriate federal agency. UCGIS has access to technical and intellectual expertise at each of its more than 60 member institutions and has sufficient experience in organizing large, distributed projects. For the commercial mechanism to succeed, it would be necessary for an appropriate federal agency to request proposals and select a suitable developer. One major advantage of this mechanism is that much of the software foundation for a new GIS already exists in each vendor’s products. Because educational support for spatial thinking is somewhat distant from the normal domain of commercial applications, there would have to be strong and robust mechanisms for oversight of the design and implementation of the software, and for practical testing. Contracts would have to deal with issues of long-term maintenance, intellectual property, and long-term support. A careful study would be necessary to determine whether the K–12 sector could generate sufficient funds to pay for long-term maintenance. For the academic model to succeed there would have to be a similar proposal solicitation process: it would require an appropriate federal agency to select and contract with one or more academic institutions for the basic software development. This mechanism might be more successful than the commercial one in ensuring the appropriate intellectual content, but stringent oversight would be needed to ensure quality control in software development and to ensure that the designs were practical and scalable in the educational context. All three mechanisms appear to have merit, as well as potential pitfalls. The choice between them, therefore, should be made by the appropriate funding agency. In the committee’s view, the collaborative model appears to offer the most promise because it would involve all parties—software developers, government, academia, and the K–12 user community. Based on the levels of investment being made by commercial vendors and on experience from many GIS development projects, it would be reasonable to assume that a suitable GIS could be developed over a period of three years by a team of ten programmers. Allowing for oversight and other costs, the initial development might require a total investment of $3 million to $5 million. To coordinate the development of GIS software using the collaborative model, the committee recommends the creation of a “Federation of GIS Education Partners.” A federation is a bottom-up association of autonomous partners that agree to abide by specified interface standards, business practices, and expectations to achieve a common goal (Handy, 1992). Federations, such as the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), NASA’s Earth Science Information Partners (ESIPs), and the Association of Research Libraries, provide a means for representing the multiple interests of broad interest communities. In an ideal federation, partners come together to achieve

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Learning To Think Spatially ends they could not achieve alone. The federation should consist of GIS developer and user partners, drawn from academia, government, the private sector, and the K–12 user community. To be successful, the following should be considered in the design of a GIS educational software federation (NRC, 1998): The federation should be a grass-roots, community-driven effort. A bottom-up (rather than a top-down approach) should be the governance basis of the federation to ensure that the priorities of the broader community are honored. However, some centralized management would be necessary for making major decisions on behalf of the federation’s constituents, for representing the federation’s interests, and for conducting day-to-day operations. The instrument of centralized management should be used sparingly. The federation should be flexible. Thus, the initial rules and procedures should not be overspecified. A significant part of the responsibility of a federation is managing the tensions that may arise from constituents with differing expectations (e.g., software companies, teachers). 8.6 CONCLUSION As might be expected with any piece of complex software that has evolved over time, GIS has both strengths and weaknesses as a system for supporting spatial thinking. The sets of criteria developed in Chapter 6 have allowed the committee to do two things: (1) explore, in detail, the capacity, design, and implementation of GIS as a support system for spatial thinking in the K–12 context; and (2) identify mechanisms for the redesign of GIS. Chapter 9 presents an overall assessment as to whether GIS provides a useful foundation for spatial thinking in the K–12 context.