means to facilitate interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary learning, they have the potential to be a mainstay cross-disciplinary educational tool like the calculator or word processor.


4. Provide a Rich, Generative, Inviting, and Challenging Problem-Solving Environment. GIS has the potential to provide students in all grades with a rich, inviting, and challenging problem-solving environment. However, existing, professional-level GIS software packages, which take a long time to learn to use to their fullest extent, are too rich as a general tool for the K–12 context. Most of the activities that schools need to support, especially through the elementary and middle grades, could be achieved with software systems that are more lightweight, easier to deploy, easier to use, and free from distracting details. Above all, qualitatively different software packages that are easy to customize would enrich the K–12 learning environment. GIS can be inviting to students because of its potential for display and exploration. However, the lack of support for animation, which helps to illustrate important spatial processes, and the limited support for spatialization of nonspatial data may reduce the ability of GIS to captivate students. Twenty-first century students have grown up in a world of television, video games, and digital images; they are comfortable in the digital world and gravitate toward it. These students are used to computers that provide a high degree of interaction in terms of the display of geographic space (from computer gaming), and for them, GIS may pale in comparison. Educational applications of GIS that use animation software such as Flash or Director would likely have great appeal to many students. Unquestionably, the use of GIS can, with well-trained teachers and well-equipped schools, foster critical thinking and problem-solving skills among students especially when linked with other media and fieldwork. Of equal importance, GIS can also provide students with the IT skills needed in the twenty-first-century workplace (Chapter 5).

Discussion Summary

From this analysis, the committee can make the following observations about the ability of current versions of GIS to meet educational goals:

  1. In principle, GIS reflects many of the ideals of exploration-driven, discovery-based, student-centered inquiry. Nonetheless, current GIS is less well equipped for data exploration and hypothesis generation than for data analysis and presenting information. In addition, current GIS is too cumbersome and inaccessible for effective use in K–12 education. User interfaces, the lack of reflective wizards, and multiple files contributing to a single data source are among concerns that diminish the ability of GIS to support inquiry.

  2. GIS can enable K–12 students to address a broad range of real-world issues. Although GIS allows students to analyze and understand issues at all scales, it is probably the local and state levels that offer students the greatest opportunity for personal involvement and action.

  3. In principle, GIS can foster learning transfer across subjects. However, insufficient research has been conducted to make a definitive statement about learning transfer from one subject to another.

  4. GIS has the potential to provide students in all grades with a rich, inviting, and challenging problem-solving environment. However, existing, industrial-strength GIS software packages are too rich as a general tool for the K–12 context.

Table 8.4 gives the committee’s assessment of GIS as a support system for spatial thinking through its capacity to meet educational goals. Overall, GIS rates very well as a tool for students to address a wide range of real-world contexts. It rates least well as a software system that supports the



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement