TABLE 8.4 Assessment of the Design of GIS to Meet Educational Goals





Be supportive of the inquiry process




Be useful in solving problems in a wide range of real-world contexts




Facilitate learning transfer across a range of school subjects




Provide a rich, generative, inviting, and challenging problem-solving environment for the users of the support system




inquiry process. In principle, GIS is supportive of the inquiry process, but it will become a more effective technology for that purpose when the user interface facilitates multistage GIS analysis.

8.3.2 Being Appropriate to Student Needs

This subsection considers the capacity of GIS to be appropriate to student needs (see Section 6.5): (5) be developmentally and educationally appropriate; (6) be accessible to and supportive of the full range of learners; and (7) be customizable. After considering each in turn, a summary and an overall assessment of the ability of GIS to meet these three needs are presented.

5. Be Developmentally and Educationally Appropriate. The GIS software built by the vendor community is industrial-strength. Designed almost entirely for and by experts, this professional-level software draws from many diverse, powerful technologies and sophisticated knowledge domains that include geography, database design, programming, statistics, remote sensing, geodesy, surveying, spatial analysis, and geometry. As a direct consequence of the history of its design, GIS software has been difficult to learn, complex to use, and difficult and expensive to customize. Appropriate use of GIS often requires at least a rudimentary understanding of many of these knowledge domains, explaining why many users take at least one higher-education course in

GIS and many have degrees or certificates in GIS. Therefore, it is no wonder that initial access to, let alone attainment of proficiency in, GIS technology can seem daunting to the novice user. The learning curve to become a proficient user of industrial-strength GIS software is steep. GIS education is, in many respects, an introduction to a language of specialized concepts. GIS trainees learn to decode such acronyms as DEM (digital elevation model) or DRG (digital raster graphic), and they learn the basis of common coordinate systems such as UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator) or SPC (State Plane Coordinate). While K–12 learners would not necessarily need to know all of these concepts to take advantage of the power of GIS to support thinking spatially, current GIS designs do little to protect users from them.

Developers and designers have thought long and hard about how to simplify GIS user interfaces, and the results are evident in special-purpose, GIS-based products designed for the general public. Consider, for example, ways to handle the idea of spatial scale. Users of MapQuest are shielded from any interaction with map projections or coordinate systems. They encounter scale not in the relatively complex and convention-bound sense of representative fraction (the ratio of dis-

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