. "8 An Assessment of GIS as a System for Supporting Spatial Thinking in the K-12 Context." Learning to Think Spatially: GIS as a Support System in the K-12 Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2006.
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Learning To Think Spatially
solutions to these problems that are sensitive to the different needs and abilities of teachers and students.
An essential way to spur the learning of GIS by teachers is to devise training programs that will enable them to learn fundamental GIS skills and integrate those skills into their classroom lessons. Such training should be built on teaching a sequence of basic GIS skill sets. Then, combined with the availability of lesson materials that utilize those basic skill sets, teachers would be able to import GIS into their classrooms. However, since the majority of teachers receive little or no training in either basic technology skills (NRC, 2002c) and integrating technology into the curriculum (Fatemi, 1999), it is not surprising that many teachers find out-of-the-box, industrial-strength GIS too complex to use effectively in K–12 education.
10. Be Robust and Realistic in Terms of the Demands Placed on Teachers and on the School Infrastructure. Today’s professional GIS is fully compatible with the standard office computer. However, the majority of schools tend to be considerably behind the cutting edge of computing technology and to have difficulty implementing the kinds of network connectivity typical of the modern office or even of many homes. GIS designers have responded quickly to new computing power, taking advantage of every increase in speed and capacity to increase the power of their products. Thus, there is a significant gap between the capacity of the computing environment available in the typical K–12 setting and the system demands of the latest generation of professional GIS.
A GIS designed to support thinking spatially in the K–12 context would have to address this issue. It would have to be able to run on earlier versions of operating systems that are less demanding of computer resources. It would also have to run on the outdated hardware that is prevalent in all but wealthy schools. Learning modules would have to be compatible with the kinds of network connectivity found in schools and the kinds of Internet access restrictions (for content and security) that schools have put in place.
GIS designers also have to deal with the problem of Windows versus Macintosh operating platforms. (To exemplify the differences between the two operating platforms, the computational requirements of Windows and Macintosh platforms for Idrisi and ESRI’s ArcView family of software are summarized in Table 8.6.) As with most software, the GIS industry favors the Windows platform, so that the latest versions of ESRI software and MapInfo are not available for the Macintosh platform. This is a major problem because many schools are still equipped with Macintosh computers. (ESRI supports both Macintosh and Windows platforms for the older ArcView 3.x system, which requires less computational resources, but offers less functionality.) One solution is to run Windows emulation software on the Macintosh, but this adversely affects system performance. Another option is to move away from locally hosted GIS software and to access GIS functionality via an Internet plug-in working with a remote application server. (ESRI’s Internet Mapping System and MapInfo’s MapExtreme are relevant examples.) Although expensive, remote application servers could be purchased at local or regional school levels.
Besides infrastructure needs, a support system has to be robust and realistic in terms of teacher expectations. In American schools today, several factors combine to impede the implementation of GIS in the classroom and across the curriculum. Among these impediments are ever-increasing expectations about teacher performance and frequently inflexible school infrastructures. Unless the GIS community can successfully address these impediments, the educational use of GIS will continue to be sporadic and unsystematic.
The movement to develop national content standards in core disciplines led to the identification and assessment of benchmark achievement levels at different grades—typically fourth, eighth, and tenth or twelfth grades. In many states and communities, such assessments have become high-stakes tests that can determine school funding, school accreditation, and even the jobs of adminis-