do not pose an insuperable problem to the implementation of GIS in schools. To be sure, some configurations of physical infrastructure are better than others in making it possible for a school to realize the potential of GIS. Physical components that can enhance a school’s GIS capability, such as computer laboratories or plotters, may be beyond the reach of start-up users, but their absence should not prevent the school from the initial implementation of GIS. From the standpoint of physical infrastructure, GIS implementation is now a realistic possibility in most schools in the country. At the least, most schools have the hardware to run software systems such as ArcView 3. However, because of a major digital divide in technology investment, with poorer schools spending far less on technology than richer ones, it will be years before schools with high concentrations of lower-income students can be expected to invest in the hardware to run higher-end software tools. Without initiatives to bring appropriate hardware to schools in lower-income districts, students in poorer schools will continue to be left behind (PCAST, 1997).
If schools have appropriate high-speed access to the Internet, implementation of GIS in the K–12 context is unlikely, in most instances, to be stymied by issues of scalability. In situations where large numbers of students are engaged in collaborative work and are geographically dispersed, the Internet achieves scalability by linking users across a densely connected network, using protocols that ensure messages will pass along links with available capacity. Similarly, small groups of students collaborating over the Internet will not find their communications substantially affected. More problematic, however, are scalability issues associated with large numbers of students attempting to obtain service from a single host GIS or a single data archive, but such problems might arise only if the number of simultaneous users ran into the hundreds of thousands.
Today, it is the intangible part of a school’s infrastructure that is a key to the successful implementation of GIS. Administrative and institutional support is crucial to the integration of GIS into American K–12 education. All too often, GIS implementation in a school comes about because of an enterprising, pioneering teacher, who has invested personal time and effort to make this happen. This teacher becomes the school’s GIS expert, the one who trains and encourages other teachers to adopt the technology, and the one that other teachers look to for data, for solutions to technical problems, and for help in developing projects and lessons. In many instances, the implementation of GIS in a school is dependent totally on the support and guidance of one teacher. The positive benefits of peer support are counterbalanced by the fragility of the situation. If that teacher leaves the school, those roles are vacated and the use of GIS is apt to disappear. Lasting systemic integration of GIS in the school curriculum must be supported and fostered administratively at levels beyond the lone pioneering teacher.
Administrative support means making spatial technologies a priority for the school’s technology support system—from personnel to purchasing. Technology coordinators must be conversant with GIS technology, its requirements, and its use so they can provide the expertise and support that the pioneer teacher once provided and more. Administrative support means exploring flexible scheduling options to provide blocks of time for GIS implementation other than the traditional 45-minute period. Finally, administrative support means providing meaningful, ongoing professional development rather than one-shot training events. Professional development may take the form of peer coaching, released time for curriculum development, funding for on- and off-site training, or hiring spatial technology consultants to mentor new users. School administrators are the decision makers whose support means the difference between real and lasting change or temporary change that is wholly dependent on one or two individuals. Such real and lasting change is entirely possible if GIS proponents can educate administrators about the potential of GIS to enhance student learning.