Current versions of GIS are neither quick nor intuitive for students and teachers to use as a tool for spatial thinking. Teachers more than students find professional-level GIS software intimidating. Because the learning curve is steep, effective teacher-training programs should be devised.
Current versions of GIS are not robust and realistic in terms of the demands placed on teachers and school infrastructure. Today’s professional GIS is fully compatible with the standard office computer, but schools lag behind the cutting edge of computing technology. Therefore, a GIS designed to support spatial thinking in the K–12 context would have to run on the types of hardware typically found in schools. Major stumbling blocks to the implementation of GIS are the ever-increasing expectations about teacher performance and frequently inflexible school infrastructures. Increased demands placed on teachers leave them with little time to learn GIS and develop applications.
Five interlocking components must be in place to implement GIS successfully as a support system for spatial thinking: (1) material support, (2) logistical support, (3) instructional support, (4) curriculum support, and (5) community support. Currently, the level of support for GIS is weak.
The implementation of GIS requires material support in the form of a marked improvement in the quantity and quality of computing resources. Most schools possess instructional computers, but they lag behind the cutting edge of computing technology. Unlike the modern office, schools cannot respond to new computing opportunities and replace existing computers with new ones every few years. Thus, there is a significant gap between the computing environment available in most schools and the demands of the latest generation of GIS. A GIS designed to support spatial thinking in schools would have to address this issue. It would have to run on legacy systems and be less demanding of computing resources.
GIS software is designed largely for the expert user who is willing to commit to learning its use. Without the rapid development of software packages that are quick and intuitive for students and teachers to use and that are developmentally and educationally appropriate for K–12 students, the effective use of GIS in K–12 education will languish at all levels, especially the elementary level. What teachers want are flexible, easy-to-use systems. They would welcome, for example, simplified user interfaces and wizards that provide directed feedback. Students might find GIS more appealing if it were to give better support to three-dimensional structures and animation. The committee suggests that software designers give consideration to the development of a component-based GIS. A component-based model would enable teachers to package GIS functionality into a series of separate miniprograms. A model customized with learning in mind is also consistent with the committee’s view that GIS should be adapted to users rather than vice versa.
Logistical support is vital if hardware, software, and networks are to run properly. In the K–12 context, logistical support is insufficient when one or two people are expected to provide assistance to multiple schools or when designated teachers are expected to provide assistance to their colleagues in nonteaching periods during the day. For successful GIS implementation, a school must have an appropriate technical support team. At the minimum, such a team would consist of a “nuts-and-bolts” technician charged to maintain the hardware, software, and networks on a continuous basis and an educator charged to help teachers teach with digital technologies, including GIS.
Teacher training is crucial if GIS is to be used to support spatial thinking. With an exception or two, learning about GIS and how to work with it in the classroom is not part of any pre-service program. Consequently, the most common way for teachers to learn about GIS is through in-service teacher training courses. Most of these courses provide training in what teachers need to know about GIS (e.g., operate the menus, buttons, tools, and extensions; pan or zoom; logical query;