About Diana Sinton

A geographer with long-term interests in GIS, spatial thinking, and being part of educational communities. I also blog at dianamaps.com, and Twitter is @dianamaps.

Esri’s Pinde Fu will lead an online course on Web GIS through the Harvard Extension School during the 2014 spring semester. Here is the course syllabus.

• This course will be taught via online videos and web conferences. Thus students can join the course from anywhere.
• Registered students will be provided with ArcGIS Desktop 10.2, access to Harvard ArcGIS Server and ArcGIS Online, and thus they can do their labs and assignments anywhere.
• This course is not free but it’s open to the public. Anyone can take it. The registration deadline is January 27. The course will start on January 30.

At this time of year, educators’ minds often turn to grading. And how much a despised part of academia it is.  Whether it’s an exam or the ubiquitous “final project” that characterize so many GIS courses, I’m curious about assessment of student learning of GIS in general. I don’t often see “learning outcomes” on GIS syllabi.  More often I see “learning objectives,” and evidence that instructors are not making a distinction between the two.

But that doesn’t even matter right now. I am wondering how people manage to feel confident that their assessment approaches actually align with their learning outcomes (and/or objectives). I often see language like “students will understand the structure and function of a GIS,” which could be a pretty big task, depending on how you plan to measure “understand.”  Which we know is a compelling but problematic word for us to use, and one to be avoided. Avoided, that is, IF we care about actually finding a way to determine if students are actually learning what we *say* we want them to learn.

Distinguishing between content knowledge and skills knowledge within introductory GIS courses becomes relevant here. This throws us into the middle of the technological, pedagogical, content knowledge (TPCK) vortex.  Personally, I believe that GIS firmly belongs there, and we don’t fully understand those implications. *Especially* when we’re following what we think is a teaching with GIS approach, so that students are magically learning biology or history while the GIS they’re using is an invisible scaffold.  There’s the mantra of online GIS, and that adolescents may have many fewer problems than adults with software interfaces, and that the infamous steep learning curve of desktop GIS is so 1980s-2000s, etc.  But are we really to believe that ArcGIS Online is the Easy Button for all teaching with GIS?

Which brings me back to learning outcomes.  What are students learning, and how are we measuring that?   Head over to our Forums for chances to discuss this further.

Announcing the Introduction to GIScience Collaborative Interactive Multimedia Textbook for iPad Project

The Introduction to GIScience iBook leverages the capabilities of iBooks to deliver rich, interactive content on the iPad. This iBook is designed to capture the attention of digital and mobile natives; the target audience is high school, community college and first year undergraduate university students. The price will be right as well: Free! Funding support for this project is through the National Science Foundation, GeoTech Center and SDSU Geography.

Here’s how to download the most recent version of the Introduction to GIScience iBook prototype to your iPad (delete old version from the iBook library on your iPad first):

  1. Make sure the iBooks app is installed (free download from App Store)
  2. Open the Safari app
  3. In Safari: Navigate to http://mappingideas.sdsu.edu:8080/Book/public/Download/view
    (Be sure to use the correct case)
  4. Click on the download icon or the adjacent text link to begin the download
  5. After the download completes, select Open in “iBooks”
  6. The iBooks app will open to the Introduction to GIScience iBook

The Introduction to GIScience iBook prototype includes Chapter 1, the first section of Chapter 2 and the rough outline for the rest of the textbook. We hope to encourage collaborators to contribute content for the other chapters in the iBook by demonstrating the potential of iBooks to enhance text with rich interactive multimedia content on a mobile internet-connected iPad. You do not need a Mac or iPad to participate as a contributor or reviewer. You may contribute your content in a standard format; we will integrate them into the iBook. Other roles in the development process where you may participate include:

Contributor: Contributes original content
Reviewer: Subject matter expert; verifies content
Editor: Integrates content into iBook
Reader: Reads iBook chapters; offers feedback

We hope that you will consider participating in the Introduction to GIScience iBook project!

Dr. Ming-Hsiang Tsou, Professor, San Diego State University
Cynthia Paloma, graduate student, San Diego State University

For more information, please contact Cynthia Paloma:  paloma@rohan.sdsu.edu

On most campuses of higher education, there are relatively few people who know about GIS, but sometimes those others are exactly the people that ought to know, or need to know, or might enjoy knowing.  Here are some approaches, strategies, and stories for talking to higher education administrators about GIS.  We know these ideas are very US-centered.  SHARE with us your approaches, strategies, and stories from elsewhere!

TeachGIS_WhitePaper2_TalkingToAdminAboutGIS (pdf)

Update: this 4/24/13 version has been updated to include the names of contributors.


White Papers and Essays are usually published on or around the 22nd of each month.  All TeachGIS.org White Papers are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License. You are free to share and remix this creative production as long as you attribute your work and pursue non-commercial purposes.

Geospatial Analysis, a Comprehensive Guide to Principles, Techniques, and Software Tools, is a free, online e-book designed to give clear and authoritative coverage of spatial analysis.  In that way it’s more of a GIScience textbook than a traditional GIS software-oriented textbook.  The content is easily navigated, so it can serve as a strong companion and supplement to any other books or resources used.  Great price.

This very comprehensive GIS textbook has become a contemporary classic for its thoroughness and reliability. It aims to explain the geographic information science that underlies spatial analysis and the effective use of GIS as a tool, and its well-known authors have the GIScience background to do this with authority.  Rich with examples and figures, and much discussion of GIS application areas.  Often too much content for an introductory undergrad class, especially when it’s not aimed towards geography majors. Available as an e-book too.

Articles like this one in last weekend’s LA Times, titled “Geography is covering new ground for travelers,” are helpful references when you’re talking with peers, colleagues, and administrators about Geography.  It couches its message in the advantages and perspectives that the “new” geography provides for travelers and traveling, which is just about everyone all the time, depending on scale.

“”Geography is about meaning, not knowing place names and memorizing lists — that was school geography,” said Daniel Edelson, vice president for education programs at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C.”  Danny promotes this idea frequently and effectively; see his thoughts on geoliteracy.

“Indeed, the workforce for the geospatial industry is one of the fastest-growing in the country, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Labor’s High Growth Job Training Initiative. A 30% increase in the last five years in the number of students taking Advanced Placement courses and exams in the field of geography suggests that students know it, even if Mom and Dad haven’t heard that a degree in geography could be more useful than law or economics.”