Creating a Geographic Information Systems-based Learning Activity


ETAP 623 Spring 2021 (Byrne)

Tim Vatovec's Portfolio Page

Components of a GIS


Welcome! This course is about identifying and utilizing Web-based Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in the secondary classroom with the goal of creating or adapting a GIS-based learning activity applicable to your instructional practice.

Overview and Purpose

What is a GIS? A GIS is a computerized system utilized for the collection, storage, manipulation, analysis, and output of information that is spatially referenced. What sets a GIS apart from other information systems is that the data is referenced to a spatial location (geospatial data) and the ability to perform geographic analyses to answer questions. GIS is increasingly used in educational contexts to gather, analyze, and visually display information, usually in the form of maps. The guiding assumption of this course is that most secondary education teachers in the United States have had little-to-no instructional experience with GIS. Thus, the purpose of this course is to have participants learn the basics of GIS, explore Web-based GIS applications, and create or adapt a GIS-based learning activity.

Needs Assessment

To assess the need for a course on GIS in the K-12 classroom, I drew upon national and state-level assessment data on the role of geography and Geographic Information Systems in secondary education in the United States (see References and Resources below). I also administered a survey to fellow ETAP 623 students to gauge their awareness of, experience with, and instructional use of GIS. Thank you to the eight people who participated (see GIS Needs Assessment Survey). Survey responses reflected broader themes from the research literature that GIS is underutilized in secondary education in the United States.

This course is grounded in geographic-based learning, which is “crucial to the development of basic critical thinking and spatial analytical skills and capabilities (Favier and Schee, 2012; AAG, 2015) and… often communicated through geo-spatial technologies” (such as GIS) (in Osborne et al., p. 12, 2020). Furthermore, including geographic information systems learning in the classroom leads to a deeper understanding of knowledge across all subjects (National Research Council [US], 2006). There is, thus, a need for teacher training and professional development opportunities focused on GIS in secondary education to facilitate instructional knowledge of geographic information to support student learning across subjects. Please read this article File:GIS in the Classroom.pdf to help orient ourselves to the topic; while slightly dated, the ideas expressed continue to guide the use of GIS in the classroom today.

Course Objectives

By the end of the course, participants will be able to:

1) Identify how Geographic Information Systems are used to support learning in secondary education;

2) Apply Geographic Information Systems to different learning contexts;

3) Utilize a Web-based Geographic Information System to make a map;

4) Assess the applicability of Web-based Geographic Information Systems to secondary instruction, and

5) Create/adapt an activity utilizing Geographic Information Systems which supports inquiry-based learning.

Course Assessment

In this course, participants will be assessed based on four main criteria: Discussion Posts; Reflection Posts; Unit Quizzes, and a Course Project. Discussion and Reflection activities are meant to allow participants an opportunity to share their practices and reflect on how they use or will use resources in their classroom. Unit Quizzes are aimed to assess new content retention, while each step of the Course Project is meant to lead to a successful learning activity plan utilizing GIS. All participant work will be posted to the Course Google Doc.

Course Units

This mini-course includes the following units; click the title of a unit to go to its page:

Unit 1: Web-based Geographic Information Systems

Participants are introduced to the basic geographic concepts behind Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the main components of a GIS, and Web-based GIS applications. Participants will also be introduced to the course project.

Unit 2: Assessing Web-based Geographic Information Systems

Participants will review Web-based GIS applications and access ArcGIS Online, one of the most popular commercial Web-based GIS programs. Participants will then investigate how GIS can support learning in different contexts and create an outline for their course projects.

Unit 3: Web-based Geographic Information Systems in the Classroom

Participants will explore the connections between GIS and inquiry-based learning and how GIS can support subject-specific learning outcomes. Participants will continue to work on their course project by refining their activity plan.

Unit 4: Creating a Web-based GIS Learning Activity

Participants will reflect on what they have learned in the course and utilize their prior knowledge to generate a GIS-based learning activity plan applicable to their instructional practice.

References and Resources

Baker, T. R., Battersby, S., Bednarz, S. W., Bodzin, A. M., Kolvoord, B., Moore, S., ... & Uttal, D. (2015). A research agenda for geospatial technologies and learning. Journal of Geography, 114(3), 118-130.

Maddox, L. E., Howell, J. B., & Saye, J. W. (2018). Designing geographic inquiry: Preparing secondary students for citizenship. Journal of Geography, 117(6), 254-268.

National Research Council. (2006). Systems for state science assessment. National Academies Press.

Osborne, Z. M., van de Gevel, S. L., Eck, M. A., & Sugg, M. (2020). An Assessment of Geospatial Technology Integration in K–12 Education. Journal of Geography, 119(1), 12-21.

Yap, L. Y., Ivy Tan, G. C., Zhu, X., & Wettasinghe, M. C. (2008). An assessment of the use of geographical information systems (GIS) in teaching geography in Singapore schools. Journal of Geography, 107(2), 52-60. ...