Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Using Model-Centered Instruction to Introduce GIS in Teacher Preparation Programs

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Using Model-Centered Instruction to Introduce GIS in Teacher Preparation Programs

Article excerpt


The University of Toledo offered an introductory course in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for teachers, the first or its kind taught in the College of Education. The course objectives sought to increase teachers' GIS skills, knowledge of geographic inquiry, application of the inquiry process to solving problems related to K-12 curricula, and ability to locate useful GIS resources. The course that met for four hours a day for two weeks, included seven graduate-level teachers in the areas of art, physical education, science, and math. Model-centered instruction focused on a geographic inquiry model served as a framework for course instruction, class activities, homework, and project designs. Final projects demonstrated that teachers learned to see relationships between geography and their respective disciplines, apply an inquiry model to solving problems, and think critically about geographic information when provided with steps from an established model. Course outcomes lend some evidence that even a very short course can be a very effective means of introducing GIS in a teacher education program.


Geospatial technologies such as a geographic information system are becoming increasingly important in our everyday lives. GIS is a collection or hardware, software, and geographic data for capturing, managing, analyzing, and displaying all forms of geographically referenced information (Environmental Systems Research Institute [ESRI], 2007). The U.S. Department of Labor (2004) named geospatial technologies as a field with the greatest demand for 21st century decision-making. As these tools become critical in solving everyday problems referenced to geographical locations, the ability to think spatially is an increasingly important skill for students. In their recent book, "Learning to Think Spatially," the National ResearchCouncil (NRC) (2006) called for the focused and systematic attention of scientists and educators to understand the process of spatial thinking, develop systems to support the process, and ensure that all students have the opportunity to learn about spatial thinking. NRC contends that when GIS is integrated in a standards-based school curriculum, it is one of the most effective tools that can foster the development of spatial thinking. According to NRC (2006), integration of spatial thinking and GIS across school subjects in K-12 experiences is necessary if students are to understand the spatial dimensions of human experience and transfer this kind of thinking from one domain to another. They recommend that Colleges of Education establish guidelines for pre- and in-service teacher training programs and develop a model standards-based curriculum for teaching about GIS. Recommendations such as these are not without challenges.

In competitive times when many universities face declines in student enrollment and reductions in program requirements with fewer elective choices, it is unlikely that the integration of geospatial technologies will be seen as a critical concern. It may be more expeditious for faculty to find creative avenues to infuse spatial thinking and related technologies within their present circumstances. This article considers the challenges of introducing GIS to educators and how these challenges were met through designing a GIS summer course for graduate students in the College of Education. A student's final project will illustrate important learning outcomes. Conclusions and suggestions are made for others who might consider a similar undertaking.


K-12 teachers already face the overwhelming demands of assessment accountability, increased diversity in students, and an already burdened curriculum. Similarly, university faculty nave the pressures of time constraints, lack of administrative support or incentives, and charge to integrate basic technologies in their coursework without systematic training. Wnile we think that technology will enhance learning, most faculty do not have sufficient time or training to integrate these skills into their course instruction. …

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