Academic journal article Review of European Studies

A Creative Way to Teach and Learn Advanced Technical Concepts in Geographic Information Systems

Academic journal article Review of European Studies

A Creative Way to Teach and Learn Advanced Technical Concepts in Geographic Information Systems

Article excerpt


This paper presents a creative case-based modern-style pedagogical approach for teaching and learning advanced technical concepts in geographic information systems (GIS) using classroom observations covering an eight-year study period, 2004-2011. Assessment data was collected and analyzed to provide useful insights about this approach. Included in this paper are results of specific case studies that were analyzed using a sample of students between 2004 and 2006. The assessment data and respondents consistently indicated that a case study approach offered them an excellent and enabling environment to learn advanced technical concepts. These findings support the use of a case-based modern-style pedagogical method because it does not only promote a student's desire to learn and discover new concepts, but also allows them to be actively involved in finding real world GIS solutions. The teaching method encourages, engages, and provokes students to think critically of the technical subject matter. Besides, the method creates an interesting learning experience, simulates learning, and promotes interactive dialogue between the instructor and the students. Findings in this study have implications on the learning process and the adoption of this creative approach could help provide a meaningful learning experience for educators involved in teaching advanced technical concepts.

Keywords: GIS education, Pedagogical approaches, Technology education, Active learning, GIS instructional strategies, Geography education

1. Introduction

Teaching geographic information systems (GIS) courses can be challenging because of its breadth and interdisciplinary nature (Wikle, 1998; Doering, 2004; Baker and White, 2003; Kerski, 2003; Johansson and Pellikka, 2005; Favier and Van Der Schee, 2012). Both the teacher and student must cope with constant changes particularly new software applications and emerging areas of interest. Learning outcomes should be aligned to reflect any rapid technical changes so as to provide students with relevant GIS knowledge and job market skills. This dynamic situation creates a serious demand upon curriculum and instructional strategies, thus there is a consistent need to adjust learning goals and objectives to fit new challenges, which can at times, can be overwhelming for new GIS instructors. As a way of resolving some of these challenges, this paper proposes a more creative way to teach advanced GIS based on observations collected over an eight-year study period. As a GIS instructor, I first thought about this teaching idea in May 2000 following my participation in Case Studies in a Science Teaching Workshop organized by the University at Buffalo's National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, with support from the National Science Foundation. Participants involved in this workshop were supposedly the "guinea pigs" for a case studies teaching project. Professor Clyde F. Herreid, the Principal Investigator (PI) tested his case studies on workshop participants. During the workshop three important aspects on the use of case-based approaches were taught: (1) how to develop and write cases; (2) how to teach with case studies; and (3) how to assess learning outcomes with cases (Herreid, 1994).

Following this workshop I was inspired to think about my own teaching and how I could use the experience to improve the teaching of advanced GIS concepts. I realized the significance of using learning approaches which emphasize a collaborative case-based approach (Wheatley, 1986; Boehrer and Linsky, 1990; Williams, 1992; Barnes et al., 1994; Herreid, 1994; Lantz and Walczak, 1997).

1.1 Conceptual framework

The Geography program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC) offers a range of GIS and Remote Sensing Courses; in which GIS is one of three concentrations for both undergraduate and graduate students. We have witnessed an increase in enrollment and strong interest among students since 2003 after a major overhaul of the curriculum design. …

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