Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Enhancing GIS Education with Student-Created Labs and a Peer Reference Manual

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Enhancing GIS Education with Student-Created Labs and a Peer Reference Manual

Article excerpt


Typically, students from a wide variety of academic majors and backgrounds enroll in introductory Geographic Information System (GIS) courses. In these classes, students learn the basic analytical skills and geographic science in order to appropriately use a GIS, while also learning the mechanics of a particular GIS program. In order to engage the class more fully in the learning process, we ask each student to select a topic that captures his/her interest (for example their major, hobbies, sports, or other interests) and to create a GIS lab around it. Also, we ask our students to solve some GIS questions using resources other than the instructor(s). As students in the GIS classes realize their work requires a skill not fully covered in their previous course work, they need to learn the steps to accomplish the task(s). After discovering the solution, the students write the procedures, which then become incorporated into a student-generated GIS reference manual. This manual acts as a resource to all students and faculty using GIS. These projects require the students to engage problem-solving and communication skills in addition to their GIS abilities. We have found that in generating and executing these exercises they cover a variety of pedagogical goals.


Many college campuses across the United States now offer introductory GlS courses, but unlike most college courses, a variety of departments teach these basic GIS classes. A cursory look at university GIS classes reveals offerings from geoscience, business, environmental science, sociology, and forestry departments. The interdisciplinary nature of GIS means that these courses attract a diverse student population (for example, Dramowicz et al., 1993). As instructors, we continually search for methods to maintain our students' interests in the topic as well as to assess student competency of the skills we teach. Since GIS is a rapidly evolving and widely used field, GIS instructors need to continually modify and update the materials they teach (Keating and Franz, 1999). Technology-based courses may need significant alterations after only two or three years compared to more than five years for a non-technology based class (Agnew, 2001). Incorporating a component of the class that motivates and engages students, as well as a component that is easily translatable regardless of the technology, prevents the instructor from constantly needing to redesign class assignments. Agnew (2001) mentions promoting greater understanding, developing skills, fostering active learning, and motivating and enthusing as reasons for changing curriculums. In our case, as two new instructors, we faced restructuring Baylor's Introduction to Remote Sensing and GIS course that split into two separate courses (Introduction to GIS and Principles of Remote Sensing). Our pedagogical techniques began as personal innovations, but we continually discover much support for our ideas in the higher education literature.

The goal of an introductory GIS class is to teach students GIS concepts while allowing them to gain practical hands-on experience with specific software packages (Deadman et al., 2000). Our design of student-created labs uses that paradigm and adds unique benefits for students and instructors. We also assign a final group project that encourages the use of real-world problems to solve as a team. This assignment requires the students to work together to learn and determine the steps to solve their problems, which follows the problem-based learning theory Svinicki (1999) discusses. During their project work, we encourage the introductory GIS students to write the steps of newly discovered skills or methods and to add these procedures to the GIS lab's peer reference manual.


Our class consists of approximately three hours of lecture and two hours of lab per week. Early in the semester, we inform the students that they will design their own lab and will also work on a small final group project. …

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