RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2015 – GIS and the Anthropocene: Educational Perspectives

This year is the fourth year running where Claire and I held a session at the Royal Geographic Society’s Annual Conference; with the theme for 2015 being Geography in the Anthropocene, our session (jointly sponsored by the GISc and Higher Education Research groups of the RGS) was about learning and applying GIS in the Anthropocene and brought together innovative educators from around the world whose global work on GIS outreach is paving the way for future users.

Sara Price (UCL Institute of Education) presented on her group’s work on engaging with secondary school teachers and facilitating educational activities with young people using GIS. After holding workshops with the teachers, two activities were held using mobile phones and a data collection platform (EpiCollect+); the output from one was used to create a Story Map, which showcases the students’ work and has been positively received by the schools involved.

Britta Ricker (University of Washington Tacoma) talked about her experiences teaching on the GIS Masters programme at her institute. Initially, she tried to understand various “levels” of GIS users as a pyramid – from many basic users to a handful of experts; however, she later realised that regardless of the skill level, everyone contributes to the collective knowledge of how to use and apply GIS and that we have to adjust how we support people depending upon what they want to achieve. The pyramid has been scrapped for a “merry-go-round” (or roundabout) model instead, where people get on and off at different places, as they see fit.

Mary Fargher (UCL Institute of Education) discussed some of the challenges in teaching Geography teachers around the globe on an online Masters programme and the theoretical underpinnings of the learning that happens on it. In particular, this is framed by the TPACK framework, in which the interplay of Theoretical Knowledge, Pedagogical Knowledge, and Content Knowledge is investigated as a way of ensuring all that is taught can prepare the teachers to go out and effectively and confidently teach Geography to students – all in an online environment. The often asynchronous nature of this type of teaching means that students sometimes have to wait for answers, but that they may be more thoughtfully formed and enriched by hypermedia or online resources.

Elisabeth van Overbeeke (University of Waterloo) shared with us her work on BeniAtlas – a common mapping platform for and by the people. Beni, an area of the Congo that is quickly growing, does not have the necessary planning infrastructure to keep up with development work. To avoid informal works, which may not be structurally sound, BeniAtlas has a robust back-end and a core group of people have been trained to undertake data collection. Moving forward, further surveys and projects that collect data continue to overlay new information on old and can better plan in ways that can help Beni grow and thrive.

I closed the session with my work on GIS education for and through interdisciplinary applications. Building off of previous work, having identified common challenges and suggested solutions to interdisciplinary research as well as important GIS concepts, collaborative learning how to create data and maps is a suggested way forward for interdisciplinary researchers to successfully uptake GIS. Currently, people informally learn GIS through inefficient ways, and lack the “vocabulary” to effectively search for the answers they need; as a proof of concept, I’ve created “GIS Lessons for You“, a site that teaches GIS in a non-formal (semi-structured) way that builds that vocabulary and reduces cognitive load on the learner by ensuring the lesson is contextually relevant and tailored to them.

It was great having everyone share their research and those in the audience will hopefully be able to go forward with those experiences to positively affect their students’ learning journeys.

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