RGS AC 2016 – 5 Years of Interdisciplinary GIS Education

5 years of Interdisciplinary GIS Education at the RGS
5 years of Interdisciplinary GIS Education at the RGS

This year marks the 5th year in a row of Claire and myself hosting a session on Interdisciplinary GIS Education, which was titled this year “Learning GIS: Establishing the Nexus Between Disciplines“, again, jointly sponsored by the Higher Education Research Group (HERG) and the GIScience Research Group (GIScRG). We again had an amazing line up of people sharing their research, which I think explores an overarching question in regards to who is doing what with GIS and how they went about doing so; this inevitably led to a key point – are they doing it right?

The first talk was from Ángela García-Pérez from University of Deusto on Friendly Cities – a project focused on urban accessibility for people with disabilities. OpenStreetMap was used in conjunction with Wheelmap to record areas accessible/inaccessible to people and involved teenage students to also raise their awareness on issues of accessibility. Her project partner, Cruz Borges, a mathematician from Deusto Institute of Technology – DeustoTech Energy, also joined and together they explained the interdisciplinary issues and understanding of their project and how these were circumnavigated. [Check out their latest news and presentation]

The next talk was from Mike Smith, Flora Parrott and their students from Kingston University on interdisciplinary ways of perceiving space. Flora, with a background in Fine Arts and Mike, coming from Remote Sensing, brought their students together to phenomenologically explore the Rotherhithe Tunnel – once dubbed the 8th wonder of the world, which was the first of it’s kind to allow people to cross under the Thames. Students used Go Pro cameras, castings of the tunnel and 3D imaging techniques to collect experiential information of the tunnel to create a narrative from the students. One of their outputs was an incredible video sharing the students’ experiences titled “Reading Landscape“. [Check out their presentation and blog]

Professor Nigel Walford also from Kingston University joined us again this year to share his expertise on the evolution of GIS from when he first did hand draw maps to where we are now with smartphones and ubiquitous GIS. He importantly notes that GIS can act as a mediator between disciplines, and though it’s easier to use these days, it is still important to know GIS concepts to create accurate, well made maps. This is a continuation of the debate on “accidental geographers” or “neogeography”; however, as we can see, people continue to use/apply GIS in growing numbers.

Finally, I presented on my work on how interdisciplinary researchers have learned GIS, which concepts they’ve learned and the background for the creation of the learning resource, GIS Lessons for You. This resource is a tutorial, using ArcGIS Online, that switches text/images based upon the context in which the learner would like to use, which tests the concept of Context Based Learning as an approach to help expedite learning GIS. I used this resource to teach students from the Development Planning Unit and Digital Humanities where half the students did a relevant context and the other half did another one. Afterwards, students were asked to answer a survey on how they felt about the context they learned the lessons through and if they felt it helped/hindered their learning experience; it seems that most preferred to learn through a relevant context. A few weeks later, they were asked to create another output, similar to the final map from the lessons, but this time they were all given contextually relevant data. I found that, regardless of context, students finished in roughly the same time. Following up with them, only a handful of students continued using GIS, but it was because they were already interested in it to begin with; others, simply weren’t interested, didn’t have the time to continue using it or stopped using it after encountering issues with the software/hardware that they couldn’t overcome. Overall, I suggest that motivation is key to interdisciplinary researchers learning GIS, that context doesn’t appear to play as big of a role as motivation in learning and that they learn concepts related to creating and analysing data and producing maps. [Presentation Available on Slideshare]

In respect to whether interdisciplinary researchers are using GIS right, I think it’s important that people know necessary GIS concepts, so they make good, accurate maps; however, I don’t think that should be a factor that shuts people out from using GIS. It’s through continued use of GIS that things can improve and as GIS professionals we must be inclusive, rather than exclusive, in our behaviour, language and actions to continue to expand possibilities with GIS.

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