The NCGIA Core Curricula

Prepared by Karen K. Kemp

The NCGIA Core Curriculum in GIScience

Like the original NCGIA Core Curriculum in GIS (Goodchild and Kemp, eds, 1990), the new on-line Core Curriculum in GIScience (GISCC - currently under development will be composed of over 150 units of  materials organized as lecture notes and supporting materials.  All materials are freely available on the WWW with development supported by base funding of the NCGIA.  In keeping with the spirit and success of the original Core Curriculum and to meet the same specific need in the GIS education materials market, the new Core Curriculum concentrates solely on providing fundamental course content assistance for educators -- formally as lecture materials, but adaptable for whatever instructional mode each course instructor wishes to use. Thus, as before, we are not compiling a comprehensive textbook for students, nor are the materials designed to be used as distance learning materials. As well, as a "core" curriculum it is to be seen simply as a well structured resrouce.  It is not intended to impose any specific structure or educational objectives, nor imply required content for GIS courses. Instructors are encouraged to pick and choose amongst the materials on offer in order to develop courses suited specifically for their own students. Course design remains the responsibility of individual instructors.

Each unit includes the quantity of information appropriate for a 50 minute lecture. Thus a unit consists of about 7 pages of point-form text, with inline sketches and graphics. These notes provide a structure within which the instructor can add anecdotes, examples and additional material to flesh out the framework, make it more interesting and add to its pedagogic value.

For development purposes, the units are organized as a tree, with geographic concepts at the bottom or root node. Above this are four major branches:

Above each of these branch nodes are further subtrees terminating in individual instructional units or leaf nodes. The number of levels of the tree is not defined; new units can be added above existing ones to add greater detail, but each must be appropriately linked to the content of its parent. At best, the community as a whole will likely agree only on the lower levels of the tree.

By using a tree structure, the curriculum avoids linearity, and allows complexity to be added. If an instructor opts to traverse the entire curriculum, it could be done in any combination of height and breadth - height-first traversal would produce a linear and highly specialized course structure, while breadth-first traversal would place all of the introductory material first. The tree structure also provides a framework for the organization of related instructional materials since each unit contains a "References" section which lists not only print references, but relevant websites.

Editorial procedure and incentive structure

The editorial procedure for the new Core Curriculum is based on the journal metaphor. Each unit is overseen by a section editor, reviewed by 2 peers and revised accordingly before being posted to the website.  This procedure was put in place specifically to provide an incentive for contribution.  Authorship is clearly indicated and the format for citations given at the end of each unit.

Unfortunately, the incentives of citations and refereed publications has not proven strong enough to move commitments to prepare units to the top of most author's to-do lists.  It was hoped that the GISCC would be fully populated within a year of its formal initiation, but as of June 1998, 2 years later, only 25 of the proposed 187 units have been publically posted.  However, since there continues to be considerable general support for the project, it will be continued, though at a much slower pace than originally planned.

The Core Curriculum for Technical Programs

The NCGIA has a second CC currently under development - the Core Curriculum for Technical Programs (CCTP -  While using the GISCC as a conceptual foundation, this curriculum is task-oriented, focusing on how to use the technology effectively.  Therefore, rather than addressing topics such as error from an abstract perspective, the CCTP, for example, provides materials for the instruction of digitizing which includes a tangible demonstration of the relevance of those aspects of database error which arise during the digitizing process.  The CCTP contains 51 units, each of which is quite extensive, including materials for instruction to the awareness, competency and mastery levels.  Detailed outlines for hands-on exercises, with specific implementations for various GIS products, and a large quantity of supporting materials such as sample course syllabi and other education resources, are additions planned for future development.  This project has had similar problems getting completed materials from assigned authors, though these authors do receive a small  monetary stipend for their efforts.

The On-line CCs and Interoperable Education

At a minimum, the materials in the NCGIA's Core Curricula will be significant contributions to the global GIS education materials database.  Each unit can be easily tagged with appropriate metadata once specifications are complete.  At an organizing level, the branched structure of  the GISCC along with the reference links included in each unit may provide one means of conceptually organizing the spectrum of materials available. In terms of granularity, having units based on a single classroom session allows considerable flexibility in the organization of topics for a course.


Goodchild, M.F., and K.K. Kemp, eds.  1990.  NCGIA Core Curriculum in GIS, National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis, University of California Santa Barbara.

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