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 - http://www.ncgia.ucsb.edu/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
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.
Fundamental Geographic Concepts for GIS - these units deal with the
concepts themselves, enumerates them, and describes their role in human
Implementing Geographic Concepts in GIS - these units discuss the implementation
and handling of geographic concepts in digital computers;
Geographic Information Technology in Society - these units examine the
management of these technologies, their implications for society, and the
social context in which they are being used;
Application Areas and Case Studies - these units critically examines
how GIS is used in various applications.
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 - http://www.ncgia.ucsb.edu/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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