ALTERNATIVE DESIGNS FOR CURRICULUM CONTENT AND
Draft - June 16, 1997
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Harvey Miller University of Utah
UC Santa Barbara
Michigan State Univ.
Michigan State Univ.
Improving GIScience education requires a specification and assessment of
curricula for a wide range of student constituencies. Primary objectives
for this topic are to: i) identify the various constituencies who benefit
from education in GIScience; ii) identify specific sets of key concepts
appropriate for each constituency; iii) determine various modes of GIScience
education delivery to each constituency; and, iv) determine monitoring
and assessment techniques which ensure effectiveness relative to the changing
needs of the professional constituencies.
The primary goal of this initiative is to generate a flexible GIScience
educational delivery system responsive to the needs of diverse professionals.
The delivery system will focus on UCGIS-type institutions. Much of this
blueprint will prove useful to other educational institution types.
Geographic information systems (GIS) and related geographic information
analysis (GIA) techniques are relevant to a wide range of disciplines and
educational and professional environments. As the development and use of
these techniques continue to grow, it will become increasingly important
for educators to deliver a proper foundation in geographic information
science (GIScience). This will ensure the appropriate development and use
of these techniques in the scientific and application domains. However,
GIScience educators must recognize that different education constituencies
exist. These constituencies have different needs with respect to professional
activities and their consequent use of GIS/GIA techniques and applications.
Many GIScience curricula have been developed over the last 20 years
using a one-size-fits-all approach. As GIS becomes widely implemented,
these curricula require refinement. Existing published curricula provide
a point of departure.
3. Importance to national needs
GIScience is rapidly evolving and the adoption of GIS technology continues
to increase across commercial, academic and government sectors. An adequately
educated workforce is essential to the appropriate implementation and use
of these technologies. UCGIS institutions can deliver effective methods
for training and retraining people to meet new employment demands. However,
we need to better understand specific educational needs to design targeted
UCGIS institutions have an important role to play in improving the state
of GIS practice. Timely incorporation of basic research advances into the
curricula will improve the effectiveness of GIScience and other professionals
in solving increasingly complex problems. By collecting information about
constituencies and their specific needs we can better match research advances
By maintaining a "one-size-fits-all" education model, GIScience runs the
risk of being considered irrelevant by practitioners. The subsequent misuse
of GIS/GIA techniques would ultimately damage the credibility of this technology
for addressing society's problems. Tailoring GIScience education to diverse
professions will increase the likelihood that GIS will be deployed properly
5. Priority areas for research and action
5.1. Identify Educational Constituencies
Short-term (1 - 3 years) research is required to identify the full range
of GIS and related professions and to determine a classification of these
professions on the basis of their required GIScience skill and knowledge
set. The multi-disciplinary and multi-professional settings of GIS/GIA
techniques present a unique challenge to GIScience educators. A primary
consideration is to identify these constituencies with respect to their
educational needs. Appendix 1 depicts one possible approach to categorizing
educational market segments.
Two avenues to gathering information about potential GIScience educational
market segments should be followed. Initially, discussions with key representatives
of allied professional and academic organizations about the ways in which
their members use and would like to use GIS and spatial information analysis
should be used to develop a first approximation of educational market segments.
This schema should provide a basis for the second phase of data collection:
a survey of individual members designed to elicit 1) what they do with
GIS, 2) the content of their past formal instruction in GIScience, 3) what
they wish they had been taught, and 4) the set of skills and knowledge
desired in prospective employees. Market segments should be identified
by grouping respondents with similar survey profiles.
5.2. Identify Professional Goals and Related Key GIScience Concepts
A short-term (1-3 years) research objective involves identification
and assessment of key GIScience concepts necessary to support the activities
of each professional constituency. This objective will be accomplished
by analyzing the survey of GIS professionals with respect to the core concepts
and skills integral to the effectiveness of each market segment. Appendix
2 lists a potential skill set for each of the example market segments.
5.3. Identify Appropriate Educational Delivery Systems
A short to medium-term (1 - 6 years) research objective is to determine
appropriate education delivery systems for each professional segment. The
focus of this effort is curriculum development. Modularity is the key requirement
so that the curriculum can be adapted to meet the needs of diverse market
segments and can evolve as the field progresses.
Existing curricula should be examined and critically assessed for their
coverage of concepts highlighted by the survey and the degree to which
they can be adapted. This analysis may result in the revision of existing
modules and the creation of new modules. Ultimately, a structure should
be provided which relates modules to market segments and allows for evolution.
Action should be taken to establish the proper support for and integration
of these curricula into the educational systems of UCGIS institutions.
This requires coordination of curriculum development with parallel UCGIS
5.4. Development of Educational Assessment Techniques
Developing appropriate monitoring and assessment techniques is a long-term
(5 - 10 years) research goal. There is a need to monitor and assess
the effectiveness of the GIScience educational delivery system continuously
relative to each professional constituency. In particular, the effectiveness
of the educational delivery systems must be assessed relative to the changing
goals and activities of these constituencies. A study of assessment methodologies
should be undertaken.
Appendix 1: Example classification of educational market segments
1. Managers. These are professionals who are only indirectly
involved in the use of GIS techniques. Their role is managing and supervising
GIS professionals in other categories.
2. Application-oriented GIS users. These are problem-driven users
whose focus is a particular applied problem to which GIS is relevant but
peripheral. This includes users who use GIS as a spatial database management
system and (possibly) cartographic output device but do not use generally
use spatial analytic techniques in their research and/or problem-solving.
Since different applications have very different functional and data requirements,
it may be necessary to subdivide this group into many subgroups.
3. GIS analysts. These are users who exploit on a regular basis
the full functionality of GIS as a spatial analytic technique in their
research and problem-solving.
4. GIS developers. These are researchers who are involved in
continuing the development and advancement of GIS software and GIA techniques.
This constituency includes technique-oriented GIScience academics and GIS
5. GIS technicians. This group provides the technical support
and knowledge necessary to make the GIS software and data functional. While
their use of complex analytic techniques is often limited, they do require
some understanding of the context in which the technology and data are
6. Educators. This category includes teachers and instructors
at all levels of the educational spectrum. Their unique set of GIS skills
and knowledge will be directly related to the educational environment in
which they teach.
Appendix 2: Example key concepts for educational market segments
1. Managers: An understanding of the basic principles and functionality
of GIS and some fundamentals of GIScience including, for example, managerial
issues related to data quality and sources of error.
2. Application-oriented GIS users: GIS manager-level knowledge
plus an understanding of GIS as a spatial database management system (including
detailed understanding of spatial data quality issues) and as a cartographic
visualization technique as well as issues involved in GIS and model interoperability.
3. GIS analysts: Application-oriented GIS user-level knowledge
plus an understanding of spatial analytic techniques and spatial modeling
4. GIS developers: GIS analyst-level knowledge plus an understanding
of the theoretic, mathematical and computational foundations of GIS.
5. GIS technicians: Detailed knowledge of software operation
plus understanding of the fundamentals of GIScience.
6. Educators: Fundamentals of GIScience, plus depending on the
level of instruction they provide, they will also need adequate exposure
to applications in either education or professional fields.
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