Draft - June 16, 1997
prepared by
Harvey Miller University of Utah
Karen Kemp
UC Santa Barbara
Dan Brown
Michigan State Univ.
Jeremy Fried
Michigan State Univ.
Please send any comments to the editors

1. Objective

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.

2. Background

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 curricula.

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 with curricula.

4. Benefits

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 and effectively.

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 Needed

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 education priorities.

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 software engineers.

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 used.

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 principles.

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.

Please send any comments to the editors