Components in an Introduction to Spatial Thinking Course

Blog Post created by jkerski-esristaff Employee on May 11, 2012
In my last blog post, I mentioned that universities are increasingly thinking about implementing courses entitled “Introduction to Spatial Thinking”. I described a few existing excellent models for such courses, inviting comments from the community. Development of such courses would be hastened by community dialog so that each faculty member does not feel like he or she has to develop such a course from scratch. In this essay, I would like to share components that would valuable in such a course.workshop1_web.jpg

I believe such a course should include a mix of reflections on readings and videos, and hands-on work with GIS and GPS technologies. An active discussion on the theoretical underpinnings of spatial thinking is necessary, because most students entering such a course most likely have had minimal exposure to geography in the past, and most likely have not purposely thought about the applicability of spatial thinking to their education, career, or life. I would begin with selected videos and essays to foster discussion, including the Geospatial Revolution, GIS Touches our everyday lives, my ArcWatch article Spatial Thinking: Habits of Mind, and my video Why Geography Education Matters. I would access articles on the bibliography on the Esri Education Community from Diana Stuart Sinton, Sarah Bednarz, Reg Golledge, and Phil Gersmehl, among others.

Whether face to face or online, I would promote active engagement with geospatial technologies. Easy-to-implement yet powerful activities would use ArcGIS Online, including Earth Quiz: Name that Place, analyzing the distribution of bail bonds and car washes in a metropolitan area, Weird Earth (Using strange and unusual imagery to spark inquiry), Exploring 10 Landscapes (such as eskers, karst, and lava fields), analyzing 10 aspects of water, (including watersheds, wetlands, dams and reservoirs, and oceans), and analyzing demographic components and their implications (such as median age, income, diversity, population density, and population change over time). Over the course of the semester, I would gradually increase the analytical rigor, using ArcGIS for Desktop with selected lessons from the Our World GIS Education books, siting a ski area using GIS, and determining the mean center of population for the USA and for individual states, 1790-2010. I would frequently include getting students out onto the campus or in their own neighborhoods (if the course is online), collecting data, mapping data, hyperlinking text, video, and photographs, and analyzing resulting patterns within a GIS environment.

I would require frequent presentations from students, including a presentation at the end of the semester, asking each student: How do you use spatial thinking each day, how have you used spatial thinking to solve three problems in this course, and how will you use GIS in the future?

What would you include in a course on spatial thinking?

-Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager