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2013
In my last post, I made the case that Jukes, McCain, Crocket, and Prensky's book Understanding the Digital Generation holds key lessons for those of us who are involved in teaching with GIS and teaching about GIS.  Yet the characteristics of these digital learners that I described in that post are not the only instructive elements of the book.  The authors' discussion of changes in the 21st Century world of work I believe are helpful for curriculum developers, instructors, and administrators who seek to embed the geographic perspective, spatial content, and geotechnology skills into instruction at all levels.

Jukes et al. say that to prepare for the 21st Century world of work, while we will continue to teach many traditional skills, there will be a shift in emphasis on the importance of those skills.   The authors go on to say that we must adjust teaching to match the new world of technology.  New skills must be considered as part of the basic literacy skills of any student.  Why have these skills received a promotion? Quite simply, because of technology.
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Student discussing GIS based project.



The authors prefer the word "fluency" over literacy because for them it conveys a sense of lifelong learning, such as becoming fluent in a language--in this case, the language of technology.  There are five types of fluencies that are important:  (1) Solution fluency:  This is whole brain thinking, including creativity and problem solving applied in real time.  (2)  Information fluency:  The ability to access digital information sources to retrieve desired information and assess and critically evaluate the quality of information.  (3)  Collaboration fluency:   This "teamworking proficiency" is the "ability to work cooperatively with virtual and real partners in an online environment to create original digital products."  (4)  Creativity fluency:  The "process by which artistic proficiency adds meaning through design, art, and storytelling."  (5)  Media fluency:  The ability to look analytically at any communication media to interpret the real message, determine how the chosen media is being used to shape thinking, evaluate the efficacy of the message, and the ability to publish original digital products to match the media to the intended message.

Space does not permit me to make all of the connections between these fluencies and what students do when they use GIS and geographic inquiry to grapple with problems.  However, in short, I have witnessed thousands of times over the past 20 years that students doing so engage in all five of these fluencies.  Using GIS has never "just been about the tools" but rather engages and depends upon creativity, collaborative problem-solving, accessing and using data online and in the field, working with a wide variety of media from spreadsheets to geodatabases to image files to HTML and JavaScript, assessing an increasing array of spatial data sources, and communicating process and results.  Jukes et al.'s statement that "Students must be able to artistically create stories using technology" seems to capture a large part of what students do with GIS.  The communication may include verbal and written descriptions of the problem tackled, the creation of a story map, ArcGIS Online presentations, embedding a map as part of a descriptive web page, and a myriad of other methods.  All of this prepares students well for the 21st Century world of work.

My question for instructors:  How have you observed students acquiring these five fluencies when you have taught GIS?  My question for students:  How has using GIS enabled you to prepare for the world of work?
I recently read the book Understanding the Digital Generation by Ian Jukes, Ted McCain, Lee Crockett, and Mark Prensky.  I found it to be insightful but also quite appropriate for those involved with GIS in education.
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Understanding the Digital Generation book.



What are the characteristics of digital learners according to these authors?  Digital learners prefer receiving information quickly from multiple multimedia sources, not a slow and controlled release of information from limited sources.  GIS has always been about layering of information from a variety of sources, from satellite imagery to stream gauges, from traffic cams to ecological monitoring stations, and more.  Digital learners prefer processing pictures, sounds, color, and video before text.  Digital learners prefer random access to hyperlinked multimedia information, rather than receiving information linearly, logically, and sequentially.  GIS easily incorporates audio, video, photographs, links, and text.   Furthermore, GIS has become a platform, accessible from a variety of devices--tablets, laptops, smartphones--and the maps and data sets created within a GIS are shareable.

Digital learners refer to network simultaneously with others, rather than working independently first before they network and interact with each other.  Whether in education, health, natural resource management, planning, or in other fields, success with GIS is greatly enhanced by networking with peers.

Jukes et al. say that while many educators prefer teaching "just in case", digital learners prefer learning "just in time."  We in GIS in education have always emphasized using the most appropriate tools for the job, and learning GIS functions in the context of solving specific problems.

Digital learners prefer instant gratification and immediate rewards.  Those of us who labored through the early days of GIS marvel at how easy-to-use modern GIS has become.  From creating spatial statistics to georegistering historical imagery, the modern GIS toolkit is vast and varied, accompanied by graphics, videos, and other resources designed to aid beginner and advanced users alike.    Finally, digital learners prefer learning that is relevant, active, instantly useful, and fun.  How can GIS, which was created to analyze 21st Century issues from energy to water to migration to natural hazards and more, not be relevant and useful?  Teaching and learning with GIS is active, engaging, and yes, fun.

In short, I firmly believe that teaching and learning with GIS appeals to and is relevant to today's digital learners.  Can you find additional connect points between these authors' statements and GIS in education?
Technologies that enable educators and students to map their field-collected data are rapidly evolving.  A few years ago I wrote several reports of my field test that compared the spatial accuracy of collecting tracks and waypoints with a recreational grade GPS versus a smartphone.  I decided it was time to revisit that research and recently while working with faculty at the Mt Evans Outdoor Education Lab School in Colorado, the opportunity arose.
While on the school's grounds I collected data simultaneously with three methods and two devices:  (1) As a track using an app called RunKeeper on my smartphone (an iPhone 4 in my case), (2) As a track and waypoints using an app called Motion X GPS on my smartphone, (3) As a track and waypoints using my Garmin 76 GPS receiver.  In order to keep my footing on the steep terrain, I simply held these devices in front of me; I did not hold them above my head or in any way enhance the reception.  After the collection was completed, I emailed the smartphone data as GPX files to myself and uploaded them into ArcGIS Online.  I cabled the points from my GPS device to my computer using the free Minnesota DNR GPS program and mapped them as a zipped shapefile.  I saved the results in ArcGIS Online as a web map.
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Comparing smartphone and GPS tracks and waypoints.

As expected, the RunKeeper track, shown in pale blue, was highly generalized.  RunKeeper is a fitness app that I use daily with excellent accuracy, but I suspect the generalization here occurred in the step when I downloaded the track to a GPX file and mapped the GPX.   However, both the Motion X GPS track collected with the  smartphone and the track collected with the GPS receiver were only 1 to 2 meters off from where the satellite image showed the trails to be.  And keep in mind that this model of GPS is already a decade old; the chips in the newer models can even detect GPS signals inside certain types of buildings.  In addition, my smartphone is nearly three years old.
Interestingly, at certain places, such as just west of where the popup graphic is located, the smartphone results were better, but south of the graphic, where I left the trail to photograph a bench, the GPS detected my side journey but not the smartphone.  I also took photographs in the field with my smartphone and uploaded them to Picasaweb.  I then accessed the photos in Picasaweb and captured the latitude-longitude coordinates, and used those coordinates to map them in ArcGIS Online.  The photographs also were no more than 1 meter off of the location I had taken them according to the satellite image.
I was very pleased with the smartphone and GPS results, particularly because the school lies in steep and heavily forested terrain in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.  If I achieved good results here, the results should be even better in flat terrain and with fewer trees.   And while there are still some advantages for using GPS receivers in education, the smartphones are a viable technology for doing so, and they too offer advantages.  I will expand on the advantages of both in future blog essays, and keep in mind that smartphone location services can use GPS, cellular triangulation, and geo-wifi, or a combination thereof, and you as the user typically do not know which one(s) it is using at any particular moment.  The takeaway here is that GPS and smartphones both do a fine job in terms of spatial accuracy.  True, I wasn't mapping fiber optic cables, but for marking trees, bird's nests, trails, and a host of other items that educators and students want to map, they are quite suitable.
How do you use GPS receivers and smartphones in your educational work?  How might you use this type of spatial accuracy comparison as part of your math, science, or geography-based curriculum?

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