Be Spatially Critical

Blog Post created by jkerski-esristaff Employee on May 30, 2013
At the last Esri International User Conference, my Esri education colleague Laura Bowden and I conducted a spatial thinking workshop.  Laura said something in the workshop that I have been musing about ever since: "Be spatially critical." This phrase is laden with meaning and examining it in this blog may shed light on why this community believes so firmly in the value of research and practice in GIS in education.

Be Spatially Critical !

Effectively using GIS in teaching and learning hinges upon critical thinking and spatial thinking.  For example, some critical thinking questions relate to the context of a problem:  What background research do I need to examine and what content do I need to immerse myself in to be knowledgeable about the issue?  What are the costs and benefits of the issue I am analyzing?  Who are the stakeholders affected by the issue?  What are the historical, current, and future implications surrounding the issue?

At the 1987 conference on Critical Thinking and Education Reform, Scriven and Paul stated that critical thinking means to "conceptualize, apply, analyze, synthesize and/or evaluate information gathered from, or generalized by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning or communication, as a guide to belief or action [or argument]."  GIS can be used to foster such actions, and in practice, this is where critical and spatial thinking meet: What data do I need to gather and analyze to assess the issue completely and accurately?  How can I represent that issue within a GIS environment using raster and vector data sets, multimedia, graphs and charts, and by other means and tools?  Can I trust my data sources?  At what scale do I need to examine my chosen issue?  What data will support that scale of analysis?  What symbology, classification, and presentation techniques should I choose to effectively communicate my results?

Other questions are specific to an instructional environment:  As an instructor, how can I best teach to encourage students to be spatially critical?  As a student, what content knowledge, skills, and geographic perspectives do I need to cultivate in order to develop my ability to become spatially critical?

In sum, the phrase "Be Spatially Critical" includes elements of critical thinking and spatial thinking, both of which my colleagues and I frequently write about in this blog.  Laura Bowden and I plan to conduct a spatial thinking workshop at the 2013 Esri User Conference as well, and we look forward to reading your comments here and interacting with you during the workshop!