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Sean Cavanagh, writing for Education Week, highlights 6 different kinds of technology and tech practices that are likely to become increasingly important in K-12 school systems over the next few years.  In addition, the Horizon Report’s 2013 K-12 Edition, discusses those technologies in more detail, and also describes barriers to the effective use of technology. The report was released by the New Media Consortium, an international organization focused on educational technology, as well as the Consortium for School Networking and the International Society for Technology in Education.  Its findings are based on the opinions and analyses of school and college technology officials, business representatives from companies around the world, and others.

The report states that in the near term, mobile technologies have an expanding presence in school, growth driven by “bring-your-own-device” policies, the rise of mobile apps and other tools, and a strong interest from the private sector in developing new technologies.  Cloud computing is already being used by schools today, and more are turning to that option as a way to outsource portions of their technology infrastructure.

In the mid-term, learning analytics, or the field focused on making sense of trends and patterns using “big data"--huge amounts of student-related data, is likely to grow. Data analysis is being used to help struggling learners and to help tailor curricula to student needs.  The use of open content was once largely confined to higher education, but now more organizations are developing those free, flexible materials for K-12 schools. That’s partly a response to “an expression of student choice about when and how to learn,” the Horizon report says.

In the far-term, 3-D printing has the potential to help schools introduce students to the design process, help schools create materials that demonstrate concepts, and make classrooms more creative places.  Virtual and remote laboratories can allow schools to use wireless networks, cloud-based software, and mobile devices to bring scientific experiences to schools that have only limited labs.

The authors also note potential stumbling blocks on the horizon. Today’s technology in schools doesn’t do enough to support personalized learning, for instance. And professional development to implement new technology is often lacking, they say.

Collecting spatial data in the field.

I see many ways that geotechnology fits into these trends.  Today's GIS allows students to use a variety of devices not only to create and examine web-based maps, but to collect data in the field.  It thus easily incorporates virtual and remote laboratories and the "bring your own device" model.  ArcGIS is a cloud computing platform that supports an ever-expanding array of functions, map layers, and applications.  The ArcGIS platform is beginning to be embedded into open content and learning management system architecture.  When I read the sentences I have just written, and think back to where GIS in education was just a few years ago, I am amazed.  We have more and easier-to-use data sets and tools at our fingertips than ever before.  Could we be at the tipping point where GIS will soon be adopted on an order of magnitude larger than what we have seen up now?

Not only does GIS fit well with these trends, but I would argue that for the future of our students, we can't just sit around and hope that GIS spreads throughout education at all levels and in all disciplines.  I feel we must as a community take active steps to ensure that GIS and spatial thinking are embedded into an envisioned future of primary and secondary education.  GIS is well connected to educational content standards, fosters critical thinking, is by its nature created to be an investigative, problem-based set of tools and approaches, and develops skills that are in increasing demand in the workplace.  However, the most important reason we need to promote GIS is, I believe, that we face critical global issues in the 21st Century, all of which are geospatial issues that can be examined through the spatial perspective using GIS.  We simply must equip decision makers with the tools and perspectives necessary for them to be able to make the wisest decisions possible for the benefit of people and the planet.
A number of years ago, our colleague in geography from the University of Missouri, Professor Kit Salter, created a rubric that encouraged students to truly observe and learn from their observation.  Dr Salter called it "O, SAE, can you see?" Each letter in this phrase is laden with meaning.  The "O" stands for Observation, because all geography and the study of landscape must begin with an articulate expression of what you are looking at, or what landscape problem you are considering.  The "S" stands for Speculation -- about why the landscape being observed looks the way it does.  Dr Salter  promotes speculation as a strand of critical thinking because "you have to look at visual evidence and try to determine what factors--economic, aesthetic, political, technological, and so on, seem dominant in the creation of that scene/seen" (Salter, personal communication).

O SAE, can you see? Fountain Formation sandstone, photo by Joseph Kerski.

The "A" stands for Analysis.  Part of the "O, SAE" exercise is determining what evidence is not  available simply through O and S.  Interviews might be required.  A list of questions that could be taken to the library or to a local realtor or long-time resident would help learn what is trying to be understood.   A can also stand for Answers, which come from observing, speculating, and grappling with the issues.  However, students need to realize that for many complex issues, there is no single correct answer.  The "E" stands for Evaluation.  Does this particular landscape phenomenon make sense?  Is what is observed environmentally sustainable?  Does the situation serve the community?  How can it be studied more effectively?  Dr Salter commented that this simple rubric worked not only in the field but also with in-class discussion or presentations, as well as with passages from prose or objective description.  He used it with primary school field trips through graduate seminars.

I believe that geospatial technologies can be effectively used to bring out the themes of "O SAE can you see".  Students can use geospatial technologies such as GIS, and ArcGIS Online in particular, to map their own field-collected data, to analyze geographic variables from local to global scale, and to build richly illustrated story maps that communicate their research project's results.  Students can share the maps they have created and embed them into slideshows and websites. I believe that "O, SAE can you see?" provides an easy-to-remember and helpful framework for instruction.  But as Dr Salter remarked, perhaps a better one is "O, SAE what can you see?"

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