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A staggering amount of literature exists about the use of technology in the classroom.  But what sort of technology?  This may sound obvious,  but I am interested in fostering the use of meaningful technologies in education.  Just because a technology exists does not in my mind mean that we need to dedicate valuable class time on it - it has to meet educational goals, foster inquiry, allow students to be creative and to solve problems, provide important career and life skills, for example.  I believe that using geospatial technologies with spatial thinking, including GIS, is not just interesting, but is a critically tool and perspective for 21st Century education and society.

A recent survey by found that 50% of K-12 teachers get inadequate support for using technology in the classroom.   Matt Tullman, co-founder and president of digedu. said, “It is critical that we move quickly to address barriers to meaningful use of technology in schools so that students are equipped with the digital fluency necessary to succeed in our global economy.”  I agree.  My colleagues and I on the Esri education team are dedicated to doing all we can in partnership with the global geospatial education community to reduce barriers to the use of technology in the classroom.   In the survey, 46% reported that they lack the training needed to use technology effectively with students.  By authoring tutorials, videos, short essays in this blog and elsewhere, providing face-to-face professional development at conferences such as AAG and NSTA and in institutes such as T3G, lessons, supporting educational research, and via other means, we hope to help reduce that gap.  The evolution of GIS onto the cloud through ArcGIS Online seems to break down many technological barriers, such as software installation and computer lab maintenance.  Other challenges remain, but I have been very encouraged recent progress of the use of GIS tools in education.  For example, the St Vrain Valley School District in Colorado is starting a semester-long GIS course in their STEM program, incorporating ArcGIS into their AP Human Geography course at the high school, and using ArcGIS in their history, geography, and language arts curriculum at the middle school level.

The survey also found that 93% percent reported that technology has a positive effect on student engagement.  We have witnessed the deep engagement that students have when using geospatial technologies in the classroom and in the field, such as using 2D and 3D maps and visualizations, collecting and analyzing their own data, and communicating their results in multimedia-rich ways to their instructors, peers, and community groups. Educators, administrators, and students are embracing geospatial technologies as never before.  Why? Educational, societal, and technological forces are all playing a role, such STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) education, career and technology education, critical thinking, the geo-location of everyday devices, an increased awareness of the value of spatial thinking, improved bandwidth, problem-based learning, and others.

GIS is being incorporated into the St Vrain Valley School District STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) program.

What can we collectively do as a community to continue to break down barriers to the use of these powerful and easy-to-use tools to enhance and enrich education?
One question that we frequently receive here on the Esri education team is, "What is the size of the geospatial industry?"  Whether the question is asked in reference to a paper someone is researching, or because someone wants to obtain a sense of the "stability"of the industry when deciding whether to pursue GIScience for their career, or for some other reason, the question is a valid one, but it is difficult to definitively answer.

Up through the mid 1990s, while employed at the USGS, I used to consult an annual paper book on the size of GIS to answer this question.  Back then, it was a modest sized community of government, academia, nonprofit, and industry who were involved with producing, serving, and using geospatial data, software, and services.  But since then we have seen an explosion of geospatial technologies and data surround us in many forms and on many devices, and an expansion of users far beyond the traditional sciences and planning "core" into business, health, and just about every industry that exists.  This makes answering the question increasingly difficult.  It might be akin to "what is the size of the chemical, transportation, or <you fill in the blank" industries?"  All are enormous and have fuzzy boundaries.

Nevertheless, a few documents are helpful in at least getting an estimate of the size of the geospatial industry.   Geospatial World reported in their December 2013 issue on page 18 and following that the global geospatial industry brings in $270 billion in annual revenue, and companies in the sector pay more than $90 billion in wages each year.  This stemmed from a report published by Oxera in January 2013.  Equally interesting are the figures of how much travel time is saved annually due to geospatial technology (1.1 billion) and petrol saved (3.5 billion liters).  According to the Oxera report, this means that geospatial is 5 to 10 times larger than the video game industry, and at least one third the size of the global airline industry.  Geospatial is so large because "digital imagery and location-based services are essential components in resource management, supply chain logistics, infrastructure design, telecommunications, and national defense.  Also consider the manufacturing industry involved with creating consumer products, as well as the satellite and space industry needed to make it all work."  Additionally, Geospatial World author Sanjay wrote this article about the business value and the major technology and solution companies. Finally, Daratech has researched and published comprehensive surveys of the size of the geospatial industry.

One way of getting a sense of the size and diversity of the geospatial industry is to visit the Exhibit Hall at the Esri International User Conference. I am amazed at what I see there each year.  Another way is to visit

No matter what the size of the geospatial industry, one thing is clear:  Geospatial technology is here to stay.  As our world faces more complex and interconnected issues in this century that increasingly impact our everyday lives, the "where" questions will be increasingly asked.  And the technology to answer those questions will be GIS.

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