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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?

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