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2015
A new article in ArcNews entitled Four Guidelines for the New GIS Professional not only offers insights for those new to the field of GIS, but also for educators who teach the subject and who use it as a tool to teach history, geography, earth science, and other subjects.

The article identifies four strategies that can ensure that a GIS professional remains at the forefront of this profession:  (1)  Build a strong platform; (2)  Extend the platform across the organization; (3) Leverage existing GIS investments; and (4)  Be active in the GIS community.  I believe that educators can use the "building and extending the platform" strategies as an encouragement to spread spatial thinking and GIS beyond their own classroom walls.  If you are at a university or community college, that might mean giving a few presentations each academic year to colleagues across campus, in history, language arts, biology, or another discipline that is maybe a bit outside your comfort zone.  Spatial thinking has a way of bringing diverse disciplines together around the "whys of where", solving problems, and providing career pathways for students.  If you are at a primary or secondary school, it might mean a presentation at a faculty meeting where you discuss why you are using GIS in your instruction, or having your students discuss their work at a school assembly, or conducting a hands-on workshop for educators in another school or the neighboring school district.

Leveraging existing GIS investments implies that, like anything worthwhile in education, teaching with GIS requires time and effort. These efforts will be longer lasting and more impactful on students if they are conducted in collaboration with your education colleagues on your campus or in your school district, or with colleagues far away who share similar interests.  And finally, being active in the GIS community is important for geospatial educators, to garner support for your efforts from administrators, to share instructional practices, data, maps, and apps, and to share your stories so that others will be inspired to use these approaches and tools in their own instruction.The article points out four ways that the "GIS technology ecosystem" is rapidly changing, including cloud-based GIS, the widespread use of web mapping, the increasing adoption of open data, and the app revolution.  What do these and other changes mean for the GIS educator?

The article reminds us that this is an exciting time in GIS.  New applications and a growing awareness of the power of GIS are accelerating the need for skilled people in this field. Web mapping and visualization have opened the world's eyes to the power of the spatial visualization of information and are transforming how people understand the world.  You, as a GIS educator, are key in making this happen, by enabling students to visualize, question, analyze, and interpret our world.
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Visualize, question, analyze, and interpret: Four key parts of teaching and learning with GIS.

One theme that we frequently discuss in teaching and learning with GIS is that maps are representations of reality.  To be sure, they are very useful representations of reality, but they are representations nonetheless, laden with meaning, different possibilities for interpretation, and yes, some distortions and error.  In the fast-paced world that GIS analysis and creating maps has become, it is easy to lose sight of these representation fundamentals when we have maps and imagery at our fingertips, at multiple scales and over multiple themes.In a video, I discuss just one place where care needs to be made in interpreting maps.  In the video, observe my surroundings as I stand near the traditional “line” that divides the deciduous forest to the south from the coniferous forest to the north in North America.  On most maps, this is indeed shown as a line.  However, consider the following:  Is the “line” really a line at all, or is it better described as a gradual change from deciduous to coniferous as one travels north? Is that vector line then better symbolized as a “zone”, or is vegetation better mapped as a raster data set, with each cell representing the percentage of deciduous and coniferous trees in that cell?

How many other data sets do we tend to see as having firm boundaries, when the boundaries in reality are far from being "firm"?  How does that affect the decisions we make with them?  Even the boundary between wetlands and open water were originally interpreted based on land cover data or a satellite or aerial image.   In another example, as stated in the GIS and Public Domain Data book, contour lines are not surveyed lines, but rather are interpreted, often from aerial stereo pairs.  And each data set that we can analyze with maps was collected at a specific scale, with certain equipment and software, at a specific date, and within certain margins of error that the organization established.

Maps are representations of reality.  They are some of the most useful tools ever invented, but care needs to be taken when using this or any abstracted data.  How might you be able to use these examples and considerations for "teachable moments" in your own instruction to foster critical thinking?
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Maps as representations of reality: The deciduous-coniferous tree "line".

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