Teaching Students about the Societal Aspects of Technology using GIS

Blog Post created by jkerski-esristaff Employee on Nov 10, 2016
A recent article in eSchoolNews by Dianne Pappafotopoulos, school district instructional technology specialist, posed the question, "What should we teach students about the future of technology?"  She reflects about the ways that humans are increasingly relying on programmable devices and robots for their everyday lives, and in a sense "becoming" technology or at least a part of it.  Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is an important enabler of these technological changes as the "where" question becomes ever more important.  GIS has undergone a series of massive paradigm shifts in its 50 year existence, and with the advent of Web GIS, the rate of change not only is increasing, but is attracting applications for nearly every aspect of society, from health to business to engineering and beyond.

Beyond the technical innovations that technology brings to our world and the workforce skills to our students, teaching about technology offers many societal and life lessons.  I think that the points Ms. Pappafotopoulos raises in the article about critical thinking, safety, privacy, ethics, and copyright connect well to what I believe we should be incorporating into our GIS instruction.  In fact, many of these topics are central to the themes in the Spatial Reserves blog that Jill Clark and I have been writing for nearly 5 years, along with the book we wrote on the same subject for Esri Press.  It is also a topic that we frequently write about in this GIS education blog.

Geospatial data are often personal, because they reflect the locations where individuals live, work, and travel. Collecting spatial data and creating and analyzing maps requires students to ask questions such as:  Where did these map layers come from?  Who created the data, and can I trust it?  How does the scale of my analysis and the parameters I use for the buffer or intersect tools affect the results of my analysis?  Do I have permission to use this photograph in my story map?  Should I share the location of where I live or where I took my morning fitness run with the world on a map?  Will I compromise the privacy of individuals who participate in my crowdsource map?

The recommendations for educators in the article have natural connections to GIS.  The creation of required courses that focus on these issues, inviting guest speakers (who could be from the GIS community via the Geomentors program), and project-based learning activities (such as SpatiaLABS, the Learn GIS library, and GeoInquiries) are excellent starting points.csu.jpg
Teaching with GIS is an important part of teaching about technology and its implications.