A set of Activities for Teaching Core Content from the UCGIS GIS&T Body of Knowledge

02-01-2022 08:12 AM
Esri Notable Contributor
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What are the best resources to teach GIScience?  The array of textbooks, lessons, blog essays, software tools, and other resources continues to expand in volume and in the diversity of applications and in domain areas.  One of the best content resources in my judgement is the Body of Knowledge from the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science (UCGIS). 


The UCGIS is a non-profit organization that creates and supports communities of practice for GIScience research, education, and policy endeavors in higher education and with allied institutions. It is the professional hub and organization for the academic GIS community in the United States, with partnerships extending this capacity abroad. 

Why is the UCGIS Body of Knowledge among the best to use for GIS instruction?  In my view, there are six main reasons, though I could argue that more reasons exist.  The attached document explains those reasons and includes the complete set of 15 activities.  This video also describes these activities.  The UCGIS Body of Knowledge has roots in some major curricular resources of the past but is relevant for today:  It is current, authoritative, and rigorous.

Linking the UCGIS Body of Knowledge to Hands-on Activities

Because the focus of the GIS&T Body of Knowledge is education, and because much of that education is aimed at practical ways of teaching, each chapter includes learning objectives and instructional assessment questions that instructors can use to teach the specific concepts.  However, one thing that is missing in my view is a set of practical activities that instructors could use to teach each concept. 

Because my career focus is on GIS in education, and because I have spent many years writing GIS-based curricular items for lesson libraries, journals, and books, I thought it would be instructive and helpful to the community to illustrate how selected content from the Body of Knowledge could be taught using today’s modern web GIS tools, maps and apps, and data.  

Why are such a set of activities needed?  First, GIS is a visual language, and hands-on activities with maps and visualizations is a natural fit and a logical aid in the learning of GIS.  Second, GIS is an applied methodology; an approach to solving problems.  The best way to learn GIS is to use it to analyze patterns, relationships, and trends, and to solve problems in our 21st Century world.  Third, instructors are busy people, and they often lack the time to develop their own activities to teach fundamental concepts, particularly activities that are based on a rapidly evolving platform such as GIS.   By providing these activities, my aim is to provide students with thoughtful and useful activities to cement their readings of concepts in the UCGIS GIS&T Body of Knowledge, and to provide instructors with ways of teaching those concepts.

Furthermore, I propose that an expanded version of this concept of linking foundational chapters in the Body of Knowledge to activities be published as an e-Book and library to accompany the Body of Knowledge.  Such a book could be useful to instructors in GIS&T, and also in other disciplines looking for ways to incorporate hands-on activities to foster critical thinking, spatial thinking, and problem solving in their curriculum, courses, and programs. 

I look forward to hearing the community’s reaction to such a proposal.  Who has time, interest, and expertise to take this concept and the examples I have written here, and expand this to a full e-Book? 

For this proof of concept, I have chosen 5 selected Body of Knowledge chapters to teach from using hands-on activities.  These include two that I authored or co-authored and three additional chapters:

  1. Location Privacy.
  2. GIS&T Education and Training.
  3. Error-based Uncertainty.  
  4. Scale and Generalization.
  5. Common Thematic Map Types.

For each chapter, I have created 3 activities.  These activities are meant as a proof of concept.  Many more activities are possible given the ready availability of GIS tools and data sets. These activities can be used as is, but I also encourage you be creative—mix and match, and modify activities as you see fit to meet your course and program objectives.

The Activities:  Overview:

1.  Location Privacy.

A)  Teaching location privacy and resolution with a big pixel image.
B)  Considering location privacy when sharing photos.
C)  Investigating ethics and location privacy through case studies.

2.  GIS&T Education and Training.

A)  Teaching spatial thinking and geotechnology skills through mapping business locations.   
B)  Investigating international migration through a web mapping application.
C)  Examining the world’s water balance through a web mapping application.

3.  Error-based Uncertainty.  

A)  Analyzing earthquakes in ArcGIS Online.
B)  Cartographic vs. Geographic Basemaps:  USGS Topographic Maps Example.
C)  Considering sampling frequency in mapping:  Real-time weather investigation.

4.  Scale and Generalization.

A)  Investigating coordinate precision.
B)  Investigating building footprints in ArcGIS Online.
C)  Walking on Water?  Investigating resolution and scale.

5.  Common Thematic Map Types.

A)  Examining color on maps using the Color Brewer.
B)  Investigating dot density maps with ArcGIS Online.
C)  Mapping isolines with Axis Maps contour tools.

Selected images from these activities are shown below.  

See attached for the full set of 15 activities.   I look forward to your feedback!

--Joseph Kerski









About the Author
I believe that spatial thinking can transform education and society through the application of Geographic Information Systems for instruction, research, administration, and policy. I hold 3 degrees in Geography, have served at NOAA, the US Census Bureau, and USGS as a cartographer and geographer, and teach a variety of F2F (Face to Face) (including T3G) and online courses. I have authored a variety of books and textbooks about the environment, STEM, GIS, and education. These include "Interpreting Our World", "Essentials of the Environment", "Tribal GIS", "The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data", "International Perspectives on Teaching and Learning with GIS In Secondary Education", "Spatial Mathematics" and others. I write for 2 blogs, 2 monthly podcasts, and a variety of journals, and have created over 5,000 videos on the Our Earth YouTube channel. Yet, as time passes, the more I realize my own limitations and that this is a lifelong learning endeavor and thus I actively seek mentors and collaborators.