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Is my map right?

04-06-2023 12:03 PM
Esri Notable Contributor
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In this essay and video, let's examine an oft-heard question from students, "Is my map right"?   Let's explore some valid responses to this question that enables students to think about what "right" actually means, and also what would be better questions to ask.   The responses are listed in text form below and in this video.

First, it is not the students fault that they often lead with this question:   Most students have gone through primary and secondary instruction, and indeed, in some university instruction as well, where they have largely been assessed on "right" and "wrong" answers on exams.  Through this, they become focused on the "right" in terms of ticking off boxes on rubrics or assessment instruments.  

I encourage instructors to answer this question in two ways:  First, answer with this question, "Does the map help you understand the issue you are examining in a deeper, richer way?"  That will help you determine whether your map is fit for your use.  This is more important than "correctness" as measured by rules or requirements.  To be certain, there are some requirements in cartographic design or analysis that an instructor might have in their assignments, but GIS work is more about guidelines than rules.  Furthermore, the whole purpose of GIS is not to make the "perfect map" but rather to understand our world, and our communities, and to take action about the issues that you are examining, and to encourage others to take action as well.  

The second way to answer the "right" question is to ask, "Can you justify the choices you made--the data, symbology, scale, classification, projection, and so on--to create the map or mapped data?  Can you articulate these choices that you have made?"  Students could articulate those choices in video, audio, storymap, or other means as a presentation in a way that others can understand what was investigated, why it was investigated, and the value that spatial thinking and the application of geotechnologies made to the analysis. 

I look forward to your comments and how you answer this oft-heard question.


--Joseph Kerski


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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.