Understanding the Digital Generation: Connections to GIS in Education

03-21-2013 11:44 PM
Esri Notable Contributor
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I recently read the book Understanding the Digital Generation by Ian Jukes, Ted McCain, Lee Crockett, and Mark Prensky.  I found it to be insightful but also quite appropriate for those involved with GIS in education.

Understanding the Digital Generation book.

What are the characteristics of digital learners according to these authors?  Digital learners prefer receiving information quickly from multiple multimedia sources, not a slow and controlled release of information from limited sources.  GIS has always been about layering of information from a variety of sources, from satellite imagery to stream gauges, from traffic cams to ecological monitoring stations, and more.  Digital learners prefer processing pictures, sounds, color, and video before text.  Digital learners prefer random access to hyperlinked multimedia information, rather than receiving information linearly, logically, and sequentially.  GIS easily incorporates audio, video, photographs, links, and text.   Furthermore, GIS has become a platform, accessible from a variety of devices--tablets, laptops, smartphones--and the maps and data sets created within a GIS are shareable.

Digital learners refer to network simultaneously with others, rather than working independently first before they network and interact with each other.  Whether in education, health, natural resource management, planning, or in other fields, success with GIS is greatly enhanced by networking with peers.

Jukes et al. say that while many educators prefer teaching "just in case", digital learners prefer learning "just in time."  We in GIS in education have always emphasized using the most appropriate tools for the job, and learning GIS functions in the context of solving specific problems.

Digital learners prefer instant gratification and immediate rewards.  Those of us who labored through the early days of GIS marvel at how easy-to-use modern GIS has become.  From creating spatial statistics to georegistering historical imagery, the modern GIS toolkit is vast and varied, accompanied by graphics, videos, and other resources designed to aid beginner and advanced users alike.    Finally, digital learners prefer learning that is relevant, active, instantly useful, and fun.  How can GIS, which was created to analyze 21st Century issues from energy to water to migration to natural hazards and more, not be relevant and useful?  Teaching and learning with GIS is active, engaging, and yes, fun.

In short, I firmly believe that teaching and learning with GIS appeals to and is relevant to today's digital learners.  Can you find additional connect points between these authors' statements and GIS in education?
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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.