What is research? Why it matters, and how you can embrace it

10-06-2022 09:54 AM
Esri Notable Contributor
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I was recently asked by a secondary school to give a presentation for a capstone course for seniors focused on what research is, why it matters, and how students can embrace it.  To support this presentation, I created a story map that you are welcome to use wholly or in part for your own secondary or university courses and students.   

As I often do, I presented this content as a story map.  Story Maps offer several advantages--the ability to easily embed maps and other multimedia, the ability to share, and the ability for you to go to wherever you are presenting and access it on any device:  The students could also do the same thing on their own devices and follow along with you, investigating the links that you want them to investigate. 

My primary goals of the presentation were not to provide an all-encompassing definition of research but rather, in a short but compelling way, to:

1)  Help students see that research is far from "boring" - that it is important, and that it can be an exciting endeavor where they investigate what they are passionate about.  

2)  Help students see that research doesn't end when they graduate from secondary school or university; that research is a lifelong endeavor.  Research:

  • can help us understand 21st Century issues and solve them.
  • builds knowledge and learning.
  • can increase public awareness.
  • helps build a vibrant economy.
  • helps us build a more sustainable, equitable, resilient future.
  • promotes a love of and confidence in reading, writing, analyzing, and sharing valuable information.
  • provides nourishment and exercise for the mind.
  • provides a way for you to pursue the curiosity you first exhibited as a little kid!

3)  Empower students with skills and tips to analyze their investigations spatially using GIS and other tools, statistically, through other means.

4)  Aid students in communicating their results via dashboards, story maps, infographics, video, and other means.

My story map, provided here, entitled "Why Research Matters", with a video version available here, begins with definitions of what research is and why research is conducted.  Research is the systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions.  Research is a process of systematic inquiry that entails collection of data; documentation of critical information; and analysis and interpretation of that data and information, in accordance with suitable methodologies set by specific professional fields and academic disciplines.


Research is conducted to:

  • Evaluate the validity of a hypothesis or an interpretive framework.
  • To assemble a body of substantive knowledge and findings for sharing them in appropriate manners.
  • To help generate questions for further inquiries.

Next, I talk about what research is not, to dispel any notions that it is boring or antiquated.  Then I discuss why research matters--that it is modern, field-based, lab-based, high-tech, exciting, and needed.  I mention some key things that we enjoy (recorded music, the web, electricity, cell phones) and are necessary for life (medical advances, food security, water quality) that are the results of research.   After this, I discuss "what does research accomplish?" - and mention things such as:  

  • It can help us understand 21st Century issues and solve them: health, energy, climate, sustainable fisheries, population change, erosion, habitat, water quality and quantity, transportation, supply chain management, natural hazards, and many more.
  • It builds knowledge and learning.
  • It can increase public awareness.
  • It helps build a vibrant economy.
  • It helps us build a more sustainable, equitable, resilient future.
  • It promotes a love of and confidence in reading, writing, analyzing, and sharing valuable information.
  • It provides nourishment and exercise for the mind.

I then encourage the reader of the story map that "You are a researcher! You were a scientist beginning when you were a little kid! Research enables you to pursue your curiosities!"

My story map then asks a question that I think is often neglected, which is, "How much research do you need to do?"  I ask  the following questions: 

  • It depends on your task and your job.
  • How much is enough?
  • Allow a block of time.
  • Allow some time for discovery.
  • Recognize your own bias and world view.
  • Don't get stuck in the weeds - keep the goal in mind.

Next, I provide examples of my own research, beginning in the valleys and canyons of Colorado when I was a little kid, through university level, and to today, focused on teaching and learning with geotechnologies.   

I then explore 10 skills that I believe are most important to a researcher. These include:

1.  Ask questions.
2.  Use well-rounded sources.
3.  Understand how to use data.
4.  Understand how to think critically.
5.  Understand how to think holistically.
6.  Know how to communicate a wide variety of information to a wide variety of audiences.
7.  Read!  A wide variety of types, genres, authors. 
8.  Travel!  Or at least (1) get outside, and (2)  go beyond your disciplinary "comfort zone".  
9.  Build your network, with care.
10.  Seek to be at the intersection of the "ikigai" circles:  What you love, what the world needs, what you are good at, and what you can be paid for.

I close the story map with the statement:  

In sum, research is interesting, it matters, and you can do it!



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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.