Yesterday I attended a GTAQ Professional Development (PD) hosted by Canterbury College called “The Digital Future of Geography.” The presenters came from Esri Australia and were teaching us about their online platform for GIS, called ArcGIS Online. This is an incredible resource for teachers and schools, it’s FREE and has so much information, data, tools, and support available.
Yesterday’s PD only confirmed for me how amazing the future of technology is, both for geography and for the world in general. Here’s my 3 take homes from the PD:
1. GIS is an essential skill for geography and we shouldn’t be intimidated.
Some of you might be wondering what GIS is. Traditionally, it stands for Geographic Information System. However, the Esri presenters yesterday made it very clear that they think of GIS as a tool that allows us to:
- ASK questions
- ACQUIRE information
- EXPLORE the data
- ANALYSE the data and work out the where, what, why, and how
- ACT and problem solve as we are all global citizens!
This was a really powerful realisation for me because I had been a little afraid of using GIS in my class as it seemed overwhelming, but by breaking it down into simple geographic inquiry it made so much more sense!
2. We want and need our students to be critical of where the data comes from.
The Librarian in me was so happy to hear the presenters reinforce the idea that we need to keep teaching our students to be critical of where the data comes from, who is providing it, and how they collected it. This is so important in this day and age of the Open Data Movement! Although there are lots of companies and government bodies that are still yet to get on board with this movement, many are recognising the value of sharing data with the people. This raises all sorts of issues, not least of which is teaching our students the importance of evaluating the validity of the data. The presenters demonstrated simple ways for users to find out where the data is coming from and to work out if it is reliable.
3. “What is where?” “Why there?” “Why care?”
Part of geography is working out why certain events or patterns occur. There are many different questioning models that we use, and yesterday our presenters alerted us to their favourite:
- “What is where?” – where are things located?
- “Why there?” – what would cause those things to be there? This is where we start to discern patterns and connections
- “Why care?” – why would we care about these events and patterns, and what does this mean when looking at social, economic, political, and environmental issues?
This really hit home for me and it allowed me to think very carefully about how I phrase my questioning and how different questions can elicit different responses from students.
I realised that geography is a subject that is very useful to our students, but the way that we (myself included) have taught it in the past is quickly becoming outdated. We need to embrace these new technologies that are available if we are to keep up with our students’ needs, and place them in a position that allows them to work in future jobs. It’s our responsibility as educators and geography enthusiasts to make sure that we are familiar with GIS and where it’s heading to equip our students with the necessary skills for their futures.
Let’s face it, the future of technology is exciting, the field of geography is only one example, and if we’re not willing to step out of our comfort zones to learn new skills, how can we expect our students to do the same?!