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Open Access Publications from the University of California

A Role for Geographic Information Systems in the Secondary Schools: An Assessment of the Current Status and Future Possibilities


The roles for geographic information systems (GIS) in the secondary schools are investigated in this foundational research carried out in conjunction with the Secondary Education Project (SEP) of the National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis. It is the first comprehensive examination of GIS use in the pre-collegiate environment. A pilot study including a one week workshop for secondary school teachers found that teachers could identify roles for GIS in their classrooms. The positive results of the pilot study resulted in an extension of the research to include the interface between secondary school geography education and GIS in the classroom, the technological environment in the schools and the potential ramifications for GIS activities, and the examples provided by existing GIS efforts for and in the schools. This extension led to the conclusion that GIS can play an important role in geography education. It was also established that rudimentary computer infrastructure presently found in many schools limits GIS use, but the inevitable upgrading of computers in the schools and the increasingly user-friendly and personal computer compatible GIS software indicate that major technological barriers to GIS use in the schools will be overcome in the near future. Current GIS efforts in the schools are small scale and often non-transferable, but GIS industry initiatives, government and higher education institution outreach, and emerging national standards in geography signal an increasing adoption of GIS activities by the schools. There is a need for GIS software designed for the schools and corresponding curriculum materials. Teachers must also have opportunities to learn about GIS and apply it to their instruction. Additional research questions related to the cognitive benefits of GIS-based education and the capacity of students to utilize specific aspects of GIS are suggested.

Steve Palladino was the NCGIA Education Director in the mid-1990s.

Note: pagination in this pdf differs from the Table of Contents.

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