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Home arrow Experts arrow Joseph Kerski, Ph.D arrow Is Spatial Thinking Becoming Valued Throughout Higher Education?     

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Is Spatial Thinking Becoming Valued Throughout Higher Education? E-mail
Experts - Joseph Kerski, Ph.D
Written by Joseph Kerski, Ph.D   
20 March 2011

Imagine what education would be like if spatial thinking and analysis with geotechnologies was a set of skills and a framework that was valued by others outside of the GIS education community.

  At the university level, the skills of detecting and measuring spatial relationships, thinking critically about data, and the geographic perspective would extend far beyond the departmental homes where GIS is typically housed.  Student and faculty researchers in business, engineering, history, mathematics, architecture, archaeology, and beyond would be using some of the same techniques that those of us with roots in geography, planning, and environmental have used for years.  At the K-12 level, students would be investigating real data, getting out into the field, and analyzing issues in their community, region, country, and world, gaining key workforce and inquiry skills. 

There is growing evidence that spatial thinking is becoming valued by those outside of geography in education.  I will cite two pieces of evidence here.  First, the 2010 publication of the Geospatial Technology Competency Model, with its emphasis on a broad array of skills—organizational, professional, academic, technical, and personal, will be a key document that I believe will show others how fundamental the geospatial skillset is, and how integral it is to other skills and knowledge.  Second, the job position advertized at Harvard University (below) and others like it illustrate that spatial thinkers are becoming increasingly sought after.  The first position I knew of its kind was the Director of Spatial Curriculum and Research position at the University of Redlands, filled by Dr. Diana Stuart Sinton.  These kinds of positions that promote and coordinate spatial thinking and analysis on a campus are admittedly still rare, but they are growing.


Post Doctoral Research Associate at the Center for Geographic Analysis (CGA), Harvard University.  This two-year position will be responsible for introducing spatial reasoning and geographic analysis into the core curriculum at Harvard College and other schools at Harvard University. Starting with selected General Education courses at Harvard College, the incumbent will interview the faculty members, determine the appropriate geographic contents and spatial analysis tools, design specific geographic modules for the courses, gather and prepare the materials, select and customize the tools, train and supervise teaching fellows, and provide instructions and technical support in classrooms and beyond.  Additional responsibilities include participating in and enhancing the various geospatial technology training programs by the CGA, and contributing to geospatial technology monitoring, evaluation, introduction and implementation in support of teaching and research activities across departments and schools at Harvard University.  The successful candidate must have a recent doctor’s degree in geography or an equivalent program, with a strong component in geospatial technology. Must have excellent oral and written communication skills. Previous teaching experience strongly preferred.

Those of us who believe in the power of spatial analysis to improve the health and well-being of people and the planet believe that GIS is too important to confine to one or two disciplines.  What can you do to promote spatial thinking throughout the educational system?

Joseph Kerski, Geographer, has a background in government, academia, and industry.  He serves as Education Manager for Environmental Systems Research Institute (Esri)  in Colorado, USA.  He served for 21 years as Geographer at the US Geological Survey and at the US Census Bureau. Follow Joseph on Twitter @josephkerski

For more articles that touch on the topic of GIS in Education see HERE

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