GeoWorld April 2012

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Simultaneously Trivializing and Complicating GIS BEYONDMAPPING S BY JOSEPH BERRY depth of science and technology knowledge support- ing GIS nearly "flatlining." Success stories in quanti- tative map analysis and modeling applications have been all but lost in the technological whirlwind. The vast potential of GIS to change how society perceives maps, mapped data, and their use in spatial reason- ing and problem solving seems relatively derailed. In a recent editorial in Science, "Trivializing everal things seem to be coalescing in my mind (or maybe colliding is a better word). GIS has moved up the technology-adoption curve from "Innovators" in the 1970s to "Early Adopters" in the 1980s to "Early Majority" in the 1990s to "Late Majority" in the 2000s, and it's poised to capture the "Laggards" this decade. Somewhere along this progression, however, the field seems to have bifurcated along technical and analytical lines. The lion's share of this growth has been in GIS' ever-expanding capabilities as a "technical tool" for corralling vast amounts of spatial data and providing near-instantaneous access to remote-sensing images, GPS navigation, interactive maps, asset-management records, geoqueries and awesome displays. In just 40 years, GIS has morphed from boxes of cards passed through a window to a megabuck mainframe that generated page-printer maps to today's sizzle of a 3-D fly-through rendering of terrain anywhere in the world with back-dropped imagery and semi-transparent map layers draped on top—all pushed from the cloud to a GPS-enabled tablet or smartphone. What a ride! However, GIS as an "analytical tool" hasn't experienced the same meteoric rise; in fact, it might be argued that the analytic side of GIS has somewhat stalled during the last decade. I suspect that, in large part, this is due to the interests, backgrounds, education and excitement of the ever-enlarging GIS tent. Joseph Berry is a principal in Berry & Associates, consultants in GIS technology. He can be reached via e-mail at 10 Derailed Potential Several years ago, I described the changes in breadth and depth of the community as flattening from the 1970s through the 2000s (see Figure 1, right, and "Author's Note 1," page 11). By sheer numbers, the balance point has been shifting to the right, toward general and public users with commercial systems responding to market demand for more technological advancements. The 2010s likely will see billions of general and public users, with the average GEO W ORLD / AP R I L 2O12 Science Education," Editor-in-Chief Bruce Alberts laments that "Tragically, we have managed to simultaneously trivialize and complicate science education" (see "Author's Note 2"). A similar assess- ment might be made for GIS education. For most students and faculty on campus, GIS technology is simply a set of highly useful apps on their smartphone that can direct them to the cheapest gas for tomorrow's ski trip and locate the nearest pizza pub when they arrive. Or it's a Google fly-by of the beaches around Cancun. Or a means to screen-grab a map for a paper on community-based conservation of howler monkeys in Belize. To a smaller contingent on campus, it's a career path that requires mastery of the mechanics, procedures and buttons of extremely complex commercial software systems for acquiring, storing, processing and displaying spatial information. Both perspectives are valid. A large part of "missing the mark" on GIS' full potential is our lack of "reaching out" to the larger science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) communities on campus by insisting 1) that non-GIS students interested in understanding map analysis and modeling must be tracked into general GIS courses that are designed for GIS specialists, and 2) that the material presented primarily focuses on commercial GIS software mechanics that GIS spe- cialists need to know to function in the workplace. Figure 1. A timeline graphic shows the changes in breadth and depth of the geotechnology community. Mobility/GPS Special Issue

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