GeoWorld September 2012

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What's Special about Spatial Education? THE "G" IN GIS A bout eight years ago, the U.S. National Research Council (NRC) assembled the nation's best minds in GIS and geo- graphic education to address how to effectively teach students (K-12) to think spatially, using GIS as a primary supporting tool. After two years of meticulous research, the NRC Committee unveiled its report to the public in January 2006: "Learn to think spatially: GIS as a Support System in the K-12 Curriculum." According to this report, "spatial BY DANIEL SUI thinking must be recognized as a fundamental part of education and as an integrator and facilitator for problem solving across the curriculum. With advances in computing technologies and the increasing avail- ability of geospatial data, spatial thinking will play a significant role in the information-based economy of the 21st century." At the college level, the U.S. Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration (DOLETA), in collaboration with the GeoTech Center, developed the Geospatial Technology Competency Model, which specifies the foundational, industrywide and industry sector-specific expertise characteristic of the various occupations that com- prise the geospatial industry (www.careeronestop. org/CompetencyModel/pyramid.aspx?GEO=Y). The model lists 74 essential competencies as well as 17 competency areas that geospatial professionals should have. The NRC report and DOLETA's competency Daniel Sui is distinguished professor and chair of geography at The Ohio State University; e-mail: 12 model played a major role in publicizing GIS and spatial skills to a broader audience, and, as a result, a lot more bright young minds have been attracted to the field during the last decade. But as I discussed in several of my previous columns, the field of GIS and geography have undergone major changes in recent years. I believe it's strategically important for the geospatial community to continue rethinking about the educational challenges of GIS to better prepare the geospatial industry's future labor force as well as make spatial thinking an integral part of citizenship and liberal education. GEO W ORLD / SEPTEMBE R 2O12 If we shift our attention in GIS education more on design, story, synthesis, empathy and play, we will have a better chance to provide a path of transcendence for our students and lift them out of the banality of the mundane. Where to Start? In 1977, Penn State Geographer Peter Gould asked the intriguing question in the inaugural issue of Journal of Geography in Higher Education: What's worth teaching in geography? Today, I believe every GIS educator needs to think about the question Gould posed 35 years ago: What's worth teaching in GIS? The NRC report and DOLETA competency model provide an excellent starting point for answering Gould's question. However, in the age of Big Data when "the smartest person in the room is the room," I strongly believe that GIS educators need to think above and beyond the box and the room, to put students back in the center of our educational endeavors. In my own teaching activities, I've been inspired by Dan Pink's book, A Whole New Mind: Why right-brainers rule the world. In this insightful and entertaining book, which has been translated into more than 20 languages, Pink offers a fresh look at what it takes to excel according to the latest discoveries in cognitive/brain science. Pink argues that our previous educational efforts focused too much on training the brain's left side (dominated by functions on logic, analysis, abstraction, etc.), whereas the future needs more people relying

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