GIS Partnerships Between the Community and the Education System
I believed in 1996 that the future of geography was with technology and I still believe that even more so today. Geography is alive and well in the real world because of technical geography despite losing ground in the K-12 school system. GIS is still stagnant there too. Why is this so? Both the public and the school system does not recognize its relative importance and value. The fundamental problem lies in the school system and teacher training-with both of which I am more than familiar. I’ll continue my story from my post of Sept. 9th.
To prepare myself to teach GIS, I took a GIS course at a technical college and I spent a lot of personal money travelling to geography conferences to research what was happening in the schools and to make contacts. In how many other professions would one have to do this? I discovered the wonderful work being done in Ontario. I met Charlie Fitzpatrick of ESRI Education in the US at the National Council for Geographic Education AGM in Boston and familiarized myself with the ESRI K-12 bundle. I grew to find out everything there was to know about who was teaching GIS and where in Canada and the US. We purchased ArcView, which became our primary system.
I had a three-pronged approach: my school/school board, the Ministry of Education, and the community. As I mentioned before change in education is slow. At the ground level, the initiative had taken root, generated by a person (me) and supported by her administrator. As Department Head of Social Studies, I had access to all the grade nine classes (10) and I started to teach GIS. Because of the foresight of another person heavily involved in technology in education, Alister Dyke, a geographer, who was at that time a visionary principal of one of St. John’s largest high schools into which the students from school would feed, decided that this was something his school would like to do also. Because GIS was not in the curriculum, he had to offer it as a locally approved course, which he did. We convinced the school board to hold a summer institute, which I taught, for interested geography teachers.
This could not be done without the approval of the Ministry of Education, so they were brought into the loop. We envisioned it spreading throughout the school system in St. John’s and it continued to do so until I retired in 2001. Several high schools purchased the software. Eventually, the province acquired a site license.
In my search for knowledge, support, and expertise, ironically, most of the assistance I received was from outside the school system. ESRI, through their Halifax rep, Jim McKay, and their Education rep at that time, Chris North, were exemplary, meeting with me or visiting the classes. Everyone I turned to in the Geomatics community was outstanding in their support and I cannot thank them enough. The quest for data sets led me to Rob Butt of the City of St. John’s, Larry Nolan of Mines and Energy, Alberta Wood and Dan Duda of Memorial University’s Map Library and the most invaluable of all, Neil MacNaughton, the Director of Mapping, Surveys and Lands, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. The willingness to share of these busy professionals is a true example of how partnerships can enhance and transform public education.
What happened between 2001 and the present will have to wait for next month.