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Do we need a consistent approach to spatial education across Canada?

I’ve been asked to lead a GIS program review for our College; we want to try to anticipate future trends (or act nimbly to adapt to them) and ensure we are delivering courses containing skills that grads need for top quality employment, while focusing on enrolment & retention.
Consequently, I’ve been looking at current best GIS educational practices and stories of success.  I’ve searched for the real meaning and benefit of spatial thinking as it’s becoming widely recognized as a success building skill in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) subjects.  As a result, spatial literacy is moving up as a priority on research agendas and websites are popping up dedicated as educational resources for Spatial Teaching.

I’ve appreciated the discussions on “Spatially enabling a University” or the “Spatial University” and am excited for what may become a reality as people share their visions and ideas.

And now I’m beginning to think more about the under realized value of these skills: if students achieve better success in STEM subjects by learning how to think spatially, then should we not be offering spatial thinking courses in general education, and making them mandatory like English and Math?  And further to this, spatial thinking is considered a link between different disciplines as it’s pervasive nature operates within and between so many fields. Spatial thinking is a unifier.

If we agree on these ideas, and want to give it more recognition across the country and expose more learners to spatial thinking within our schools, I think we need to first define foundational concepts of spatial thinking.

This might be tough.

The American Association of Geographers (AAG) has identified eight fundamental spatial thinking skills that should be taught across the curriculum, while the Teach Spatial website (authored by the Center for Spatial Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara) has identified a different nine spatial concepts.  Has the Canadian Association of Geographers defined any to date?

So, what do Canadians think?  What direction are we headed?  And should we take a unified and consistent approach to our national spatial education? Are we already talking about this?

Maybe we could hold a Canadian special meeting to discuss these ideas and others.

 (other upcoming or recent GIS education meetings or conferences: European GIS-Education Seminar and GIS and Spatial thinking in Undergrad, Bucknell conference)

PS…..who wants to talk next about online education and MOOCs and the impact on the future of our spatial education?




5 comments on "Do we need a consistent approach to spatial education across Canada?"

  1. Darin says:

    Thanks for this article, Tracey. You raise some very important points and questions. I hope this sparks discussion. Count me in on any meetings regarding spatial enabling.

  2. Thanks for your feedback and interest Darin. It seems this topic is gaining interest…. I will be looking into the possibilities of a Canadian discussion and will be back in touch.

  3. James Boxall says:

    Tracey! Great discussion and much needed. There are (and have been) groups in Canada focused in part of educational issues. The hard part has been – or should I say the challenge that remains – getting people to speak as a group, to share, collaborate and build networks of trust and openness. Sounds rather odd to say that as one would hope education was open and trusting 🙂

    In specific terms, here are some things to think about:

    – different associations and different communities; we have numerous college level programs, but we also have numerous university level areas as well…

    – CAG and CIG are two groups that speak within the geomatics sector

    – the term geomatics is problematic; it can cause concern in some educational circles

    – are we (as a community) looking at the k-12 sector? we have a national body that does that within the Royal Canadian Geographical Society

    – education is a provincial jurisdiction, and that makes national level efforts hard to work with at times (not impossible, but the legal questions come into play with not-so-simple things like licenses 🙂

    But the bigger issue for me, and I have spent a few years on this one, is that the various groups with a direct interest in all forms of spatial learning, research and teaching (call that GIS, Geomatics or geography…spatial touches areas outside the traditional “geospatial too”)…all these groups don’t talk, don’t meet, don’t share and don’t collaborate deeply enough to actually raise profile enough to get resources to do the work. You mentioned the AAG. The effort they have going is huge, and with a funded position, and they are linked in with every other “geography education” group. We haven’t done that yet. If we did, and I have suggested that for 20 years 🙁 , then perhaps the output would help move the agenda along.

    And I say 20 years because its been more than that, but I am still trying and still optimistic! I think the ideas of 20 years ago could not work because the technology wasn’t there to support the idea of collaboration. We can now, and there really is no excuse.

  4. Tracey says:

    Thanks for your comments James. I have approached the two Canadian associations you mention above (CAG & CIG) as well as CanGeo Education (for K-12 consideration too).

    I hope that these key associations and others (the bigger groups you mention who currently don’t collaborate), as well as key interested individuals such as yourself and others who have approached me, are willing to come together to begin discussions.

    We need to. We’re fragmented. Someone or some organization needs to take the reigns. I think the good news is that there is opportunity.

    I am currently looking into some grants which would support such a gathering…and perhaps at the same time, we could be investigating how we (spatial thinkers/ or the geospatial discipline, or GIS or Geomatics or Geography) can move up as a national priority…somewhat like spatial thinking has in the United States: http://www.doleta.gov/brg/indprof/geospatial_profile.cfm
    (hence the financial backing of the AAG making them the overarching spatial organization which collaborates with others).

    Or where else do we drum up support?

    More soon. Thanks again for your interest.

  5. Peggy says:

    James has made asn excellent summary of the situation!

Comments are closed.

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