“The Map Is Not the Territory”: Adding Value to Technical GIS Education
GIS has developed by matching technological possibilities with problem-solving requirements. With each level of added complexity, the temptation is to specialize in the technology that is easy to explain to colleagues, to the detriment of breadth of knowledge with its ability to integrate GIS into larger systems. With only technical emphasis in GIS, one can mistake added data quantity and algorithm complexity (“map”) for the application (“territory”). With added breadth of knowledge comes increased understanding of both systems and domains, plus increased ability to innovate, communicate and advance both the individual’s economic usefulness and their public role. Undergraduate GIS training should establish outcomes that guide the student through increasing technical expertise, including the ability to speak effectively with non-GIS experts. This will provide degree holders with marketable skills for open-ended jobs and will be a valuable educational path for technical graduates looking to keep up with developments. Both graduates can continue to benefit from ongoing technical training offered in the workplace and through short courses. A broad GIS education adds value to any specialization that needs to examine spatial relationships. It allows making of increasingly sophisticated maps, without mistaking the technical output for the territory of the domain.
KeywordsEducation Employment GIS Mapping Undergraduate training
I would like to thank several people who have supported my teaching experimentation and critical thinking about practice. Dr. Greg McDermid of the University of Calgary strongly encouraged me to begin teaching outside of my more comfortable areas of remote sensing and associated raster GIS and to dive into the much broader and less wieldy areas of GIS in general. Dr. Lynn Moorman of Mount Royal University engaged in many years of discussions and co-teaching, starting with a K-12 teacher training course “way back” in the 1990s before it even seemed possible. Don McLaughlin of the Calgary Separate School District has been both a colleague in bringing GIS to elementary students and a GIS student in my courses and student project mentor. Finally, thanks go to a succession of Department Heads in the University of Calgary Department of Geography who fully supported teaching experimentation and participation in teaching and learning-enhancement programs, even when it limited my time for other important things.
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