Lonely Trailblazers: Examining the Early Implementation of Geospatial Technologies in Science Classrooms

  • Thomas R. BakerEmail author
  • Joseph J. Kerski


Before widespread professional development programs were created to support classroom adoption of GIS technology and methods, a small but influential handful of science teachers not only learned how to use GIS but found ways of using it to drive deep scientific inquiry in the classroom. Because these educators were few in number, largely working on their own, and were innovators, they can be thought of as “lonely trailblazers.” This chapter explores the technical and pedagogical commonalities, implementation patterns, strategies of success, and habits of mind that these isolated yet pioneering teachers share. The challenges and triumphs of these educators are identified, providing parallels to today’s educators.

A combination of an online survey and telephone interviews showed that these educators worked collaboratively with their students to create original, scientific research projects that leveraged the latest visualization and geospatial analysis tools. These science teachers were at the forefront in the K-12 community in bringing GIS and other geospatial tools to national attention in education. Their 20-year heritage is a cornerstone of the work done today.

Results showed that these lonely trailblazers fit the category of “Innovators” in (Rogers (2003) Diffusion of innovations (5th ed.). New York: Free Press.) theory of the diffusion of innovation. GIS was used by Innovators because it meshed well with the existing instructional goals and pedagogical values.

Innovators primarily worked with GIS and their students alone, only occasionally relying on a local GIS user to help with data or technical issues. On average, Innovators had been teaching for over 13 years when they began using GIS. Over 90 % of Innovators are still working with GIS in education, after a decade or more. Innovators found the use of GIS in classrooms, personally rewarding despite the challenges. Support from GIS vendors was a key ingredient to successfully using GIS in the classroom. The professional development of the mid-1990s used to train the early Innovators will likely not match the needs of the Early Adopters and Early Majority. Early Adopter and Early Majority motivations and needs must be identified. Existing professional development methods and curriculum should be aligned for broad impact.


Innovators Historical Teacher independence Success Early adopters 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Environmental Systems Research InstituteLeawoodKansas

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