Thursday, November 8, 2007

A day out of the city: Hatfield and the Computers in Education Advisory Unit at the Innovation Centre

Hatfield: N: 51º 45.854' W: 000º 12.928'
Today I had the opportunity to travel by fast train out of the big city to Hatfield, about 45 kilometers of central London. I visited Diana Freeman who heads up the Computers in Education Advisory Unit. Diana has been involved in GIS in schools since 1991 and was one of the pioneers of trying to get GIS into schools. She certainly had plenty of interesting ideas on the matter and was quite positive about the present direction. The Computers in Education Advisory Unit is responsible for the development of the AEGIS (An education GIS) programme. The programme has been designed to be a user friendly mashup type of GIS layout product for students to use in their studies. The programme interface is quite different to other GIS programmes I have worked with because the interface is in a layout mode (called an interactive worksheet) containing digital maps, data tables, pictures, text, legends and titles. The programme can undertake all the GIS processes such as thematic mapping, data searching, data table creation, data table editing, hotlinking, importing of excel worksheets, swipe tool plus all the day to day operational components of a school based GIS programme.
Again, it is not my role or place to make commentary on the pro’s and con’s of various programmes and make comparisons. My purpose with my research is to get a variety of views on the issues of GIS implementation and spatial literacy. What can be said is that AEGIS seems to be another effort by another group of individuals to make GIS accessible and achievable for teachers to use.
Diana has been heavily involved in teacher training and I was very interested in the network of teacher consultants (experienced GIS teachers) her group has established across the UK to mentor and support other schools in implementation. As well as training of individuals Diana believes that training days need to be followed up rapidly with faculty training time in the school. Whilst time and personnel intense, such an approach is definitely the ideal way to go if meaningful implementation is going to happen in schools in an embedded and sustainable fashion. As I mentioned in the implementation stages earlier in the blog, teachers training teachers is a critical stage of the implementation process. To date, 1000 of the 6000 secondary schools in the UK are using the AEGIS programme which makes AEGIS the most widespread GIS programme in the UK. Recently the Advisory Centre has been awarded the tender to implement GIS in SSAT (specialist school and Academic Trust) schools.
The Advisory Unit has also been working closely with the Geographical Association in the process of introducing GIS into schools over the years and has contributed a think piece on GIS to the association’s website
Diana considers a key driver of change is the QCA (Qualification and Curriculum Authority- who as the body responsible for setting all curriculum and assessment criteria in the UK are supportive of using ICT’s such as GIS in the curriculum.
On the methodology front the Advisory Unit has an approach which is based on using GIS for geographical enquiry so that students question, think critically, collect, record data, display information, analyse spatial representations, apply skills and understand concepts to solve problems and make decisions. The unit also sees fieldwork and out of class learning, visual literacy and geographical communication as key components of using spatial technology in schools.
The units approach to learning the GIS skills and concepts in general for teachers and students is also compatible with many others I have spoken to over the past weeks. The Advisory Units document states the following process to attain GIS skills using AEGIS:
1. Use prepared samples to map and search data
2. Practise different digital mapping techniques
3. Add data and images to existing maps and tables
4. Use digital data gathering methods
5. Understand different digital map formats
6. Create GIS case studies for individual enquiries
The unit is also working with the British Educational and Community Technology Agency (BECTA - and the Ordnance Survey to make large scale maps accessible for classroom projects. At this stage the map delivery is limited to only 40 state schools as a pilot but hopefully in the future it will be extended to all schools. is the commercial site for map delivery.

The Advisory Unit considers that teacher attainment of the skills is an achievable goal in the near future with teacher training and advisory support. In fact they consider that because enquiry learning is quite embedded in the UK teaching and learning environment, teachers are looking at the opportunity to develop personalised learning which GIS is able to provide.
The AEGIS web site at has a free AEGIS viewer to download with a range of AEGIS projects and on-line tutorials.
The contact information for Diana Freeman is The Advisory Unit: Computers in Education (

It was great to get out of London and see a bit of the London green belt to the north. Tomorrow I head south to Southampton to visit the Ordnance Survey.

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