Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Meeting with ESRIUK and Digital Worlds

London: N: 51º 31.206' W: 000º 07.682'
What a great setting for a meeting. Angela Baker from ESRIUK arranged for me to meet her and Jason Sawle and Richard Pole from Digital Worlds in the central hall area of the British Museum. It was a really lively meeting with some great discussions on the issues facing GIS implementation in the United Kingdom and the efforts being made by ESRIUK in collaboration with Digital Worlds to move forward with introducing GIS into schools. It would be fair to say that the conversation was similar to what I have had in Hong Kong, the US and Canada. That is, industry and key educationalists are working busily in breaking down data, software and technical barriers whilst developing resources for teachers to use in the classroom. However there seems to be a barrier we have all reached at moving forward. I think it has surprised all I have spoken to that the huge development which has happened with software, curriculum support and resources has not seen schools in large numbers rushing to the door of vendors and trainers demanding to get going with GIS in the classroom. It seems that the problem with implementation is the difficulty in getting teachers wanting to be trained and to generally embrace the technology as an integral part of the future of classroom practice. After attempts to interest all UK teachers in the technology the focus has shifted to the geography teachers in particular to see if that group can effect change. In Australia, geography teachers and associations have driven GIS in schools forward and it seems that in the UK the same strategy is presently being employed. I was very interested in the implementation model the Digital Worlds team presented, which puts a new spin on the process of implementation and the implementation chasm that some say we are presently in. The model roughly translates as:
Stage 1: Innovators and early early adopters (5%) (teachers willing to take a risk)
Stage 2: Late early adoptors (10%): (teachers who hear of successes and want to be involved.
***a chasm of implementation is identified as between Stage 1 and 3 and it is suggested that we are presently just on the edge of the chasm (Stage 1 and 2 accounts for 15% of the teachers and thus 85% of the teaching force still not touched by GIS).
Stage 3: Early majority (35%): the next group of teachers to embrace the technology need very solid reasons why they should be involved. Vocational and curriculum push and pull factors involved in this stage.
Stage 4: Late majority (30%): This group is no longer prepared to see other schools have significant success stories and reputation from their efforts and see that they must be involved to be seen as keeping up with change.
Stage 5: The laggards (20%): teachers who need very solid academic and vocational reasons of why they need to use the technology and even some degree of system sanction.

The question is whether this model is real and if so, is the frustration many of those I have spoken to due to the pending chasm of implementation. If true, how do we breach the chasm and move on with implementation without falling in a hole? I feel there are a lot of Indiana Jones’s out there ready to try!
The Digital Worlds team has been working at a way to move forward and bridge the chasm by providing the ‘missing link’ with implementation. They consider that a more “teacher user friendly” programme is required to ease teachers along the learning curve. Jason and Richard have developed a product with ESRI support and blessing which has “trimmed much of the fat” off the full blown ArcGIS product. Their product ‘Digital Worlds GIS’ has been designed to combat the one-size fits all approach in education with a product customised for the classroom setting.

My purpose here is not to review the programme but just make some observations, signpost further reading and summarise some of the key discussion points:
*‘Digital worlds GIS’ uses the ArcGIS interface with many of the functions removed, icons made easier to relate to and language more explicit. Despite this customising, Digital Worlds GIS still undertakes the GIS functions and skills that are required in over 95% of classrooms using GIS. It can create Thematic maps, query databases, create tables, edit tables, hotlink, swipe, import GPS points and all the other day to day functions of classroom GIS.
* As mentioned, the motivation of the Digital worlds team was to create a programme which was easy for teachers to use and provide a link between the ESRI AEJEE (free GIS- see Dallas blog posting) and industry standard ESRI ArcGIS 9 programme. They suggest that when the teacher feels confident with their programme and want to go further they can invest in ArcGIS and move forward with minimum disruption because of the commonality between the two programmes.
* The philosophy of Angela, Jason and Richard was affirming in that they see GIS as a tool to enhance classroom learning and not an ICT focus alone.
* The approach we discussed in relation to teacher methodology using GIS was also in synch. I thought the quote that the teacher needs to stop being a “Sage on the stage and a guide on the side” summed up extremely well the teaching methodology to be employed by a teacher using GIS.
* Angela said that there has been a massive acceleration in teacher ICT skills since 2001 in the UK due to a government initiative to train teachers in ICT. Such an increase in teacher computer literacy was hoped to flow over to the use of GIS but as yet it has been patchy. This and the writing of GIS into the National curriculum ages 11-14 (to be introduced in September 2008) and ages 15-16 by 2009 should see positive results in the implementation of GIS.
i.e. The curriculum should provide opportunities for pupils to: use varied resources, including maps, visual media and geographical information systems (Qualifications & Curriculum Authority, Programme of Study: Geography Key Stage 3)

* In 2003 the Jason and Richard began work on an Anglo-French project (European Regional Development Fund Interreg IIIa community initiative) to examine and develop a GIS programme in Kent and Haute Normandie. The project was designed to break down the barriers for GIS implementation in schools in these areas. The project involved teacher training, software support and the development of a website for these schools to access local data. This includes a variety of digital data, including: aerial photography; large and small-scale maps; administrative boundaries with census, social and economic data; historical maps; satellite images; environmental data; and 3D Digital Elevation Models (DEM). In addition, the site also hosts a series of unique Digital Information Portals (DIP's) in the form of virtual tours for a number of key sites within the Interreg IIIa region. For more information on the project go to http://www.dakini.eu.com/
* Part of my fellowship goals was to find relevant research and documentation on spatial literacy and spatial thinking. When asking this question I have been frequently referred to the “Learning to think spatially’ book. It seems to be the major resource available in an area which everyone agrees needs to be further developed. For information on this resource (including a podcast) go to the National academic press at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11019
* ESRIUK has been very active on GIS Day each year and has developed resources to support the promotion of GIS. Go to ESRIUK website at http://www.esriuk.com/gisday/ideasresources.asp for GIS Day downloads.
* Check out the Digital worlds GIS site: I am not sure about the availability of the free demo CD but go to http://www.digitalworlds.co.uk/ for the free video and newsletter from the team. If interested it is worth looking at www.schoolzone.co.uk . This educational intelligence website has evaluated the Digitalworlds GIS software

The 6 hours of enjoyable GIS discussion with like-minded souls was very enjoyable after a few days of just walking and not talking. Plenty of food for thought on the implementation of GIS in schools. Again, plenty of parallels with the situation in Australia.

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