Thursday, June 12, 2008

Being a citizen: mapping politics

Spatial Worlds website
Canberra, Australia: S: 35º 15' E: 149º 08'
Picture descriptions:
Left image: Civics and Citizenship Teacher Forum in the South Australian Parliament House on May 28, 2008.
Right image: Nursery Swamp in the Namadgi National Park(40 kms south of Canberra). This swamp is the largest sedge peat deposit in the Australian Capital Territory and is a valley fill fen.

Spatial Technology and Civics and Citizenship
Although not normally seen as directly related to spatial technology, I thought it worth reporting on the Values Education and Civics and Citizenship forum that I recently attended in Canberra. Having said that, I do feel that spatial technology has a lot to offer in the area of civics and citizenship and the whole area of schools educating citizens for the 21st Century. Needless to say, for a citizen to live and indeed survive in the society of today they need to be at least aware of the power of spatial technology. GIS in particular is used increasingly by governments for planning and also for the monitoring of citizens. A citizen able to use spatial technology is empowered to be an active and informed participate in all aspect of civilian life. Linking into the aspects of citizenship is the nature and role of values in everyday life. Increasingly governments are seeing schools as the place to instil values and prepare citizens for our society (,9625.html). As political and contentious as this may be, it is important that we enable students to be active participants in society. Here is a brief summary of some relevant learning related to spatial technology from the conferences:

Values Education and Civics and Citizenship Conferences in Canberra from May 29th-30th and June 2nd-3rd, 2008, organised by the Australian Government Values Education program and Civics and Citizenship Assessment program. The conferences are on-going events conducted to support the implementation of Values Education and Civics and Citizenship in Australian States.

Relevant links from the conference
1. Professor Marty Seligman’s from the University of Pennsylvania presentation on positive education was excellent. His presentation gave a framework for a positive approach to curriculum as opposed to deficit models of approach i.e. what are the problems with the environment as a starting point for environmental education. GIS has a role to support this positive approach to such issues by focussing on monitoring and planning for the future instead of just focussing on the problems without strategies to address the issues. It is worth visiting Marty's site at to get an idea of what he was on about.
2. The ‘Values technology and relational literacy’ presentation of Dr Janet Smith from the University of Canberra really distilled the conflict between students as digital natives and teachers as digital immigrants and the need to address this issue in schools. This is particular worth looking at in relation to the difficulties we are having around the world in getting teachers to embrace spatial technology. Students (digital natives) have no problems but the majority of teachers (digital immigrants) are the ones struggling with digital technology. Dr Smith gave some ideas and references which are worth looking at on the topic. Here are some of the references worth having a look at:
Marc Prensky on the digital diet (committed sardines)at
Ian Jukes in the age of technology at
Whole new mind by Dan Pink at
Maybe when teachers understanding the nature of the digital native student we may move forward with meaningful implementation of spatial technology in schools. In short we need to teach students as digital natives and see what their world looks like. We should not fight against their skills and globalised worldliness using technology but embrace it in the classroom.

3. George Williams (Law Professor, Uni of NSW) presented an excellent paper on the need for knowledge to enhance informed student views. In particular he outlined the reasons why civics and citizenship is not engaging for students (complexity, boring, community apathy and popular culture portrayal) and suggested ways to create a multi dimensional approach to move C&C forward in schools. In response to this talk I went away and developed a resource called 'Being a citizen' which has a section on using spatial technology in the teaching of civics and citizenship. Spatial technology and its ability to enhance knowledge of place should be a critical component of developing the informed citizen.

I am surprised by the limited amount of work done on the use of GIS in the teaching of politics and civics and see this as an area for some useful resource development for the classroom.
The ESRI site at is particular useful as a reference on this topic. Watch this space for more thoughts and links on 'mapping politics' and citizenship education using spatial technology.

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