Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The way forward for spatial technology in the curriculum

Images of the Flinders Ranges in January 2011

Related sites to the Spatialworlds project
Spatialworlds website
21st Century Geography Google Group
Australian Geography Teachers' Association website
'Towards a National Geography Curriculum' project website
Geography Teachers' Association of South Australia website
Email contact

Where am I?

Sydney: S: 34º 0' E: 151º 0'

Since Spatialworlds is a blog dedicated to all things spatial I feel beholden to write a posting on the Australian Curriculum: geography shape paper in terms of its capacity to promote, embrace and bring to fruition the desire of many of us to see spatial technology and analysis used in geography classrooms around Australia. I guess the question is not how many times the word spatial or spatial technology is referred to in the document but how it is integrated into the knowledge, understandings and skills implicit in the curriculum. Yes, spatial is one of the perspectives described in the shape paper and spatial technology is alluded to as an important skill but is the document a strong advocate for the use of 21st Century geography technology and analysis? Furthermore does the document imply that to teach this curriculum from F-10, schools and teachers need to use spatial technology and associated analytical techniques and skills? The question needs to be asked; does this curriculum perpetuate the teaching of geography using tracing paper and coloured pencils or is there an expectation that teachers have to learn how to use and understand spatial technology and its applications? To many of us this is a no-brainer considering that spatial technology is so accessible, costless and supported with heaps of curriculum materials. What excuse can a school have to not promote the use of spatial technology as an expectation if they are doing geography? I know this is a contentious point of view with many saying that schools cannot afford the technology and teachers have not got the time to learn the technology. I strongly believe that these attitudes need to be challenged by teachers and schools which use the technology and that the curriculum should not be determined by those who have not used the technology in their schools or classrooms. All the impediments we faced to using of spatial technology in 1997, when it was first used in Australian classrooms, have gone (cost, computer capacity, data accessibility and cost, available curriculum and teaching materials). That is with the exception of one; the capacity of the geography teacher to learn spatial technology and be prepared to continue to learn with the students. Such a pedagogical risk-taking style is a core ingredient of the profile of the spatial technology using teacher. We cannot let this last impediment stop the introduction of ‘beyond Powerpoint’ technology into our geography classrooms. It is achievable if we decide we want it to happen! Imagine if a mathematics teachers in the 1990’s had decided that the graphic calculator was too hard for teachers to learn and use in schools, we would still have classrooms not using such a basic technology for mathematics. To the world of geography, spatial technology is already a basic technology being used in all walks of life (by academic, vocational and lay geographers and the general public). Why is it so hard to get meaningful use of spatial technology into the geography classroom, let alone history, science, mathematics classrooms? Yes, it is the profile of the geography teacher but that can be overcome with investment in sound professional learning. Spatial technology and its use needs to be ‘front and centre’ as an expectation in the curriculum, only then will the investment in the professional learning required be offered and embraced by jurisdictions. So is it in the shape paper? What follows is an attempt to locate and analyse the importance of spatial technology and spatial analysis in the ACARA shape paper for geography.

1. Spatial Perspective: One aspect of this perspective is the investigation of how places are linked to other places, such as through natural processes, the movement of people, flows of trade and investment, cultural influences, the exchange of ideas and information, political power and international agreements. Geography examines the effects of these connections and interdependencies by identifying the changes they produce and the ways these changes can be managed. A spatial perspective enables students to consider their own place in a much wider context. Another aspect involves the study of the spatial distribution of one or a small number of the characteristics of places, and the attempt to explain the patterns observed by the operation of atmospheric, hydrologic, geomorphic, biological, socioeconomic or political processes. Geographers may be particularly interested identifying and explaining regularities, or how the same processes can produce different outcomes in different places, and consequently contribute to the diversity between places. A spatial perspective teaches students how to think spatially, how to use and interpret maps of all types, and how to analyse and understand relationships between phenomena using spatial technologies. It also enables students to understand that the influence of location on the characteristics of a place depends on the relative location of other places, the infrastructure and technology that links it to those places and the economic and social relationships between them. Geographers also evaluate the environmental, economic, social and political consequences of spatial distributions and the policies that could be adopted to respond to any unwanted consequences (page 4, ACARA Shape Paper for Australian Curriculum: geography).

2. Geographical concepts (page 6) are the higher level unifying ideas that can be applied across several fields of the subject. The key organising geographical concepts related primarily to spatial are:
• distance
• interaction
• interdependence
• location
• pattern
• place
• proximity
• relationship
• scale
• space
• spatial distribution

3. General Capabilities(page 8); the ICT General Capability says:
The geography curriculum will provide many opportunities to develop and use ICT skills. These include basic computing skills and the use of computer software to locate, manage,analyse and present geographical information. Geographical ICT skills include the use and application of geographical information systems (GIS) and global positioning systems (GPS) to create, manage, represent and analyse spatial data; the viewing and analysis of spatial data through remote sensing and 3D visualisations (such as Google Earth), and the management and representation of geographical data in graphical and other visual forms. The use of spatial technology is a rapidly growing area of ICT, with significant employment opportunities in the expanding spatial industry. The use of spatial technologies will be integrated into the curriculum from early primary school onwards to ensure the development of students’ ICT skills matches their cognitive abilities, and the application of those skills in the topics being studied. The curriculum will also provide opportunities for students to explore the effects of these technologies on places, the location of economic activities and on people’s lives, and to understand the changing spatial relationships enabled by ICT.

4. Skills development: Geography develops a range of other skills. These include representing and communicating information through maps, diagram and graphs; analyzing data through cartographic, statistical, graphical and qualitative methods; and modelling spatial relationships. Opportunities to learn appropriate spatial technologies should be included in both the primary and secondary school curriculums (page 20).

These excerpts show clearly that the shape paper makes it very clear that there is an expectation in the Australian Curriculum: geography that teacher’s use and expose their students to spatial technology and its applications? How will this expectation translate into the enacted classroom curriculum? Can teachers ignore the direction the shape paper gives on the use of spatial technology and associated spatial analysis?
I will leave it up to you to decide as to whether the above references to spatial technology in the shape paper are strong enough to promote the much needed incorporation of spatial technology into the Australian Curriculum for geography spatial.

If you wish to reply to this blog and discuss the nature of the shape paper please take advantage of the Google group called ‘21st Century Geography in Australian Schools’. I have created this group in an attempt to disseminate relevant information on 21st century geography and the AC but also to be a forum for discussion as the Australian Curriculum for geography is written over coming months. By the way, the ACARA timeline for geography is for a draft curriculum to be released for trialing and consultation in August this year.

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