Friday, May 6, 2011

Watch this space: Part 3

Left images: Living space!! Click on the hyperlink to watch the video.
Right image: An urban place in the mountain space of South Korea.

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??
Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

To have a fundamental understanding of space

"You cannot know who you are without knowing where you are."
Paul Shepard

So how about a definition of space in plain unambiguous language? Quite a task I have found! Here is an attempt based on what geographers around the world say and what geography curriculum's around the world say and imply.

Space is a concept relating to the study of an area at varying scales, from local to global.

When exploring a space geographers focus on:

• the location of places, people or geographical phenomena (human and natural) within and across a space (spatial location)

• the distribution and associations of places across and within a space. Related aspects to this character of space are distance, spacing and adjacency/proximity (spatial association and distribution).

• the differences and variance within and across spaces (spatial variation)

• the patterning produced by the location of places, people and geographical phenomena within and across spaces (spatial patterns)

• interactions and flows within and across spaces (spatial movement and interaction)

examining spaces by asking questions such as why places are located where they are, what has caused the distribution and patterning of places across and within the space (spatial analysis)

• how and why the spatial characteristics of a space are changing and how will the change impact on the biophysical nature of the space – including the impact on humans and ecosystems (spatial change)

The resources and work of the GTAV on spatial concepts is a great adjunct to understanding these key components of the space (spatial) concept

In light of the recent blog postings on space, maybe the following definition could be proposed (I know it is contestable and again may be criticised as an over-simplification of an extremely complex concept):

Space is a concept relating to the study of an area of the earth at varying scales, from local to global. Within these spaces there are located places, people and geographical phenomena which the geographer may study. The studies may include plotting the location of natural and human places, description of the relationships, interactions, distributions and patterns between places and across the space, analyzing causation of locations and observed patterns and the identification of trends and projecting futures (modeling). Such literacy in relation to space is the language of spatial thinking.”
McInerney 2011 (in trepidation)

The US National Research Council report
defined spatial thinking as:

“the ability to understand spatial relationships, the knowledge of how geographic space is represented, and the ability to reason and make key decisions about spatial concepts.”

Confusing the boundary between place and space is that due to the nature of scale and perceptions, spaces may also exist within places!

To elucidate this confusion, Cresswell said in 2008:

“The definition of place, like any concept, is contested. At it heart, though, lies the notion of a meaningful segment of geographical space ….Places, then, are particular constellations that occupy a particular segment of space and sets of meanings attached to them. Place is a social construction, a physical location, a space occupied and associated with meaning, and as a set of political boundaries.”

Yes, there is a sense of nestling and twinning between place and space. This should not be a source of confusion but one of appreciation of the complexity of spatial understanding.

Spatial technologies such as GIS have been a great enabler for geographers to examine space and to develop spatial thinking to help students understand the concept of space in practical terms.

Increasingly the term spatial literacy is being used by educationalists to describe an individuals ability to perceive, analyse and even operate in a space.

Michael Goodchild in his article ‘The Fourth R? Rethinking GIS Education’ considers that:

“...spatial literacy is recognized along with other basic abilities—that maps, pictures, and spatial data need to rank with numbers, text, and logic as essential ways in which humans function.”

The US National Research Council, which advises the US Federal Government on critical issues in science and technology, issued in April, 2006 a report calling on schools to incorporate "spatial literacy" into their curricula by saying:

“Spatial thinking is an increasingly important skill for living and working in the 21st century, the council said, and geographic information system (GIS) technology can help schools teach this skill to their students. Spatial literacy will play an increasingly important role in today's information-based economy, and it should be incorporated into K-12 instruction”

Interestingly young people are using their spatial skills, as described above, when interacting with virtual spaces as they play a range of computer games.

There is an urgent need for schools to catch up with student spatial skills and tap into the interest of students in using and analyzing space. We need to use an innovative context to plug into student curiosity – geography and GIS offer this context for educators.

I am sure those writing the Australian Curriculum are working on a definition of space so that we do talk about it to ensure that teachers have an agreed understanding of what space is in geography. I wish them luck with the task.

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