GIS software must be redesigned if GIS is to succeed as a tool for supporting spatial thinking. Redesign of software is a normal and continuous process. Thus, for example, during the lifetime of this committee, GIS in general and ESRI products in particular have changed at a rapid rate. The driving forces remain the same, for professional-level and expert users, although the newly designed software may have educational applications. Box 9.1 describes some of the changes that have taken place.
Three models-academic, commercial, and collaborative offer options for the redesign of GIS to meet the needs of K-12 education. All three models appear to have merit as well as pitfalls. In the committee’s view, the collaborative model is appealing because of its potential to involve software developers, government, academia, and the K-12 user community. With the establishment of a “Federation of GIS Education Partners”, a suitable GIS could be developed within three years.
The current status of GIS as a support system for spatial thinking is as much cause for optim ism as for pessimism among those who want to see GIS infused throughout the K-12 curriculum. The successful adoption of GIS as a support system will be an immense challenge. Because this tool is in its early adoption phase, widespread diffusion of GIS throughout the K-12 sector is not guaran. teed will depend on the will of potential stakeholders, including the willingness of federal agencies, especially the U.S. Department of Education, to recognize that spatial thinking is an essential skill that should be learned for productive employment in the twenty-first century. Unless there is well articulated support among parents, teachers, curriculum developers, and business and policy leaders for national spatial thinking standards in this period of high-stakes testing, there will be little incentive to incorporate GIS across the K-12 curriculum. The widespread adoption of GIS is also contingent on the redesign of GIS to meet the particular needs of teachers and students. GIS is a good-but not the perfect-tool for supporting spatial thinking. Therefore, it cannot and should not be the basis for teaching spatial thinking but a basis for doing so. The committee recognizes that GIS has a clearly demonstrated potential as a support system for spatial thinking, but that there are significant challenges if it is to be successfully integrated into the curriculum. Therefore, the committee urges the development of a systematic plan and mechanism for design changes and a program of implementation. That plan must al so recognize the role of GIS as one part of a coordinated suite of tools.
In the committee’s view, GIS has significant potential and some limitations as a system for supporting spatial thinking acrossa range of subjectsin the K-I 2 curriculum,but for numerous reasons, that potential is not yet dose to being realized; it can and should be redesigned to accommodate the full range of learners and school contexts: and must supported by a systematic implementation program. Therefore, the committee sees GIS as exemplifying both the theoretical power of a system for supporting spatial thinking and the practical design and implementation problems that must be faced in the K-12 context. Although GIS does have the potential to make a significant impact on K-12 education, its impact will be greater if it is integrated into discipline-based standards and is itself standards based, it spans as wide a range of school subjects as possible, and it is part of a suite of supporting tools. GIS alone is not the answer to the problem of teaching spatial thinking in American schools. however, it can be a significant part of the answer.
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