The Redesign Of Gis Educational Software

A redesign of GIS software is a key step if GIS is to succeed as a tool for supporting spatial thinking in the K-12 context. Among the GIS design issues that must be addressed are the following:

Broadening its accessibility to the full range of learners; strengthening the capacity to spatialize nonspatial data; overcoming the visualization weaknesses; providing graded systems of GIS that are age and experience appropriate; redesigning interfaces to be more intuitive and to provide help and guidance; raking the software customizable.

The committee recognizes that many of these design challenges are not specific to the K-12 context and that their solution may not occur with that context in mind. Should this be the case, then someone must take responsibility for adapting the solutions to the particular needs of teachers and students. Teachers and students should not be expected to adapt to a one-size-fits-all GIS that does not reflect their special needs.

In this section, the committee examines how a redesign of GIS to accommodate the needs of the K-12 education community might take place and suggests how it might be managed. The committee identified three mechanisms that led to the development of current versions of GIS software: the academic model, the commercial model, and the collaborative model. The academic model was based on researchers writing their own software. Changes in operating systems and hardware architectures led to the demise of many such systems, but ldrisi is one example that has flourished. It is priced for the academic market and for use by large classes at the college level. Its business model relies on sales as well as grants from agencies to pursue specific goals.

The commercial model, exemplified by companies such as ESRI, Intergraph, and Autodesk, is market driven with abusiness model that reflects the need to balance the costs of software development and support against income from the open market. The educational market plays little or no role in this model. The collaborative model views GIS software development asa collaborative process, underpinned by an open foundation of standards and basic functions. Thus, in the 1980s the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers developed the Geographic Resources Analysis Support System (GRASS ) pack. age and fostered a community of users who contributed extensions to the package. In this model, there is no distinction between users and developers. CRASS was built as open software, with no proprietary restrictions on access or use. Despite its success, it was seen as competing unfairly with the commercial market and, therefore, its support was terminated in the early 1990s although a residual community continues to use it.

These three models offer distinct options for the redesign of GIS software for the K-12 context. For the collaborative mechanism to succeed, a community would have to be identified, comprising specialists with sufficient technical skills to share the development of appropriate software, and with sufficient scientific understanding of the needs in the K-12 context. An organi. zation such as the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science (UCGIS) might be appropriate to facilitate collaboration, with sufficient funding from an appropriate federal agency. UCGIS has access to technical and intellectual expertise at each of its more than 60 member institutions and has sufficient experience in organizing large, distributed projects.

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