Articles | Volume 2
04 Jun 2021
 | 04 Jun 2021

Reimagining GIS Instruction through Concept-Based Learning

Sara Lafia, Rui Zhu, Blake Regalia, and Werner Kuhn

Keywords: GIS education and training, geographic information systems, core concepts of spatial information, interdisciplinary research, concept based learning

Abstract. Research in geographic information science has not yet found clear answers to the questions of what geographic information is about or what a geographic information system (GIS) contains. This lack of consensus makes it especially challenging to teach and learn GIS. Existing pedagogical approaches either focus on the representational level of data (e.g., “raster and vector”) or are too generic (e.g., “geo-referenced information”). This characterization of GIS and its content is difficult for learners to transfer and apply broadly. As instructors, we approach the challenge of teaching GIS from a conceptual basis. We describe our process to develop a set of core concepts of spatial information, which we use to redesign an undergraduate-level introductory GIS course. Our intervention focuses instruction on the kinds of questions that geographic information enables before training students to produce workflows and answers through system commands. The course redesign complements and informs ongoing research on core concepts of spatial information. Our results demonstrate that GIS courses can deliver more than software training, indicating both theoretical gains and didactic challenges.