Emerging Technologies

UCGIS Education White Paper

Emerging Technologies for Delivering GIScience Education

Emerging Technologies Working Group


Revision History:
29 June 1997 - Post-Assembly Version 1.0


Emerging technologies hold great potential for improving the quality and expanding the scope of GIScience education nationally and internationally. These technologies include but are not limited to:


Recent innovations in information technologies are beginning to have an important impact on education in GIScience both inside and outside the university. The Internet and WWW are, for example, rapidly changing the ways in which GIS educators, researchers, and professionals gather raw data, engage in background research, collaborate and communicate with colleagues, and share the results of their investigations. Experiments are also underway to weave multimedia and hypertext capabilities into GIS and to use virtual reality interfaces on such systems.

These innovations have led to an outpouring of experiments in using some of these technologies in higher education. The GIS Tutor project was a pioneering effort in the application of multimedia techniques to GIS education (Raper 1991, Raper and Green 1992). The UCGIS distance education seminar offered in the winter of 1997 is an example of an experiment with on-line discussion technology. It involved collaboration among students and faculty at the Universities of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB), Colorado at Boulder, Georgia, and Washington, Clark University, Ohio State University, San Diego State University, SUNY-Buffalo, San Diego State University, and West Virginia University. Also, in the past two years, materials for approximately two dozen courses in GIS, cartography, and remote sensing have appeared on the WWW. These include very large projects such as the Geographer's Craft to prototype comprehensive electronic textbooks and laboratory manuals on the Web. Also underway are international projects to offer tutorials, courses, and certification programs in GIS via the Web, such as the UNIGIS program.

These experiments give some indication of the direction of future development. They speak to the ways in which GIS educators and professionals can tap these new technologies to share educational materials and collaborate to develop more. A concerted effort to plan and develop an integrated set of educational materials could pay tremendous dividends both in the quality and compass of available GIS teaching resources. In some respects this sort of collaboration is already underway. Recent projects in this area include: the new Web edition of the Core Curriculum in GIScience sponsored by the NCGIA under the leadership of Karen Kemp at UCSB; the NCGIA project to develop a GIS Core Curriculum for Technical Programs guided by Steve Palladino at UCSB; and the NCGIA Core Curriculum in Remote Sensing led by Tim Foresman at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Such projects in GIScience are also related to other broad Web-based curriculum development efforts such as the Virtual Geography Department, which was begun in 1995 for the creation of hypertext materials spanning the entire undergraduate curriculum. One working group of the Virtual Department project has already formed in the area of geographic information science and geographic techniques. Sponsored by the Department of Geography at the University of British Columbia under the leadership of Brian Klinkenberg, this Web page has been established to serve as a clearinghouse for educational materials in GIS.

The potential resulting from such collaboration is extremely high. It means that instructors can share the cost in time and money of testing and developing effective educational resources in GIS. They can share their best materials and make use of the best produced by others. There is no reason why such efforts cannot be expanded in other directions. For example, some of these emerging educational technologies would be of particular value to GIS professionals wishing to update or enhance their skills. It would also allow courses in GIS to be made available to regions of the United States and world not well served by institutions of higher education. Use of these technologies could strengthen existing programs by enabling specialized courses to be shared among departments. For instance, students might use the Web or more advanced technologies, to study specialized subjects not offered in their department. Faculty from different institutions could collaborate to offer others. Many issues must be resolved before opportunities of these sorts are widely available, but this white paper makes recommendations on how to begin.

Importance and National Benefits

Given that experiments are already underway to optimize emerging technologies (particularly the WWW) for GIScience education, why should the UCGIS play a leading role?

  • The Mission: UCGIS is composed of outstanding research universities whose mission is to advance and monitor emerging technologies as they apply to geographic information science. UCGIS provides a forum for the equitable distribution of the knowledge gained by individual research efforts involving advanced technology to the membership, thereby stimulating research and education using new and innovate techniques. This distribution will lead to major advances in collaborative education, as communications, computing, and other new technologies are applied to the analysis of spatial and temporal problems for the training of students. In this sense, the emerging technologies priority forges an important link between the educational and research goals of the UCGIS. Indeed, emerging technologies should contribute to a more robust understanding of what GIScience research entails.

  • The "Fulcrum Factor": Technology serves the role of a fulcrum in balancing education and research: a defining tension in the academic community. Many of the specific education and research objectives (priorities) within UCGIS are deeply affected by emerging technologies. Research on emerging technologies by member institutions of UCGIS is already ongoing and will continue to be a relevant focus in the GIScience community which is often driven by changes in technology. These collaborative research efforts within UCGIS should not only synergistically benefit member institutions, but the broader GIScience education community as well, where technological collaboration is now becoming a mechanism for survival in an environment of constant technological change (requiring educators, for example, to change lecture and laboratory materials on nearly an annual basis in order to keep students abreast of the latest advancements).

  • The Reach Beyond the Web: UCGIS by virtue of its focus on research is already assessing technology all the time, internally within the consortium and externally in the market place. These technologies include but also extend beyond the Internet and the WWW to the others appearing on the introductory list above. What better entity to serve as an emerging technology testbed, for the benefit of higher education institutions, educators, and professional users, than UCGIS. Therefore, it is vitally important that UCGIS assume an active role in testing and cultivating these technologies over the next few years. Linkage to Other UCGIS Education Priorities
    The importance of emerging technologies is also interwoven into the following UCGIS Education priorities, further underscoring its relevance and scope:

    National Needs
    By realizing the potential of emerging technologies, theUCGIS has the power to address a number of national needs as well:


    (ranked by decreasing effort and cost of implementation)

    (1) UCGIS, because of the technological power already resident on its member campuses and its networking with industry, is uniquely qualified to identify and monitor emerging technologies. An important step to this end will be the creation of a web-based TECHWATCH electronic newsletter, accessible to UCGIS institutions and other interested parties. Updates to the newsletter will be announced via email using the "ucgis-all" and additional aliases. TECHWATCH will keep the community informed of the latest advancements and trends in the emerging technologies listed above, as well as various techniques that may be successfully integrated into the teaching of geographic information science, such as collaborative visualization, volumetric representation, temporal analysis, and metadata entry and distribution systems. In this way UCGIS will be learning as it is informing. This low-cost action item (requiring funds for a dedicated machine and the support of a graduate student from a UCGIS institution to design and maintain the newsletter) should reap great benefits throughout the community, not to mention the rich educational experience to be had for the graduate student.

    Strategies and Requirements to Meet This Goal:

    (2) Create a clearinghouse for distributed, collaborative curriculum materials in fields related to GIScience. The emphasis here will be placed on multiple disciplines, extending the idea of the Virtual Geography Department and the Geographer's Craft to the allied fields of business, education, engineering, forestry, geology, statistics, urban planning (others may be suggested). The site will also alert users to the existence of the Virtual Geography and Geographers' Craft pages (some geographers still do not know of these), and help them to make sense of the resources resident there. As with the Virtual Geography Department, the primary goal is to promote the distribution of high quality curriculum materials that can be used across the Internet by students and faculty anywhere in the world. A clearinghouse will allow faculty to share the time and expense of developing hypermedia and multimedia curriculum materials and to benefit from materials that might not otherwise be made available commercially. Such collaborations will also allow faculty to experiment with new types of on-line, interactive materials that promote collaborative problem solving.

    Strategies and Requirements to Meet This Goal:

    (3) Develop on-line short courses for professional and technical training. The goal of this initiative is to experiment with the viability of Web-based distance education by targeting professional and technical audiences. It will be based on the experience gained from several professional distance education projects now underway (for example UNIGIS). The use of materials published by the Geographer's Craft Project at the University of Texas seems to indicate substantial demand for high-quality tutorials and short courses in rather specific areas: project planning, GPS, map projections, datum use, and so forth. Short courses or certification courses developed in these areas might serve as the prototypes for more extensive distance-education projects. These might be designed as pay-for-use modules that would recover the cost of their development.

    Strategies and Requirements to Meet This Goal:
    [ Both of these items overlap and may be combined with the action items in the Infrastructure white paper ]

    (4) Design prototypes for on-line courses in Advanced GIScience. The goal of this initiative is to extend opportunities afforded by distance-education into full, university-level courses in GIS. Rather than beginning with introductory courses which are already well served in most programs, the goal here would be to create specialized upper-division courses that are not now offered widely outside of the largest programs. Courses in areas such terrain modeling, animation, real-time GIS, and hydrological modeling to name just a few, would enrich the curricula in programs where such classes are not now offered.

    Strategies and Requirements to Meet This Goal:

    (5) Develop a Summer Assembly workshop or panel discussion (to be led by members of the Emerging Technologies working group) focusing on emerging technologies within the broader contexts of education, research, and society. Suggested topics include:

    Strategies and Requirements to Meet This Goal:

    (6) Compile and create teaching modules for distance learning GIS courses to help instructors deal with effectively with television cameras, audio equipment, and enhanced classrooms, video conferencing capabilities. Not only do students need to be served by distance education, but instructors as well. Instructors need to be made aware of the latest available technology for distance education, such as digital video and satellite conferencing systems, and to learn how to comfortably and effectively employ them for their own courses.

    Strategies and Requirements to Meet This Goal:
    [ Both of these items overlap and may be combined with the action items in the Infrastructure white paper ]

    (7) A survey of member institutions on the quality and extent of emerging technologies usage within member departments and the measurement of interdepartmental activities should be performed with the aim of identifying successful approaches. Member institutions are encouraged to build on-campus inter-departmental linkages which reflect common interests in emerging technologies.


    (for both Education and Research)

    Creation of a UCGIS Collaboratory, allowing for the automatic collection and interpretation of data sets, equally accessible by participating institutions in real-time. We envision the simultaneous manipulation of perspective images and 3-D holographic displays in real-time, using power gloves, throttles, etc. to control the environment. For example, what are the possibilities for an urban planning application: people "reaching in" to move or reshape buildings in a virtual world? How might one remotely acquire new oceanographic data from the Pacific while sitting in West Virginia? Scenarios such as these certainly have implications for situations requiring immediate decisions or pay-offs (e.g., disaster management). There is also the issue of access and equity for people who do not have the technological resources to gather these high-end data sets.


    Raper J 1991. Using computer demonstrators and tutors in GIS teaching: Lessons from the development of geographical information systems tutor. Cartographica, 28(3): 75-87.

    Raper J and N Green 1992. Teaching the principles of GIS: Lessons from the GISTutor project. International Journal of Geographical Information Systems, 6(4): 279-290.

    URLs Referenced

    The Geographer's Craft

    NCGIA GIS Core Curriculum for Technical Programs

    NCGIA Core Curriculum in GIScience

    NCGIA Core Curriculum in Remote Sensing

    UNIGIS program

    University of Texas at Austin Resource Page

    Virtual Geography Department Home

    Virtual Geography Department Geographic Information Science Project



    Dawn Wright, Department of Geosciences, Oregon State University

    Gregory Elmes, Department of Geology & Geography, West Virginia University

    Ken Foote, Department of Geography, University of Texas at Austin


    Additional Working Group Members (in alphabetical order):

    Jian Chen, Office of Information Technologies, University of Delaware

    Nickolas Faust, Georgia Tech Research Institute

    Basil Savitsky, Graduate School of Geography, Clark University

    Joe Sewash, Department of Geology & Geography, West Virginia University

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