Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Geography & Environmental Studies


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Robert Sharpe

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


Until quite recently, geographical information systems have been limited to the resources and students of post-secondary institutions. This situation is now changing in Ontario. In the early 1990's the Ministry of Education adopted mandates to develop curriculum guidelines for the integration of computers into all areas of the curriculum. Although the process is well underway in Ontario, limited access to hardware and software, insufficient pre-service and in-service training, and a paucity of teaching resources has lead to mounting teacher frustration. Although the literature base on teaching GIS at the pre-collegiate level is increasing, it lacks clearly defined examples of how to teach geography through GIS technology. This thesis proposes a model GIS curriculum which applies GIS functionality to the teaching of geographic concepts and skills. This curriculum was developed in conjunction with the WLU GIS Certificate Course program which provided a unique opportunity to develop and evaluate the model curriculum. The program participants, who consisted of teachers already in-service, became not only the subjects of the research, but also active participants in the development of curricula. The teachers provided valuable feedback and evaluation by addressing both conceptual and practical concerns. In this way, the research was not only exploratory and collaborative, but also pragmatic. In particular, the model GIS curriculum was designed with needs of the teachers in mind. Many lessons were learned from working with teachers in the GIS Certificate Course program. These lessons can be grouped into three categories, namely, the in/pre- service distinction, the teaching with/about GIS dichotomy, and the recognition that “less is more”. Conceptually, the model GIS curriculum is fuelled by a novice-expert transition which provides a progression from the most basic skills and knowledge of geography and GIS, to more expert levels of interpretation, analysis and modelling. The model GIS curriculum introduced in this thesis consists of four substantive units and seven projects. These projects are based on the application of Idrisi to problems of geographical inquiry and the representation of physical and human landscapes. Units l and II provide a general introduction to basic GIS and cartographic theory, and Units III and IV branch out into human and physical environments. In addition to providing a detailed strategy to guide teachers in their instruction, the model GIS curriculum also provides a set of pedagogical benefits for students. These benefits focus on making the learning process more relevant thus, creating student satisfaction in the learning process. These benefits would include the strengthening of critical thinking skills and the application of GIS technology into real-world situations. This model GIS curriculum is now in need of further development, namely, it needs to meet the needs of a changing audience. A prescribed curriculum, as proposed in this thesis will have a short lifespan and become redundant as more teachers gain pre- service training in GIS. To accommodate the changing nature of the secondary school sector, a parallel system of curriculum might be appropriate. In this parallel system, the in-service educator would be served by a model GIS curriculum as proposed by this thesis, and the pre-service educator with teacher preparation models. In addition to creating a parallel system of curriculum, another challenge presents itself in the further integration of GIS at the secondary school level. This challenge centres on maintaining a focus on the instruction of geographical analysis while making the GIS technique as transparent as possible. Further research on learning and cognition is also required. One aspect would be the determination of skill and knowledge outcomes which could be used to test control groups: one consisting of students trained using traditional methods of instruction, and the other using the model GIS curriculum to determine the performance indicators and whether the model GIS curriculum does indeed improve critical thinking skills. Finally, it is important for educators to maintain an open dialogue on the application of GIS to the secondary school classroom to make it a viable option.

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