(the following is the text of a preproposal for a LAAP grant, composition of which occupied quite a bit of Feb-March 2000. The proposal was not successful in getting us to the next level of grant competition, but many of the ideas contained within it still seem to be at the heart of what W&L and ACS might do in future)

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Across the Curriculum:
Implementing Distribution to 15 Campuses


A 1988 Gallup survey placed young adult Americans at the bottom of nine nations in geographical knowledge, and a decade later Americans remain "woefully ignorant of world geography" (Barry Lopez), and many are still "lost on the planet Earth" (Newsweek). College students have limited geographical knowledge, and little experience thinking spatially or globally. American colleges need to develop ways to teach these analytical skills and build spatial information fluency to prepare the next generation of Americans for leadership in a world that is increasingly interconnected, interdependent, and globalized.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software offers a potential solution to this problem by providing a means to visualize, explore, and analyze spatial data. GIS promises to enrich viewpoints, build spatial literacy and reasoning skills, and expand the mental scope of users. However, there are four challenges to practical use of GIS across the curriculum : training, data, support, and integration.

The Training Challenge

Many colleges and universities offer GIS software training -- generally in Geography or Geology departments -- but few professors outside those disciplines possess the skills to use GIS in their teaching, and thus very few students use GIS as an analytical tool.

The Data Challenge

Remote sensing satellites provide a constant stream of high resolution data at global scale, and government agencies produce vast quantities of spatially referenced data. Libraries are beginning to incorporate such digital information, but access is often haphazard and confusing.

The Support Challenge

University computing services provide the campus network infrastructure to distribute applications and data, but they are often unfamiliar with GIS applications and they are only beginning to develop support for collaboration among institutions in teaching and information distribution.

The Integration Challenge

The partners in this proposal have been convinced by fact-finding visits to preeminent GIS centers that no college campus integrates GIS instruction, data access, and computing into a coordinated program for distribution of spatial information and support of its teaching and learning across the curriculum.

The Partners

The partners are the Associated Colleges of the South (ACS), Washington & Lee University (W&L), and Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI). ACS needs to develop infrastructure to allow its 15 member colleges to share expensive resources, W&L needs to develop GIS resources across the curriculum in support of its globalization initiative, and ESRI needs tested implementation models for educational use of its GIS software. These needs provide a basis for a solid working partnership.


The partners propose a three-year GIS Initiative to develop a spatial knowledgebase and distributed learning environment to support teaching, learning, and research activities of the 15 members of the ACS, and to provide an exportable working model for GIS in post-secondary education. Elements included in this Initiative are: (1) construction of a server-based library of digital data available to all 15 campuses, (2) development of faculty and staff expertise with GIS, (3) creation of course and training materials to support integration of GIS across the curriculum, (4) use of the GIS materials to improve spatial information fluency, and (5) sharing of the implementation model nationally.

The GIS Initiative will build upon existing strengths and pilot projects completed at ACS colleges, encourage joint development of multi-campus courses based in shared resources, and produce a scaleable model for college teaching with GIS. A GIS server will offer students and faculty of ACS institutions 24-hour Web-based access to analysis tools, support, training materials, and data resources.

The Initiative represents an innovative form of distance education, designed to inspire collaboration among colleagues at similar institutions, and build a common body of learning material upon which people can draw anytime anywhere across the consortium. The Initiative also provides a framework for collaboration by each of the ACS colleges with local and state governments and other institutions. The Initiative also delivers an eminently portable skill to students, based on a technology which ties classroom activities to the outside world. The Initiative is an entirely new solution to existing problems. If successful, it can have a significant impact on spatial information fluency nationwide.


The Partners

Associated Colleges of the South (ACS): The 15 member institutions of the ACS -- liberal arts colleges located in all the states of the historical South, with a total enrollment of some 25,000 students -- are developing collaborative relationships and building common resources across a broad range of academic disciplines and mutual interests. Programs in Environmental Studies, Digital Libraries, Information Fluency, Teaching with Technology, and International Studies (all externally funded) bring faculty and staff from member schools to workshops where participants exchange and develop ideas which may then grow into collaborations. The 15 schools of the ACS are similar enough to work together successfully, but remain diverse enough to be an effective testbed for scalability of the Initiative.

Washington & Lee University (W&L): W&L is an ACS member with a strong history of leadership in electronic librarianship and Web development. Part of the GIS Initiative will be based in the Teaching and Learning Resource Center in Leyburn Library, and distributed from the server http://miley.wlu.edu. W&L's Department of Computer Science will contribute students to test an extension of Virtual Reality Modeling Language (geoVRML) as a display and distribution medium, and to construct monitoring software for assessment and evaluation of the Initiative.

Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI): ESRI is a leader in the development of GIS software and has long been committed to encouraging educational uses of the technology, through generous support of K-12, library, and university programs in practical uses of spatial information. ESRI will donate 20 licenses per campus to permit network delivery of ArcView to desktops at all 15 colleges. ESRI will also provide access to online training through the ESRI Virtual Campus.

The Elements

A Server-Based Library of Digital Data Available to All 15 Campuses: The Initiative will build a server-based shared library of data, maps, metadata, and user support materials. The Web pages which describe and distribute this resource will be linked to online library catalogs by Dublin Core records. The collection will provide resources to teachers and students at ACS colleges, and will pool resources to support collaboration in fields such as global studies, environmental studies and area studies. Materials not constrained by license agreements will be freely available to users outside of ACS. An Internet map server will distribute the work of ACS partners to the world, and facilitate cooperation with similar efforts elsewhere. Two digital library projects are central to our GIS Initiative:

(A) The Digital Earth will provide a uniform interface to maps and data covering a broad range of subjects at a global scale. It will combine purchased and licensed materials, data provided with ArcView, and pointers to non-proprietary information available via the Web. Cooperative arrangements with other global mapping projects (e.g., SRI International's Digital Earth Project and the Alexandria Digital Library Project at University of California Santa Barbara) will facilitate wider distribution of content created at ACS schools. SRI International has offered to assist ACS to develop examples for Web distribution.

(B) The Digital South will acquire, organize, and deliver spatial information about the South. This project encourages ACS institutions to gather and contribute information on its own area to the electronic archive, which will combine historical coverage and contemporary information and support collaborative study of the region across disciplines. Data will include demographic, political and economic statistics in formats compatible with GIS software; LANDSAT and other remote sensing data; aerial photographic coverage; geological and environmental data; digital topographic maps; and digitized paper maps.

In the first year we will start to build a common data library, design and implement a search interface for the GIS server, and hold a Computer Services Conference to plan the ACS Wide Area Network (WAN). In the next two years, we will implement the ACS WAN to support asynchronous and synchronous communication for users at ACS institutions, and continue to build the data library.

Development of Faculty and Staff Expertise with GIS: ESRI's online training modules and site-based courses can provide basic training in the use of GIS software, and can serve as initial instruction modules for faculty, staff, and student assistants. An ACS-sponsored GIS Boot Camp in August 1999 created a core group of 20 faculty and staff participants who have subsequently raised the visibility of GIS at their institutions. A second Boot Camp and an advanced workshop are planned for the summer of 2000. In each year we will introduce 20 more participants to GIS at Boot Camps. On campuses we will identify local needs and resources, develop faculty and staff skills, deploy ESRI's online courses, and hold advanced workshops for early adopters, many of whom will then offer workshops and support at their own campuses. The objective is to create at each campus a critical mass of skills which can be spread to faculty colleagues and incorporated into courses. Five schools will be major participants in the first year, and all 15 schools will be included by the end of the three years.

Course and Training Materials to Support GIS Across the Curriculum: Workshop participants will learn the skills necessary to develop materials to support curricular use of GIS, producing instructional modules which are primarily oriented toward teaching content rather than GIS skills. Preparing instructors and equipping students to make use of GIS as an everyday tool requires development of a GIS Toolbox: an infrastructure of tutorials, exemplary applications, documentation, and connections to data. The Toolbox, located on the GIS server, will be accessible from anywhere. Instructors can develop and contribute applications appropriate to the data resources, problems, and teaching styles of their specific disciplines. Web pages are an effective means to deliver such tutorial support.

We will offer advanced project-based training to those who have mastered basic skills and want to work further to develop exemplary applications and training modules. In the first year we will build a collection of examples of the use of GIS in courses and begin to create tutorials and support documents. In the following years we will continue to add GIS to existing courses, and to develop tutorials and online course modules. In the third year, we will integrate GIS into ACS Environmental Studies and International Studies programs with collaborative courses on several global issues.

GIS Materials to Improve Spatial Information Fluency: Web tutorials are (1) distributable and available anywhere and anytime, (2) repeatable by users, (3) modular, and (4) readily editable and expandable by their creators. These online resources will support teachers and learners in solving practical and administrative problems in use of GIS materials. A common core of GIS courseware will allow member colleges to share teaching materials, and participate in classes offered by other institutions. Web tutorials are (1) distributable and available anywhere and anytime, (2) repeatable by users, (3) modular, and (4) readily editable and expandable by their creators.

Sharing of the Implementation Model Nationally: We will communicate progress through publications and presentations at conferences. In the second year we will hold symposia on GIS in each of the following ACS program areas: International Studies, Information Fluency, and Environmental Studies. In the third year we will disseminate a model via publications and national meetings such as EDUCAUSE, ACRL, and the ESRI Annual Conference.

The Computing Environments--Current and Future Resources

The Miley server at W&L (http://miley.wlu.edu) has hosted a pilot project serving GIS data and support to the campus for the last year. There is space on Miley to begin distribution to ACS members. Miley can support three additional 36GB drives (for a total of 72GB with RAID backup), and W&L's T3 connectivity to the Internet makes it practical to deliver large files to distant partners.

Each of the ACS partners has some level of existing campus networking and support for classroom and laboratory use of computers, but most are not ready to implement campus-wide GIS delivery. In the first year, four or five early adopters will collaborate to develop, implement, and test procedures for implementation. In each subsequent year, five or six other schools will implement the model.

During the GIS Initiative we will develop a Wide Area Network (WAN) connecting the ACS campuses. The ultimate objective is effective curriculum-wide sharing of documents, databases, hardware resources, and facilities, to support synchronous and asynchronous collaborative teaching and learning.


A Project Director (at W&L) will oversee the collaboration among librarians, computer services, media specialists, teaching faculty, staff, and university administrators. A GIS Librarian (at W&L) will manage data acquisition, collection development, and creation and maintenance of an effective user interface; act as the primary contact for the digital library; and serve as liaison with project managers at ACS schools. An Information Services Coordinator (at W&L) will design and manage networking solutions and communicate with information services staff at ACS schools. A Project Coordinator (at ACS) will coordinate workshops, training, travel, and reimbursements. Project Managers at each campus (faculty or staff for whom the grant will provide stipends) will coordinate local implementation of the Initiative and serve as primary contacts for their campuses. Some ACS schools have summer programs for sponsored student research, which may be included in the GIS Initiative where practical.


Success can be measured by improved student knowledge, level of faculty and student participation, and use of online resources by ACS and others.

Improved Student Knowledge

A Web-based tool for online assessment of geographical knowledge and spatial analytic skills will be constructed, which instructors can modify, for pre- and post- measurement in courses with GIS components. During the second and third years of the Initiative, the online tool will be used to test freshmen at the beginning and end of the academic year, and they will be tracked through courses with GIS components to assess the influence of GIS skills on geographic and spatial knowledge.

Faculty and Student Participation

Counts will be kept of faculty participation in workshops, courses at ACS institutions that add GIS components, numbers of students who complete ESRIís online training courses, and new collaborations with GIS across disciplines and between institutions. Inquiries and visits from outside ACS will be tallied, as will presentations and publications by ACS faculty and students which include GIS components.

Use of Online Resources

Counters will be placed on all Web pages created for the Initiative, to track connections by IP address, and traffic to and from the server will be monitored from ACS institutions and the outside world.