My attendance at this conference connected a number of the projects I've been working on in the last two years, centered on spatial information and linking Global and International Studies, collaboration with other members of the Associated Colleges of the South, my plans for Anthropology 230 in Fall 2000, and the process and prospects of introducing and supporting GIS as an analytical tool at W&L. This Conference (billed as a "First International") was extremely valuable for the breadth of material and perspectives in the presentations, for several contacts I made with people pursuing kindred goals, and for glimpses of ArcView powers and coming attractions. I'll summarize what I learned under several headings:
Image Analysis (single license about $1500, after the educational discount; multiple licenses at reduced costs but details unknown) facilitates work with aerial and satellite imagery in the ArcView environment. The product is magnificent --easy to use, powerful, well documented. We need Image Analysis for Environmental Studies uses of GIS, especially because of the power it gives for manipulating satellite imagery. This is a Library software issue, or becomes so once we begin to have access to (and use in teaching) satellite data in electronic form, and it will quickly become necessary to have people who can teach and support the requisite information-handling and analysis skills.
ArcIMS provides a means to serve ArcInfo maps to the Web as interactive documents (as opposed to static images). Several years hence it (or its successors) may be a practical necessity, but at present it has some important limitations (including running only on NT servers) and is very expensive. It was useful to explore its functionality and get a sense of where it would fit in a mature site for the distribution of geographical information.
A number of departments teach data analysis courses for majors, using various software packages, but the idea that broad quantitative fluency should be an integral part of a liberal education is not widely shared. This is problematic in a real world that is awash with data (largely thanks to the Web), and in which it is increasingly necessary to extract and interpret patterns. But how shall we organize to teach these skills, and teach them to students and faculty who need them? The Media Center provides support for instructional technology (particularly for graphical forms of information), and University Computing offers introductory short courses in some applications, but overall vision is lacking in this arena.
Several cases in point of data floods come from pages of recent issues of Science, though the data glut is not confined to the sciences: the NASA-funded Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) at Columbia serves demographic data for the world as a whole, for Mexico, and for the U.S. (sedac.ciesin.columbia.edu); the complexities of the Human Genome Project data are arrayed and interpreted visually (the Gene Expression Omnibus at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/geo/ is one example, and WIT from Argonne National Laboratory at wit.mcs.anl.gov/WIT2/ is another); drug design and other facets of biochemistry are increasingly dominated by visual models, and each week brings new links in Science's NetWatch column. A wander through www.sciencemag.org/cgi/collection/net_link/ will serve to introduce the riches. And viz.globe.gov/ (the GLOBE Program) is another example of the pedagogical use of large-scale datasets.
The point is that we are not doing a good job of incorporating such materials into what our students use and know.
I was surprised at how widespread use of and training in GIS is in specific departments (usually Geography, Environmental Studies and/or Geology), and how comparatively well supported in terms of hardware and personnel --but the institutions with such programs were considerably larger than W&L. Most centered their activities on teaching GIS skills for external marketplaces (hence the emphasis on certificate programs), and few offered support for faculty skill development. Several instances of Summer Institutes and other subsidized faculty development opportunities were cited (Cal Poly Pomona has committed itself to becoming a "GIS literate campus" and recently held a Faculty Institute), and in most instances campuses with developed GIS programs have extensive dedicated GIS labs --often in libraries-- to handle walk-in support.
In general, it seems that locally created demonstration projects are the most effective means to raise consciousness about new technologies and approaches to pedagogy. I intend to use GIS as an integral part of Anthropology 230 (Anthropology of East Asia) in the Fall term, and (in my capacity as a reference librarian) I hope to be invited to demonstrate spatial data access in courses in various departments. I also expect to continue to support efforts of faculty members who are attempting to learn the basics of GIS.
4. GIS in
small liberal arts colleges
The most important organization for support of GIS in higher education,
the University Consortium for Geographic
Information Science, has no members among liberal arts colleges
(though its mandate "emphasizes the multidisciplinary nature of GIS and
need for balance and cooperation among the disciplines..."). Requirements
for membership in UCGIS include a level of development of GIS teaching and
support that small colleges can't manage.
It is most unlikely that small colleges will establish
departments of Geography, and few are likely to hire geographers in other
departments. Accordingly, it is necessary for institutions like ourselves
to develop the spatial
perspective in other disciplinary settings, with appropriate support and
The yawning gap my LAAP proposal (at www.wlu.edu/~hblackme/giswork/laap.html) was attempting to fill is a real gap: without institutional support it is very difficult to develop GIS skills and introduce spatial components into courses. Creative means to share the costs of development and acquisition and distribution of data are a necessity, and consortial arrangements may be the best bet. I'm not convinced that the energies put into grant proposals are appropriately invested, but it does seem that we at W&L are further along the path toward developing workable solutions to the problem of promulgating GIS in the liberal arts context. John Blackburn and I are attempting to involve Wayne Anderson of ACS in discussions of this problem.
5. Global and
My various writings on
this general subject over the last 15 months have emphasized the
importance of involvement with data and the
necessity of transdisciplinary
approaches to real-world issues and problems. The data are readily
available to support teaching about global problems, and it
is increasingly obvious that it is
important for educated people to know how to learn about issues at
transnational scales. But how can faculty in various disciplines be
encouraged to engage in interdisciplinary teaching experiments? Some level
of institutional commitment is a necessity, and must include
access to necessary resources, support, and appropriate
incentives. The site license for ArcView is an excellent start; the work
John Blackburn and I are doing with the GIS area on the Miley server is
another brick in the edifice.
At the conference
I learned that ESRI will be releasing ArcGIS in 2001, an evolution
ArcView which will use Visual Basic as its programming and customization
language --so I'm pretty sure that I need to learn Visual
Basic. Web development in the direction of integration with relational
databases makes it also desirable to learn ASP and XML and Access... and
doubtless the list will continue to grow. These explorations are an
essential part of what I think of as my responsibilities as a librarian,
though they are tangential to the conventional job description.
amounts of digital data intended for GIS use)
www.gis.com (a good source for basic
introduction to core concepts of GIS)
(Internet Map Server with several illustrative applications)
www.dlese.org (Digital Library for
Earth System Education)
www.gisdatadepot.com (a source
for digital datasets)
(contributed course materials and instructions for teachers)
California Earthquake Data Center)
(National Elevation Data Center)
6. Some software competencies
In the past decade I've explored a pretty wide array of software in the
context of developing the skills and perspectives of an information
specialist. I can't claim great expertise --I've tended to learn enough to
do what I needed to, or to talk with people more proficient than I, but
the adventure has been continual, and heavily dependent upon the
kindness of strangers and connivance with a number of people in
University Computing. In the last
two years GIS has occupied
the central place in my development of software skills. The
support of the Dean of the College has been especially important in my
Some especially useful websites mentioned at the conference:
At the conference I learned that ESRI will be releasing ArcGIS in 2001, an evolution of ArcView which will use Visual Basic as its programming and customization language --so I'm pretty sure that I need to learn Visual Basic. Web development in the direction of integration with relational databases makes it also desirable to learn ASP and XML and Access... and doubtless the list will continue to grow. These explorations are an essential part of what I think of as my responsibilities as a librarian, though they are tangential to the conventional job description.
www.geographynetwork.com (vast amounts of digital data intended for GIS use)
www.gis.com (a good source for basic introduction to core concepts of GIS)
stormking.colorado.edu/atlas (Internet Map Server with several illustrative applications)
www.dlese.org (Digital Library for Earth System Education)
www.gisdatadepot.com (a source for digital datasets)
earthexplorer.usgs.gov (new USGS service)
www.esri.com/arclessons (contributed course materials and instructions for teachers)
www.scecdc.scec.org (Southern California Earthquake Data Center)
edcnts12.cr.usgs.gov/ned (National Elevation Data Center)