ArcIMS at Washington & Lee: outreach to community organizations and campus applications

The great ecological issues of our time have to do in one way or another with our failure to see things in their entirety. That failure occurs when minds are taught to think in boxes and not taught  to transcend those boxes or to question overly much how they fit with other boxes. We educate lots of in the box thinkers who perform within their various specialties rather like a dog kept in the yard by an electronic barrier.  And there is a connection between knowledge organized in boxes, minds that stay in those boxes, and degraded ecologies and global imbalances. (David Orr, Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect [1994] pp. 94-95)
Liberal arts colleges have often appeared to be islands of scholarship and learning, insulated from their surroundings and largely concerned with preparing their students for careers in other places. Most have little connection to the life of their surrounding regions. GIS as a teaching and learning tool can do a great deal to build the synoptic view that Orr advocates: college students surely need to increase and improve their connections to the international and global systems that are their future, and they might well begin by developing a data-based sense of place about surrounding local and regional systems. Colleges can develop service learning courses to address  local issues, but it is also important for students to have experience in distributing the knowledge gained to the broader community. Internet Map Server technology offers this capability for spatial data, and provides support for development of collaborations with a broad range of local and regional organizations.

What follows is a sketch of extracurricular uses we propose for ArcIMS. Some can be implemented immediately, while others are projects that will develop over the next year or two, as W&L users realize the potentials of serving maps on the Web, and as more instructors become active users of spatial data. We emphasize efforts to use W&L's computing power to develop a shared platform from which to serve data, and we continue to seek collaborations with extramural organizations and institutions.

In the realms of campus curriculum development, we anticipate that ArcIMS applications such as the above will encourage instructors in many departments to become interested in active use of maps and spatial data in their courses. At present, GIS is used in courses in Geology and East Asian Studies, and will be at the center of a spring term course in Politics (Politics 295 Seminar in Technology and Politics: the 2000 Census and the New Political Map [supported by an Associated Colleges of the South Technology Fellowship, using ArcView and AutoBound]). These existing courses would benefit from the possibility to distribute maps with ArcIMS, both for instructional purposes and as examples of experiments in teaching with GIS. ArcIMS will also support Washington & Lee's efforts to build transdisciplinary collaborations via  programs which cut across traditional departmental identities and seek broader perspectives. Three of these address questions with substantial spatial components: the Shepherd Poverty Program, the Environmental Studies Program,  and the newly-funded Program for Education in Global Stewardship. Each of these programs seeks to include a service learning component which could make interesting use of ArcIMS: thus, the Water Resources course is designing remediation structures and educational outreach (involving local schools) for a tributary of the Maury River which flows through the W&L and VMI campuses, and the Poverty Program sponsors summer placements with non-profit agencies. The Global Stewardship Program will involve students in data analysis and map construction with continental and global datasets.

ArcIMS will broaden what we can do in encouraging the use of spatial data, and augment our students' capability to distribute the products of their research to audiences near and far; we will also have the means to create and sustain productive alliances with educational, governmental, and citizen institutions and organizations in Rockbridge County and elsewhere. See the project log at

Hugh Blackmer
Science Librarian

John Blackburn
Instructional Technology Specialist

Washington & Lee University
Lexington VA 24450