Report of Site Visits in California and Indiana, February 2000

Hugh Blackmer

The proposal for my California trip grew out of work I had done in the previous year toward design of a Global Studies program, centered on

Objectives of Global Studies include broadening student perspectives, encouraging faculty collaboration, and raising the level of geographical literacy among students and professors ( has links to these and related materials I have written in this realm). Throughout, I have seen Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software as a practical means to deliver content and develop analytical skills. These interests go back more than 25 years, and include 15 years of teaching Human Geography (at Acadia University).

In the work of the Committee, I have focused my attention upon on-campus pedagogy and curriculum development more than overseas experience, and on means to create an environment in which students will be encouraged to develop reasons to seek international experience. I have therefore been interested in programs and projects at other institutions which seem to incorporate elements akin to those enumerated above. I am concerned with how to make this happen --how to develop infrastructure, marshal resources, foment collaboration, and provoke interest in libraries and classrooms and departments. After much Web-trolling and explorations at the EDUCAUSE conference in Long Beach (in October 1999) I identified several interlinked programs in California which combine global scope, GIS, digital library development, and undergraduate pedagogy; none integrates all of the elements, but together they are working to address issues that I have identified in my Global Studies proposal.

The possibility of collaboration between Washington & Lee and similar institutions has often been a part of the Committee's discussions, and our participation in programs and initiatives of the Associated Colleges of the South (ACS) seems to offer such an opportunity in the area of Global and International Studies. My own involvement with ACS Environmental Studies, Teaching With Technology, and Information Literacy programs suggested that practical means to realize Global Studies objectives might involve wider collaboration with some or all of the other 14 ACS schools. Announcement of a Department of Education FIPSE program in Distance Education (LAAP: Learn Anytime Anywhere Partnerships) propelled me into six weeks of proposal writing (see for the final product, a Preliminary Proposal for a grant in the amount of $1.1 million, submitted on 2 March), in the midst of which came the California trip. The trip thus provided an opportunity for fact-finding, coalition-building, and reality-checking, which fed directly into an effort to realize some of the goals originally articulated in the Global Studies proposal.

The California portion of the trip was a great success, in that I was able to talk with leaders in several efforts to implement support for data access and other services that bear on Global Studies. Links to a number of illustrative web sites are available at ../giswork/calif.html.

At the Alexandria Digital Library Project (at University of California at Santa Barbara) I spent the morning with Larry Carver (Project Director and long-time animateur of efforts to integrate geographic information into libraries), Greg Hajic, and Mary Larsgaard, and saw the current state of development of a state-wide effort to distribute access to a broad range of spatial imagery and data. I had been attracted to the Alexandria Digital Library Project as an example of an interface that works to give users access to georeferenced information and data, and as a successful integration of library issues with geographical concerns. The only element of the Project now accessible to viewers outside of California is the Gazetteer, so it was essential that I go to UCSB to see the implementation of the interface. Unfortunately, problems with middleware and connections to the storage server at UC San Diego made some parts of the project inaccessible, but I was able to understand the structure of what they have been working on much better, and I have a CD-ROM with a prototype of ADL.

I spent a morning with Howard Foster at the Center for Environmental Design Research at University of California Berkeley, and learned about a number of GIS applications that start from different premises from those of ESRI (the maker of ArcView, which I have been considering the default viewer and creator for GIS materials). The raster-centric and Java delivery environments are important to consider as we plan interface design for our own implementations of digital Earth models, and the work of the Open GIS Consortium ( adds a level of desiderata that I had not considered. Howard Foster also aimed me at several other organizations that I need to explore in more detail.

My visit to Stanford's Branner Earth Sciences Library enabled me to see an example of effective delivery of GIS support for a campus; GIS Specialist Meredith Williams consults with people from an extraordinary range of departments, and assists them with everything from data acquisition to map production. We discussed practical issues of support in library and field contexts, and I was also able to discuss digital collection building and strategies for service development with Charlotte Derksen, the Geology Librarian.

I had seen SRI International's Digital Earth model at EDUCAUSE, and experimented with a reduced version (thanks to Tyler Lorig's gift to the Media Center of a superannuated SGI workstation), and an afternoon at SRI International with Yvan Leclerc, Martin Reddy, and Douglas Gordin introduced me to their work with the Open GIS Consortium and to geoVRML (an extension to Virtual Reality Modeling Language, which adds the elements necessary to realize globe-based streaming delivery of imagery via the Web), and brought the offer of collegial support for our use of geoVRML in designing a delivery system for GIS . Possibilities for a partnership with SRI International's Center for Technology and Learning also exist (they are now partnered with Alexandria Digital Library). Transforming Learning and Traveling through the Digital Earth (, part of a NASA ESE Education proposal, indicates the directions they are taking.

A morning with Michael Phoenix, ESRI's University Representative, resulted in a donation of ArcView licenses to the ACS project outlined in the LAAP grant application (20 licenses for each of 15 campuses, with nominal value of $7500 for each license... you do the math). It seems likely that ACS will develop further collaboration with ESRI even if we are not successful with the LAAP application. Michael Phoenix told me about a number of other projects and initiatives relevant to our plans to develop Global Studies.

On the way back from California I spent a morning at Purdue University, whither I had been attracted by the Web description of their Global Studies Program. The Program seemed to offer a model for integration across the curriculum, incorporating natural sciences and social sciences and management and humanities, but the scale of Purdue (with more than 35,000 students) is such that the reality is not applicable to the circumstances of Washington & Lee or ACS. The Program is in fact a committee that approves existing courses, all of which remain in their respective departments. I saw no opportunity for the sort of interdisciplinary collaboration that my Global Studies proposal envisions, and no interest in development of GIS as a general tool, except insofar as the technology is already used by disciplines. A visit to Carol Kreul, Administrator of the Global Studies Program (located in the International Studies office) was useful in providing details on how the Program is actually run. A requirement for language competence means that few natural science and engineering students actually participate. In parallel with what I found at University of Texas when I sought digital spatial data in the Perry-Castaneda Library, I observe that a large university like Purdue is a congeries of powerful specialized fiefdoms with little communication among them, and scant opportunity for improvisation; we at W&L and in ACS enjoy opportunities for cooperation that are simply unthinkable in conditions of bureaucratic anonymity and departments based on grants-based research programs of constituent faculty.

To summarize: the trip was extremely valuable to the immediate task of completing the LAAP grant proposal, which grew directly from the desiderata identified in my Global Studies proposal. The opportunity to talk with leaders in this realm has clarified how we need to proceed to promulgate GIS as a teaching and learning tool and to create the conditions for collaboration, and also made it clear that we are in fact among the pioneers in these efforts. The observation that educational innovation has historically come from liberal arts colleges is confirmed once again.