Benefits of GIS for STEM Education


Geographic information systems have found their use in various areas of human activity. GIS has proven to be very useful in handling massive geographical data.

For instance, CDC uses GIS to map the spread of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, reproductive and bacterial illnesses. The organization also uses GIS to pull the data on the spread of COVID-19 to prevent outbreaks. But how can we use GIS in education and STEM education, in particular? Have there been any successful applications of this technology in this field?

Let’s take a closer look.


The Main Benefits of GIS for STEM Education

We define GIS as a system of mining, storing, managing, and visualizing different types of geographical data. GIS is usually the combination of human labor and software tools that help manage large datasets.


Geographic information systems can come in handy during STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) classes if they involve spatial science. GIS can help STEM students:

  • Understand complex scientific concepts better. GIS involves data visualization, which can be very helpful when teaching students difficult concepts related to geography, earth science, math, biology, chemistry, etc.

  • Do in-depth research. GIS can be used in demographical, geographical, and geological studies.

  • Improve map literacy. Since GIS involves mapping, teachers can use it to help students learn how to read maps properly.

  • Analyse dynamic content. GIS maps are based on big data that can change every minute. Involving GIS in STEM classes will help students learn how to interpret dynamic content, which is an instrumental skill for future engineers.

  • Get better at planning. Data is often used in technology and engineering for planning purposes. Involving GIS in STEM lectures will help students learn the patterns, how to incorporate data into planning.

In general, geographic information systems are an excellent research tool for STEM students. Teachers can use it both to make the class more engaging and let students learn how to be creative with big data.


How Do Students Respond to Using GIS During STEM Classes?

There are a few studies on how both teachers and students respond to using GIS during STEM classes.


The research on the role of GIS in science classrooms has shown that students respond well to using this technology for educational purposes. The participants of the research found GIS enjoyable and informative. Besides, students found it easier to focus on tasks if they involved GIS.


The teachers that participated in this study highlighted the importance of GIS in scientific modelling. They saw that GIS helps students visualize data easier, which made a massive difference in how students perceived and memorized the information during classes.


Another study investigated the impact of GIS on K-12 students. This research found that GIS incorporated into a K-12 STEM curriculum can help students acquire spatial thinking skills. Besides, students also reported memory improvements.


Why does GIS work so well in STEM education?

Mostly, GIS is advantageous due to the data visualization it offers. Not all students are capable of grasping complex scientific concepts right away. Besides, not all students are audial learners. Most of them need visualization to get a profound understanding of difficult scientific notions.


Apart from that, GIS has a few solid applications in modelling and engineering, which can help students learn practical data management skills that would benefit them in the long run.


When it comes to teaching, GIS can be involved in problem-based learning. Linda Ferguson, the CEO of Subjecto, says teachers can use data samples describing a certain real-life problem, have students investigate this problem, and make analytical conclusions.


In general, the greatest perk of GIS for STEM education is that it makes instruction based on reality. Students learn how to apply their knowledge right away instead of dealing with hypothetical situations. As a result, they won’t have problems using the acquired knowledge and skills later in life.


Real-Life Applications of GIS in STEM Education

Geographic information systems are not something new to STEM education. Back in 2012, Esri, a renowned geographic information system company, surveyed teachers from different schools and drafted a presentation on how GIS could transform STEM education.


For example, Steve Obenhaus, a math teacher at Olathe North High School, incorporated GIS into his classes. Students used this technology to solve spatial problems, perform multiple analytic functions, and track spatial patterns that a table or a chart wouldn’t be able to visualize.


Penny Carpenter, a teacher at Lubbock Independent School District, taught her students how to use GIS to track H1N1 flu. Together, they monitored the spread of the disease to inform the community. Carpenter and her students also build a map that tracked how flu spread in Texas and other regions. As you can see, it’s hard to underestimate the GIS’s role in STEM education, considering that it’s been involved in STEM classes for almost a decade. Teachers recognize this technology as extremely helpful, which both see from the studies and real-life applications. And students enjoy using GIS to expand their knowledge of geographical data and improve their spatial skills.


Wrapping Up

GIS can come in handy during STEM classes, and we’ve discussed quite a few applications of these systems in teaching science, technology, engineering, and math.

Teachers can use GIS to help students:

  • study climate change

  • design models

  • analyse geologic samples

  • explore the data from archaeological sites

  • visualize spatial problems and solve them

These are only a few examples of how GIS can advance STEM education.

However, there are two obstacles to using GIS during STEM classes. First, it should become more accepted on the national level. Regulatory bodies need to promote this technology as helpful and advantageous both for teachers and students.


Apart from that, teachers need to have access to extensive GIS training to be able to offer students more opportunities to take advantage of it. Hopefully, as we see more technology being involved in education, GIS will finally take its rightful place as a strategy to teach students valuable skills.


This blog was adapted from GIS Resources (2021) Benefits of GIS for STEM Education.


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