15th September, 2011 13:30-14:30

Understanding and Nurturing Spatial Literacy

Sarah Bednarz and Karen Kemp

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In 2006 Michael Goodchild characterized spatial literacy as the ability to “capture and communicate knowledge in the form of a map, understand and recognize the world as viewed from above, recognize and interpret patterns, know that geography is more than just a list of places on the Earth’s surface, see the value of geography as a basis for organizing and discovering information, and comprehend such basic concepts as scale and spatial resolution.” This encompasses a broad range of perspectives, knowledge, skills, and habits of mind, or dispositions loosely categorized as spatial thinking. It also encompasses a range of competencies, from the very general level of spatial abilities described by Goodchild to the advanced expertise of a highly trained geospatial analyst. Spatial reasoning may be further distinguished as the specific processes applied while thinking spatially to solve problems and make decisions. Spatial literacy is the outcome of spatial thinking and spatial reasoning: if one can think and reason in, with, and about space, one can be considered approaching a degree of spatial literacy.

In this session we will follow a model used by Downs (1994) to reflect on the character, nature, and development of spatial literacy. We intend to explore a series of questions, including how can spatial literacy be characterized across a continuum of expertise; how does expertise in spatial thinking and reasoning develop; how can spatial literacy be measured and evaluated; and how can we nurture spatial literacy in society and in our research and teaching. By focusing on the necessary educational foundations required for spatial literacy, specifically ways in which geography and other science educators at all education levels can explicitly teach spatial concepts, the use of spatial representations, and processes of spatial reasoning to students, we hope to help set an agenda for future work. We will also consider the need for spatial literacy in the workplace, and how educators can help professionals enhance their spatial abilities. The session will end with a discussion in how to implement the ideas presented.

  • References
  • Downs, R. (1994)Being and Becoming a Geographer: An Agenda for Geography Education. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 84(2):175-191.
  • Goodchild, M. (2006). The fourth R? Rethinking GIS education. ArcNews, 28(3):5-7.

  • Speakers
  • Sarah Bednarz
  • Sarah Witham Bednarz is a professor of geography and Associate Dean for the College of Geosciences at Texas A&M University. She is currently chairing the Geographical Sciences Education Research Committee (GSERC) as part of a joint AAG/NGS project funded by the National Science Foundation.

  • Karen Kemp
  • Karen Kemp is Professor of Spatial Sciences at the University of Southern California. She teaches full-time in USC's on-line Masters in GIS&T Program and undertakes projects blending Western and Hawaiian science through GIS from her home on the Island of Hawai'i.