FOSS4G 2023

Jakub Trojan

Passionate geographer, open source advocate, citizen science enthusiast.


Adaptation of QGIS tools in high school geography education
Jakub Trojan

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) has been around for more than 60 years. It has become a significant part of many scientific disciplines with a spatial component. In the last decades the educators have been trying to figure out a way, how to adopt its tools for their own field of study, the classrooms (Milson et al., 2012). Since then, several studies of their efforts have been carried out. Thanks to the emergence of open source software and open data, new opportunities for their visions have unfolded (Petráš, 2015). Particularly QGIS, in environments where teachers do not have access to sufficient funding, has been lately getting more attention.

Educators, backed up by years of research, believe that by collecting, displaying and analyzing spatial data, students can solve local problems, foster and drive their learning process of geography phenomena. After the use of GIS they are supposed to gain digital skills and extraordinary thinking that can be essential for their future careers and be motivated to pursue a career in science and engineering (Bednarz, 2004).

Implementation of GIS software into high school geography classes is, however, a lengthy process that requires a lot of patience and confidence. A teacher may come across four major obstacles: 1) lack of hardware, software or data, 2) lack of teacher training and materials, 3) lack of support for innovations, and 4) lack of time to learn and teach GIS (Kerski, 2003). The biggest issue has come to be the insufficient pre-service and in-service teacher training in geoinformatics and its application. A recent systematic study (Bernhäuserová et al., 2022) has concluded that the majority of the limits were related to teachers and resources.

In our study, we have tried to create strategies that can lead to the successful adaptation of QGIS tools in high school geography education. To reach out the goal and answer more questions, we have designed ten lectures that focus on the basics of QGIS. We drew inspiration from several official QGIS cookbooks and manuals. In each lesson, we applied a set of the most essential tools. For our study, we chose a qualitative method of design-based research (DBR), which focuses on designing study materials, testing them in classes and coming up with a theory (methodic) that can innovate learning environemnts (Bakker, 2018). To pilot our ready-to-use lectures and data, we have partnered with a 4-year South Moravian high school based in Brno, Czechia, which offered us two classes of second and final-year students. The research lasted three months, during which we taught 12 courses. Older students tried out lectures 1 to 7, except 6 (1 and 2 at home) and younger students tried lectures 1 to 3 and 8 to 9. After every class, students had to fill out a short questionnaire reflecting on their feelings and experience. They had to do a set of exercises for each lecture as homework and turn it in along with the finished maps. At the end of each trial, the groups were tested on their knowledge. Based on the observation that was carried each class, three categories according to the students' experience were drown out: ones that had no problem following the lecturer´s instructions, ones that often faced problems and those that worked individually. Students were asked to identify with one of them and then asked to participate in a voluntary interview, in which their experience would be discussed.

During both trials, students had to bring their own computers, which for some, caused several issues, from failed installations to technical complications during each lecture. The large number of students in each class (app. 30) also proved that the lecturer cannot assist every student in such conditions. Students chose different approaches and strategies. Most of them wanted to finish the task and faced no problems. A much smaller amount focused on understanding and worked individually. Only a few played with the program and found interest in it. In each group, only one student had previous experience with QGIS. However, most of the students understood every lecture, and found its content enjoyable, and in the test, they have proven to learn the basics of the program. If it would be up to them, they would implement GIS in the geography curriculum, change the tempo of the lectures (to progress more slowly) and divide them into smaller groups, which would benefit both parties. The older students were less motivated to participate; they were used to classes that were more passive and did to have enough free time to focus on anything except their graduation exam. Younger students were easier to motivate; more of them were interested in geography and had more time for homework. Both groups have produced unique maps, which display their gradually gained cartography skills and knowledge. They advise anyone interested in learning QGIS to have enough patience, gather good learning materials (referring to the ones we made) and work on a computer they know very well.

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