Due to the increasing severity and urgency of environmental issues, environmental education (EE) is not only focused on providing environmental literacy, but also tangible skills that can be applied to environmental challenges. The ability for students to use Geospatial Information System (GIS) technology is a valuable skill that can be applied in an environmental context along with other subjects. Incorporating technology into curricula is traditionally difficult for educators, so the Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) framework has been utilized to make the process more straightforward. This study involved 24 middle and high school educators from Los Angeles, CA in a professional development workshop on GIS taught within the TPACK framework and assessed how the workshop impacted the educators' understanding of GIS and their plans to integrate it into their curriculum.
Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) is a framework that helps educators incorporate technology into their curriculum. There are three parts to this framework: Technological Knowledge (TK), Pedagogical Knowledge (PK), and Content Knowledge (CK) which interact with each other similar to a Venn diagram. During education reform in the 1990s, educators were told to focus more on skill building and teaching their students methods of inquiry, as opposed to academic success being defined by factual knowledge. GIS technology fits conveniently into these priorities because it is a tool that encourages active learning. However, GIS was not widely adopted into the curriculum due to a few barriers: 1) hardware and software technology requirements, 2) lack of sufficient training, and 3) lack of administrative support. More recently, however, web-based GIS technology has been developed and reduced some barriers for educators to use GIS in their classrooms.
For this study, Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) helped recruit middle and high school educators to participate in a professional development workshop where they would learn how to integrate GIS into science and social science courses. LACOE advertised the workshop on their website, and 24 individuals attended the on-site portion of the course (17 women, 7 men). The workshop had two goals; 1) provide teachers with basic knowledge on GIS technology and 2) provide teachers with the knowledge and skills to teach through inquiry-based learning. Following the on-site workshop, four online sessions were conducted for the participants to further their education on GIS. Ten participants engaged in the online sessions, which occurred monthly. Participants completed an online survey before and after the one-day workshop. In the pre-workshop survey, participants provided their background information, teaching experience, and confidence levels with technology. In the post-workshop survey, participants were asked to identify how the professional development session had impacted them, and how the sessions might be improved in the future through open-ended questions. After the final online session, three participants from the sessions were chosen to serve as a focus group. They were asked to elaborate on what they found helpful during the sessions and which GIS strategies they planned to use in their classrooms. The conversation from the focus group was transcribed and analyzed for themes. These themes were compared to the open-ended post-workshop survey responses to validate trends and identify if and how the workshops impacted participants.
After the on-site workshop, the majority of participants agreed they planned to utilize the knowledge and skills that they gained. The remaining participants agreed they felt confident in their ability to train others to utilize the knowledge and skills that they acquired. Participants identified three key benefits to using GIS in their classrooms: improving student engagement in learning, allowing students to learn more about their local area, and exposing students to technology used by professionals in the real-world. When asked how participants planned to incorporate GIS into their classrooms, they presented various ideas to utilize the technology across diverse subjects such as history, geography, biology, and physics. Many participants said they planned to have their students make maps with the GIS technology to enhance their studies, which was one of the most clear-cut ways to integrate GIS technology into the classroom. Teachers found the new TK they gained integrated meaningfully with their CK and PK. When asked about which part of the workshop was most useful, many participants highlighted that the pre-designed lesson plan helped them immediately incorporate GIS into their teaching.
This study had a few limitations. The participant group was small and voluntary, meaning that the results are not generalizable. The focus group was especially small, with only three participants. In addition, the data regarding participants' confidence in and plans for incorporating GIS into their curriculum was self-reported and does not reflect how those educators implemented technology in reality.
Educators should utilize GIS as a tool to engage students in active learning and inquiry-based learning where students ask and answer their own questions. This study suggested that GIS professional development workshops taught within the TPACK framework should be conducted to help educators incorporate GIS technology into their curriculum. The workshops should provide a basic understanding of GIS technology, strategies for integrating GIS into educational programming (including pre-designed lesson plans), and time for educators to discuss with one another how they plan to incorporate GIS into their classrooms.
The Bottom Line
<p>An important component of environmental education (EE) is teaching students tangible skills they can apply to environmental issues. Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) technology is a useful tool that students can use to help solve environmental challenges. Still, educators need to be trained to understand GIS themselves and how they can incorporate the technology into their lesson plans. Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) is a framework that helps educators incorporate technology into curriculum. This study investigated how a TPACK-based GIS professional development course in Los Angeles County, CA impacted 24 middle and high school educators. The results showed that the professional development workshop was effective in providing educators with the confidence and strategies to include GIS into their programming. Educators should incorporate GIS in classrooms to promote active and inquiry-based learning.</p>