B. Muehlenhaus, H.R. Barcus

Macalester College, Geography Department, Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA


In undergraduate geography programs in the US, there is increasing demand for students to be prepared for real-world project management and possess strong GIS technical skills and cartographic communication skills upon graduation. There is, however, limited time and opportunity within the framework of traditional undergraduate programs to offer this type of hands-on training while simultaneously increasing conceptual and theoretical knowledge and improving technical abilities. In this project we propose a model for integrating community partnerships into real-world GIS and cartography learning opportunities for undergraduate students that 1) increases technical ability; 2) simulates project management strategies; and 3) maintains higher-order learning and academic integrity. Our primary objective is to provide an active learning opportunity that mimics a real-world project scenario within the Geography Departments undergraduate GIS-Cartography curriculum.

Over the past two years we have developed and tested a model for providing this type of learning experience in a course entitled GIS Concepts and Applications. We provide evidence from two different types of projects: one project, the PCEC project, is more research-oriented while another, the Lake Street project, is more design-oriented. Both are examples of how this model can be applied during a single semester with undergraduates who have had only one previous introductory GIS course.

The model is based on three stages with three strands of emphasis. The stages are temporally-based with an initial Set-up and Project Design Phase, followed by an Intermediate Phase and a final Project Completion Phase. Each phase addresses three important strands within the model: Teaching-Learning Environment, Partner Role, and Project Management. For example, the Teaching-Learning Environment strand incorporates background information pertaining specifically to the issues surrounding the project, and site visits. The Partner Role strand focuses on drawing the community partner into the project through discussion of goals, data provision, feedback, and evaluation. This also includes direct interaction with students as well as project planning with faculty. The Project Management strand reinforces sound project management principles such as creating project goals, adhering to timelines, communicating with the community partner and supplying the final product.

Our initial findings suggest that when these partner-based projects are well-designed and managed, students achieve greater technical skills, academic understanding of GIS concepts, and are able to effectively implement GIS projects outside of the classroom. Course evaluations and informal feedback from students support the success of the current model and provide critical feedback for ongoing modifications.