Beyond Class Hours: The GIS Lab as a Center of Geographic Education

Beyond Class Hours: The GIS Lab as a Center of Geographic Education

Robert Hickey
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0258-8.ch004
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Much has been written regarding the effectiveness of different teaching styles; however, considerably less has been written about the physical design of computer classrooms and their implications on education. To date, nothing has been written regarding building an informal learning community within a computer classroom, particularly outside of formal class hours. In this paper, the author examines designing an environment in which geography students feel at home, that is, a center of geographic education. Such a center could be defined as a place where students and faculty congregate to create and transmit geographic knowledge. A GIS lab can be such a place if deliberate care and effort are taken to ensure that the lab is multidisciplinary, dynamic, encourages creativity and discourse, and is a think tank for solving geospatial problems. This paper illustrates some proven methods for building such an environment.
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Computer Classroom Design

Much has been written about classrooms, computer laboratories, and their implications on teaching. However, most are written from the perspective of a formal classroom experience – traditional lecture vs. student-centered learning, not as a place where students work on their own time in an unstructured format. Thus, the focus tends to be on the implications of technology on students and faculty and how this then influences education. In particular, the literature compares the traditional “sage on the stage” presentation style with a more student centered, collaborative, and active teaching environment which often relies on technology (Nair, 2000; Halpern, 1994; Kettinger, 1991; Cornell, 2003). Only Czerniewicz and Ng’ambi (2004) discuss time spent in classrooms outside formal class hours; in this case, the authors only examine the computing activities being undertaken by students.

Some have stated that technology-enhanced classrooms are a benefit to education by fostering student interaction with technology, supporting communication/interaction among both faculty and students, and motivating students to learn (Carlson, 2002; Zandvliet & Straker, 2001). However, much of the research provides conflicting results; the real variation in learning may well be primarily due to the skills of the instructor (Bess, 2000) and the interest/learning styles of the students (Hative & Birrenbaum, 2000; Daley et al., 2001). These variables are both very important and very difficult to control.

In addition to the computers themselves, classroom design comes into play when designing a computer lab. Such considerations include size, entrances, windows, finishes, furnishings, acoustics, ergonomics, heating/venting/air conditioning, lighting, and projection requirements (Clabaugh et al., 1996; Callahan, 2004; Jensen, 2005, Chapter 6; Welch, 2005; Zandvliet & Straker, 2001). Students and faculty seem to prefer warm, intimate, and attractive classrooms (Babey, 1991). Comfortable seating helps improve student’s attention spans and their retention of information (Swanquist, 1998).

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