Using Geographic Information Systems in Educational Research: A Beginner's Exercise

Using Geographic Information Systems in Educational Research: A Beginner's Exercise

Elizabeth A. Gilblom (North Dakota State University, USA) and Hilla I. Sang (University of Nevada, Las Vegas, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 38
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1173-2.ch009
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The chapter introduces education researchers to geographic information systems (GIS) and the significant value of incorporating a geospatial perspective within research. The GIS approach to studying and presenting data incorporates geographic location and uses maps to visualize relationships for spatial and nonspatial variables, both of which enhance education research by visualizing local geographies. This chapter unfolds as a step-by-step guide that prepares researchers to identify the data needed for a GIS exercise, to collect or retrieve the data, clean and upload the data to ArcMap, georeferenced and symbolize the data, and interpret and present the results in a manuscript. After completing the exercise, researchers will have a basic understanding of ArcMap functionality and how integrating a geospatial perspective in educational research offers insights that may have otherwise been overlooked when using quantitative research methods alone.
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A GIS creates interactive and comprehensive visualizations that simplify understanding of the relationships, patterns and trends among georeferenced data, or data that is associated with a location in physical space, that helps users express multifaceted stories in a comprehensible way (Knowles & Hillier, 2008). GIS visualizes databases of spatial information stored in the GIS program and allows users to interact with and analyze the mapped data to investigate relationships based on spatial patterns. This technology allows education researchers to identify social, economic and educational patterns in a way that was previously impossible.

GIS mapping software combines three components: geography, information and systems. Geography refers to location and spatial context. Information refers to the databases and tables used to create visualizations. Systems is the integration of computer software, hardware and data. Geography is also associated with human characteristics and activities, including demographics (ethnicity, age, educational attainment); socioeconomics (income level); and education (test scores, student racial and socioeconomic characteristics, school ranking). Each of these characteristics can be connected to a location and placed on a map.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Classification: The process of splitting a continuous variable into groups or categories. On a map, the classified variable is presented as gradations of a color.

Layer: A specific data variable that is overlaid on a map. Maps are made of layers, each representing a specific variable in a dataset.

Geospatial Information: The identifying geographic information of natural and manmade objects on the Earth’s surface.

Table of Contents (TOC): A pane in ArcMap that shows how the data is symbolized.

Symbology: The use of symbols to define how geographic features are represented on a map.

Attribute: Descriptive information about the features on a map, such as the demographics of a neighborhood, stored in a table.

Normalization: A process that divides the values of a variable by the total of the variable or by values of another variable.

Geographic Information System (GIS): A software program that visualizes and analyzes geographic data.

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