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Instructional Development Award Recipients

Several undergraduate instructors who attended the 2004 SPACE workshops were awarded funds to continue their efforts in integrating spatial analysis into their course curriculums. These pages showcase their achievements. See the full recipient list.

Owen Dwyer

Affiliation: Geography, Indiana University, Indianapolis
Workshop Attended: GIS and Spatial Modeling for Use in Undergraduate Education
Accomplishment: Developed a course exercise to measure the influence of distance on society, using the gravity model as a basis for students to apply and think critically about spatial modeling.

Notable Achievements in His Own Words

I'm happy to report that Mei-Po Kwan, Morton O'Kelly and Company delivered the intellectual goods! I came home with loads of good ideas to complement my existing exercises.
Owen Dwyer

I teach our department's course in the history and philosophy of geography. The intent of the course is to introduce our majors to the notion of "thinking geographically" about the world around them. Upon arriving in Indianapolis, I inherited the course from a colleague who was deeply frustrated with it. I soon learned why he was so disappointed: the curriculum was exclusively text-based! The students spent their time READING about geography instead of DOING it. There were no lab or field exercises. I set out to find a more engaging balance, one that would invite students to think with spatial analytic concepts and technology, rather than simply memorizing passages from the textbook for the inevitable exam.

To get a handle on the pedagogy of a discovery-centered classroom, I attended two active-learning workshops hosted by our campus' center for teaching and learning. Simultaneously, I began to look for hands-on exercises in spatial analysis and attended two ESRI-led workshops on the rudiments of ArcGIS. I learned about SPACE by happenstance while at a GeoDa workshop presented by Luc Anselin at the Philadelphia AAG meeting. He highly recommended the workshops and I applied immediately. Fortunately for me I was selected. I'm happy to report that Mei-Po Kwan, Morton O'Kelly and Company delivered the intellectual goods! I came home with loads of good ideas to complement my existing exercises.

I introduced my first SPACE-inspired exercise this past fall semester. I wanted to get the students thinking about the influence of distance on society; the gravity model seemed like an ideal way to do this and it offered the opportunity to discuss modeling more generally. I presented the concept in the context of enrollment at our campus; the registrar's office kindly provided me with a spreadsheet of the number of incoming freshman from each county in the state. I assigned background readings from Gould's The Geographer at Work, Haggett's introductory textbook, and Abler/Adams/Gould's Spatial Organization. The assigned chapters are written in such a manner that the students got an excellent grasp of the basic ideas; I knew this in part because the results of the on-line, pre-class reading quiz were very good. We spent most of our lecture-time discussing the impact on interactions when distance increased, the historic trend in friction of distance, and alternative measures of distance and population.

During the lab-portion of the exercise I presented the class with a five-column spreadsheet:

  • College-age population (18-24) for each county in the state
  • Distance from each county's centroid to our campus
  • Interactions as predicted by the simple operation of college-age population divided by distance (to be calculated by them)
  • The actual number of students from each county enrolled on our campus
  • The residual difference between the actual and predicted enrollment

Some of the students were unfamiliar with spreadsheets so I walked them through the calculation for interactions and the residual difference. Most of them were mystified by the significance of a negative residual and wondered aloud what it could mean; one of the brightest students related it back to the formula without my prompting. Then we moved the spreadsheet data into ArcGIS and took a look at a map of the residuals. This is when the students begin to think like spatial analysts. I am still relatively new to Indiana and I relied on the students to offer plausible reasons for the map's appearance. In response, they excitedly volunteered information and opinions about where the best high schools are located, ease of commuting, and wealth distribution. In the course of the discussion, several students complained that the model was a very poor predictor of how many of their fellow students would come from where. I took this opportunity to discuss the value of modeling: despite its poor results, the gravity model acted as a prompt to our questioning and thinking. Armed with its results, the school could better target its recruiting efforts.

Next semester, I plan on extending the success of this exercise. The students really engaged with enrollment data; I think they immediately perceived its relevance to their lives. Thus, I think I will try to relate other exercises directly to our campus. Haggett's "On the Beach" chapter comes immediately to mind. Why not ask the students to map the density surface at lunch time in the food court? What about calculating a segregation index for the same space? I think I will be able to come up with exercises analogous to Haggett's chapter that will get my students thinking with geography, rather than just memorizing it.

Future Participation

I have enrolled in four spatial-analysis related workshops at the Denver AAG meeting that I believe will be extremely beneficial:

  • Teaching Geography with ArcGIS
  • Spatial Analysis with ArcGIS
  • Grid-based GIS modeling; and
  • Resources for Spatial Thinking

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