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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.
Wenquan (Charles) Zhang
Affiliation: Department of Sociology, Brown University / Texas A&M University
Notable Achievements in His Own Words
Prior to attending the workshop, I had had some exposure to GIS-based spatial analytical methods, solely understood and incorporated as research tools. The . . . workshop effectively demonstrated the need of spatial teaching in the classroom, and made me realize the important position that it should occupy in undergraduate curriculum
I taught an Intro-GIS course for the Department of Sociology at Brown University fall 2005. At the outset, I made a conscious effort to distinguish it from the traditional GIS courses offered in geography or geology department. That is within the general framework of GIS teaching, to devise a curriculum that fits the needs of non-geography/geology social science students.
Specifically, I emphasize two aspects in constructing the curriculum. First, philosophically, instead of the thorough exposition of the complete arsenal of the theoretical and methodological components, and heavy emphasis on technical details of the methodology used in spatial analysis/GIS analytical tools, I pay more attention to the general principles underlying those methods, and to a selective set of functions/applications that are most commonly used in social science studies. In addition, instead of covering all the aspects of all the topics, I strive to teach students the ability to learn on their own by using manuals and “Help” functions within the software.
Second, practically, I achieve the pedagogical goals in my lectures by introducing established examples drawn from current literature of GIS applications in various disciplines of social sciences to broaden students' views and imagination of their usage, and demonstrate its growing importance/relevance. In lab exercises, I incorporate real social science data, such as decennial US census Summary files, to address real social and economic problems, and conduct hypothesis testing and spatially based statistical analysis. Finally, as a part of the course requirement, the students are also encouraged to base their independent course project on their special research interest.
The combination of these steps serve to inspire and maintain interests by putting tools in the students' hands that can be readily applied to the problems that they already have in mind, and let them quickly realize the improvement to the quality of their projects, and, more importantly, their way of thinking with the addition of GIS components.
I will attend training sessions on ArcIMS hosted by ESRI. Fully recognizing the importance of GIS based spatial dimension in our teaching and research, over time, I also came to realize the power of web-based GIS as a teaching tool, as well as in servicing the public interest, disseminating academic knowledge and findings to the society to impact the life of real people.
When we take advantage of this powerful medium- the internet, we can reach a much broader audience beyond the classroom or our specific academic field. The web-based GIS systems enable us to more accurately, more vividly, and more promptly describe the world and society, and pass on the new knowledge to turn the fruit of typical academic research into direct help to people by providing useful assistance to policy makers.
There has been this long standing disconnect between social science research and the application of new knowledge. And it has been the goal of many social scientists to bridge the Ivory Tower and the real world. The marriage of these two powerful tools provides enormous potential to maximize the benefit and impacts of GIS incorporated social scientific teaching and research.