People understand and relate to issues and problems that are near to them more quickly and effectively. This is particularly the case in Europe. While basic GIS concepts are universal and are needed and applied in a similar fashion around the globe, a case can be made for including local / regional data, spatial issues and related background information into teaching and instructional materials.
A common issue that many European students voice, for example, is that many of the teaching materials originate from outside of Europe. A need exists for GIS and spatially related teaching material to include cultural, language and data for problems and issues they read and see in news and come across during their daily lives.
This does not mean to imply that educational materials originating from outside of Europe are not useful. It simply means that those materials need supplementary support through the availability of localized materials.
The European Union is comprised of 27 Member States, and many of the policies and Directives, such as the Infrastructure for Spatial Information in Europe (INSPIRE) are specifically oriented toward specifics aligned with legislation, policy and procedures of a pan-European nature. Keeping in mind that not all European countries are Members of the Union, it can then be seen that countries and areas located side-by-side may have unique and differing policies and requirements for approaching spatial problems.
Consider the development of spatial data infrastructure (SDI), for example. These projects tend to be based on local / regional understanding, funded locally and used for regional applications and studies. In a sense, I would argue that the effective development of SDI across Europe will, in part, be largely regulated to the amounts and kinds of teaching and educational materials originating in Europe, understanding the uniqueness of the regional SDI issues and capable of incorporating enough detail to secure their funding (and understanding).
Is this only an issue for Europe? No. It applies to Asia, Australia, the Middle East and elsewhere. We need to understand GIS and associated spatial tools both in their basic universal forms involving conceptual knowledge, but we also need to be able to adapt, integrate and apply that knowledge to local and regional context.
When we help students and politicians see and understand spatially related problems in their neighbourhoods and cities, then we can expect policies and change to take on new challenges, innovate and to develop greater capacity for adaptation and sustainability.
To be blunt, I think European companies and governments need to make more spatial data available for educational purposes. But they also need to develop a willingness to get out of the lab or office and to discuss issues one-on-one with students and to share the wealth of intelligence in their brains. This sharing of data and knowledge will create a wealth of information and resources that will enable teaching and educational staff together with writer’s, the opportunity to begin writing more books and materials of a more localised nature.
GIS and spatial tools hold a spatial place in educating students and the public about community problems and issues. If we want to change, then we need to invest in local spatial education materials to support the many fine books produced for basic and global use.
Note: This column alternates weekly. Jeff Thurston is editor Europe, Middle East, Africa and Russia for V1 Magazine and V1 Energy magazine.