Connecting Spatial Literacy and Climate Literacy Using a Place-Based GIS Approach in a Collaborative Online Educational Setting

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Russanne Low, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, School of Natural Resources, Lincoln, NE, United States, Rebecca A Boger, CUNY Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, NY, United States and Carole A Mandryk, 3c2e Climate Change Education Consulting Evaluation, Boulder, CO, United States
On-line learning is already revolutionizing higher education, and emerging cloud-based Geographic Information System (GIS) capabilities are poised to revolutionize the acquisition and sharing of spatial knowledge in a variety of fields. In this project, we deployed ESRI’s ArcGIS Online in an on-line course environment to provide a place-based quantitative exploration of the impacts of environmental changes specifically related to climate change.

As spatial thinking is not necessarily transferrable from one domain to another, we hypothesized that combining spatial literacy and climate change domain knowledge would transform student conceptions and mental models of climate change in measurable ways. To this end, we adapted and employed existing instruments for pre- post testing of general pattern recognition, interpretation, and spatial transformational skills, as well as climate system content knowledge and attitudes.

A collaborative on-line course platform offered to students from University of Nebraska, Lincoln and from City College of New York (CUNY) colleges, Brooklyn and Lehman, brought to the discussion distinct urban and rural perspectives, which were the basis of place-based climate, water and food explorations in the course. The course has been offered 3 times in a shared LMS over the past 3 years.

Participants in the most recent iteration of the course demonstrated statistically significant improvements in spatial skills, but they did not show the expected statistically significant improvement overall in climate knowledge that we see in other online courses where climate change literacy is the sole focus of the course. Ongoing research by our team shows strong correlation between active peer engagement in online discussions and student learning outcomes. Student-initiated discussions in the GIS-based climate change courses revealed a shift away from discussing the climate change science and a focus on technology and analyzing the spatial products created using GIS. As we improve the effectiveness of this course, we will be developing interventions in the discussion board activities that we hypothesize will increase the effectiveness of climate knowledge construction in future iterations.