A Foundation for Spatial Thinking: Towards a Threshold Concept Framework in GIScience and its Implications for STEM Education

Authors: Su-Yin Tan*, University of Waterloo, Seung Beom Hamm, University of Waterloo, Dongrong Li, University of Waterloo, James McCarthy, University of Waterloo
Topics: Geographic Information Science and Systems, Geography Education, Higher Education
Keywords: GIS, GIScience, threshold concepts, learning, teaching, education, spatial thinking, STEM, higher education
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 12:40 PM / 2:20 PM
Room: Studio 4, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper offers insights into the efficacy of teaching and learning in GIScience and potential implications for STEM education by adopting the notion of threshold concepts as a theoretical framework. Few empirical research studies exist that explore learner insights on this topic. Our study is based on data collected through survey questionnaires and personal interviews administered in an introductory GIS course at the University of Waterloo located in Ontario, Canada. Threshold concepts were explored and examined based on their transformative, irreversible, integrative, bounded, and troublesome characteristics. Findings from this study suggest that the most prominent threshold concepts perceived by GIScience students were map projections and types of data models, which once understood, are likely to open up new and previously inaccessible ways of thinking. Student characteristics that tend to promote understanding of such concepts and proficiency in GIS learning were identified, including academic preparedness, educational status, study major, type of academic background, and prior learning experience in mathematics, GIS, programming, or computer science. Implications for effective GIS learning include enhanced spatial thinking ability, as well as critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which also help to promote engagement, interest, and self-confidence in pursuing STEM-related fields.

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