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Assessing GIS learning using a timed end-of-course GIS software-based exam

Authors: Paddington Hodza*, Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center, Jeffrey Hamerlinck, Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center, Margo Berendsen, Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center
Topics: Geographic Information Science and Systems, Geography Education
Keywords: GIS learning, classroom assessment, spatial thinking, formative assessment, summative assessment
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Learning about and with GIS is basically a hands-on and activity-based enterprise which exploits and benefits from on one or more geospatial software to understand and solve complex geospatial problems. Time is of the essence in generating and acting on reliable GIS information in search and rescue operations, wildland firefighting, warfare and many other time-critical applications. Students must learn to successfully apply GIS tools and information in a timely manner, under pressure and within limited timeframes. Experts agree that effective classroom assessment of student learning involves the use of both well-designed and well-aligned formative and summative GIS instruments. Our main interest is in the latter which commonly take the form of timed exams typically incorporating multiple choice or short answer questions or both. We contend that end of course GIS exams that do not include software-based exercises are severely limited and consequently seek to fill this gap. We design and pilot a 30-minute long hands-on exam comprising six ‘neutral’ exercises each one covering several core GIS concepts and functions. We discuss associated challenges plus exam results, student feedback and the grading procedure. The main finding is that carefully prepared hands-on exams can be used to effectively generate insight into the degree to which students understood GIS and spatial concepts and developed useful GIS problem-solving skills in a course. Care must be taken to define and ask students to share intermediate GIS outputs without giving too much information about the steps of solving given geospatial problems.

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