Notes & Ideas: Paperless, Wireless, Inkless Mapping

by Meg E. Stewart

Originally Published September 25th, 2006

By now most in academia know of GIS, especially those reading an online journal discussing digital technologies in the liberal arts. GIS, or geographic information systems, is mapping on computers. GIS is visualization of geographic data, whether it be from one layer showing demographics taken in the recent census, to many layers that provide information on the surface of the earth (such as soil, topography, or infrastructure), below the surface (the geology), and above the surface (air quality or temperature, for example). GIS is used for analyzing geospatial relationships. One can look at those many layers and make spatial analyses across and between the variables.

Continue reading

Putting Study Abroad on the Map

by Jeff Howarth, Assistant Professor, Middlebury College

(Originally Posted September 28th, 2010)

“Each year about 60% of the junior class at Middlebury studies abroad in more than 40 countries at more than 90 different programs and universities.”

When I read this sentence on the Middlebury College Web site, I thought to myself: that’s a dataset that my students ought to map. I knew that there had to be a dataset behind that sentence, something that the author could summarize by counting the number of different countries, programs and students. But I imagined this dataset could show us much more if we represented it spatially and visually rather than just verbally. I didn’t know exactly what it might show, but I knew that my cartography students could figure that out as long as I taught them the technical skills for handing the data and the general concepts for visualizing multivariate data. What they decided to make with this knowledge was up to them.

Increasingly, teaching cartography involves training students on specific software platforms while communicating more general principles of the craft. This presents the need to design instructional materials that connect technical skills with thematic concepts while allowing students to creatively achieve the broader educational objectives of a liberal education. As an instructor of cartography at Middlebury College, I have largely followed a project-based learning approach focused on the process of cartographic design. My learning objectives seek to link techniques and concepts in an extended creative procedure that involves data management, problem setting, problem solving and reflection. At different steps along the way, the students must make their own design decisions, applying the available means to their chosen ends. Here, I describe the case of mapping the study abroad program in order to illustrate the general approach of integrating technical and conceptual teaching through design problems.

Continue reading