Geovisualization and GIScience

Kraak (2002) Geovisualization illustrated

“Geography and GIS are more than just maps” is a common phrase heard in undergraduate geography courses around the world. Indeed, many discussions in GEOG 506 revolve around this issue. Breaking down conventional beliefs such as GIS as contemporary cartography, framing GIS as a tool, or opening and unpacking the ‘black box’ are essential themes in the seminar. On this train of thought Kraak (2002) seeks to broaden the possibilities of geospatial datasets beyond the 2D map and statistical output. Instead of an end product, he envisions that diverse geovisualization forms will lead to geospatial exploration, hypotheses building, and ultimately the creation of new knowledge. Following the observation of Finke et al. (1992), Kraak notes that creative discoveries are often a product of unconventional thinking (2002: 391).

While this view is agreeable to most readers, creating environments that facilitate unconventional thinking is not a straightforward task. More often than not, practicality stifles creative conditions. This can largely be attributed to the need to meet demands in the job market, as outgoing students seek to improve their employability. As a result, pedagogical practice tends to deviate from the creative ideal. Conventional practices are taught to the majority of students, cementing their realm of possibilities. In GEOG 201 we focus on learning ArcGIS, the de facto industry standard. When we are equipped with the same tools—and often the same subject matter—we immediately reduce the prospects of diversity. Additionally, due to logistics of undergraduate coursework, students rarely get to see let alone create geovisualizations beyond 2D maps.

There is a reason why most users regard GIS as a tool as opposed to a science. Although there is an incredible amount of abstraction, endless uncertainty, and a discipline wrought with ontological debates, for most this goes unseen. Introductions to GIS claim that it is more, but for students that never reach the level of analysis found in GEOG 506, GIS is merely a tool to create pretty maps. The question is – should this be the norm?



Comments are closed.