Conceptions of geographic information systems (GIS) held by senior geography students in Queensland

West, Bryan A. (2008) Conceptions of geographic information systems (GIS) held by senior geography students in Queensland. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Geographical Information Systems (GIS) represent one of the major contributions to spatial analysis and planning of the new technologies. While teachers and others have viewed its potential contribution to geographical education as considerable, it has not been known with any certainty whether they present a valuable educational tool that aids geographical education. The value of GIS to geographical education is viewed as depending on a geographical education being, in itself, valuable.

Within this context, synergetic focus groups are employed to explore the conceptions of GIS held by 109 secondary school students studying Senior Geography in metropolitan and regional Queensland, Australia. A phenomenographic approach is adopted to identify the six qualitatively different ways, or conceptions, in which the participating students experience GIS as:

  1. Maps and a source of maps in geography.

  2. Mapping in geography: a way to use and create maps.

  3. A professional mapping tool: exceeding the needs of senior


  1. Frustrating geography: irksome and presenting many challenges

to the student-user.

  1. Relevant geography: within and beyond the school experience.

  2. A better geography: offering a superior curriculum, and broader

geographical education, when contrasted to a senior geography

that omits its use.

The structural and referential elements of each of these conceptions are elucidated within corresponding Categories of Description. The qualitatively different ways in which the conceptions may be experienced are illustrated through an Outcome Space, comprising a metaphoric island landscape. This structural framework reveals that for the Senior Geography students who participated in this investigation, the extent to which GIS may augment the curriculum is influenced by the nature of students' individual understandings of how GIS manages spatial data.

This research project is a response to repeated calls in the literature for teachers of geography themselves to become researchers and for a better understanding of GIS within geography education. It reviews the salient literature with respect to geography and geography education generally, and GIS within geographical education specifically. The investigation has confirmed that qualitatively different conceptions of GIS exist amongst students and that these are not consistently aligned with assumptions about its use and benefits as presented by current literature.

The findings of the study contribute to knowledge of the potential educational outcomes associated with the use of GIS in geography education and decisions related to current and potential geography curricula. It provides guidance for future curriculum development involving GIS and argues for additional research to inform educators and the spatial sciences industry about the actual and perceived role of GIS within geography education.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 16682
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Lidstone, John & Shield, Paul
Keywords: conceptions of GIS, geographical information systems, GIS, geography education, information and communications technologies, maps and mapping, phenomenography, senior geography, students, teaching and learning, qualitative research methods
Department: Faculty of Education
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright Bryan Andrew West
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2008 04:08
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 19:51

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