Mapping New Ways to Learn about the World (ESRI)

Book from ESRI Press Shows How Instructors Use GIS to Teach Students to Think Spatially and Critically

April 17, 2007 - -Redlands, California— Maps created with geographic information systems (GIS) software are worth a thousand words. Instructors and their students learn that daily through classroom experiences chronicled in Understanding Place: GIS and Mapping across the Curriculum, a new book from ESRI Press.

Understanding Place takes readers into colleges and universities around the country, where instructors describe in case studies how they've successfully incorporated GIS into teaching subjects as diverse as biology, musicology, religion, foreign languages, urban studies, geology, and sociology. The book illustrates how using GIS to analyze data and create digital maps can teach students how to think spatially and develop quantitative reasoning skills.

"We gain important insights by looking at data displayed as maps," the book's editors, Diana Stuart Sinton and Jennifer J. Lund, write in the chapter introducing GIS to readers.

The first part of the book covers topics such as how to think with maps, how mapping encourages quantitative reasoning, and how GIS software works. The authors use Sir Francis Drake's perilous voyage in the 1500s as a case in point, showing how tables of information—captain's logs and historical data—can be analyzed and mapped to quickly show where the fleet of ships ran into trouble and why. "Students reading about the tragedy of this trip are learning about Drake and are also finding drama in data," Sinton and Lund write.

GIS mapping software is a powerful tool for teaching and learning, and becoming skilled in the technology opens up a world of knowledge, according to the authors. "When students use GIS and mapping to augment their inquiry, they see more, understand more," write Sinton and Lund. "They are empowered to pursue their own questions and curiosities. They can investigate pressing local issues and make valuable contributions to their communities."

The second part of the book is devoted to 17 case studies in fields such as economics, environmental studies, and political science. Instructors describe how they incorporate GIS into their syllabi and talk candidly about the successes and challenges of bringing GIS technology into the college classroom.

Class projects using GIS also show how students use the technology to make a difference in their communities. For example, students at Ohio Wesleyan University used GIS in tandem with GPS receivers to map and analyze bike paths to create a network of community trails and green spaces in Delaware, Ohio. Political science students at Virginia's Washington and Lee University used GIS to propose redistricting changes that reflect statewide demographic trends.

Understanding Place: GIS and Mapping across the Curriculum (ISBN 978-1-58948-149-7, 314 pages, $49.95) can be purchased at online retailers worldwide or at or by calling 1-800-447-9778. Outside the United States, contact your local ESRI distributor. Visit for a current distributor list. ESRI Press books are distributed to the trade by Ingram Publisher Services. Call 1-800-648-3104 or visit

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About ESRI Press
ESRI Press publishes books on GIS, cartography, and the application of spatial analysis to many areas of public and private endeavor including land-use planning, health care, education, business, government, science, and many others. The complete selection of GIS titles from ESRI Press can be found on the Web at

Press Information:
Carla Wheeler, ESRI
Tel.: 909-793-2853, extension 1-2448
E-mail (press only): Email Contact
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