Using Geospatial Technologies to Help K-12 Students Image and Analyze Information

Sunday, 15 February 2015: 1:30 PM-4:30 PM
Room 210CD (San Jose Convention Center)
Robert Kolvoord, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA

In an effort to better prepare students for collegiate work and the workplace, James Madison University (JMU) has created a unique, mentored dual enrollment program to help build high school students’ spatial and critical thinking skills, as well as give them in-depth experience with geospatial technologies.

The Geospatial Semester, now in its 10th year, engages high school seniors in a semester- or year-long class where they learn how about remote sensing, GPS, and GIS software and apply these tools to solve problems while earning college credit.  The class is taught by a high school teacher, with regular visits and virtual mentoring from JMU faculty.  The experience culminates in an extended, self-directed problem where students pursue issues of local interest to them.  In this process, they move beyond the high-stakes testing regimen present in most schools and hone their problem definition, evidence gathering, and analysis skills to form possible solutions to their problem.

The mentored dual enrollment offers a very different model of high school – higher education interaction.  Rather than acting as an adjunct in a distant location, the high school teacher and university faculty are in regular communication and the students also interact with the JMU faculty.  Students pay a discounted rate for the college tuition and the program is financially self-sustaining. 

We have interviewed a subset of students and assessed the changes in their use of spatial language and critical thinking skills through the duration of the project, and we’ve compared them to a group not involved in the Geospatial Semester.  Students using the geospatial technologies use far more spatial language and they show greater improvements in critical thinking and problem solving.  Their projects also show clear evidence of 21st Century Thinking Skills (

In this presentation, we’ll briefly describe the history of the Geospatial Semester, share many examples of student work, and discuss our research on student learning.  We will also discuss how to replicate the program at other institutions.  More information about the program can be found at