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Can Learning Geographic Information Systems be Improved for Interdisciplinary Researchers? A Comparative Study of Formal/Informal Learning Approaches and the Relevance of Context

Rickles, Patrick Ronald; (2019) Can Learning Geographic Information Systems be Improved for Interdisciplinary Researchers? A Comparative Study of Formal/Informal Learning Approaches and the Relevance of Context. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

In an increasingly complex world, interdisciplinary approaches in research are becoming necessary to address challenges faced by modern society. Universities are progressively acknowledging this and new collaborative opportunities are being recognised between disciplines. When undertaking Interdisciplinary Research (IDR), words may not have the same meaning in other disciplines and, if a commonly understood methodology of work is not established, there may be confusion or serious misunderstandings. IDR comes with a unique set of challenges and suggested solutions; however, that does not mean they may be implemented so easily. The field of Geography lends itself well to IDR, as it has been described as an integrator for other disciplines. Therefore, a Geographic Information System (GIS) as a spatial analysis tool from Geography may be aligned for IDR. However, GIS in IDR adds another dimension of complexity, as those who need to learn it may have difficulties doing so. GIS educators and educational materials try to help quickly skill people up in new areas; however, how are these efforts perceived by interdisciplinary researchers and can they be improved upon? This research begins by highlighting that challenges in IDR, which relate to issues including conflicts or gaps of knowledge between disciplines, time constraints, differing agendas or personality conflicts. These may be addressed through training and building relationships with other learners. To understand the concepts of learning, various educational theories and learning approaches were reviewed to ascertain ways of framing and presenting educational resources. From older theories, such as behaviourism, to more contemporary ones, such as context based learning, educators can improve their practices and materials to hopefully better suit the learner by understanding who the learner is, what they wish to learn and how they would go about learning it (in this case, GIS). Determining which GIS concepts are of interest to interdisciplinary learners required the use of a standard structure to investigate them. International GIS curricula were evaluated, which included the NCGIA Core Curriculum and its successor the Geographic Information Science and Technology Body of Knowledge. The Knowledge Areas and descriptions of topics from the latter were selected to frame concepts in a flexible way for activity contexts for this research. With challenges in IDR and suggested solutions highlighted as well as categories of GIS concepts to explore, an analysis of existing IDR studies that used GIS is carried out to determine current approaches to using GIS and where they succeed and fail. This involved gathering information from relevant research articles by mining Google Scholar and a year-long survey, administered online, that asked interdisciplinary researchers that learned GIS how they went about doing so. A more in-depth exploration was then carried out through a series of interviews with interdisciplinary researchers to understand why they learned GIS in the way they did and the contexts they applied it in. Additionally, a review of learning diaries kept by GIS learners to provide insight into their own learning process was carried out. Overview findings from Google Scholar and the survey show difficulties come from gaps in knowledge around GIS and that training opportunities are looked upon favourably. The interviews and learning diaries highlighted that people believed face-to-face training was a time efficient manner of learning, in comparison to informal methods (e.g. internet searches, watching videos, etc.). Altogether, the results showed interest in web GIS platforms and using a GIS to create, analyse and visualise contextually relevant data, which related back to core concepts from the Geographic Information Science & Technology Body of Knowledge. Based on these findings, an online resource was developed to teach GIS concepts identified as important to interdisciplinary researchers, through contextually relevant lessons, minimising on extra-disciplinary information and simplifying GIS terms. This was used to explore contextual relevance of lessons and formal and informal learning approaches with interdisciplinary researchers. It was found that while context may play a role, motivation for learning GIS may be a more important factor. Additionally, training resources must be mindful about language used to improve understanding. This work provides guidance on what to change for GIS learning materials and teaching approaches to better accommodate IDR and learners outside the discipline.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Can Learning Geographic Information Systems be Improved for Interdisciplinary Researchers? A Comparative Study of Formal/Informal Learning Approaches and the Relevance of Context
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2019. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/ 4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
Keywords: Interdisciplinary Research, GIS Education, Context Based Learning, Online Tutorials
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10069057
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