GeoThentic redefines geography class


GeoThenticAdvances in technology are changing the way we look at the world; they’re also changing the way we learn about it.

Developed by the faculty of the Learning and Technologies Dept. at the University of Minnesota, GeoThentic is built around geospatial technologies such as geographic information systems (GIS) and is designed to provide an immersive online learning environment that can assist K-12 students in meeting all of the National Geography Standards.

GIS technology, which is at the heart of this software, allows users to visualize geographic trends, patterns and relationships in the form of maps and charts. Integrated with GeoThentic and Google Earth, it creates a scaffolded learning environment in which students solve authentic complex problems.

Currently, the software offers five modules: Build a Hospital, Global Climate Change, Avian Flu, Build a Stadium and Population Density.

Within these modules, students play the role of a geographer, taking advantage of various digital resources and data to determine, for instance, where the best place is in San Francisco to build a hospital, or which U.S. states will be most impacted by population growth and decline by the year 2100.

These exercises provide students not only with an increased understanding of geographical concepts, but also an early grasp on utilizing relevant technology to solve real-world problems.

Aaron Doering, a co-director at the LT Media Lab whose work formed the basis for this platform, emphasizes this as a major benefit.

“Students are not only learning geography, but they’re also learning one of the leading technologies in the sense of employment,” he says, noting that the number of jobs currently available using geospatial technology is “extremely high.”

He points to numerous other aspects of the software that help set it apart from anything else on the market. There are the situated movies that come attached to each module – a breaking newscast that situates the (real-life) task and motivates the student to solve it. There’s the integration of TPACK (Technological and Pedagogical and Content Knowledge – there’s a mouthful), which aims to integrate vital knowledge bases for both student and teacher.

And perhaps most importantly, Doering points out that since all design/development for the software is done in-house at the Media Lab, his team can constantly update and add content.

“We’re able to go through numerous iterations and make it the best software that we can,” he says. “When there’s an issue it can immediately be fixed, which is just not the approach that most people take.”

GeoThentic is free to use, funded by grants, and can be found in thousands of classrooms worldwide. Doering hopes to see its presence continually grow as it continues to evolve, and knows there’s one major hurdle his team must address: Because the software is Flash-based, they’ve been unable to port it to iPad up to this point.

“We absolutely hope we can take it to the iPad, and we’re working on grants and also working on identifying the best technology to take it to the next level, be it HTML5 or whatever it might be.”

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