Skip to main content

Inaugural GIS in Education Conference

The inaugural GIS in Education Conference was held at the University of Toronto on October 17, 2013. The event combined K-12 GIS teaching and curriculum presentations, higher education teaching and research, three hands-on workshops, and a lively panel discussion. It was planned to rekindle connections between members of the GIS education community in the extended greater Toronto area. Read this blog post to learn more about the conference and access the proceedings.

On October 17th,  Esri Canada, along with the Department of Geography and Planning, and the University of Toronto Libraries, hosted the inaugural GIS in Education Conference at the historic  Hart House on the University of Toronto St. George campus. In recent years, there has been a noticeable lack of opportunity for GIS educators and students to come together, share experiences and learn from each other in an organized forum. This conference was planned to rekindle connections between the members of the very active, yet highly fragmented GIS education community within the extended Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

 The organizing committee (comprising staff from Esri Canada, the Toronto District School Board, McMaster University and the University of Toronto) sought to make the conference a watershed event that established a benchmark for the future. To facilitate this, registration was free, a deliberate attempt was made to blend K-12 GIS teaching and curriculum presentations with higher education teaching and research, and three hands-on workshops were delivered, along with a lively panel discussion on responding to student needs in GIS instruction.

 There was a strong response to the call for participation. In total, about 185 individuals attended. However, interest prior to, during, and now following the conference has remained very high, and is a significant source of optimism for future communications and connectivity between GIS educators and students within the GTA. Attendees came from as far afield as Brandon, Manitoba; Halifax, Nova Scotia; Montréal and Kirkland, Québec; Ottawa, Ontario; Canton (Saint Lawrence University), New York State; and Redlands, California. It was especially pleasing to see relatively large numbers of local K-12 teachers and students in attendance, mixing with higher education students, professors, administrative staff from local school boards and staff from the Ontario Ministry of Education.

 The conference opened with an excellent plenary presentation from Dr. Kamran Khan of St. Michael’s Hospital and the University of Toronto. He discussed his work on the Bio.Diaspora project as well as the threat and rapid spatial and temporal diffusion of contagious diseases among and between human, bird and animal populations. He demonstrated the unique and highly innovative Bio.Diaspora Web mapping tool that provides decision makers with up-to-the-moment information on disease outbreak locations and their likely transmission by humans through international air travel.

 In addition to Dr. Khan’s presentation, a total of 17 papers were presented across several tracks: Web GIS App Development, Spatial Analysis, GIS and Digital Learning, Volunteered Geographic Information and Open Data, Evolving the K-12 Curriculum (view agenda).  There were also 8 graduate student lightning talks presented. The three hands-on workshops all focused on various aspects of ArcGIS Online and were delivered by Esri Canada staff. Digital copies of almost all presentations, including the plenary and the hands on workshops, are available on the conference Web page.

 All in all, the conference provided a full agenda and made for a highly enjoyable and worthwhile day. The feedback suggested that forums such as this are an important requirement to foster growth of the GIS education community. The event provided an excellent opportunity to meet old and new colleagues, and for students new to GIS technology as well as those immersed in its use to see the work others are doing and to showcase their own research.

 (Thanks to Dr. Brent Hall, Director, Education and Research, Esri Canada for contributing this recap of the GIS in Education Conference.)

About the Author

Angela Alexander is a K-12 Education Resource Developer on the Esri Canada Education and Research team. She has over six years of experience working with educators across Canada. Angela is responsible for producing geographic information system (GIS) and curriculum specific resources, conducting and creating custom workshops for educators and judging and developing the question for the annual GIS Skills Ontario competition in Waterloo, Ontario. Angela has a Bachelor’s degree in Geography and Sociology from the University of Western Ontario and completed the Applied Digital Geography and GIS certificate program at Ryerson University.

Profile Photo of Angela Alexander