Great post by Lyzi Diamond on what to learn first about mapping. I was going to quote chunks of it, but do yourselves a favor and just read it.

Oh, OK here’s an extract:

In school, typically, we learn a basic formula: “When you’re faced with this problem, use this tool to solve it.” The real world is simply not like that. So much work goes into a) assessing the problem, b) determining which solution out of the possible range of solutions is best in this particular situation, c) deciding which tool is best to execute on that solution in that particular situation, and d) doing it over again because you fucked something up. I never learned about that reality in school, and I think that was a stunting factor.

…

But we’re a much more technically-literate society these days, so just learning the software isn’t enough. You have to understand both the theoretical principles around the tasks you’re executing on as well as the technology that’s underlying the software. For any tool you execute in ArcGIS, there is both a geometric/spatial problem that’s being solved (in a theoretical sense) as well as a database task that’s being executed (in a technical sense). Understanding both of those things is what will make you successful in the field.

It might be interesting to put together a sample syllabus/class along these lines, throwing in the “zombie GIS” approach I wrote about recently. Here’s what I put in my own syllabus:

Course Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course you will be both able to (1) identify candidate technologies for your problem; (2) identify and secure appropriate data; (3) successfully develop a solution using appropriate GIS and mapping technologies; and (4) critique and assess maps & GIS products, including your own. Additionally, the class will emphasize a key skill: (5) finding solutions to problems. By the end of the semester you should be able to not only comprehend GIS but solve problems of GIS applications and evaluate and recommend specific solutions to real-world problems.

A little ambitious perhaps!

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” In school, typically, we learn a basic formula: “When you’re faced with this problem, use this tool to solve it.” ”

I have a hard time buying this. It’s a sweeping generalization that does not align with the vast majority of educational experiences I’ve had both as an instructor and a student. I think the broader point of needing a theoretical and technical understanding is absolutely spot on, but *isn’t that already what we (try to) do?*

I was never taught a set of formulaic steps to follow to solve a mapping problem, I was taught a set of approaches I could take to explore, analyze, and visualize the data. In another field, my partner doesn’t teach statistics as “Click a series of buttons in R,” but as a series of ways to think about information that can be executed to find meaning from a given data set.

Perhaps this is more unique than I expect and I do acknowledge the pressure to teach what I might call “button-pushing” in a traditional GIS setting. I’m glad that there are brilliant, engaged people out there starting this discussion, I’m just worried we might overstate the problem a bit and end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater.