A Different Role: Teaching GIS

A major component of my work this summer was implementing GIS trainings for my host organization. During my fellowship I conducted one for the staff at ANSA-EAP and another for the auditors at the Commission on Audit (COA) Regional Office in Albay.  Developing these trainings was a much more arduous task than I anticipated! Everything I previously knew about teaching GIS skills came only from my own experiences of being taught GIS – that is, in a formal class setting over the course of a whole semester.  About a week prior to the first session, ANSA informed me that I would only be given three hours per group – and so began the efforts to prune all training materials and guides I had accumulated to somehow create a comprehensive yet accessible introduction to GIS and spatial data concepts. I had to condense material into 3 hours of something that could be tangible to people totally new to the topic! Thus I was forced to really think about what few skills would be of most value to the trainees.

I based the trainings on three main components:

  1. Introduction to and primer on spatial data (most trainees had no knowledge of what spatial data was coming in)
  2. Why spatial data is important and useful, and what using it can do for their work and organization
  3. A tutorial (using QGIS, a free and open source GIS software) where trainees produced something (i.e. a simple map) in QGIS

Each workshop was presented to a different audience and thus required two different approaches. The training for ANSA-EAP was intended to be a sort of special topics workshop (different staff and outside speakers often come to ANSA to present such seminars) as well as to encourage the staff to think about how to spatial data in their own projects. The session for COA was intended to present my own work (thematic maps relevant to the discussion of the audit of disaster management funds) that I had produced and teach them how to replicate my work.
Never before have I been in the position of an educator – but thinking about how to explain GIS has actually led me to gain a more comprehensive understanding of spatial data itself and how to use it.