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Winter 2005/2006
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Geography and GIS Education Alive Down Under

First Australasia Conference for Esri Education Users a Success in Tasmania

The new year kicked off with a debut in GIS education. The Australian Geography Teachers Association (AGTA) held its biennial national conference in Launceston, Tasmania, January 8–12, 2006. Nested within this event was another conference. In collaboration with Esri; Esri Australia Pty. Ltd.; and New Zealand Esri distributor, Eagle Technology Group, AGTA incorporated the first Australasia Conference for Esri Education Users into it proceedings. The combination was a perfect match and echoed the main conference theme, Geography: Making the Connections, Creating Futures. The result was a rich educational experience for all in attendance. As Malcolm McInerney, geography and GIS teacher at Findon High School in Adelaide, Australia, and one of the organizers for the two conferences, notes, "The only downside of these conferences was wanting to be in two or more places at the same time."

The hybrid event was attended by approximately 150 educators. The vast majority were from every state and territory of Australia. Participants also were on hand from New Zealand, Japan, and the United States. The conference was a blend of keynote presentations, concurrent paper sessions and hands-on workshops, field trips, and trade show exhibits.

The first full day, keynote presentations, evening activities, and the closing session of the conference brought all conferees together. Opening presentations were made by University of Tasmania faculty members, professor Jamie Kirkpatrick (School of Geography and Environmental Studies) and Dr. Margaret Robertson (Faculty of Education), who helped set a tone on the intersection of geographic inquiry in the field and in the classroom. Other plenary presenters included Roger and Anita Palmer of GISetc; Neil Coffee of the National Centre for Social Applications of GIS at the University of Adelaide; Lawrie Kirk of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission; and George Dailey, Esri K–12 Education Program manager. Each brought to light different aspects of geographic thinking, geospatial technologies, resources, careers, and the use of GIS in everyday life.

The virtual GIS field trips opened the door to exciting firsthand stories about the uses of GIS in the workplace, such as those from Hector Beveridge, GIS manager of the Launceston City Council. Other accounts by key staff from Geoscience Australia and the Australian Antarctic Division of the Department of Environment and Heritage pointed to GIS and remote-sensing data resources useful to teachers in the region and around the world.

GIS paper sessions and hands-on workshops gave participants a good mix of stories about the use of GIS in schools and opportunities to test-drive classroom resources, including Esri's award-winning book Mapping Our World: GIS Lessons for Educators. Presentations from Australian leaders in GIS education (including Peter Jenner, Rebecca Nicolas, David Bruce, Mick Law, Meegan Maguire, and Brett Dascombe) were buttressed by sessions from Anne Olsen and Stephanie Eddy of New Zealand and Kate Dailey of Texas.

Brett Dascombe, retiring GIS in Schools coordinator for Esri Australia, states, "All the conference activities pointed quite clearly to the relevance of geography and GIS and other geospatial technologies in the classroom and the world of today and tomorrow. The conference's theme this year tied perfectly with bringing teachers of the future in touch with the experienced teachers from around Australia and overseas. The theme also reflected the role technology and particularly spatial technologies will play in teaching geography in the future. GIS will continue to be a critical-thinking tool of the future and will also provide our students with job opportunities for a long time to come."

For more information about the conference proceedings, explore the AGTA conference Web site (www.agta.asn.au). To find out more about GIS in schools and plans for a 2007 Australasia Conference for Esri Education Users, see www.esri.com/k-12 and subscribe to ArcSchool Reader (www.esri.com/arcschoolreader).

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