New software platform aims to bridge the gap in geographic education across Canada

Geoliteracy - Lynn Moorman
Lynn Moorman, Assistant Professor of Earth Sciences at Mount Royal University, has partnered with technology experts to address the gap in geographic education among youngsters. ~Photo by Bryan Weismiller

Mount Royal University research kicks off technological solution Calgary-based experts are charting a bold new course in geographic education by introducing geospatial software designed for the next generation of tech-savvy learners.

A lack of comprehensive geographic education in Canada's schools is currently disabling higher learning opportunities for post-secondary students, says Lynn Moorman, PhD, professor of Earth Sciences at Mount Royal University and a Canadian Geographic Education executive.

Noting a dearth in the basic geographic knowledge and skills among students of all ages, three years ago Moorman embarked on a research project on how to address the situation.

"I found I couldn't actually teach about earthquakes and volcanoes at one point because students had no means of describing the places where they exist," says Moorman.

Geoliteracy - David Docherty
Mount Royal University President David Docherty catches a lesson in geographic software, thanks to tech-savvy students from Connect Charter School.~Photo by Bryan Weismiller

Moorman, who will be receiving recognition from the National Council for Geographic Education for the best dissertation in the field of geography education in Washington in August, conducted extensive investigations in the field of geographic education as part of her PhD studies, with the assistance of Mount Royal University student and teachers, contributions by the community of researchers in geographic education and in partnership with Calgary's Connect Charter School and Canadian Geographic Education.
Researching towards a solution

Based on the results, TECTERRA, a Calgary-based non-profit innovation support centre that enables the development of geomatics technology and funds applied research in geospatial applications, contributed over $200,000 towards Moorman's project.

"The WorldView™ project uses innovative technology to promote geo-literacy at a young age in school," says Mohamed Abousalem, PhD, chief executive officer at TECTERRA.

"We believe that this project brings a great deal of societal value by building the interest and curiosity about science and technology in school-aged children. These children will be the future contributors to the Canadian economy, and science and technology represent a key factor in the future growth of our economy."

Moorman chose to work with the PYXIS innovation for the solution. WorldView™ Studio was introduced at Mount Royal with the help of elementary students from Connect Charter School on April 16.

WorldView™ Studio integrates geospatial data streams in a way that has never been done before. Users can input information such as traffic flow wildlife migration patterns and watersheds. The software then transforms the data into a layered digital Earth format showing their connections and interactions.

"This is cutting edge and new," says Moorman. "This is a means of interacting, analyzing and asking questions."

What is digital Earth?

PYXIS CEO Perry Peterson describes WorldView™ as, "The first tool to fulfill the digital Earth concept."

"Canadians have always been leaders in the field of geographic information sciences and mapping. We are defined by our geography. So it's not surprising that a breakthrough in technology - we call Digital Earth - will allow children of a very young age to search and explore their world," Peterson adds.

"The WorldView™ project reminds us that fermenting a healthy sense of self in this big world is one of the greatest gifts we can give a child."

Moorman notes that geography education in Canada is at a very interesting place - a critical crossroads of advancements and shifts in technology, societal communication and educational customs.

"We are no longer mapping landscapes, but life-scapes, as our everyday activities and favorite places are tagged and shared, geolocated by citizen cartographers and Google Street View cameras," she says.

"Long gone are the days when people could limit their lives to the borders of their cities, provinces or countries," says Abousalem,

"It's a globally connected world, and for us to succeed as a society and as an economy, we need to ensure that the growing generations are familiar and comfortable with the geography of their country and the world a whole."

Moorman's efforts to make geography accessible to our video game savvy kids are important, says Gilles Gagnier, chief operating officer and publisher of Canadian Geographic Enterprises.

"We look forward to the day when we can deliver Professor Moorman's WorldView™ to our 14,000 teacher members across Canada. Our students will only benefit from her trailblazing efforts."

The transformation of geography education through technology development and the creation of a hands-on learning experience will have a tangible real-world impact, says Moorman. The WorldView™ Studio adaptation will show Canadian students the power of geospatial information and the role it plays in problem solving.

And that may be its greatest value.

"It gets the students thinking about being enablers of a solution," says Moorman.

Michelle Bodnar - April 16, 2015