GIS-facilitated Inquiry in Tourism

Effect on Students’ Awareness of Scale


The understanding of concepts lies in the heart of the development of a disciplined mind. Scale is one of the important concepts in the study of Geography. This study leverages on the affordance of GIS in creating layers which will then help in the study of relationships in Geography. In addition, this study uses the inquiry-based learning approach to provide opportunities for students to formulate ideas and analyse the information. Consequently, this GIS-facilitated inquiry would enhance the students' awareness of scale.


Yishun Secondary School (YSS) felt the Good-Practice-Adaptive Practice (GP-AP) project in 2014 benefitted both the teachers and students. Students were found to be better in responding to stimuli questions while the teachers involved in the GP-AP project became competent with the use of ICT tools in learner-centred lessons. YSS felt the momentum needs to be sustained with its involvement in iGPS in 2015.

YSS positioned iGPS as a Unit Key Learning Programmes (KLP) for the Geography Unit. This is because the staff involved in this project will be able to raise their competency in developing and delivering a GIS-facilitated geographical inquiry lesson. Moreover, the iGPS initiative would allow the transfer the learning of both the School (i.e. Assessment for Learning, AfL) and Department (i.e. Curriculum Mapping).

Figure 1 shows the alignment of the School, Department and Unit KLP. For instance, the geographical concept of scale (emphasised in the Department KLP, curriculum mapping) influences the crafting of learning intentions and success criteria in the first phase of the AfL process (emphasised in the School KLP). This in turn influenced the various phases of the geographical inquiry approach emphasised in the Unit KLP. This alignment provides efficient staff resource allocation as the transfer of learning of the different levels of KLPs could be achieved within the iGPS endeavour. The Unit could also tap on Timetabled Time (TTT) as YSS has set aside this weekly one-hour session for subject-based Professional Learning Team (PLT) to undertake Lesson Study on AfL.

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Figure 1 Alignment of the School, Department and Unit KLP

The target class in this iGPS project was the Sec 3E High Ability class. This class was selected because it was taught by Ms Bernice Huang who, compared to other members of the Geography PLT, was experienced in ArcGIS given her involvement in the 2014 GP-AP project. Prior to the commencement of the project, she had conducted the GIS-facilitated lesson on Monsoon Winds (which was developed during GP-AP). Because of this, her class would be competent in navigating through ArcGIS software and conditioned for iGPS the project.

Tourism was chosen as it would be taught to the Sec 3E in the second semester. As the class did not have prior knowledge of Tourism, the Geography PLT and our NIE research partner decided to develop a GIS-facilitated inquiry lesson for the second chapter on tourism (i.e. KQ2 Why has tourism become a global phenomenon?). The geographical concept of scale featured prominently in this chapter. However, the Geography PLT is uncertain if the students were aware that the concept of scale plays an important role in the understanding of global tourism in KQ2. Hence, the team wanted to help enhance the students’ awareness of the geographical concept of scale (i.e.national, regional and global) using GIS-facilitated inquiry lessons.

Literature Review

Fundamental to the learning of geography is the understanding of spatial patterns. However, Pickles (1985) and Kaminske (1997) highlighted the challenges faced in fully recognizing the variables themselves and the relationships among them. Another concern is the need to equip students with the 21st century competency skills, which according to Justice, Rice, Roy, Hudspith and Jenkins (2009), are effective communication, critical thinking, and analysis and solving real-life problems using different perspectives. These skills are essential for students to be future-ready. Justice, et. al. (2009) also added that students need to be self-directed learners who can collaborate well with other learners.

As such, teaching pedagogies have to be aligned with changing needs of society to prepare the students for the future. Studies have shown that inquiry-based learning enhances learning through formulating new ideas and comprehending them based on questioning, investigation and collaboration to construct new knowledge (Bachtold, 2013). In addition, such learning approach involves students to be more self-directed, using interactive methods of learning while focusing on learning how to learn (Justice et al, 2009). The use of GIS complements inquiry-based learning. This is because it effectively allows users to manipulate and analyse geographical data with respect to their locations, thereby enabling the users to perform spatial analysis (Painho, Peixoto, Cabral, Sena, 2001; Marsh, Golledge, Battersby, 2007). Studies also emphasized GIS supports spatial thinking as “we can use its properties (e.g., dimensionality, continuity, proximity, separation) as a vehicle for structuring problems, finding answers, and expressing and communicating solution” (Downs and DeSouza, 2006).

By incorporating inquiry-based learning and GIS in our lessons, students are able to reap the full potential of both areas in understanding the concept of space. It is this geographical concept that makes spatial thinking a distinctive form of rationalizing and making connections with the different variables (Downs and DeSouza, 2006).

Research Question

Does the use of GIS-facilitated inquiry in the study of tourism enhance students’ awareness of the concept of scale?


Figure 2 encapsulates the general approach undertaken by the Geography PLT. Artefacts for both iterations 1 and 2 were submission of their individual, pair and group work. They could be in the form of Google Sheets submitted by groups of two and four, as well as an essay submitted by individual students.

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Figure 2 General Approach to Address the Problem

The artefacts are critical to sieve out the spatial influence of the factor (in Iteration 1) and the event (in Iteration 2) on tourist arrivals to a country. Figure 3 shows the rubrics developed to analyse the artefacts collected.

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Figure 3 Rubrics Developed to Analyse the Artefacts

In both Iterations, layers of maps had to be developed in ArcGIS as many, if not all, were not readily available in ESRI. Other ICT tools used were Google Site, Wix, Google Forms and Google Sheets. They provided the scaffolds for students to guide them through the process of retrieving data from ArcGIS and other sources. As the examples used in each iteration were not examples given in the textbook, some background information of the events in Iteration 2 in the form of videos, distribution maps and texts were attached to the Google Form. In addition, the need to show improvement in Iteration 2 made it necessary that rubrics used had to be identical. The assistance provided by the ETO and the research partner contributed greatly to the Geography PLT in its data collection efforts as well as its data analysis.


The Geography PLT met during TTT to discuss and develop the lesson packages. On some occasions, ETOs were involved in the TTT sessions. The team and the ETOs would also meet beyond TTT for the training of the team in the use of ArcGIS (only one member of the team has prior experience in the use of ArcGIS), pre-lesson discussions, lesson observations and post-lesson conferencing.

Iteration 1

Iteration 1 was conducted in the presence of the visiting Outstanding-Educator-In-Residence (OEIR), AST officers and ETOs on Day 1 as well as the Director, North Zone and her entourage consisting of cluster superintendent and their officers on Day 2 . The geographical concept of scale was learnt through investigating the number of tourists arrivals from within the country of the three honeypot attractions (i.e. local), within the region of the attractions, and further away from the regional (i.e. global). The Google Sheet consolidated the students’ awareness of scale. In addition, students were to describe and compare the spatial influence of factors such as accessibility, affordability and amenities on domestic and/or international tourist arrivals for the three honeypot attractions. Through the understanding of scale, the transfer of curriculum mapping was realised. The stating of learning intention such as the definition of honeypot tourism, the use of rubrics to alert students of the success criteria, the collection of students’ artefacts using Google Forms to gather evidences of learning, and the giving of feedback to students all contributed to the transfer of AfL.

The difficulties encountered by the Geography PLT was overcame with assistance from HOD/ICT and ETOs. HOD/ICT helped the team to create the Wix website to dispense the lesson packages for this iteration. The team benefitted from the layers of tourist arrivals, airports (proxy to accessibility) and GDP per capital (proxy to affordability) created by ETOs. In addition, the team gained from the input of ETOs to use the OpenStreet Map to look for evidences of amenities.

Iteration 2

Iteration 2 was implemented during the September school holidays. The geographical concept of scale was learnt through the investigation of the impact of an event in a country (i.e. disease, disaster, political conflict and recession) on the number of tourists arrivals to a country from countries within the region of the attractions, and further away from the regional (i.e. global). Drawing from the understanding of the theory of the Distance Decay Effect, tourist arriving from countries within the region would be fewer than those beyond the region. The team created a Google Site as a platform for students to access the lesson packages. Moreover, it states the learning intentions of the lessons and content concept of regional fluctuation. The Google Form serves not only to provide the instructions to scaffold students’ learning but also to gather evidences of learning. The Google Sheet which gathered data from students after the first lesson of this iteration was used as a means to provide feedback to students. Rubrics, used to analyse the individual written assignment was used as the success criteria. Hence, this iteration also fulfilled the transfer of learning of curriculum mapping and AfL.

Difficulties encountered in this iteration was due to lack of readily made map layers on SARS (i.e. disease), Asian Financial Crisis (i.e. recession), volcanic eruption in Eyjafjallajokull, Iceland (i.e. disaster) and 9/11 Attacks (i.e. political conflict). The initial findings provided by the ETOs revealed that the annual tourist arrivals were not affected by the events. In some cases, tourist arrivals rose. The lack of monthly tourist arrival data meant students have to do their own research to justify why tourist arrivals from regional countries have not decreased. After deliberation, the ETOs and the Geography PLT decided to go ahead with the study as it provided rich learning experiences for students when data gathered and analysed did not support the facts presented in the textbook. Another difficulty encountered relates to the issue of using different examples compared to those in the textbook. Additional background information, in the form of videos, research by academics and distribution maps, had to be obtained and inserted into the Google Forms to scaffold students’ learning.


To understand whether the use of GIS-facilitated inquiry enhances students’ awareness of the concept of scale, an open-ended question was given at the end of both iterations to assess their understanding. There are 43 students in the class. Using the rubrics seen above, the scores for both iterations are tabulated in the table below.

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Tables 1 and 2: Students’ scores from Iterations 1 and 2

From both tables, it is clear that there was an improvement in the quality of the students’ responses. Although no one managed to hit a Level 3 and Level 4, there were more students getting a Level 2 score for Iteration 2, with an increase from 7% to 49%. Those who obtained a Level 1 score also saw a drop in numbers, with 70% of the class obtaining it in Iteration 1 as compared to 42% in Iteration 2. The proportion of students with a Level 0 score decreased by more than half, with 23% getting in Iteration 1 as compared to 9% in Iteration 2.

Discussion and Implication

The improvement seen in Iteration 2 was due to several factors. Firstly, the question requirement in Iteration 1 was not clearly stated out, in particular, the emphasis on scale in terms of domestic and international tourist arrivals. Secondly, the students were not conditioned to explain in the manner required in the study. Thus, the concept of scale was not evident in most of the students’ performance task, especially in the explanation on the factor of amenities. As a consequence, no comparisons were made by the students.

In response to this, some intervention was carried out to improve the students’ understanding and the quality of their answers. For instance, teacher clarified on the need to explain the concept of scale so as to highlight the theory of distance decay effect. Furthermore, the practice of AfL in breaking down lesson objectives into learning intentions has heightened the importance of clarifying the concept of scale in terms of local, regional and global before the performance task for the Iteration 2. Using Google Sheet, the students were able to identify their mistakes and learn from their peers who demonstrated more clarity in their answers. Their collaboration enabled the improvement in answers. More scaffolding was also provided to breakdown the question into simpler guiding questions. With the extra guidance, more students were able to express their spatial awareness more succinctly in Iteration 2, expounding the spatial effects of how each event impacts tourist arrivals. Marked improvement was seen as more students were able to contrast between local, regional and global impacts.

However, the comparison of factors was still not evident in Iteration 2. Description of spatial influence (local, region and global) of each events were done in silos. None of the students were able to explain the extent of how each scale impact tourist arrivals.

Nevertheless, the use of GIS-facilitated inquiry lesson has brought about positive impacts on the students’ learning. Firstly, it was evident that the students are more confident at stimuli questions. Through constant practice with interpreting and analysing geographical data using GIS, they are more aware of the structure and requirements essential for answering data-based question. Furthermore, such type of questions makes up approximately half of every summative assessment. Secondly, this learning process had given the students greater exposure to more real-life examples. As mentioned, stimuli questions may pose a challenge for students as unforeseen examples are used to assess students’ competencies. Using examples that are not found in the textbook allow students to be more aware with global occurrences and provides an authentic learning experience which they can relate better to. For instance, in Iteration 1 on honeypot tourism, the use of Victoria Falls is found in the textbook and it is supplemented with the use of 12 Apostles and Huvadhu Atoll. Thirdly, the students demonstrated better engagement level. It provides opportunity for kinesthetic learners to engage in hands-on learning experience. Rather than traditional didactic method of teaching, inquiry based ICT lessons induce critical thinking which captures the students’ interest and attention while investigating issues. Based on the students’ reflections, they prefer such lessons as they agreed lessons are more enjoyable and it enables them to understand concepts better.

The ArcGIS tool provides a platform for students to observe spatial patterns and inquiry-based learning approach complements by providing an opportunity for students to formulate ideas and analyse the information to synthesize new knowledge.


The value of using GIS-facilitated inquiry combines the benefits of integrating GIS and inquiry based lessons together. GIS is used as a geographical tool to analyse spatial patterns while inquiry based lessons develops a habit of mind that can last a lifetime which guide learning and creative thinking. Lessons are more student-centric and the involvement of students to generate ideas in classroom has resulted in much positivity. Students are able to observe interrelationship patterns and also able to gain greater understanding of larger conceptual context. For teachers, a shift in the teachers’ role meant that teachers are more of a facilitator of learning. It also enhances the teacher’s competency and confidence level in conducting such lessons.

With the support given from ETOs and NIE research partner, most of the challenges faced were overcome. Instead of extracting information from GIS, the possibility of creating layers can be done to maximise the potential of GIS. Furthermore, the use of GIS-facilitated inquiry can also be extended to other levels teaching geography and even the opportunity of other subject areas too. Ultimately, the quality of teaching and learning can be enhanced to bring about more constructive results.


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