Using ArcGis for Sec 3 Geography

Its Effectiveness and Challenges


Geographic Information System (GIS) is a computer system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyse, manage, and present all types of spatial and/or geographical data. This technological tool is commonly used at the tertiary level in Singapore in order to teach various geographical concepts, such as space, place, time, environment, and inter-relationships. However, its use has been relatively limited at the secondary school level due to its usage complexity and limited knowledge of the teachers on how to use GIS to teach. The introduction of a new secondary level syllabus, which focuses on the inquiry approach and the promotion of crucial 21st Century competencies to prepare students to be self-directed learners and informed citizens, makes it necessary for teachers to explore new platforms to effectively deliver Geography lessons that meet these new objectives. GIS provides a good platform to develop these competencies. If teachers can tap on the GIS as a platform that is easy for both teachers and students to navigate and use, the students will be able to learn to appreciate the interdependence and fragility of the local and global environments in our ever-changing global landscape. Together with a suitable pedagogy, in this case the inquiry approach, GIS can be a powerful tool in the secondary schools' classrooms. According to Biebrach (2007), there are several benefits for using GIS in the Geography classroom. They are spatial understanding, inquiry-based learning, linking information to identify relationships, as well as vocational learning and motivation. These benefits are well-aligned to the new syllabus and the desired outcomes of education in SIngapore.
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Even though the GCE 'O' Level syllabus and assessments aim to promote critical thinking and lesser memory work, some students continue to rely on their memories to prepare for their examinations. This leads to relatively shallow or overly-prescribed answers to evaluative questions. Examples that are used in their answers are also often not in context. Students also face the difficulty in applying learned concepts in other contexts. Our students also lack the global awareness to apply the learned concepts in other contexts outside of Singapore and Asia.

We wanted to use the ArcGis to help students understand concepts as well as to apply them in different contexts. Since we cannot bring our students to different parts of the world physically to apply the geographical concepts, it will be useful to harness technology to bring the world to them. With ArcGis, we also hope to build the inquiry process into the ArcGIS lessons as the students explore the various layers.

Through the use of ArcGis via the inquiry process, we hope that students will be more motivated to learn and the inquiry process will help to deepen their understanding of the geographical concepts to produce higher quality answers to evaluation questions.

Literature Review

Substantial amount of research have been done on the benefits of using GIS in the Geography classrooms. Much of the research point to the promotion of greater spatial awareness, making connections, and creating an inquiry-based learning.

Biebrach (2007, p. 14) argued that "[t]he use of GIS has brought about a revolution in my own teaching. It has made me consider more carefully the geography underpinning my lessons by forcing me to focus on key organising concepts such as spatial awareness ... The analysis of spatial patterns of crimes in relation to socio-economic data and the characteristics of individual places, to me, is geography in its ‘purest’ form." In the article, he considered GIS to be an important tool for spatial awareness and recognising inter-relationships.

In addition according to Özgen (2009, p. 1881), "GIS has also been found to play a significant role in easier access to scientific information as well as in a better utilization of this information by students. For an effective teaching of geography aided by a GIS, students need to be more active and contributing during the lesson than the teacher." GIS, thus, provides teachers and students with the access to information and the use of the information aids towards the inquiry process, which will then be used in the Geography classroom.

To further support this, the report by the International Geographical Union’s Geography Education Commission stated that geographic inquiry-based skills is important in developing students’ thinking skills (International Geographical Union Commission on Geographical Education [IGU-CGE], 1992). Artvinli (2010, p. 128) also mentioned how "GIS application is a process that enhances students’ thinking skills, such as processing the information obtained (selecting useful information, meaning, categorisation, classification, comparison, differentiation, and analysing them), their justification, and making appropriate inquiry into the reasons. At the end of this process, students can use creative thinking skills with mental processes activities such as generalising, hypothesising, and working on alternative solutions." This supports the effectiveness of GIS in promoting critical thinking skills that are much needed in the 21st century.

Research Question

To what extent do students, who use GIS and are taught via the inquiry-based approach, show higher quality responses to evaluation questions?


The research study uses a mixed method design, whereby both qualitative data from students' responses during focused group discussions - to gather input on their perception of the software, the extended use of software - as well as quantitative data from results on spatial awareness are collated.

The students are from Secondary 3 Express Full Geography classes. They have an average PSLE T-Score of 244. There are 2 classes of higher ability, 2 classes of mixed ability, and 1 class as the control group (without intervention) that are involved in the research.

The intervention is a series of lessons using the ArcGIS. In the lesson, they will be tackling issues and controversies (Cyclone Damage), solving problems, creating solutions (Identify which of the 5 areas should be the first to receive international aid. Support your answer with evidence), and developing deep understanding of content knowledge through investigation. The teachers will then craft a series of questions to scaffold their learning in Google Docs to document their learning and provide suitable intervention as the lesson progresses.

The Lesson Plan

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Findings and Discussion

The findings were based on 43 students from the control group (302) with 43 students from across the experimental group (301, 303, 304 and 305) and their pre-test scores.
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The results showed that most students did better in the post-test evaluation questions, though they were statistically insignificant. The students in the experiment group were able to achieve better results but it is not clear if it is the result of the intervention.

In the experiment group, a particular class (305) had shown statistical significance in their improvement. This class is of higher ability* and in comparison with the mixed-ability classes, 305 has shown greater improvement. This may suggest that the intervention benefits the higher ability students. This group of students was able to make use of the data analysis skills and/or examples learnt for the GIS lessons to better answer the evaluation questions. It could also be due to the fact that these students had a better foundation and they found it easy to manage the content as well as being able to spend more time on the skills needed to answer evaluative questions. Thus, they were able to fully utilise the capabilities of the system.

While statistically the results were not very positive, feedback from the students and teachers were a lot better. A student commented that the visualisations made it easier for him to see the relationship between the different factors. Another student added that the lessons helped her to make sense on how cyclones work and the different examples of the different cyclones helped her to see their relevance.

In the FGDs, most students agreed that the layers allowed them to explore for themselves and make sense of the content found in the textbook. However, there were also a handful of students who preferred to do without the group inquiry process and be given the information directly. This feedback was also consistent with the findings from the previous batch of students who were receiving the intervention, indicating that a handful of our students do not necessarily see the benefits of group work and may prefer conventional teacher talk.

Teachers were generally heartened by the responses they received through the Google Site. A teacher mentioned that the responses showed coherence and thought. Students were able to apply what they had learnt in their assignments. However, they were uncertain if it was a direct result of the intervention.

* higher PSLE T-score

Learning and Insights


ArcGis online is a very comprehensive tool that allows users to input data, create layers, and publish the layers. However, our lessons do not fully utilise the capabilities of the software. To fully benefit from the software, it will require extensive training for the students and the teachers as well. The teachers were not able to create the layers without help from the vendor and ETD. This poses a challenge to creating more lessons, especially if at the back of the teachers' minds will be "where to find the layers?". However once that hurdle is crossed, the software can be managed with greater ease.

Professional Development

Furthermore, training has to be given by GIS professionals on how to create layers from the education perspective in order to help teachers to be more confident users of the software.

The professional development courses to hone our pedagogical skills were useful in helping teachers design sound lesson packages that promoted geographical skills and collaborative learning.


The collaboration between the different parties also played an important role in our lessons. Collaborating with ETD, research partners, and fellow colleagues made the journey more meaningful and effective. We are certain it would have been more tedious had we done it alone. Moving forward, collaborating with GIS professionals will enable teachers to be more comfortable with the system in order to confidently design and deliver Geography lessons that engages the students.


Artvinli, E. (2010). The Contribution of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to Geography Education and Secondary School Students’ Attitudes Related to GIS. Educational Sciences: Theory and Practice, 10(3), 1277-1292. Retrieved from

Biebrach, T. (2007). What impact has GIS had on geographical education in secondary schools? Sheffield: The Geographical Association.

International Geographical Union Commission on Geographical Education [IGU-CGE],

(1992). International charter on geographical education. Washington: Autor.

Özgen, N. (2009). The Functionality of a Geography Information System (GIS) Technology in Geography Teaching: Application of a Sample Lesson. Educational Sciences: Theory and Practice, 9(4) 1879-1894. Retrieved from

West, B. (2003). Student attitudes and the impact of GIS on thinking skills and motivation.

Journal of Geography, 106(6), 267-274.