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Using Intended Learning Objectives to Assess Curriculum Materials: the UCGIS Body of Knowledge

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The first edition of the UCGIS Body of Knowledge (BOK) is a recommended baseline for the geographic information science and technology (GIS&T) undergraduate curriculum. Part of a larger seven-year effort to rebuild the top of the world's GIS&T intellectual pyramid, it attempts to define the knowledge base that one might expect students receiving an undergraduate specialty in the field should be exposed to. Although it is not a set of lecture notes, exercises or laboratories for educators, it does provide over 1600 learning objectives spread over 10 general knowledge areas. Because the document is designed to serve the needs of the educational community it is important to know whether these learning objectives are set at appropriate cognitive learning levels. This paper examines the range of cognitive levels suggested by the learning objectives enumerated for each of the 10 Knowledge Areas. By using text-based content analysis of the BOK learning objectives, the author compares the action verbs associated with Bloom's cognitive levels to those in the learning objectives. Results show a surprisingly consistent distribution of requisite cognitive levels for the learning objectives, with distributional modes for most Knowledge Area averages falling between Bloom's levels 2 and 3 (knowledge and comprehension, respectively). The single exception to this pattern is the Design Aspects (DA) knowledge area where the frequency of action verbs is normally distributed, with the mode falling just between Bloom's levels 3 and 4. The underlying premise of the curriculum project is that students graduating from a GIS&T programme should be able to identify and solve spatial temporal problems; in short that they should demonstrate critical thinking skills commonly associated with Bloom's levels 4, 5 and 6. This suggests that there is a need to increase the number of learning objectives requiring analysis, synthesis and evaluation. These results further indicate that the existing learning objectives, while amenable to use in developing course materials and evaluative rubrics for GIS&T coursework, materials and rubrics focusing on critical thinking will need carefully to be selected to include higher cognitive level objectives. Given that the BOK is meant to evolve as the discipline's foci and directions change, the learning objectives and content of the document will necessarily have to change. This will require continued dialogue between the educators and those responsible for revising the BOK document.
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Keywords: Body of Knowledge; GIS; educational goals; intended learning objectives

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Geography, New Mexico State University, USA

Publication date: 2009-01-01

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