Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Importance of Spatial and Visual Thinking

Kirk Goldsberry, professor of Geography at Michigan State University, makes a nice argument in this Harvard Business Review online post about the importance of spatial and visual literacy. I think each day about how well (or not) we manage to prepare all students (not just geography and associated areas) for critical consumption and use of spatial information. Unfortunately, most of the time, I come to say 'not very well'. Taking my own University's general education curriculum as an example, there are requirements in place to foster literacy in the written word, in science, in foreign language, in the arts and humanities, but very little if anything around spatial and visual literacy. Yet, pretty much any subject matter is spatially situated and modern culture is saturated by visual media. One of the comments on Kirk's posting came from Jack Dangermond, president of Esri, who added an observation that spatial thinking has found its way into the public mind through other avenues than academics. Clearly, every-day technology brings the power of maps and spatial data to more people than ever, and I hope all geographers celebrate that. I also side with Kirk that P-16 education need to recognize spatial and visual literacy as a main foundation for a well rounded individual. Reading, math, science, and art skills are great. Understanding their visual expression in space and time makes them even greater.