Staffroom Subject Zone

David Holmes shows you how to use Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to improve geography students’ high-order thinking skills.


Academics have found that GIS (Geographical Information Systems) has the potential to accelerate the geographical enquiry skills of their students, as well as help improve skills associated with analysing and displaying geographic data.

Other studies show further benefits of integrating GIS into geography courses, including helping students to think more deeply by investigating geographical problems at different scales. Put simply, users can uncover complex geographical patterns that they wouldn’t normally see.

There have been obvious historical barriers to GIS implementation in schools, including a lack of access to ICT, complex industry-standard software, and a difficulty for teachers to work with and access large data sets. But Google EarthTM changed all of that, providing a wonderful point of entry into spatial data, and allowing everyone with access to a computer to visualise information in a creative and imaginative way. It made geographical space cool.


Osiris Staffroom article by David Holmes


True GIS takes this geographical visualisation a step further, empowering learners with the ability to manipulate, query and even interrogate complex data sets which have a spatial dimension. This functionality goes to the heart of a full GIS system, enabling students to develop and nurture their high-order questioning and creativity skills.

In the near future, GIS will be much easier for all schools to access and utilise: spurred by the central role GIS plays in the new KS3-5 curricula, the software will become ever more affordable, and cross-platform apps and web-based working will do away with the need for complex proprietary installed software. Simplicity, accessibility and usability are key priorities for GIS software companies and their developers.

So, the geospatial revolution has really started (but you don’t need me to tell you that). Location and place are woven into the fabric of how we live in the 21st century. The forthcoming Outstanding Geography Teaching course this summer will take time to showcase the significance, management and options for schools-based GIS as part of this new course. SR

David Holmes Quote

Written by
David Holmes

David has worked on the pilot and development of the new GCSEs for major examination boards. He is the author of numerous KS3, GCSE and GCE textbooks, and works closely with the Geographical Association and the RGS. He believes in the power of new technology and productive fieldwork to bring geography to life.