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Finders keepers

New ways of accessing the web will make geography much more interesting, says Karl Donert

A revolution is taking place on the web. Billions of pieces of information, which potentially can be accessed in seconds, are stored on networked computers. But navigating this maze can be difficult, especially with long lists of hyperlinks to search.

One solution is Web-Geographical Information Systems (Web-GIS). These provide tools that can organise and present geographical information online. The results can be viewed either with a 3D perspective or by multimedia animation techniques to produce "fly-by" sequences. Web-GIS also allows us to perform tasks such as measuring distances, plotting routes and presenting maps online at different scales.

Web-GIS encourages exploratory approaches to learning. Web interfaces provide us with personalised map information without the need to download other software. For example, mapping sites such as provide navigation and scale tools as well as road maps and even matching aerial photographs.

One example of the integration of Web mapping is the eNews (Environmental News) European Project. Articles about environmental news are prepared and put on the site by pupils from different countries in Europe for others to read and comment on. This increases their sense of responsibility and therefore supports the citizenship curriculum. The articles are geo-referenced using Web-GIS when they are submitted and this helps students search for related information.

Simple Web mapping develops students' critical thinking through spatial awareness and discussion. But this depends on a suitable curriculum model - one that will provide freedom to incorporate these technologies in the classroom.

Another example where web mapping plays an integral part is Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE). GLOBE is a network of scientists and more than 7,000 primary and secondary schools in more than 80 countries which study together to understand the environment. They collect data on atmosphere, hydrology, soils and land cover and present it through web-mapping, graphs and animation techniques.

Another initiative that is bringing Web-GIS into schools is My Community, Our Earth, a project which has involved more than 2,000 students around the world working on sustainable development.

The Environment Agency's What's in Your Backyard? database has information on coastal and river waters, flooding and pollution which can be viewed by web maps and is searchable by name or postcode.

The European Space Agency Map Server provides access to satellite data that can be merged with information such as boundaries, city names and land use to make maps. Web-GIS can also be used for virtual fieldtrips. A good example is the company, Geonova GeoInformation Solutions, which has produced interactive 3D visualisations of Swiss landscapes.

So what prevents such exciting and innovating technologies from being introduced to the geography classroom? Probably the biggest barrier is an overloaded curriculum. But Web-GIS has the potential to transform educational practices so it really is time to get the web geoinformation revolution into school geography.

ENews Project:

Environment Agency: What's in Your Backyard? http: asp1_introduction.asp

My Community, Our Earth Project sustainable European Space Agency (ESA) Map Server: http:mapserv2.esrin.esa.itmap GIS Day:

GIS in UK School Education:

GIS Files from the Ordnance Survey: Globe Project:

How to join: www.globe.govfsl htmlaboutglobe.cgi?introamp;lang=enNoNojoin

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