John Ritter, associate professor of geology and director of environmental studies, Olga Medvedkov, professor of geography and department chair, and Tim Lewis, associate professor of biology and department chair, have collaborated to secure the grant to fund an extension of the university's geographic information systems (GIS) technology across the curriculum. The lab has been located in Carnegie Hall since Wittenberg originally provided seed money for it in 1996, but it will now be expanded and moved into a larger, better equipped room in Science Hall.
A GIS lab provides "the capability of revolutionizing the way students in targeted courses acquire, think about and communicate knowledge," said John Ritter, associate professor of biology and director of environmental studies. Ritter will serve as the project's director, and he will oversee the transfer of equipment - along with the purchase of additional computer software and hardware - to the new lab in Science Hall this summer.
In laymen terms, GIS technology allows students to analyze complex data over space and time and has traditionally been used in field-oriented disciplines such as biology, envionmental studies, geography and geology. It also has been utilized to study problems in economics, political science, sociology and urban studies, and it has modeled as a teaching aid in education.
Medvedkov brought the GIS technology to Wittenberg in 1996, converting an old cartography lab into a location where students later produced useful maps, charts and spreadsheets to analyze local crime data and the location of a new fire station in Springfield. Her students have also analyzed data on Wittenberg admissions.
"Technology is always changing in this and other fields," Medvedkov said. "This creates more work, but it's so exciting. If you want to call it a job, I'll take it." Medvedkov said one of her goals when she set up the original GIS lab was to "disseminate the technology to other departments" because it can be used for so many different purposes. So she has held several faculty workshops over the last few years in an effort to mentor other faculty and cultivate interest in the technology. As a result, Lewis was able to incorporate some aspects of the technology into his mammalian ecology class.
Ritter said the NSF grant and matching funds from Wittenberg will allow the university to equip a centralized learning laboratory with sufficient hardware and peripheral equipment so that students will be able to take advantage of campus GIS technology. The lab will be equipped with sufficient student and faculty workstations supported by a dedicated server and will include the latest technology in large-format printing and scanning, digitizers, video projectors, electronic whiteboards, and global positioning systems. It will utilize the most advanced line of ArcGIS software, including ArcInfo and ArcView, and additional software, including Image Analysis, Tracker Analyst and RiverTools.
In addition, the NSF grant will train lead faculty members in the use of GIS software and enable them to revise existing curricular materials and create new ones as needed. It will also allow Wittenberg to extend the use of GIS across the curriculum by providing mentoring opportunities to a self-selected group of faculty that have identified a need and interest in incorporating GIS into their coursework.
The GIS lab represents a unique opportunity for Wittenberg students to gain experiences and apply what they learn in class. The project will begin this summer, but it is not expected to be completed until August 2003, at which time Ritter, Medvedkov and Lewis hope to have increased both student and faculty exposure to GIS technology.
"The ability to visualize data offers unprecedented opportunities for learning in the liberal arts," Ritter said.
"By project's end, students and faculty alike will have a laboratory facility in which to learn, apply and share GIS-related skills and techniques, providing for a community of learners from different disciplines but utilizing a common technology."