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The 3rd ISPRS Workshop on Dynamic and Multi-Dimensional GIS & the 10th Annual Conference of CPGIS on Geoinformatics
Chen, Jun

ISPRS, Vol.34, Part 2W2, “Dynamic and Multi-Dimensional GIS”, Bangkok, May 23-25, 2001
Bin LI
Department of Geography
Central Michigan University
Mount Pleasant, Ml 48858
(517) 774-8886
KEYWORDS: GIS, learning, tutorials systems
GIS tutorial systems are largely based on graphic user interface (GUI) consisting of windows, menus, and buttons. These menu-driven
tutorials hide the complex details of the computational processes and eliminate the need to memorize command syntax, which
supposedly enables students to focus on learning the concepts and developing problem-solving skills. Recent studies in cognitive
psychology, however, revealed that the menu-driven tutorials for such subjects as mathematics and physics were not as effective as the
traditional command-based tutorials. This paper reports the preliminary results of a project that evaluate the effectiveness of menu-
driven tutorial systems as compared to script-based systems. We found that while both tutorial systems yielded similar overall test
scores, script-based system showed improvement on learning conceptual materials.
Geographic Information Systems, or GIS, is a subject that has
undergone rapid development in recent years. GIS provides a
conceptual framework and associated methodology that enable
effective representations of spatial problems. It has become an
important component in the curriculum of geography and related
disciplines such as geology, biology, and operational research.
Similar to other technically oriented subjects, GIS has
increasingly been taught with tutorials for a particular software
package. These tutorials are based on the graphic user
interface (GUI) that mainly constitutes menus and buttons.
Menu selection hence becomes the main mode of operations. It
is the dominant form of GIS tutorials.
Personal observations and extensive research in cognitive
psychology indicate that menu selection systems indeed may
have significant drawbacks as learning mechanisms. Corbett, et
al., for example, found that menu-driven data entry inhibits
learning, compared to type-in code entry, even though students
in the menu condition tend to like their tutor more (1991).
Norman, on the other hand, detailed the general comparison of
menu and command interface from the point of view of cognitive
control and flow (1991). No such studies, however, have been
conducted in the domain of geography and GIS.
GIS, in the form of computer software, is a computational
abstraction of geographic space. It represents spatial objects as
geometric entities and their relations as spatial functions. GIS
attempts to model the real world processes as digital data and
flow of computational instructions. Solving problems using GIS
require the understanding of the entire computational process.
The advent of graphic user interface, predominantly with menus
and buttons, makes transparent the low level operations and
supposedly allows the user to focus on problem solving instead
of remembering command names and syntax. While this makes
software easier to use, the high level abstraction by menus and
buttons blocks the user from operational details. For students of
GIS who need to understand the concepts and logics of a
complex computational model, menu driven systems may
actually serve as a cognitive obstacle. And yet, we don't know if
this is the case and to what extent menu driven systems hinders
the learning of GIS concepts and logics.
We believe a comparison between menu-driven and script-
based GIS tutorials may shed some lights to the problem.
Similar to command interface, script has well defined syntax.
Each statement must be concise and each sequence must
follow the operational logic. Compared with menu-driven
interfaces, scripting provides a completely different learning
experience. Would it be more effective to use script-based
tutorials? This paper reports some of the preliminary findings
from a comparison between two sets of ArcView GIS tutorials,
with one menu-driven, the other script-based.
The following sections include a description on the methodology,
case studies, and a discussion.
The objective of the project is to find out if script-based tutorials
are more effective than menu-driven ones in learning GIS at the
introductory level. Below are some of the methodological
1. How should the tutorials be developed?
2. What procedures to follow to conduct the experiment?
3. How will the results be analyzed?
Development of tutorials
There are a number of considerations in developing the tutorials.
We first have to make some assumptions about the background
of the students. In this study, the only prerequisite for the course
is an introductory cartography class. Programming experience
is not required. The second consideration is the software
platform to use. Such platform must be widely used and
accommodate both menu-driven and scripting interfaces. The
obvious choice is ESRI’s ArcView GIS (ESRI, 2000). ArcView
makes its entire application programming interface available
through the scripting language Avenue. ArcView also has by far
the most popular menu driven tutorial system, "Getting to Know
ArcView GIS”. The apparent approach, therefore, is to select
the appropriate sections in the existing menu-driven tutorial then
to develop the corresponding script versions.
Development of the tutorial follows these procedures:
• Formulating learning objectives
• Identifying learning topics
• Decomposing learning topics into tutorial topics
• Design and implementation
• Testing
• Documentation
Formulating learning objectives