Geo-literacy provides skills to read, interpret and use geospatial information, where little evidence exists regarding the potential and capacity of new education programs in advancing these skills. We present a citizen science project held in 13 high schools in Israel, where the students practice participatory mapping with OpenStreetMap to map features relevant to the navigation of visually impaired pedestrians. We show that students improve their geospatial thinking and reasoning skills, including their self-esteem. We believe that this research contributes to various pedagogic and education levels, in terms of theoretical knowledge about the integration of innovative geo-literacy programs.
The 21st Century dictates that people have a good spatial and geographic understanding and knowledge. Geo-literacy is aimed to provide skills to read, interpret and use geospatial information. This is achieved by acquiring critical spatial thinking, reasoning, and analysis, and presenting understanding of the world using geographical terms and spatial language. Recent years have led to the development of new geo-literacy education programs specifically designed to nurture and promote these skills. These education programs build on geographical education that promotes spatial thinking and active citizenship. Still, little evidence exists regarding the potential and capacity of these programs in advancing civic and geographic skills and knowledge in the 21st Century, and on its contribution to - and advancing of - the individual and the society.
The aim of this research is to gain a better understanding of the development of geo-literacy in the framework of a citizen science project in high schools. The citizen science project implemented in several schools in Israel – landmarks for accessible space, advances scientific research that aims to make the urban environment more accessible for visually impaired pedestrians. The participating high school students practice participatory mapping with OpenStreetMap (OSM) to map features relevant to the navigation of visually impaired pedestrians. These map features are used for the automatic calculation of optimal walking routes. The project combines social involvement, learning through geographic information systems, and familiarity with the field of urban accessibility for visually impaired people. The project includes the following stage:
1. Pre-stage that includes a) the design of the modular learning environment, b) the organizational and pedagogical preparation of the project integration in schools, and c) questionnaires examining the current level of geographic literacy of the participating students and their perspective regarding the integration of citizen science in schools.
2. Intervention program that includes guest seminars (including YouTube videos), lectures and learning activities, exposure to the world of visually impaired people, and the need for accessible environments and learning activities in the field of geoinformation with emphasis on OSM, crowdsourcing, and participatory mapping.
3. Mapping missing data into OSM. This stage is carried out in the field with a designated app developed for this project. The app - “Mundi” - allows the mapping of specific geographic features (mapping elements) used for the calculation of accessible routes designed specifically for visually impaired pedestrians. The features include, among others, sidewalks, crossings, accessibility aids, and handrails. The app includes gamification and tasks to encourage the students to map the missing features in their area of residence.
4. Post-stage questionnaires aimed to investigate and analyze the development of spatial skills in the context of participation in this program, examining whether students’ level of geographic literacy improved and whether they gained new knowledge on urban accessibility and the navigation proficiencies of visually impaired pedestrians. This stage also included a quantitative analysis of the students’ contributions in terms of OSM mapping, among others, the number of map edits, type of mapped features, the spatial coverage and temporal extent of their mapping activity.
The study was conducted in the last two years in 13 high schools, including 25 classes and 460 students. The intervention model was implemented for three months in each class. The participating students implemented this project within their Cyber Geography studies, enabling them to learn through various geographic information systems. In total, close to 10,000 OSM edits were made by the students, which included more than 3,000 new crossings (and attributed tags), 400 new sidewalks, and 7,000 new street objects and obstacles (e.g., bus stations, light poles, trees, gates, bicycle parking).
Preliminary analysis showed that participation in the citizen science project increased the students’ geospatial thinking and reasoning. For example, according to the questionnaire variables, on a score scale of 0-100, the geospatial thinking score has increased from 31 to 56, while the spatial awareness score has increased from 34 to 73 (p < .001). The geographic skills knowledge has increased from 3 to 3.9 (scale of 1-5). Moreover, the students' self-esteem with respect to their knowledge and use of geographic skills has improved considerably. In addition, results show that the broad and in-depth intervention model increased the students' appreciation of the scientists' contribution to the project, the contribution of the program in general, and the satisfaction with their participation in the project.
This is the first project to introduce the use of OSM-based learning to the study of geography in Israel. Based on its outcome and analysis, we believe that this research contributes to various pedagogic and education levels, in terms of theoretical knowledge about the integration of innovative geo-literacy programs. These promote the drawing of operational and applicable actions regarding the planning of future projects and serving stakeholders in academia and the education system in terms of integrating scientific projects that increase students’ involvement in science and society and promote geo-literacy.