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Geographic Information Systems (GIS): Taking Mapmaking Further

Sample Map ImageTrue Geographic Information Systems allow mapmakers to layer data such as census information in order to discern spatial distribution patterns. Multiple layers allow geographers to see how different factors interact, to understand the relations between these factors, and to understand how they correlate. For example, is there any relation between income, education, and access to computer technology?


That question is one addressed by the Digital Divide. The term "Digital Divide," expresses the gap between people who have meaningful access to computers and the Internet and those who do not. This definition expands to include other digital disparity gaps, such as effective use of information, the ability for an information user to be more than a passive consumer, and the availability of relevant, useful, appropriate, and affordable content. While a consensus does not exist on the extent of the divide (and whether the divide is growing or narrowing), researchers are nearly unanimous in acknowledging that some sort of divide exists at this point in time. This gap can be viewed along socio-economic status and race/ethnicity lines.

GIS Mapping at Jordan High School
Students at Jordan High School, in the Watts section of inner city Los Angeles, mapped the Digital Divide for Teaching to Change LA, part of a program of UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education and Access. Their teacher, Herschel Sarnoff, teaches GIS skills to his students as a means to engage them and provide skills they can use in future careers. He has been reaching out to the underprivileged students in this neighborhood for 30 years and is a tenacious proponent of providing informed computer access.

James Binko "Jordan High School is hardcore inner-city, incredible poverty here… we've got kids feeding in from the housing projects- just your classic inner-city neighborhood. This is it. The Watts Riots took place right out here in '65. …Most of the kids are really good and they want to learn and if you can give them something they're interested in. And something that they can learn. And GIS, I found, is, the kids that come to class are totally fascinated by it and they'll sit here and they'll try and try and try. It's really encouraging for a teacher to see kids really involved with the work." - Herschel Sarnoff, 10th-grade history and GIS teacher, Jordan High School, Los Angeles

First introduced to GIS in 1998, Herschel has educated himself on its use and created the GIS skills course at Jordan High School. You can find many of Herschel's GIS-based lessons at the ESRI website: http://www.hmsgis.com

The following maps were produced by Herschel's students using ARCView GIS software and were presented at the 2001 Digital Divide Conference held at UCLA. Their objective was to create GIS layouts examining selected schools and their place in the Digital Divide. Which schools have access to computers and the Internet? This project gave students the opportunity to map the spatial dimensions of the Digital Divide and helped build their own understanding of technology's impact on economic success. The maps were created using data from three different sources: the U.S. Census, California Department of Education, and results from surveys designed by Teaching to Change LA.

As you view the maps, what conclusions can you draw from individual maps? What conclusions about the Digital Divide can you draw from the maps as a whole.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS): Slideshow
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This map shows income overlaid with education. Yellow areas and large moneybags vividly show college education and its correlation with increased income. The white central Los Angeles area with its low per capita income is a stark contrast. Can you find Jordan High School on this map? How does its location relate to surrounding areas?