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Implications of Geographic Information System technology for planning education

Ann-Margaret Esnard, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Geographic Information System (GIS) technology is revolutionizing spatial data visualization, handling, manipulation and analysis in planning and related disciplines. The objective of this dissertation was to document the infiltration of GIS and other information technologies into planning schools; to clarify the difference between the GIS Revolution, and the Quantitative Revolution of the sixties; and to highlight and address the theoretical-technological disparities in planning school curricula. A comparison of the GIS Revolution with the Quantitative Revolution confirmed that unlike the large scale models and techniques that emerged in academia during the sixties, GIS technology is not an academic venture. It is a big business, with the software products of commercial vendors driving the teaching and research agendas at U.S. planning schools. The GIS profession has emerged, and there is a high demand for schools to turn out planners with relevant knowledge and experience. The soaring popularity of GIS courses and GIS specialties in planning schools was documented, and the implications of GIS technology for computer and human resources, and for the nature and style of instruction, assignments, studios, research projects, theses and dissertations, is discussed. It was noted that, despite the impact of GIS technology on course offerings, the planning pedagogic model has changed little. In particular, planning theory has remained a core course since its inception in the planning curriculum. A review of course outlines, course content and literature revealed that GIS and planning theory courses do not complement each other. In fact, academic criticism of GIS and related information technologies has further intensified with the barrage of post-positivist philosophies, advanced by many theorists. Given the importance of both types of courses, it was concluded that the theorist-technician dichotomy is counterproductive, and that viable methods of integration must be researched. The concept of links was introduced and exemplified to demonstrate the contexts within which planning theory topics can be integrated with GIS topics.

Subject Area

Urban planning|Area planning & development|Geography|Educational software

Recommended Citation

Esnard, Ann-Margaret, "Implications of Geographic Information System technology for planning education" (1995). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9541100.