Arkansas Inks Statewide License for School Access to Geographic Information

The Arkansas Department of Education (ADOE) has signed a license agreement with ESRI giving all 266 school districts in the state access to the K-12-focused version of the Geographic Information System (GIS) software published by the company.

GIS is a system of integrated hardware, software, and data used for mapping, modeling, and analyzing scientific and social trends related to physical, political, and cultural geography. Schools have used paper maps and textbooks for decades to study the discipline, but the world and its people change so rapidly it has always been nearly impossible for the materials to keep current with events. It is only with computer and Internet technology that students can now have access to consistently current trends and scenarios, as well as the full spectrum of related data, all regularly updated to reflect the constant changes.

With access to GIS technology, Arkansas students can study and understand the vicissitudes of the world around them and learn how to apply what they learn to their own lives and futures. "This is an important step in providing educational opportunities for our students to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century," said Jim Boardman, assistant commissioner for research and technology at the Arkansas Department of Education. "Learning GIS gives students important skills that can be applied in a wide range of occupations."

Funding for the statewide license comes from the EAST Initiative, an non-profit organization that focuses on engaging students in their education and their communities through the use of technology. "Through our longtime support of GIS projects in Arkansas high schools, we have developed a close relationship with the Arkansas Department of Education. We will be working with the department to help facilitate its implementation of the technology in schools across the state," said Matt Dozier, president and CEO of the EAST Initiative.

ADOE said it plans to introduce the GIS program to administrators, teachers, and students via the Web, with a site planned for announcements, questions and answers, exchange of information and ideas, and to distribute the software. ESRI's international educational forum Web site is currently up and promotes the exchange of methods, techniques, and questions for GIS users throughout the world.

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Scott Aronowitz is a freelance writer based in Las Vegas. He has covered the technology, advertising, and entertainment sectors for seven years. He can be reached here.