Educational Design and Engagement

Educational Design and Engagement

Enriching the student learning experience & supporting development of on campus and online courses.

IT Futures Conference 2014

The annual IT Futures Conference at the University of Edinburgh was held on Thursday December 11th at the University of Edinburgh. This is a conference that my colleagues and I look forward to attending as it always stimulates lots of conversation both during the conference and afterwards.

I decided to write about my favourite presentation from the event. If you would like more information of the conference as a whole, the presentations as well as recordings of the presentation will be posted at the IT Future website.

My favourite speaker/presentation of the day was “Geographic Information: Warning Hazardous Material” by Dr. William Mackaness who is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Geoscience. Dr. Mackaness’ area of expertise is within geographical information which is something that I have never come across. I actually had to google what it is. According to Wikipedia, “a geographical information system (GIS) is a computer system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage and present all types of spatial and geographical data.” Of course I have come across systems such as these, e.g. Open Street Map, but didn’t realize there was an overarching term for these types of information systems.

Open Street Map is a GIS where people can collectedly contribute to the vision (i.e. world map) and it is accessible to everyone, but is there possibly something wrong with this vision? According to Dr. Mackaness there may be several factors to consider when using this type of technology as technology is inherently undemocratic.

He used the example of mapping a large slum within India as a context for thinking about the factors below as well as the thought that technology is elitist and there is still very much a digital divide.

Some of the factors to consider about GIS technology:

  • Skewed view of the world? :

Does it give a skewed representation of society? For example, people often capture information from Twitter or other Social Media tools but not everyone is on Twitter and the people on Twitter are not a representation of the worldwide population.

  • Precision erodes location privacy:

Nowadays people can pinpoint almost exactly where you are thanks to wifi and cellular data from smart phones and other devices. It is robbing people the option of anonymity?

  • Misplaced Causality:

Making causal links between correlations. This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine as I did psychology as an undergrad. One of the first things you learn is that correlation does not mean causation!

  • Marginalised the vulnerable:

Seeing certain areas on a map may ghettoize certain areas and communities. This may lead to people who have more wealth leaving these communities if they feel the area they live in has been ghettoized. In turn this may make the area even worse since people who have the option to leave the community can, whereas people who do not have the means to leave may be left worse off.

  • Panopticon society:

The Panopticon is a prison designed to have a single watchtower to watch over the masses. The prisoner can’t see the guard so the prisoner had the feeling of being constantly surveyed. The real life idea behind this is would people participated if they knew they were being watched by the government or their employers?

Overall what value lies in mapping, especially vulnerable communities, such as large slums in India? Does a map help the way with which the people in the slums will operate? Does it help make them become more efficient?

In conclusion, it seems that GIS technology is one of necessity. That this type of technology sits within a set of relationships of political interests (government), power, and hidden agendas. The bottom line is that we need to think carefully on how we utilize this information; we need to be a bit more cautious.


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