Exploring the effects of GIS use on students’ achievement in geography

Dr. Kathrin Viehrig
First advisor: Prof. Dr. Alexander Siegmund
Second advisor: Prof. Dr. Nir Orion (Weizmann Institute of Science)


The dissertation has been published here.


The concept “system“ is one of the most important cognitive constructs of geography. To comprehend and analyze geographic systems therefore is also an essential part of the guiding objective of geographical education. Previous studies have shown, however, that the systemic thinking skills of adolescents are often insufficient.

Just as in a number of other federal states, the use of geographic information systems (GIS) has been integrated as compulsory into the secondary I[1] curriculum of Gymnasium[2] in Baden-Wurttemberg. GIS is also explicitly mentioned in the national educational standards for the intermediate school certificate. Thereby it is often assumed that using GIS in school has positive effects on the motivation and a set of competences of the students, and specifically is also fostering systemic thinking. Hitherto, however, there are hardly any studies in Germany dealing with that aspect.

Objective of the dissertation was the exploration of the question whether the use of GIS fosters the systemic thinking skills of students more than the use of paper maps. To develop a test and a treatment, as well as to investigate the question at hand, five studies have been conducted (three with one test time and two in a pre-/posttest design). The treatment dealt with the topic ‘Tourism in Kenya’. For data analysis, besides classical methods, also IRT and partly HLM have been used.

Fostering systemic thinking by using GIS?


Project term: 2007-2014

The dissertation was supported by a SDW PhD fellowship from 2008-2009.




[1] classes 5-10

[2] a type of secondary school, classes 5-12, considered the “high stream” in the traditional three-stream system



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