Editor’s note: Thank you for joining us for this edition of GeoInspirations. Today, our distinguished columnist, Dr. Joseph Kerski, features Dr. Maria Luisa de Lázaro, professor at the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia in Spain. We also have a Spanish version of the article.

I met Maria Luisa de Lázaro y Torres at a conference in Europe over 15 years ago and have been impressed by her passion for geography, education, and teaching with GIS ever since. Therefore, it is my great pleasure to introduce Dr. de Lázaro to Directions Magazine readers and, through her story, inspire you to make a positive difference in our world.

Dr. de Lázaro told us, “I perform my teaching and research activity as a geographer at the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, the objective of which is to offer an education ‘without distances’ and ‘wherever you are.’ In this context, I take advantage of technologies that shorten distances, shrink the world, and enable an approach to people and territories without precedents, thanks to working in the cloud and the use of ‘GIScience.’ The challenge that exists now is to explain to our students, using long-distance methodology, the fact that any data, produced at any determinate point, has a concrete location in space.”


“People, our students, are the most important factor. We must emphasize to them that in order to advance in knowledge of the landscape or territory, it is necessary that they each choose the most suitable methods and resources for their learning. During the 1960s, some educational centers in Spain used the Faure method, which is the name of one of the most important pioneers in personalized learning. I was one of those people educated with this system, new at that time. The faculty proposed research questions and the students looked for materials and resources, choosing the ones they considered the best to answer the previously established questions. A final presentation of materials and resources, along with the corresponding debate, allowed for the integration of different points of view, approached a transdisciplinary focus, and encouraged study and respect for others’ opinions,” de Lázaro said.

“This initial formation; the good professors in the university where I studied (the Complutense); the fieldwork done at the core of the Royal Geographic Society (Real Sociedad Geográfica); the advance of technologies related to territory at the hand of many enthusiasts of geographical sciences in America and Europe; and my work and collaboration with EUROGEO have brought me to the point where I now find myself: I consider it essential to teach geography using cartography in the cloud within the parameters of a SIGWeb (WebGIS). The natural and easy integration of these technologies into teaching with the purpose of facilitating learning is not something new; some people have already done it. In this sense, I can cite two international GIS experts, María Attard and Kostis Koutsopoulos, who showed me, many years ago, that knowing GIS technology is not enough. Instead, it is crucial to teach geography using GIS as a tool to facilitate the process. Nowadays, SIGWebs offer and enable this possibility in a very simple way. I have defended and spread this idea by writing various articles on this topic and publishing them in both geography magazines with great influence in Spain (such as ‘Boletín de la Asociación de Geógrafos Españoles), and in my current department of geography in the UNED (Espacio, Tiempo y Forma), as well as in the magazine European Journal of Geography from EUROGEO. Despite this, I can say that I have yet to successfully fulfill the challenge of integrating GIScience into long-distance geography teaching. To achieve this, I have just founded an innovation group in the UNED: GID2017-10 ‘Learn using Online Maps’ with the acronym MapsOnline,” de Lázaro said.

“I can proudly affirm that I have been a pioneer in the usage of SIGWeb ArcGIS Online (Esri) in Spain, as only the Jaume I University, aided by Dr. Michael Gould, used it when I introduced it into the University Complutense of Madrid. It was the European network digital-earth.eu, through Karl Donert, that funded my assistance to the EUROGI Imagine 2013 conference in Dublin, where I saw and tried this tool for the first time. I was amazed by it. After my return, teachers from multiple universities, educational levels, and geographic locations started to do collaborative cartography, integrating our students without the need for deep technical knowledge. To explain and learn about geographical problems using SIGWebs in my scientific and teaching context was an achievable goal. With this purpose, Isaac Buzo, Carlos Guallart, Rafael de Miguel, Javier Velilla, and myself started Atlas Digital Escolar (Educational Digital Atlas),” de Lázaro said.

“The Educational Digital Atlas (with a story map here) supports the learning and teaching of geography by providing content and suggestions, allowing a greater interactivity with maps in the cloud. In this way, those who want to teach geography in an alternative format can approach territory in a different way. This helps students understand territorial phenomena with greater depth, making them responsible citizens capable of intervening with knowledge in territorial problems. To do so, they can take advantage of existing maps or create their own through ArcGIS Online,” de Lázaro said.

“I would like to encourage young geography teachers to better take advantage of within their daily teaching, the possibilities that the cloud creates in terms of geographic information: geodata, cartography, and other materials. In this sense the National Geographic Institute of Spain (Instituto Geográfico Nacional de España) plays a crucial role, but also tools in the cloud such as SIGWebs, which process this information,” she said.

“I invite you to watch this video, titled ‘Aprender empleando SIGWebs’ (Learn Using WebGIS), which was one of the ten best experiences presented at the IX Jornadas de Innovación (Innovation Day) of the UNED, celebrated in June 2017. In it is shown, in a simple and clear way, this new way of learning geography and enjoying teaching using the cloud,” de Lázaro concluded.

Cited and/or recent videos, projects, and publications: