Children as Map Users in the Information Technology Era

Cartography at the beginning of twenty first century is facing a technological revolution due to the widespread use of electronic media and especially of computers and information technology. In many countries, individuals have access to a computer usually connected to a worldwide network everyday. Such a technological advance not only affects the technical frame of cartography, but it also changes decisively the relation between cartography and society. During the long history of cartography, the latter faced significant technological revolutions that changed the methods of map construction dramatically. But in every case, the cartographic processes needed specially trained staff (cartographers) in order to be performed. As a result, the knowledge of how to construct a map was related to a very small section of the society, that is, the cartographers. The existence of such advanced technological tools is transforming any member of the society, and especially children, into a cartographer by offering electronic systems able to construct any kind of map.

Indeed, children have a more privileged place by being familiarized with the use of the computers. Children can easily convey the knowledge acquired from playing a computer game into an effective construction of a map. Two issues are important for the children's proper assimilation of the present technology. The first one is related to the dramatic change of the available educational tools provided by information technology. Software packages provide the ability to simulate several spatial phenomena (construction of models, walkthrough, and fly through) and to construct virtual worlds and examples, while at the same time their function is characterized by interactivity. Thus, using electronic media, children can be exposed to map skills and to map concepts (i.e., generalization, map projections, and spherical Earth) by means of various and effective communicative ways. The second issue refers to children as mapmakers. In the past, children were constructing an analog map of a continent, for example, by tracing (from a published map) the coastline on a piece of paper. With a computer, they can construct a detailed map of the same continent by retrieving data from a spatial database and symbolizing various features in alternative colorful ways. A critical question is raised here as to whether these maps made by children are effective in developing cartographic knowledge, or are they just drawings. Specialists on children and mapping persistently ask for map literacy.