Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Gamification of GIS and GIS Use in Gaming

American Sentinel University offers some of the most creative press releases to market its GIS degrees. In August it published this one: Gamification of GIS Offers Career Boost for Geospatial Professionals. I was expecting to read about the gamification of GIS and wondering which examples would be used. I would have selected Foursquare or Waze if I wrote the release.

But the release was about something different. It noted:
The gaming industry is relying on GIS for real-world datasets, which increases the need for trained GIS professionals.
That's true. But it's not gamification. Wikipedia defines it this way:
Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems.[1][2][3] Gamification has been studied and applied in several domains, with some of the main purposes being to engage (improve user engagement[4] physical exercise[5] return on investment, flow[6] data quality, timeliness), teach (in classrooms, the public or at work[7]), entertain (enjoyment[6] fan loyalty), measure (for recruiting and employee evaluation), and to improve the perceived ease of use of information systems.[6][8] A review of research on gamification shows that most studies on gamification find positive effects from gamification.[9]
Foursquare used game ideas to encourage users to collect badges and become "mayors" of locations. Mayors sometimes received free drinks or other perks when they visited their kingdoms (bars, restaurants, entertainment venues). In its latest incarnation, foursquare is encouraging different behaviors through gamification, as it encourages users to become "experts."

Waze encouraged drivers to help gather data in less travelled areas by visiting areas that offer "points" in a Pac-Man style game.

I consider Edit-a-thons and more formal games to capture geospaital data via crowdsourcing gamification, too, since they encourage competition. See for example the gamification wikipage for OpenStreetMap.

What American Sentinel University wanted to highlight, I believe, is the potential for good jobs for GIS professional in the video game and marketplace. The use of real world data in such games dates back some years. Here's a 2001 press release from ERDAS touting Microsoft's use of its software. I recall hearing a presentation in 2009 from the team member behind Microsoft's Flight Simulator. He explained how the company used real data in some areas and "faked it" in others. The big limitation in those days? Getting all the data onto the CDs and DVDs! Today, imagery and real world maps are part of virtual reality and augmented reality games and experiences.

There is great potential for both the gamification of GIS and the use of GIS data in games. Just be sure you know the difference!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

What I Did Right at the 2014 Prairie Spirit 100

The Prairie Spirit Trail 100 was my fourth attempt at the distance. I'd only finished one other time and chose this event to celebrate my 50th birthday (March 28) and test what I'd learned from the Did Not FInish experiences (DNFs). Apparently, I learned a lot along the way. Below is a list of what I did right this time to capture a second 100 mile finish.

I took care of my feet early. I started feeling some toe discomfort at mile 25 or so. Instead of waiting until the next aid station, I pulled over at an unmanned water stop and unpacked my foot care ziploc bag. I decided, for the first time, to carry it with me. A band-aid provided comfort and held until the end of the race. I ended up with a somewhat larger blister at the finish, but nothing that prevented my running for the next 75 miles.

Ottawa Trailhead on Friday morning.
There were no questionable shoes. Instead of “trying” some shoes I didn’t have full confidence in, I stuck to old faithful shoes, the ones I train in day in and day out. I used two pairs of identical Brooks Glycerins (miles 0-40 and 77-100) and one pair of Nike Pegasus (40-77). I’m looking forward to trying the new extra cushy Brooks Transcend (the Hoka of Brooks).

On my own in the cool of the morning.
I slowed down early. I knew from the outset I was going too fast, but it wasn’t until about mile 35 I eased into a run/walk strategy. Most of the runners near me were doing some kind of run x/walk x minutes. Some did 9/1, some did 3/2 and one group at the end was doing 90 sec/90 sec. I don’t like the watch method and sadly the course is dead flat, so “walking the hills” is not an option. The course does have mileposts, wooden markers on the right outbound and left inbound. My strategy was to run to the next marker and when I found it, walk for one minute. It kept me attentive and slowed my pace nicely. I also got “used to” the start/stop that would inevitably be required later in the race.

With Carl just before Garnett.
I ate only one gel for 100 miles. I use gels mostly as back up when either the food offered is not enticing or when I’m between aid stations and need some calories. This time I was able to eat a few hundred calories at each aid station. I had the gel at an early aid station that didn’t have a hot non-meat “real food” offering. The gel worked fine (Hammer raspberry). I carried two gels in my pack for 100 miles. They came home with me (Hammer Espresso from our 24 hour race and Hammer apple from this race).

On the trail about mile 62 with pacer David. SRRs will meet him - he's coming to Cambridge this summer.
I did not carry a water bottle until mile 30. One of my downfalls in earlier 100s was drinking too much. Since Prairie Spirit has water no further away than six miles, I chose to carry a collapsable cup in the early cool hours. I put my handheld 10 ounce bottle in my 30 mile drop bag. I picked it up then because the sun was getting stronger and we expected 65 degrees or so in the afternoon. I didn’t worry over water. I did what Tim Noakes told us to do: I drank when I was thirsty. By the end of the night my throat was sore (that happens to me at all 100s) so I drank the cool water just to soothe it. I think I got a good deal of my hydration by eating oranges and bananas and a cup of Heed at pretty much every aid station.

Finishing with Jim at my side.
I found a friend. About mile forty I was feeling beat up  physically and getting mentally weak. A few chats with folks didn’t lead to any connections. Then I caught up to Jim. He was quick to say he was having a rough time and we quickly got on to other matters: what other ultras we’d done, our running clubs, family, interests... The next thing we knew we were at the 50 mile mark, the turnaround point. He went off with his crew (“it’s like a spa”) and I visited the aid station. I then found him and the crew and asked if I could “tag along” on the way back. They all said “yes” and Jim and I headed out with one of his several pacers. 

At the finish with pacer Travis.
I erred on the side of being too warm. I’ve done near hypothermia before and as someone who is generally cold, I know it can take me out of a long race. Thus, I dressed for slightly cooler conditions than the weather predicted. I used giant winter mittens (Knutes - I love them!!) at the start and had my favorite zipup hood jacket for the evening. I wore the latter around my waist for some miles but was glad to have it when the wind kicked up in some pockets. I didn’t bother putting on shorts during the heat of the day and wore the same black tights for 100 miles. My legs don’t seen to mind being warm.

Jim, Justin, Travis, David and me after our celebratory breakfast with David Horton (who had to to get back to the finish). They are all "SLUGS" - St. Louis Ultra Group.
We stuck to the plan. Jim quickly bought on to my “walk a minute at each milepost” plan and we implemented that with our two pacers. The pacer, with fresh eyes in the dark, was in charge of finding the posts and I was in charge of timing the minute of walking. It got harder as the night went on: I could not remember for a minute at what number of seconds on my watch we’d started walking! We probably went over a minute of walking a few times....ooops. Still, we ran that way the whole night - except the end. More on that below.

My second buckle for my second 100 finish. First one was NJ Ultrafest March 2013.

We had a “sprint.” As we got nearer the finish it became clear we’d easily hit Jim’s (and my secret) goal of a sub 24 hour time, but we were really close to sub 23. Pacer Travis asked if we wanted to go for it. I noted some knee pain and voted “no” and urged Jim and Travis to go ahead. They would not. Jim suggested we turn off the walk/run for the last 2.5 miles. I was hesitant, but decided to try; if I had to walk, I would. We dug in, blinking in the night to find the glowing finish line among the industrial buildings at the edge of town. Jim said we got down to a 10 minute mile. I can’t say for sure, but it sure felt like we were booking! 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Free Online World Regional Geography Course from Saylor

I've written about the Saylor Foundation before and noted its mission to provide open textbooks, including one on geography. I found that Saylor.org offers free courses "built by professors" and one is titled Geography 101: World Regional Geography. It's a course where you work through the material on your own and take an exam at the end, so it's not a MOOC per se. Students who score 70% or higher receive a certificate. And a few schools will accept a certificate for credit.

World Regional Geography was designed by Ken Yanow, Professor of Geographical Sciences, Southwestern College. I know Yanow from his work at the GeoTech Center and on the Esri Education Advisory Board. Saylor hires professors to write the courses; there are about 300 courses currently available.

World Regional Geography relies on a few key resources:
I don't know when the course was posted, but I see queries from May 2013.  Some queries on access to a reading from students from late last year were answered by a Saylor administrator on Jan 14, 1014.

Add this to your kit of free tools for teaching and learning world regional geography!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Why was an Interactive Map Series the top story of 2013 in the New York Times?

My dialect map was spot on!
Diana Sinton notes on her blog that the most read story in the New York Times in 2013 was  not a story but an interactive map series.  (The map was developed by an intern.)

An Engaging Map Activity

Here's how the interactive works. After a series of questions about terms used for various actions and objects, the visitor is presented with a personal dialect map. It identifies regions (U.S. only) where people who use the same terms. By most accounts the algorithm is very successful at identifying individual's home regions.

Sinton offers some explanations for why the online offering was so popular:
People like to answer simple, online, multiple-choice questions, especially about themselves. People like to reminisce about their childhood places, where their pronunciations of words were first fixed.  People needed a distraction from the end-of-the-year activities in chaotic December.  People had more unstructured and free time to hang out online over the holidays.
We as geography/GIS educators can learn something about engaging students with maps and geography from the Times success with this map series.

Let me start with this comment from the Atlantic article that Sinton cites:
People will generally click on and respond to things that are funny, personally relateable, positive, and have that "I didn't know that!" anecdotal quality.
There are other qualities of note in the map series: (1) there's a path that's laid out and (2) if you follow it, you get a "personalized prize." To use education lingo, the process is "scaffolded." And, to use motivation speak, there is a "payoff" at the end. Both of those factors, I believe, help visitors get engaged and stay engaged with the dialect map.

At the other end of the spectrum of interactive maps are open-ended, exploratory ones that do not have an immediate connection to the viewer. Consider for example maps with symbols that you can click to view data. Here's the latest one I tweeted; it show U.S. military golf course locations. My experience, I'll admit, with maps like this is that once I've clicked on my state or the dot in my local area, I'm done clicking. Further, I'm not usually interested in putting in the work to read the article to find out why this map is important to me or anyone else. Finding context is too much work.


After pondering the success of the dialect map, I offer these two takeaways for educators:

1) Online map engagement can be driven by scaffolding and a payoff.

As I write this post my Twitter feed and Facebook page are filled with results of the latest successful "payoff" interactive. This one has a quiz, like the dialect one, and as a payoff identifies what city you should live in.

2) Educators need to teach students to create pathways and payoffs for maps (interactive and otherwise).

At one level, this is simply teaching the geographic perspective: What is where? Why? So what? And, yes, that's a lot harder than engaging the public or students with the dialect map and others like it.

Send Help

Consider Esri's JFinteraKtive map (Esri blog post) from last year. Could you help students find context, find a pathway and learn something from this map? Did you? Or, like me, did you look at it and say, "Cool" and move on? I'll be honest: I know I'd need some help there if I planned to teach with this map.

The Esri education team recently asked educators to share their thoughts on how the team should spend its energy in 2014.  I think short "study guides" for educators suggesting how to engage students with some of Esri's interactive maps (story maps and others) would be a great help. In time, perhaps educators could contribute to a library of similar materials.

via Diana Maps Blog

Thursday, January 16, 2014

One in Four Americans Holds an Alternative Educational Credential

The Census Bureau reported today (press release) that some 1/4 of U.S. adults hold a credential that's not a tradition college degree. The Census cites a professional certifications, licenses or educational certificates as examples. The data is from fall 2012 and is detailed in a report titled Measuring Alternative Educational Credentials: 2012 (pdf).

Money does come with these credentials.
Among full-time workers, the median monthly earnings for someone with a professional certification or license only was $4,167, compared with $3,433 for one with an educational certificate only; $3,920 for those with both types of credentials; and $3,110 for people without any alternative credential.
But, if you have a bachelors degree, adding on one of these does not significantly change income.

Two findings are relevant to geography and GIS leaners and workers.
About three-quarters of professional certifications and licenses were required for the current or most recent job. 
That's not something we see (yet?) in our field. It's a rarity when a professional certification is even noted in a job posting and in most U.S. states, there is no licensing of GIS users.
More than 90 percent of these credential holders took training or courses and had to demonstrate on-the-job skills or pass a test or exam in order to earn them.
This is also something not common in the U.S. geography/GIS market. However, with the current work on a test for the GISCI GISP credential, there may be some movement in this direction.

The main finding of this data for me is this: Educational institutions, educators, learners and hiring managers should open their eyes to these alternative credentials. They are here to stay.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Geographer Looks at EdTech in 2013 - Part 10 - The Business of EdTech (in Geography/GIS)

--- This post is the tenth in a ten part series examining top 2013 trends in education technology in the context of GIS and geography education. ---

Audrey Watters introduces her final trend of 2013, the Business of EdTech with this often noted quotation: “Education is broken, and someone should fix it.” And, this being 2014, that means businesses should play a key role and be appropriately compensated for the fix. In the big world of education this means companies are jumping at the chance to offer:
  • learning management systems
  • MOOC platforms
  • e-text and regular books
  • hardware such as tablets and smart boards
  • education communication tools
  • resources for teachers and students in support of the Common Core and its respective tests
Our little world of geography and GIS education benefits only casually from most of these (iPads, say) and loses out quite a bit since geography and GIS are not explicit parts of the Common Core (but see part 3 of this series with resources on how these can be integrated into it).

I'm the first to agree that most individuals who go into business to help teach geography or GIS are not doing it for the money. No, they do it because they love the discipline and/or technology and believe others should know about it and use its principles to make the world a better place.

So, what are the "hot" geography/GIS education businesses and business opportunities in our space in 2013/2014? 

GIS Etc. GIS Etc. is small company that offers both GIS education books (All Esri Press Books are 40% off the retail price) and consulting. GIS Etc. folks are the same ones raising money for GeoPorter.

Esri - Esri offers a map of its various education licenses implemented in the U.S. and publishes many of the top selling GIS training books. There's a story map of there the Esri Ed team travelled in 2013. I think the most innovative thing Esri did in education this year was to host an unconference as part of Ed UC. Said another way, I can't point to any specific edtech innovation from the company.

National Geographic - I found this year's Geography Awareness Week support/tools/outreach less than stellar. In fact, I for one feel it's losing steam.

The company still offers educational products. It also was a recipient, with three others, of NSF funds to explore the future of geography education, aka "The Road Map." I'm not sure if these documents (three at NatGeo, one at AGS - why these do not all live together, I can't say) have caused any innovation in the areas they cover. Could/should these reports be a resource for new education products and services?

National Geographic Learning, a partnership between the National Geographic Society and Cengage Learning, an educational publisher, is sort of on hold as Cengage declared bankruptcy in July and is restructuring.

ICA/OSGeo - A memorandum of understanding has these two organizations standing up 100 (there are now 64) university open source GIS software labs worldwide. Are there business opportunities here? I'm not sure.

Certificates - GIS certificate programs seem to draw students and bring in money. That would explain why more appear every few weeks. Elmhurst College is making waves by offering an AP Human Geography certificate for educators. The college feels there is demand, but is there money to keep such a program going? With few state geography requirements and no in the common core, funding for educators to study, may be a challenge. I hope I'm wrong.

Drone Training - I've noted Unmanned Vehicle University, a for-profit, unaccredited school, but other training organizations are popping up. Just this week Northland Community and Technical College announced a one year remote sensing programming specifically aimed at interpreting drone-collected imagery. The school is using drones as a marketing opportunity. Well played! We'll see more plays in this space in the short term now that the FAA has selected the UAS test areas in the United States. 


This list is a way to highlight two things: (1) there is little money in geography/GIS education and (perhaps therefore) (2) there has been little to no innovation in it in recent years.

The innovation in geography/GIS edtech with the greatest impact this year was MOOCs, most notably Penn State's Maps and the Geospatial Revolution (which is running again next spring). While I applaud it and its peers, the current MOOC business model, as I understand it, is not one that can spur many competitors or innovators. 

And, that perhaps explains our situation. In contrast to the larger edtech business space where all sorts of businesses are funded, pop-up, survive, die, pivot or are acquired, geography and GIS education lives in an edtech desert.

Friday, December 27, 2013

A Geographer Looks at EdTech in 2013 - Part 9 - Credit Where its Due

--- This post is the ninth in a ten part series examining top 2013 trends in education technology in the context of GIS and geography education. ---

Watters details the ups and downs of giving actual college credit in new ways such as via competency-based learning and MOOCs. If you are not aware, there are select universities offering credits and degrees via these paths. She also explores alternative credentials like certificates and badges. Where are geography and GIS among these trends?

Competency Based Learning

The two schools that I'm aware of that use a model that focuses on what skills students have or have gained, rather than seat time, are Western Governors University (WGU) and Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). I know about the former because I tried to apply for a job there, but alas course mentors (content experts) must have PhDs. I know of SNHU because it does a lot of advertising here in Massachusetts. Neither yet offer geography or GIS degrees.

Of note, perhaps, in the coming years is what's going on at Northern Arizona University. Its competency-based online degree program called “Personalized Learning,” was accredited this year. That school offers among other things, a GIS certificate. Could that morph into a competency-based degree or certificate here or elsewhere? Stay tuned.


The big news in badges is that Mozilla rolled out its 1.0 badge software program. The news within GIS of which I'm aware relates to just two institutions exploring badges: Skidmore and American Sentinel. It will be at least the end of 2014 before we see how these efforts play out in the geospatial education marketplace and, equally importantly, the geospatial workforce.

Credit via MOOC 

There have been ups and downs with giving college credit for MOOCs. So far the news on balance is not good. Two disappointing situations from 2013:

  • The deal between San Jose State University and Udacity ran aground and now Udacity is pivoting toward corporate training. Here's the latest on the relationship via Inside Higher Ed.
  • An offer from Colorado State University-Global Campus that offered credit for a MOOC via a proctored exam ($89) got no takers. The comparable three credit course was $1,050. 

What's happening in our world of geography and GIS? Credit for a MOOC could be coming soon at Elmhurst College:
Additionally, we will be offering a MOOC in Spring 2014 (probably March or April) that will allow prospective students to gain badges for skills and have a course in the [graduate] program  waived upon full completion of the MOOC. Stay tuned for further details!
Is credit for MOOCs doomed for core courses? For GIS? I don't think so, but clearly the model is still in development.

Credit via AP Exam

The news on AP exams in general is mixed per Watters:
Enrollment in AP classes has been skyrocketing in recent years, although as Politico’s Stephanie Simon reported, “the number of kids who bomb the AP exams is growing even more rapidly.”
And, to my surprise, venerable Dartmouth College, no longer accept AP exams for credit. That I suppose is an interesting statement from the school about competency-based learning or at least the College Board's version of it.

The news on the only AP exam related to geography, the AP Human Geography exam, is more positive. 

In recent years between 25% and 30% of test takers have achieved a 4 or 5, grades typically worthy of college credit (Wikipedia).

Per Rich Schultz at Elmurst College noted other positive signs in an interview on this blog:
Some of our Advisory Board and faculty members in the program are heavily involved with the College Board and noticed that the trend was very clear that APHG was increasing in demand and more and more schools nationally are offering it, at least over the last eleven years (2001-2012).
Elmhurst is launching an online certificate for educators who teach AP Human Geography.


Most colleges and universities have administrations that insure proper accreditation. That said, a few institutions lost accreditation or were threatened with it during the year.

In our world of geography and GIS it's the specialty schools that are having trouble with accreditation. Accreditation sometimes makes a difference to students, but can be key to a university making money: it can be a key stepping stone toward government loans and grants for students. The news from Unmanned Vehicle University (UVU) is still not good:
UVU is not currently accredited. We will start the process in March 2014. We have hired an expert that has experience with our accreditation agency.

While I have yet to see a certificate in geography, the number of them offered, both pre and post baccalaureate, in GIS is growing. New ones are announced nearly every week. The latest data I can find, via the GeoTech Center is from May 2013; but alas I can't even count the number of results from my query.

That said, the range of certificates is quite large. A school or organization can provide a "certificate of completion" for a MOOC. That's quite different from a certificate offered by a reputable university after a four course post graduate course of study that includes a capstone project. So, let the buyer and the potential employer, beware!