Monday, October 20, 2014

Maps101's Field Trips and the University of Illinois' PLATO

This is my first assignment (Assignment 1.1: Ed Tech Then and Now) for the MOOC I'm currently taking: MITx: 11.132x Design and Development of Educational Technology. We were asked to explore a current and older educational technology and then compare the two.

Part 1: Current Technology 

Field Trips are a new addition to the online offerings of Maps101. Maps101 is an online resource library aimed at K-12 social studies teachers and learners with a focus on geography and history.

Each Field Trip organizes content and resources in the Maps101 subscription library into an interactive map template (specifically, an Esri story map) on specific topics such as World War 1, The Spanish Influence on Texas and Energy Consumption. The Field Trips are all organized the same way (image below): a series of numbered thumbnail images run along the bottom of the screen. When one is highlighted a larger version appears in the upper left with explanatory text. The largest part of the screen shows a map of the location of the topic or feature.


Interface of Field Trip titled Gift of the Nile
I think the goal of these interactive lessons is to make the topics more engaging for students. They are meant to replace reading a textbook.

The “doing” aspect of the technology is quite limited. Students scroll through the images, read the text, and zoom in or out on the map. Sometimes an image will include a link to a short video from National Geographic. Save for the few clicks, students are passive learners, much like they’d be if they were reading a text book.

The Field Trips do not offer specific goals or narrative stories. As published only the instructor, not the student, has access to a list of of concepts and skilled to be learned. The Field Trips are open ended, though there is clearly a “preferred” path through the content, one that follows the numbered images and map locations.

I found no evidence student motivation or engagement are a priority. There are no “in trip” quizzes, badges or quests. My fear is that the content would be presented akin to “read pages 50-57 of you history textbook.” There are instructor resources with lesson plans and ideas. For the Gift of the Nile they included printing out a blank map of Egypt, having students use an atlas to name and color in the countries.

If a learner was motivated, he or should would go outside of the Field Trips to learn more, perhaps to the Maps 101 content. Let me provide a specific example. Item 2 in The Gift of the Nile Field Trip is called Geography and the Nile. It discusses how the river is formed by the merging of the White and Blue Niles. It goes on to mention some rapids that are treacherous for boats at a location called The Giant Bend. I zoomed in and out on the map but could not find the two tributaries. Perhaps they were there, just not labeled? I also could not find where the rivers merge or the location of The Great Bend. There is no search tool for the map. Even worse, the location “pin” for Item 2 on the map is not even on the river (see below)! A motivated learner would quickly jump to a search engine to find a better map of the waterways of Egypt!

Location of "Pin" for Item 2
Part 2: Earlier Technology

In the fall of 1983 I was studying physics in college. We had access to PLATO, an educational tool from the University of Illinois. I was not aware at the time it stood for “Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations.” PLATO tools were available for an number of topics. All I knew was that our professor (Isaac Abella) said it could help those of us struggling with understanding forces and the like. The image below is what I recall it looking like on the terminals of Eckhart Hall.

PLATO's graphics and text were limited back in 1933.


As I recall the system for physics offered a series of physics problem and helped “walk” the student through them. First, text on the screen would display the problem. Then, they student would be asked to “identify the forces.” I don’t recall if it was touch or arrow keys, but I do recall “pointing” to ropes holding weights and the like.

The PLATO program I used was intended for college physics students. And, as I used it and I think my professor intended, the idea was that it was an “extra tool” to be used in addition to lectures and problem sets. Many students in the class never touched it. I recall spending several hours a week practicing with the limited number of problems offered!

The goal of this module of PLATO was to teach the basics of physics, and in particular, a workflow for physics problem solving.

My sense was that for those who needed the extra practice, PLATO was terrific. It had scaffolding; as I recall you could “ask for a hint” and be guiding through the analysis. I could do the same problem over and over (and I did) and no one would laugh. I enjoyed the very simple interactivity and I do believe you got a “happy face” when you got the problem solved correctly. PLATO increased my confidence in my problem solving ability. And, I did get an A in physics!

The only downside or unexpected effect of using PLATO, I think, was social. I don’t recall any students saying it to my face, but I did have a feeling I was one of the “slower” students since I needed this “remedial” help. I could see how there might be some stigma in going to a special room in the math building to get on one of the two PLATO terminals. I’m pleased I was brave enough to go and use it.

Part 3: Comparative Analysis

Field Trips and PLATO (for physics) do have something in common. Both try to lead the student down a particular path. The former is a “story” about a place or event, while the latter is a workflow to solve a problem. The former has both a content and a procedure component to it, while the latter is more about changing the procedure of learning.

The “media” of Field Trips and PLATO are starkly different. The former is an aggregation of content: images, text, maps and occasionally videos. While there is a path (numbered) through each item, there is no defined route as to whether to look at the picture first, then the map, then the text or to explore them in some other order. It’s a simultaneous presentation. That term commonly used to describe a key difference in information conveyance between maps (all at once!) with text (linear, one piece after another).

PLATO uses just one medium: a one color (green or orange) terminal. It presented simple geometric shapes and blocky text. And, the path through each problem was a one way street: the student had to answer each “step” in the problem solving workflow before moving on to the next one. Some of these choices, I suspect, were made based on the technology of the time. Still, I think there’s something to be said for such simplicity even with today’s fancier graphics and animations.

I found Field Trips terribly dull despite its images and maps. The content and frankly the interface, were no more engaging than a text book. PLATO does not seem “sexy” compared to today’s video games and education technologies. Still, its simplicity, scaffolding, and ability to “do the problem again” worked for me. I have fond memories of it even today, some 30 years later!

It’s possible that those new to Field Trips and the story maps template might find Field Trips more engaging than I did. Still, going through one after another in this form would eventually become dull, just like reading the next chapter of less than engaging text book. I’ve looked for reviews of Field Trips from other educators but found only endorsements the company uses to help sell the product. This statement is from an employee of the company on whose mapping technology the Field Trips are based: "As a former social studies teacher, I would have loved having my students work with these. History comes alive when you can see the whole story, and it is much more powerful in a map you can dive into. Field Trips rock!"

The fact that PLATO continued to exist and teach until 2006(!) suggests to me that its ability to teach physics and other disciplines found a loyal following!

I think it’s worth really considering the content vs. procedure idea introduced in the very first video. The whole idea of Field Trips to take existing content, curate it and repackage it in an interactive and engaging way. PLATO is far more about “practicing” skills over and over. I think there is a place for both in educational technology and look forward to exploring more engaging Field Trips type programs and more physics teaching tools that grew out of the legacy of PLATO.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Doing of Learning

This has been gnawing at me for about two weeks. In a webinar for UCGIS Alex Klippel of Penn State discussed his hybrid course on spatial analysis. I'd have called it a flipped class: students learned R online via Lynda and came to class to … well, not have a lecture. One of the biggest challenges for Klippel, and I appreciate his candor, was finding things for students to while they were in the classroom together! He knew he didn't want to lecture, but what sorts of exercises and activities would move the learning forward? How would they be implemented? I'm not aware of a repository of hands on spatial analysis activities for college students. If educators are moving toward flipping/hybrid geography and GIS courses (see also Peter August's work), perhaps we need one.

Klippel may be typical of today's college educators. We learned and taught using the old lecture method. The "sage on the stage" speaks, students listen, students read and perhaps do homework problems, and then there's a test. The good news is that the best of the K-12 and college educators are fighting that trend. They preach active learning, group learning, problem, project and inquiry based learning, genius hours and other techniques to have students "do" rater than passively sit (see this scary real life story of high school students).

I think geography and GIS education (among other areas) are at a turning point. We need to look even harder at this "doing" part of geography. We need to think through the best use of the time educators  spend face to face with students and the time students spend face to face with one another.

This was driven home to me in the past year or two by a guest conductor of the Concord Band. I wish I recall who it was, and I'm sure I've heard the idea before, but somehow it hit home that evening as I sat in the third clarinet section.

The two hours my band rehearses together each week, he noted, is short and very special. It's probably far shorter than the time most of us practice during the week. And, it means it must be used to its highest potential. We need to use it to be better as a group. Thus, we should not be learning our individual parts during rehearsal, but rather, learning how our individual parts integrate with the other parts. We shouldn't be working on our individual intonation (playing in tune) but rather adjusting our intonation to match our section and the entire ensemble.

I'd realized some time ago that the best part of band rehearsal (and the subsequent concert) was when I finally fit my bit in with the rest of the ensemble. The only time I could even try it was at rehearsal. So, I'd often work up just a few tough measures with the goal of attempting to fit them in at the next rehearsal. Sometimes it took a few tries across a few rehearsals. I secretly hoped the director would run that part a few times and I sometimes requested just that.  No matter how long it took, it was so exciting to "get it." I have been known to trust my arm in the air and say "Yes!"

Back to the classroom. A classroom experience should be just like band rehearsal. Each student would be preparing their homework (watching a video, building a data table, learning a skill) with the idea that they'd put it to work during that special time with their peers and instructor. While they might not have a "Yes!" moment at each meeting, they should know that was the goal toward which to strive.

Creating experiences that prompt that kind of cooperative learning is tough. There are many hands on exercises for younger students in geography. There are the classic puzzles that fit the shapes of the states together, the huge maps that lay on the floor, and the like. I even took a paper and pencil college exercise from PSU's Geography 20 (thanks Roger) about bus routing to a group of middle schoolers with great success. But now we need to bring the fun (and learning) of those techniques to high school and college, and frankly, to our (super dull PowerPoint driven) conferences.

My challenge to educators and those creating content for geography and GIS courses and conference presentations:

- Make fewer videos of how to run a buffer in ArcGIS and instead think about how to best use time in class when students and instructors are together

- Don't do a PowerPoint or give a demo at the next conference; have the attendees DO something to learn what you hope to teach. If you want to do a PowerPoint or a demo, put it out on the Web, you'll have a larger audience.

- Think hard about what can only (or best) be done face to face and save that for class. Everything else can be (and perhaps should be?) done in some form via the Internet.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

NEARC GIS Educators Day 2014: Throw out the Book!

NEARC GIS Educators Day, held this past Sunday, included about 60 educators from New England and beyond. Pennsylvania and Virginia were represented, too! We met up in Groton, CT before the official New England Arc User Group meeting.

The theme of the day, for me, was “Throw out the book!” Peggy Minnis who teaches a desktop GIS MOOC (based on ArcGIS desktop) noted that while her students can purchase “the book,” most do not. It’s not clear if cost or simply not liking books is the reason, but most choose to learn GIS via her videos. She built her course exercises on Census data, so those are not from any book, either!

Stace Maples (@mapninja) from Yale is the GIS guy at Yale. He spoke about the value of familiarity with programming. His point, and his challenge to us (and our students) is that he knows enough to hack things together to help faculty and students use GIS. When it comes to learning how to program, he cautioned, don’t run through a full programming course/book staring with “Hello World.” Instead, go directly to examples of code “like” what you hope to do and start messing around with them. With just a “familiarity” with programming general, you can do quite a lot. The coolest thing he showed us Photogrammer a map uniting images from the “largest photography project ever sponsored by the federal government.”

Peter August at the University of Rhode Island doesn’t use a book for his GIS lab. His students watch his short videos as homework, have a quiz on them when they come to class, and then spend class time working on GIS exercises. He flipped his class before he even knew that’s what it’s called. He noted the challenge of making and remaking the videos either because of slip ups or changing software versions. Over time, it seems, he’s found method that works and he doesn’t even edit his videos (yet). I asked if he’s ever use anyone else’s videos for his course. The answer: no. Why? His course is his version of GIS, with examples and exercises specific to Rhode Island.

I also, perhaps inadvertently, suggested educators throw out the book. I offered some “tips” on finding and using GIS education resources. None of them involved books, but nearly all involved authentic learning and having the educator “make the content their own.” 

I’m encouraged to hear so many educators are creating and using their own content. But, to be fair, the ones at this event are the go getters and risk takers. And, most have some years invested in GIS and GIS education. They are selecting datasets and crafting exercises that appeal to their students, the style of learning (for example, inquiry-based at Essex Tech), and what they feel are the key ideas and skills to be mastered. 


Educators new to GIS (and there were a few in attendance) can’t do that. They are the market for books, courses, exercises, and videos that others produce. The real trick, I think, is getting these beginners up to speed quickly, so they too can “throw out the book.”

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Five Tips to Find Great GIS Education Resources


These are the notes from my presentation at NEARC Educators Day 2014 (Oct 5, 2014). The rest of the presentations and documents are stored in Edmodo.

1. Look Beyond Education GIS Resources

Be on the lookout for stories, datasets and activities that are not labeled GIS Education Resources!

Example: Digital Rangers

2. Use Education GIS Resources “Off Label”

When you find an actual labelled “GIS education resource,” consider using it “off label.” That is, don’t follow the directions. Tweak, mold, mesh and morph the resource so it fits your educational objectives/learning outcomes.


3. Ignore Age/Experience Metadata

Use K-12 in college and vice versa.

Example: Introduction to Map Design (19 page Esri PDF, 1996) 

4. Tap What’s interesting to You

Topics, content and exercises should be interesting to you! Keep a list of “cool content” to see when and where it might fit into lesson planning.


5. Learn About Teaching and Learning

I hear from too many educators that “official” professional development is not effective as it might be. Do it yourself.


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!