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Monday, October 31, 2011

The Geospatial Technology Competency Model in Plain English

I’ve gone to conference presentations and I’ve stared at the multi-colored pyramid on the Dept of Labor website, but when pigeon-holed at a conference (Thanks, Neil!) I could not recall the name, nature, or purpose of the Geospatial Technology Competency Model (GTCM). So, I did some homework. Here, in plain English is what you need to  know about the GTCM. 

1. The GTCM is one of many competency models.
The Dept of Labor has a whole bunch of models for different industries. I count 19 as write this; they range from Advanced Manufacturing (there is no basic manufacturing) to Water Sector. They all have that same pyramidal shape.
2. The GTCM defines GIS Technician workers' skills and competencies in the US.                  
Industry experts helped build it. Here’s the corresponding job description (which seems a bit dated to me based on the software products listed, but is a fine start).
3. The GTCM can be used by educators and trainers to develop course outlines and degrees/certificate programs that match these competencies.
It’s vendor and technology agnostic; that is, it's about skills, not specific software or hardware. There are some course outlines (including an open source software based one) from workshops done in 2011 by the GeoTech Center. You need a login/password to access them via a Moodle server.
4. There is a GTCM Assessment Tool.
The assessment tool is big spreadsheet that those with existing courses can use to see how their courses match the competencies. The assessment can then be used to enhance the course where there are weaknesses or confirm that topics missing in that course are covered in another course in a program.
5. The GTCM can ideally make it easier for business to hire qualified workers.
Since industry helps define the model, the argument is that schools (and other education providers) will address competencies in the model and thus graduate students who can tackle available jobs.
6. The GTCM can help in the creation of articulation agreements (agreements whereby schools accept each others credits).
For example, students who study GIS in high school may be able to transfer credit when joining a community college GIS certificate or degree program.
7. Industry organizations are beginning to use the GTCM as a basis for a variety of activities.
USGIF will be using the GTCM in its accreditation program for GEOINT (for schools, not for individuals) and GISCI is considering the addition of a competency-based examination aligned with the GTCM for its updated certification program. The GeoTech Center uses the model for a competition and URISA is looking into a management version of the model. (Source: Career One-Stop pdf)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Measuring the Value of the Traveling Giant Map

There are a million articles like this one from the Natchitoches, LA paper about large floor maps visiting schools and stocking-footed kids tromping across them. I recall one of the U.S. that visited my elementary school back in the 1970s. The most memorable part for me? Sliding around it in our socks!

Clearly, students enjoy the activity, that is, the "being active" aspect of the map's visit. In Natchitoches, it was the map of the Pacific Ocean that came to town. It's the newest of National Geographic's traveling giant maps. (The map was announced via a press release on Oct 26. I was interested to see that funding for the map and educational materials was from Oracle!)
"They love it," said Paul Nagel, an associate professor at NSU who helped secure the map through his role with the Louisiana Geography Education Alliance.
"It's an interactive way to learn geography. It allows the kids to be up and moving and learning in a new way," he said.
While I think back on such visits fondly, is there any research as to the educational benefit of the visit?  Of which kinds of activities are best done with a giant map vs. a wall map vs. a paper map? Of how many "classes" with the map is optimal to teach key principles? The Q & A section of the National Geographic site on the traveling maps discusses that activities and materials to do them are delivered with the map, but there's no detail on what topics are covered for which maps or how they map to educational standards.

I think it's fair to ask the same questions about the value and use of U.S. or world maps painting on the blacktop at a school or youth center.

That said, I love that these maps are still so popular because they:
  • are low tech
  • physically convey the friction of distance
  • explode the notion that maps are only on the wall or on the computer
  • allow group activities often limited by a small desktop map or computer screen
  • enhance student interactivity
  • get students out of the classroom

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lobbying for Geo Ed: Doomed by Geography's Nature?

It's been tough to lobby for geography education at any level. And, the results have not been heartening. Harvard tossed the degree in 1948 and my own college (U Chicago) shuttered its department (in favor of a committee) in 1986. This year energy is behind a bipartisan bill in Congress to fund K-12 geography education. It was first introduced in 2005 and has gone nowhere through the years, hence its reintroduction again and again.

To be sure, some of us in the field have a hard time giving an elevator pitch for geography. The good news is that a variety of organizations have gathered data to help us. They include the Dept. of Labor, the Association of American Geographers, the Geospatial Information and Technology Association among others. One challenge I find as I read through the supporting documents is a dichotomy that may set these efforts up to fail. It's the simple fact that geography is identified as both social and physical science. Now, those "inside" geography are typically fine with this situation. We happily point to human and physical geography and the art and algorithms behind hand drawn and computer created data visualization. Many would argue the mix makes geography synergistic, unique and vital.

But how does that play out in lobbying (aka "marketing") geography? Not so well I fear. The latest press release from the AAG quotes several former U.S. secretaries of state about the value of geography. Said Madeleine Albright, "Young Americans with an understanding of peoples, places, and cultures have a clear advantage in today’s rapidly-changing global economy..." That suggests that geography is a social science. In the same release, the AAG aims to convince the administration "to include geography education as part of its proposals for improving STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education." That suggests geography is a physical science.

As someone in the field, I have no issue with this potential confusion. But, as someone who considers herself an amateur when it comes to marketing, I feel this confusion could cloud the issue and weaken, not strengthen, the case for geography. If the response to the AAG's well-meaning effort is "These folks don't even know what they are talking about!" the lobbying effort may stop in its tracks.

What to do? It may be in the best interest of those lobbying for those federal dollars not to fully abandon one or the other of the natures of geography, but rather to focus like a laser on one or the other for the purpose of marketing. Which one? My gut says that right now STEM is buzzier so I'd lean that way. However, it really doesn't matter. I think a single focused message will take this effort further than trying to make geography all things to all people, even if in reality, it is just that.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Local Crisis? Create a Course

I'm very impressed with the response of Binghamton University to its recent flood crisis. The university created a course around it which allows students to help in the response and the public to learn more about the topic.
The two-credit course, titled, “Community in Recovery: Southern Tier NY After the Flood of September 2011,” will offer undergraduates the opportunity to volunteer in the local community as well as participate in a series of six broad-based seminars on topics related to the crisis and the response to it. The seminars are free and open to anyone – including the general public and those who are not registered for the course.
The seminars cover a variety of topics including psychology, geography, geology/environmental studies, public administration, and leadership studies. Each one includes a faculty member and a community leader as participant. The one from the geographic perspective:
Oct. 19: Socio-Economic Implications of the 2011 Flood “Social Vulnerability to Natural Disasters: Does Binghamton fit the Model?” presented by:
- Mark Reisinger, associate professor of geography, and Kevin Heard, assistant director of Binghamton University's global information systems (GIS) Core Facility.
- Community participant: Tarik Abdelazim, director of planning, housing and community development for the City of Binghamton
This timely course has many benefits:
  • closely links the university to the community 
  • integrates multiple physical science and social science perspectives 
  • provides service related internships 
  • moves beyond traditional lecture/seminar/internship model 
  • could be opened to local high school students 
  • could serve as a model for future community "crises" 
I'm hopeful someone will write up the lessons learned/best practices for this course.

- News Channel 34

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What Geospatial Practitioners Need to Know About the New SPACE Certification

On Tuesday the title of this press release prompted a few articles and tweets: "Digital Quest Announces New National, Industry-Backed Geospatial Certification." I want to unpack this for those who are thinking "Oh no! Not another certification!" This is really in yet another category than the GISP from GISCI, the Esri Technical Certification from Esri, and the the very technical certifications from ASPRS.

First off, who is Digital Quest?
It's a company that develops GIS teaching tools. "Digital Quest is a Mississippi-based development- and training-oriented company enabling educational institutions to provide their students with skill-based training in the growing, vital field of geospatial technology."

Digital Quest already implements a certification program, called Spatial Technology And Remote Sensing aka STARS, developed in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship. About 300 people are STARS certified; ideally they are prepared for entry level geospatial work after completing a four semester program and an exam. The STARS certification course set is offered, for example at Atlantic Cape Community College (certification Q&A). The program is aligned with the Geospatial Technology Competency Model (GTCM). The courses are taught with Esri software; Esri is a Digital Quest partner.

So, what the new SPACE certification?
Spatial Projects And Community Exchange, aka SPACE, "applies geospatial technology to real, local, community-based projects." The educational program can be taken in a classroom, at work or at home. The twist? "The SPACE series teaches GIS through the eyes of the businesses and government agencies that protect, and increase the efficiency of, citizens’ everyday lives." Students tackle GIS in economic development, homeland security, law enforcement and other areas. Like its sibling, it aligns with the GTCM. The progression, per the press release, suggests this certification precedes the tougher STARS certification, which itself can precede professional certification.

What industry backing?
The Enterprise for Geospatial Solutions (EIGS), Mississippi Enterprise for Technology (MsET), and the Magnolia Business Alliance (MBA) back the certifications. (On the Digital Quest website the term "sponsored" is used.) Those are regionally focused groups, so its possible those in outside the southeast are not familiar with them.

How does this certification impact someone working toward a GIS or geotechnology certificate or degree?
Both of Digital Quest's certification have their own curricula. Most schools currently offer their own certificates or degrees, based on their own curricula (and in time perhaps, these programs will align with the GTCM). Digital Quest notes the difference between its certification and GIS certificate programs here.

How does this certification impact schools looking to teach geotechnology?
It's certainly one way to implement a new geospatial program in a high school or community college, especially one with instructors who are new to geospatial technology. The tagline of Digital Quest is "creating teacher friendly curriculum for the geospatial industry."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Google and Pearson's Free Learning Management System

Last week Google announced it had teamed up with Pearson (GIS people will know them as the company that implements the Esri certification tests) to offer a free learning management system (LMS) called OpenClass. It will launch through the Google Apps for Education program. That program already has 1000 university users. The consensus is that the freebie will not replace embedded LMSs but perhaps sit alongside them.

David Kim, CIO of Central Piedmont Community College, is thinking that way. He's considering running OpenClass alongside Blackboard and Moodle. Why? It looks easy-to-use for both students and instructors. His sense is the "facebook-like" interface will work both for those just out of high school as those with gray hair.

Another possible bonus of OpenClass: instructors at one institution can collaborate with others using the same system. (I hope that's true for Moodle and Blackboard, but I certainly am not aware of it.) Blackboard maintains that its offerings integrate more deeply into the enterprise, so OpenClass is not really on par.

The whole LMS issue will continue to go round and round. And, I expect to see what we are starting to see in GIS implementations: hybrid systems. At Penn State, my department (I am no longer on the faculty), geography, was not a big fan of the school's LMS, Angel (now owned by Blackboard). So (and I don't know how this was done...seemed like magic to me!) we launched our own Drupal server (an open source content management system). The students still use Angel for mail and grading and some submissions, but from the instructor's point of view, we had our "own" environment.

I for one love to see lots of choices out there. Further, the more I hear about the different LMSs, it seems they can all do the "basic" job. I know I want faculty and students to worry more about course content and engagement than the platform in use. The more invisible that platform can be, the better. And, considering how Google has become, almost without effort, the invisible platform on which many of us already "run" in our daily lives, I expect to see great things.

- Chronicle of Higher Ed Blog

Monday, October 17, 2011

Redefining the Geography of the Classroom

Back in sixth grade we got new furniture. The desks were not desks per se, but trapezoidal tables that fit together like puzzle pieces. We students arranged them in our classroom and choose our own seats. I ended up at a table of eight students: seven of the smartest boys and me. It was probably not the best arrangement for educating the entire class, but we loved it.

Despite that arrangement, one perfect for collaboration, I do recall many an hour spent watching the teacher at the board. The grouped tables were really not used to encourage group work or much hands-on work. Now high school classrooms are being reshaped into studios designed to promote group and hands on work. In one Florida private school, Bishop Moore Catholic High, "studio" classrooms include white "smart boards," "writable windows" and giant touch-screen computer monitors.
The room is a showcase for state-of-the-art technology, but also for the belief that students learn best if teachers ask questions, present problems, prod them to think and then get out of the way and let them work.
The "studio" approach began at the college level, in physics courses interestingly, and is slowly expanding to high schools. The studio or TEAL (Technology-Enhanced Active Learning) lab, as its known at MIT, can be used for a dedicated subject, but at Bishop Moore the room is used by teachers in all disciplines.

While getting all the fancy tools in such labs may not be feasible for some schools, the ideas behind them are not. Group interactive learning works (MIT physics failure rates dropped with the new model) and keeps students engaged. A low tech model might use chalk boards in place of writable windows and traditional computers instead of smartboards. Different tasks might be assigned at different "stations" and student groups could move through them during one or more class periods.

How did the new studios make it to Bishop Moore? The school had graduates share how they were learning in college and introduced the studios based on their feedback. This model of learning has another benefit, it models how learning can (and should!) be done outside the classroom.

- Orlando Sentinel 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Connecting Infographics, MapStories and Just Plain Stories

Before we started using the term infographics (a merging of "information" and "graphics") I guess we just called such things graphics. Graphics were used to communicate complex ideas in a compact, accessible form. Maps are but one type of infographic. Today infographic has a very precise meaning, one described this way in Wikipedia:
2005–Present day. The information graphic trend starts to become popular amongst the larger social media aggregation sites Digg Reddit. The data contained in modern info graphics tends to be research centric and attributed to multiple sources.With the popularity of the information graphics continuing to grow, see google search trends, many internet marketing companies use this to generate viral content that web users will share freely.
I’m sure most regular Web users have run into today’s infographics. Here’s an example referenced in a geospatial blog I read. As the definition suggests, the goal of this one is more about viral linking and search engine optimization rather than the information itself. The source: MBAOnline.com. I got about three quarters the way through before I got bored. How far did you get?

Now, this example is not all bad. The infographic has a thesis at the top which I’d summarize as "we must overcome those who are using patents for evil." The infographic details the nature of the evil with lots of cartoon characters and numbers but only a few actual visual tools: bar graphs, scaled symbols, a line graph, and a map. Then, at the very bottom is the answer to how to end the evil (a question the graphic did not pose, nor support with the data above): end software patents. While the data presented does suggest the current system is probably not working as we might like it to, the final conclusion is a leap.

Infographics are a hot topic in education and have been covered this year at the New York Times and Edutopia. Moreover, this idea of illustrating or even telling a story via graphics is being reborn in the GIS industry with Esri’s efforts in turning ArcGIS Explorer into a presentation tool and the emerging effort called MapStories. The one thing missing, I think, in so many of the colorful infographics like the one above: there is no story. A pile of raw data, even illustrated by a pile of bar charts, are meaningless without the story. Remember Al Gore’s slide show about climate change that became the film An Inconvenient Truth? The data and the graphics meant little without the story and the storyteller. (I heard the story at a GIS conference in 2007 from Dr. Richard Luli, a fellow trained by Gore.)

Why are the stories missing? Perhaps our story telling techniques are weak. I use the term "story" here both in the sense of a non-fiction story revealed by scientific data and a fiction story with an inciting incident, conflict, a climax and a resolution? (Yes, I paid close attention in Mr. Miller’s 7th grade English class.) As educators approach infographics as resources and tackle graphic literacy, we need to think about stories. When students explore existing infographics the questions might include: What is the story of the infographic? What is it trying to tell the viewer? When creating an infographic, the question to students reverses: What story do you want to tell? How can you illustrate the data to tell that story?

Resource: There are some great tips on the Eloqua blog about creating a great infographic.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Is it plagiarism? Or marketing? Or what?

One of the challenges I found teaching graduate students (mostly working professionals) was that their "WebIQ" was not as high as I expected. That is, they didn't know too much about assessing whether websites were authoritative, nor much about how to use content from the Web legally. Many were not, for example, familiar with Creative Commons licensing or Fair Use.

I think that's a valid topic for exploration, be it in a GIS class, a geography class or an English class. Here's a place to start. I ran across an article today titled GIS software helps Philadelphia replace traffic lights in public works project and save a cool million in Penton publication called GovPro. After I read it and saw the conspicuous links to an Esri video and website I wondered if it was a press release. Some media websites do not distinguish between releases and original content. I found no press release on this project in the last few weeks. I looked further and found a piece in Esri ArcWatch from Feb 2011 titled Esri Technology Helps Traffic Lights in Philadelphia "Go Green".

If you look closely, the GovPro article is heavily based on the ArcWatch one. (I'm being generous.) Among the slight changes in the GovPro version is the removal of the name of, and link to, the small Pennsylvania consulting firm on the project. Michael Keating has the byline on the GovPro article while longtime Esri staffer Jim Baumann penned the original.

Some questions for educators and students to consider:

Is this plagiarism? Why or why not?
Are there ethical issues to be considered?
What are Esri's press guidelines? Were they followed?
Is the article misleading? How?
What might GovPro have done to make the article more valuable? How could the Esri content have been cited?
Does GovPro run other articles like this? Is it a reputable news source? Why or why not?
What is the source of the image? Was it properly cited?

Thursday, October 6, 2011


When I started ABS Consulting Group, Inc. in 2000, I really didn't know what I'd be doing. I was lucky enough to get some work from a friend with his own startup, TenLinks. We started GIS Monitor, now owned by Flat Dog Media. That brought in other work for OGC and others. And, before I knew it, I had a consulting firm that could pay the bills!

In 2005 I joined Directions Media, which owns Directions Magazine and All Points Blog and those became the home for my writing about GIS. It's been a great gig and I have no intention to change my relationship with that organization. Since about 2008 about half my time went to Directions and the other half to Penn State University where I wrote and taught courses (1, 2) in the all online MGIS program. It was great. I had freedom, great support from the program, amazing students to teach. Earlier this year, I decided it was time to explore other areas of education, ones where I could maybe make if not a bigger, a different contribution.

There are so many challenges in education today from funding to testing to engaging students. It's that last one that I keep returning to time and again. Educators and those who support educators (there are many groups, but I have soft spot for instructional designers, now that I know what they are!) have to step it up and find new ways to reach today's students. Part of the answer is technology, and another I believe is simply questioning everything we know about how education is "done." We need to be brave and try to new things to excite ourselves and our students.

My area of expertise is geography and geographic technology but many of the new ideas in education and engagement come from education research in general and efforts in other disciplines. Part of what I hope to explore in this blog is if and how those ideas can be applied (or mapped!) to geographic education. Some, I'm sure are not a good fit, but other will will.

For now I am gathering the kindling to launch this blog and ignite education.