ABS Consulting Group, Inc.: Home | Blog | Resume | Speaking | Publications

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Geographer Looks at EdTech - Part 9 - Open

--- This post is the ninth in a ten part series examining top 2011 trends in education technology in the context of GIS and geography education. ---

The ninth theme Audrey Watters identified in her top ten list of ed tech for 2011 is "openness." She acknowledges progress in many things "open" including openly-licensed content, open educational resources (OER), open source, and open access. She offers a great list of "open" successes, many of which are new to me, as I write in early 2012. But Watters concludes that there are still many issues with open, including its use as a primarily "marketing-y" term. "I think we’re in store for lots of conflict over what constitutes “open” — how it’s funded, how it’s labeled and licensed, who mandates “what counts.””

I agree. The term "open" has raised, and continues to raise, quite a bit of confusion in geospatial circles. I regularly run into students, faculty and well-read industry people who use the term "open source" without understanding its meaning. (Yes, there's an article in the works for Directions Magazine on just that issue!) Others tout open APIs and open standards support as if the are the same thing; they are not.

The teaching of open source software in GIS courses is still a rather new idea. The GeoTech Center went to great pains to note a session on one such course at FOSS4G. I hear very little about OER in geospatial education circles (though I confess to being rather new to them). The only institution I know of that uses the OER licensing is my previous employer/alma mater, Penn State. I'm also not aware of how/if open access (to academic content, research) impacts GIS and geography teaching. My sense is that many of the resources for undergraduate GIS courses would appear in "industry," aka public, free publications (like Directions Magazine) rather than strictly academic ones. I know that was the case for my own course readings.

The lack of action around "open" in education in GIS can be sourced to some extent to Esri. So much of the GIS industry and thus its educational component operates in a solar system surroundnig Esri that open options may not fully register with faculty.... yet. But, ss students see more demand for open source expertise and as faculty begin to see the cost and restrictions related to vendor developed curricula (see for example, Esri's plan to stop certifying trainers), I expect the demand for "open" in GIS and geographic education to increase.