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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Look at American Sentinel University’s New Geospatial Information Systems Graduate Certificate and Masters Degree


During the last week in September American Sentinel University announced two new online graduate offerings: a five course Geospatial Information Systems Graduate Certificate and a 12 course Master of Geospatial Information Systems. The school has offered a B.S. and A.S. in Geographic Information Systems since 2006.  Do note that the undergraduate degrees are in Geographic Information Systems and the graduate credentials are in Geospatial Information Systems. I asked the school about the difference and heard back from the GIS Program Chair, Dr. Stephen McElroy:
Although GIS is the principal geospatial technology, it is only one of the broader sets of tools available. Other geospatial technologies include GPS, airborne and satellite remote sensing, terrestrial lidar, close-range photogrammetry, virtual visualization, statistical-based analysis and modeling. We chose the term “geospatial” to represent our programs because it embraces this broader set of tools and techniques.
Geospatial Information Systems Graduate Certificate 

The graduate certificate, like most offered by other schools, is aimed at individuals who have a bachelors degree and are looking for a structured basic program in GIS. The school notes the program can be completed in between six and 12 months. Each of the five courses takes eight weeks. The tuition (no fees, books, etc.) totals $6,300.

I was pleased to see that the school details the learning objectives. Graduates of the graduate certificate will be able to:
  • Develop an understanding of geospatial principles and practices.
  • Develop a working knowledge of ArcGIS and other GIS related tools used in developing and implementing geospatial strategies.
  • Collect, store, access and use geospatial data across multiple disciplines.
  • Develop an enterprise-level geospatial strategy.
  • Understand the ethical and legal issues associated with the use of geospatial data.
  • Understand similarities and differences in geospatial strategies between specific disciplines. 
  • Present geospatial information in a clear and professional manner.
  • Present their ePortfolio as evidence of academic achievement.

Also noteworthy is the school’s statement of its unique approach:
Unlike many GIS certificates, American Sentinel’s graduate certificate does not focus solely on the technology and software behind GIS. Our cross-disciplinary program is ideal for individuals who seek the analytical skills needed to incorporate geospatial tools and strategies into the modern-day working environment and enhance critical decision making and problem solving.
Master of Geospatial Information Systems

The masters degree requires a bachelors degree and the core 12 courses run $15,120 (tuition only). The program has two paths to completion. One, the course track, is more course focused, while the other, the project track, centers around a workplace project.Those who select the course track will take “electives that provide experience across the major geospatial industry categories as defined by Esri.”  Those are listed elsewhere as health care, business, government, defense and public safety, and environment and natural resources. Esri's list of industries is far longer.

Those who select the project option must follow the Esri Professional Services Framework (detailed on the Esri professional service page):
  • Strategy and planning 
  • Requirements analysis
  • Design Development Deployment Operations and maintenance.
The school lists four items in its program that are unique:
  • Project track (described above)
  • Application across industries (described above)
  • ArcGIS (site license) 
  • Geospatial Learning Lab – “provides access to a geospatial community, Esri educational materials, tutorials, online GIS resources and more. Students completing activities with the Geospatial Learning Lab can receive competency-based badges to add to their ePortfolio.”
I requested more information about the Learning Lab. Dr. Stephen McElroy responded:
The online learning lab is similar to a learning commons. It is an area that brings together resources and materials in a way that facilitates the development of an active learning community. This resources will be deployed for internal use by American Sentinel students. The competency-based badges will be developed by our Academics team.
The learning objectives for the masters degree are the same as for the certificate expect that
  • Understand similarities and differences in geospatial strategies between specific disciplines.
is replaced with:
  • Design, develop and complete a GIS project. Depending on the program track chosen (course or project), this project may be in-depth or more limited in scope, based on the student’s project design and objectives.

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