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

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Top Geography/GIS Education Trends of 2012

Here in no particular order are my top geography/GIS education trends of 2012 based on what I saw, read and wrote during the year. Suggested additions are most welcome!

1) Esri Goes Open with Its Education Resources

What's the news: Esri made a formal statement about its commitment to open licensing of educational (not training) materials developed by its Ed Team in August. The company is retaining copyright, but offering ways to use and recast the content via a Creative Commons (CC) license.

Why is it important: Educators can now mix and match Esri's content with their own for use in their own classes or programs and share those materials with other educators. This might encourage other educators to offer their content under similar open licenses.

Concerns: Few educators I've met are familiar with the term "open educational resource" (OER), and others are clearly not 100% confident about copyright, CC licensing and fair use.

See also: Does Esri Going OER with its Ed Materials Matter?Ten Things You Need to Know About Reusing Web Content

2) Everyone Wants Real World Project Experience

What's the news: Formal efforts like the Central Pennsylvania Geospatial Technology Center and EduContribution and informal class-based ones like GPSing the trees in town, are the new black for GIS education. A project no longer means a made up effort with fake data. Educators and students are demanding real world work, with real world challenges, real world deadlines, real world clients and real world assessments.

Why is this important: Such work expands learning beyond the "buttononlogy" of some GIS programs pushing students to understand concepts, develop workflows, work in teams and communicate effectively with a client. This kind of project work is also a shining star on a resume when students seek that first job.

Concerns: Setting up and managing relationships and expectations (for students and clients) is a lot of work for a non-profit organization or an individual instructor. I've seen a number of presentations on GIS service learning projects, but have not yet found a "best practice guide." Neither of the institutional efforts noted above has reported on early outcomes.

See also: Central Pennsylvania Geospatial Technology Center to Support Experiential GIS LearningEduContribution to Turn Nonprofits’ GIS Needs into University Level Educational Material

3) Promoting Geography

What's the news: I appreciate that Dan Edelson of National Geographic endorsed the activities offered by the Geography Collective lead by Daniel Raven-Ellison, now a National Geographic Emerging Explorer. Edelson did so in ArcNews. Did you see that NCGE gave the AAG an award? Or that the NCGE endorsed yet another geography contest, this one to select a team for the International Geography Olympiad? Or that the AAG now has 21 Fortune 500 companies endorsing its geography education resolution?

Why is this important: Geographers as a community are recognizing important individuals playing a role in geography/GIS education and trying to get the word out about the importance of geography.

Concerns: I wonder if we are talking to ourselves (and giving ourselves awards). How is AAG leveraging the latest endorsement from UPS to bring its cause to a new set of supporters? Will UPS drivers be calling their congresspeople? What is the Geo-Literacy Consortium doing? Do we need a new way to bring geography/GIS to students? To Congress? We seem to be doing what we've always done.  As Dr. Phil might ask: "How's that working so far?"

See also: GIS Day and Geography Awareness Week ObservationsGeography and GIS are Everyday Things

4) The Growth of For-Profit Universities offering GIS Certificates/Degrees

What's the news: For-profit universities added to and enhanced advertising of their GIS and related programs in 2012. These schools are beginning to compete with non-profit institutions like community and state colleges and universities, especially in the area of online eduation.

Why is this important: Congress released a report about for-profit colleges highlighting how funds are used and how in some fields promises of employment are overstated. Graduation rates can be very low. Further, students who do finish are often loaded down with debt when expected positions fail to materialize. (Chronicle of Higher Education covearage)

Concerns: Students need to be aware of how for-profits work, their accreditation (or lack thereof), faculty experience, costs and graduation rates.

See also: A Look at Unmanned Vehicle UniversityUnmanned Vehicle University's New Products: Five StarsA Look at American Sentinel University's New Geospatial Information Systems Graduate Certificate and Masters Degree

5) GIS/Geography Education Conferences are Boring

What's the news: Sitting in the dark and watching PowerPoint slide after PowerPoint slide is boring. I know; I went to probably a half dozen education conferences this year. Only one had me actively engaged throughout (the pre-BLC EdCamp unconference held here in Boston) and only once did a presenter (me) use technique beside PowerPoint/lecture to convey the key points of the presentation. Sadly, just one activity, the one the evening before the full day of PowerPoint at the Spatial Thinking in the Undergraudate Curriculum event at Bucknell, involved group learning.

Why it's important: How are educators going to learn, use and practice new-to-them engagement techniques if they are not used in their own professional development?

Concerns: If educators bring their PowerPoint to conferences, is that also what they bring to their students? I fear it is. Good news: Esri is promising a single day of "unconference" at its Ed UC this year. I intend to participate and look forward to a PowerPoint free day!

See also: Why are our Conferences Structured just like the Educational System We Want to Change?Unengaged at NEURISA Day 2012Takeaways: Conference on GIS & Spatial Thinking in the Undergraduate CurriculumNEARC Educators Day 2012: Successes but Challenges AheadMy First Edu UnConference

6) Innovation in Geography/GIS Education

What's the story: Besides the push toward authentic/project-based/service learning in GIS noted above, I've seen a few ideas/innovations appearing for the first time or maturing this year.

These research efforts and innovations are worth watching:
  • American Sentinel's planned Geospatial Learning Lab - with competency based learning and badges (first I've seen of that in an online GIS program, though it may exist elsewhere)
  • Robert Roth's work on determining the "optimal" Web mapping tool to teach - he and his team offer a workflow to find it, not just the answer for his university (Wisconsin)
  • Spatial training can raise spatial capabilities - a meta analysis confirms that training can enhance spatial ability and maybe transfer to other skill in engineering and GIS.
  • Digital humanities - injecting GIS into the study of history and the humanities is taking off especially in those small liberal arts schools, though UVa Libraries is leading a charge.
  • Balloons and drones - data capture via balloons, kites  (PLOTS) and small, low flying aircraft is part of many courses and activities (K-12 and beyond).
Why it's important: These innovations can help educators (1) engage students, (2) identify new skills students may need and (3) tap education research to advantage.

Concerns: I'm not sure how many educators have the time, energy or resources to track down and learn about such efforts. I was surprised at one presentation how many geospatial educators had not heard of PLOTS, for example.

See also: links above

7) Innovations in Education

What's the story: In the world of education the big buzz words of 2012 are (these are Audrey Watters top edtech trends of the year): flipped classroom, MOOC, learning to program, Maker movement, business of EdTech, open textbooks, etc. Did any of those come up in any GIS/geography discussions, conferences, articles I read this year? Not really.

Why it's important: We are part of the education community, but if we are not addressing the same issues, perhaps we are shutting ourselves out of the conversation and thereby shutting our discipline and technology out of the conversation. For example, if coding is a key skill, should we consider how GIS might be used to teach it or use it?

Concerns: By talking too much to ourselves we may be doing a disservice to geography and GIS.

See also: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2012