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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Off Topic: Running 100 Miles this Weekend

Many readers know that I run. I've been running "more" seriously since about 2004 and completed my first marathon in 2005. Since then I've completed eight more marathons along with a few ultramarathons (distances over 26.2). This weekend I'm taking on a 100 mile run. I'll be among the 300 or so runners attempting a solo or relay run of 100 miles, 100k (62 miles) or 38 miles ("fun run") at the Kettle Moraine 100 Endurance Runs, in La Grange, Wisconsin.

That's me in Somerville Road Runners' black and gold running with the "Mad Hatters" at the Hudson Mohawk Winter Marathon (Albany, NY), one of my training races, this past February. 

I've got the answers to the most popular questions I've received on the topic of ultramarathons below, for those who are curious.

Ten Things You Need to Know About Ultramarathoning

1) Definition
An ultramarathon is any running event longer than a marathon, that is, longer than 26.2 miles. The shortest common distance is 50k, about 31 miles. Other common distances are 50 miles, 100k (62 miles) and 100 miles. The longest ones cover hundreds of miles over days and sometimes weeks.

Ultramarathons come in two flavors. Timed events are won by completing the most mileage in a certain amount of time, such as eight hours, 12 hours or 24 hours. Such events are often run on loop courses or tracks. Distance events are won by covering the distance the fastest.

2) Courses

While some ultramarathons are run on roads, bike paths or tracks, a majority are run on trails. Some are up mountains or in deserts. Others offer less extreme experiences. One of the popular magazines covering the sport rates each event for both the terrain (flat to super hilly) and surface (paved to lots of rocks and roots).

3) Aid Stations and Drop Bags

Most events have manned and/or unmanned aid stations that supply water, sports drinks and food. They may be three to ten miles apart depending on the nature of the event. Some aid stations have medical support as well. Some events allow competitors to pack “drop bags” that will be waiting for them at specified locations. These typically contain clothes, lighting, and specialized nutrition.

4) Crew

Some events allow runners to bring a crew to support them during the event. Crews drive to specific locations to meet the competitor on the course to supply physical, emotional, medical and other types of support. Crews are often happy to share their supplies and good will with other competitors.

5) Nutrition

Most marathoners drink and many also eat during a run of 26.2 miles. As the events get longer nutrition becomes more important. Some of the choices are the same: water, sports drinks like Gatorade, and gels (engineered nutrition in small squeeze packets). Ultramarathoners add familiar everyday foods including peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, potatoes dipped in salt, pretzels, cookies and candy. Broth and hearty soup are welcome in the cold or during inclement weather.

6) Pacers

Some events allow and help assign “running buddies,” aka pacers, to those who request them. Some pacers set a pace for a competitor to meet a finishing goal distance or time. Others act as companions (but not sherpas) to help ensure a safe journey.

7) Gear

Ultrarunners try to carry only that which is necessary. Some wear backpacks or waist packs fitted with bladders that hold water. Tubes dangling at chest height allow runners to drink with ease while in motion. Some runners carry extra food or clothing in these packs. The fastest competitors typically carry just one or two handheld water bottles. Runners also wear or carry lighting for night running. Some competitors carry music players, too.

8) Stopping and Sleeping

Most runners stop, if briefly, at one or more aid stations. Some events require a stop to “weigh in” (to check health based on if too much weight is gained or lost) one or more times during a long event.

Some runners sit down to rest at aid stations, while other avoid sitting down, fearing they will not get back up. Some competitors in longer events choose to curl up for a “cat nap” at an aid station or along the course.

9) How Long does it take?

The world marathon record is just over two hours but it’s considered a badge of honor for “regular people” to complete the distance under four hours. The world 100 mile record is 11.5 hours but a "regular people" goal is 24 hours. Those finishing under that time often get a special finishers memento.

10) Training

Training for ultramarathons shares quite a lot with training for marathons. Each week the athlete runs a variety of workouts including one or more long runs. Over the weeks or months the total weekly mileage and the distance of the long run(s) increases.

The biggest difference in ultramathon training is that the distances are longer and the long run is often broken up into two back-to-back weekend long runs. A typical marathon training program might take 12-18 weeks. A typical ultramarathon program for 50 miles or more might take 18-30 weeks.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Will Multi-Touch Interfaces Really Revolutionize Education?

In an article titled One Tablet Per Child in District Administration, Susan McLester reviews the educational pros and cons of tablets. What's interesting is not their hardware limitations or their lower price in comparison to laptops, but what really makes them different from traditional desktop and laptop computers. The subhead identifies that feature:
Apps and digital content are on the rise, and the multitouch interface may prove to be a game-changer for K12 schools.
The key paragraph is this one with a quote from Vineet Madan, senior vice president of strategic services for McGraw-Hill:
But it’s the multitouch interface that remains the biggest draw for tablets in schools, especially for the youngest students, who can engage in a tactile manner with content that doesn’t require reading, writing or keyboarding skills. “The more senses we can engage students in using the better,” says Madan, who adds that the capacity to use two or more fingers on the screen at one time lets students manipulate objects in ways impossible with a laptop and keyboard. “If there’s a molecule on the screen, they can touch, pinch, zoom, spin it around on their fingertips,” he says.
Students who can't yet read need to spin molecules on tablets? I for one didn't need to tackle the spatial relationships of atoms and molecules until my sophomore year in high school, when my reading ability and spatial abilities were significantly more mature. And, how did I get those spatial abilities? Like most of my peers: by building with blocks and climbing up on the hood of Dad's car and interacting with the real world. What is it we hope pre-readers will learn from spinning molecules or dinosaurs or anything else?

My understanding of the Montessori curriculum for the pre-reader focuses on two things: developing motor and spatial skills and reading/writing readiness. I have no expertise in K-12 curricula but that sounds about right to me. Do students working with their fingers on tablets develop the same motor skills and coordination  acquired by blowing bubbles and digging holes and tapping golf pegs into clay with toy hammers? Do the gross maneuvers needed to spin and zoom fit that bill?

Further, can the tablet prepare students for writing with a pencil? I'm not sure what to make of this app:
Another example is Boreaal and PiMZ’s Letterschool, a $3 handwriting, letter and number app that lets preschool and elementary-age kids trace numbers and letters with their fingertips and receive instant instructive feedback.
Does tracing with a finger transfer to writing letters and numbers with a pencil? I don't recall tracing letters with my finger back in the day, but I do recall tracing "dotted" letters with a pencil before I tried to write my own. My five year old friend Theo did the same thing when I visited his class two month ago.

Before we get too "sold" on the multi-touch interface as a game changer, let's get back to the skills we are trying to teach. We need to ask more than if children are engaged, but if in fact this multi-touch interaction, or interaction via body movement a la Kinnect, helps educators teach and students learn. They may may well, but I am still looking for the research to support higher achievement, rather than just anecdotal comments about engagement.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Getting Women to Speak at Geo Conferences

The topic of the small number of women presenters at geo conferences popped up on Twitter last  week in the context of the Location Intelligence Conference (put on by the company for which I work, Directions Media). I found just a few women speaking at the event. My guess is the proportion is not all that different from any other geo conferences, save perhaps, those focused on education. And, I'll go further and suggest that the percentage of women speaking at geo events has not changed much in my 20 years in the field.

Instead of asking why, I want to focus on how to encourage women to share their knowledge at conferences. Here are some ideas I've come up, with along with some I've heard from others in the industry.

Invite Women to Speak

There is no better feeling than having an event organizer make you feel special by inviting you personally to participate. The invitation may involve financial aid or other incentive to attend, but that's not required.

Encourage Women to Speak within Your Organization

Do you have a "brown bag" lunch where staffers share their work or what they learned at a conference? Are women represented? If not, again, invite their participation. Such a presentation might even be part of and individuals professional development plan.

Support Educational Opportunities that Require Communication

I know communication is a key focus in the Penn State GIS Certificate and MGIS programs. As a member of the advisory board, I agreed that students should not only write in the program,  but create videos, and speak formally and informally to one another. The MGIS capstone project requires a presentation in person, at a conference.

Look for Great Women Speakers

When organizers put together conferences, perhaps they probably don't think much about the balance of speakers. Why? Finding good speakers is NOT easy. Finding good women speakers is even harder simply because this field is male dominated. That means all of us need to keep our eyes open for great speakers of both genders. Please help me with that; I get e-mails all the time asking me to suggest great geo speakers. None, to date, have asked specifically for women, I must add. It would be an interesting challenge for a conference agenda group to make it a goal to have at least one women as a keynote speaker. How about it? (I point this to my own colleagues, as well!)

I'd love to hear any other ideas to get women out on the conference circuit! The benefits to one's career and one's organization are significant.

Monday, May 21, 2012

GIS Certificate: $2,400 and Four Saturdays

If I read this press release and this website correctly, you can get a GIS certificate from Cal Poly Pamona for just $2,400. Students take four classes at $600 each; two are required and two are electives (though only two electives are available, as I write this). Each one is taught on a single Saturday from 9 am to 5 pm. The required courses use Getting to Know ArcGIS Desktop and the electives use Getting to Know ArcObjects, Programming ArcGIS with VBA (?) and the Esri Virtual Campus resources.

I appreciate that Cal Poly Pamona is straightforward about what the short program can and can't do.
This certificate program is intended for prospective non-specialist GIS users in a variety of professional settings. The certificate is not intended to prepare full-time GIS specialists, but rather to impart useful and necessary GIS skills to analysts, planners and managers in the wide range of fields that require location or planning decisions, resource management/allocation decisions or spatial optimization of networks, routes or systems.
I'm pleased so many schools are offering GIS courses, certificates and degrees. I think having a variety of face-to-face, online, hybrid and other ways to teach and learn are key to getting the word out to as many potential practitioners as possible. The variety of options means that both students and hiring managers need to do their homework.

Students need to remember that old adage, "if something looks too good to be true..." In short, a program that is short and inexpensive may not deliver the same content, teach the same skills or have the same impact on a hiring manager. That said, I think such offerings can be great introductions and/or stepping stones to further self-study or more formal study of GIS.

The real challenge for those on the hiring side is to be sure distinguish between the kinds of skills acquired and degrees conferred by such programs. A "GIS certificate" may be open to anyone and hus is taught to address those with a variety of backgrounds. The Cal Poly Pamona program falls into this group. A "post baccalaureate certificate" means a bachelor's degree is a pre-requisite and the courses are aimed at individuals with that level of educational experience. Some programs even count such coursework towards a Masters (Penn State and Denver for two).

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Using Today's (5/16) Maps in the Classroom

Two maps appeared online today. One, the Made in New York Digital Map shows the startups in New York City. It has received quite a lot of buzz, especially from the technology press. The other map, The AFL Players' Indigenous Map 2012 showing the home areas of indigenous soccer players in the Australian Football League, received far less. The two maps illustrate how two different organizations are using the medium to make sense of the world in 2012.
Made in NY Digital Map
AFL Players' Indigenous Map

These two maps could be the basis of a classroom comparison/contrast project. Half the students could explore the NYC map and the other half the Australian map, considering questions like:

  • Describe what the map shows in one sentence.
  • Who made the map?
  • Who did they make it for?
  • Why did they make it?
  • What are the benefits for the maker?
  • What are the benefits for the user?
  • Why is a geographic perspective important for this topic/story?
  • What kinds of questions does this map prompt?
  • What might you change about how the map looks (cartography or interface) to make it more effective?
  • What might you change about the content (add more, remove some) to make it more effective?
  • Could you convey the same information in a static (printed on paper) map? Why or why not?
  • What one thing did you learn from the map that you didn't know before?
Then, together, the class could compare the goals, techniques and success of the two maps in achieving their goals. 
  • What do the maps have in common?
  • What is different?
  • Which of these maps is more likely to spur the user to action?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Decide to Make a Difference; Choose Geo-Literacy

Those are not my words, they are the closing words from the two most recent National Geographic Education videos. The first is titled What is Geo-Literacy? and the second is titled Why is Geo-literacy Important?

The first video recaps the three "I"s that define geo-literacy: interactions (systems), interconnections (how one place connects to another, reasoning) and implications (selecting a good choices for the future). The second video suggests why we need to enhance funding and teaching of geo-literacy. If we do not, the video suggests, we are likely to make poor decisions about our personal and global future (and perhaps already have).

The videos present a lot of information, not the least of which is that geography, while selected as a core academic subject by Congress in 2001, has received no funding whatsoever. All of the other core academic subjects have been funded to some degree. (See: 1:57 of Why? video)

I want to challenge National Geographic to do more.
  • I want it to answer the logical follow up to the closing words of the videos cited in my title: What would you like viewers to do? What action(s) should they take? 
  • These videos seem to be aimed at educators, parents and perhaps Congress. I want National Geographic to suggest with whom it wants viewers to share the videos.
  • I encourage National Geographic to add some context to the videos (on Vimeo as of May 1 and YouTube as of May 10). Why were these made? At whom are they addressed? Where are further resources? Neither the Vimeo or YouTube versions have descriptive information as this post goes to press. Such information is very valuable to the press, among others!
The videos are a great start in getting the word out about geo-literacy. I look forward to seeing National Geographic's vision for action on the issue.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Break the Schools Rules, Break Your Rules, Just Teach!

It really was a knock upside the head when my colleague and instructional designer suggested we not have assignments due only on Tuesday nights. Pretty much every other course in the program had weekly assignments due on Tuesdays. Even the course I previously taught did!

"Assignments can be due whenever makes sense!"he assured me. So, after some discussion we revamped the syllabus such that assignments were announced on Wednesdays, but deliverables were due Friday, Monday and Tuesday of each week. Friday and Monday assignments were contributions to our class discussion and the Tuesday assignment included student reflections (what they learned) over the previous week. My grad students may not have liked so many deadlines, but they didn't balk at all. We all settled in to a nice rhythm after about two weeks.

While I know everyone puts artificial rules and boundaries on ourselves all the time, this was the first time I ran into it in teaching. Thankfully, I'm finding more and more instructors who toss out the rules. Here are two more rule breakers who are making news.

Did you read about John Boyer, aka The Plaid Avenger in the Chronicle of Higher Education? He does some crazy stuff to teach cajole 3,000 students (yes, 3,000) at Virginia Tech to learn about World Regions, basically a current events course. He does podcasts, uses language I would not use in the classroom, has no required assignments (students pick from a long list of ways to earn points)... Students love him and more importantly, they learn. Can everyone do what he does? No, but more power to him for doing "his thing" and breaking lots of rules.

Also in the Chronicle I read Jennifer Brannock Cox. She teaches journalism at Salisbury. She teaches in a computer lab and that means students can be distracted by their own or the schools computers. And, they are, of course, distracted, often preferring to check-in with friends rather than watch the PowerPoint slides go by. But Cox is paying attention to her students. She knew she had to be more interesting than Facebook and Twitter and personal e-mail. So, she broke the rules and ditched PowerPoint now and again in favor of ... her own real life journalism adventures.
I find that the keyboard clicking subsides when I take a break from the PowerPoint and provide an anecdote that may help illustrate my point. For example, when teaching journalism students about the dos and don'ts of interviewing, my students are riveted by the list of places I was kicked out of—shopping malls, grocery stores, people's homes—during my days working as a daily-newspaper reporter in Florida. They especially like to hear my stories about a fellow reporter who once hung from a tree over a cemetery to cover a private funeral. And they squirm when I describe the time I tried to contact an accused child molester by knocking on the door of the home he shared with the victim and his mother. (I was on the police beat at the time.)
Students love hearing about my adventures and misadventures as a former journalist, and they are full of questions. The discussion that ensues not only captures their attention (and distracts from the keyboard), but it also allows me to covertly teach them about media law and journalistic ethics.
It's so easy to fall into a habit of doing "what everyone else does" and "what you've always done." And, sometimes that works. Other times it doesn't. That's a good time to pull out the big book of breaking the rules. What educational or institutional rules have you broken? Which ones would you like to break?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Teachable Moment: Apple Credits OpenStreetMap

Last Thursday the OpenStreetMap (OSM) twitter account posted an image confirming that Apple, which now uses the map data in its iPhoto software, has given the contributors due credit. Back on March 8 many folks involved in mapping and mapping data cheered as Apple showed off the new iPhoto for the new iPad and it included OSM (APB coverage). They then hung their heads low as they realized Apple did so without proper attribution (OSM Foundation Blog).

After the tweet above, news outlets from The Next Web to Spatially Adjusted shared the news that Apple basically did the right thing. The gory details include how both the OSM Foundation and an iOS developer helped Apple make the change (Talking Points Memo coverage). Why is this change such big news? Honestly, it's not big news. It's just that any Apple news is exciting. And, in the mapping arena Apple mapping news, is well, news.

A better question to ask is how to turn this non-news in a teachable moment for geography and GIS students and geography and GIS practitioners. My answer is to use this as a jumping off point to look at spatial data licenses.

First, of course, have a look at what the OpenStreetMap license says. OpenStreetMap is currently distributed under a Creative Commons (CC) License. It's stated in plain English that you can use the map images or map data, so long as you include attribution and if possible a link to the OSM website and the CC license. The OSM license page even includes sample text you can copy! The page also makes clear that if you alter or build on the data you can only release it under the same license. (If you want to be really up to date, prepare yourself because OpenStreetMap is changing to a new license. That said, I'd get familiar with CC first.)

Once you are familiar with the current OSM license consider these questions:
  • Are the Creative Commons Licenses new to you?
  • Where else have you seen them? If you haven't, find some non-mapping content that is licensed that way.
  • Why do you think OSM and other creators chose this license?
  • Would you distribute your works (article, music, art, maps, data, etc.) under this type of license? Why or why not?
  • Did you know you can use some search engine tools to identify content release under CC licenses (and sometimes other licenses)? See if your favorite search tools allows such a search. (Hint: you might need to look under "advanced" searching.)
Second, explore some other data distribution licenses. What licenses do these data products use? How are they different from Creative Commons? Why did the data creators/providers choose those licenses?
  • VMAP0 (formerly Digital Chart of the World, DCW)
  • The City of Chicago
  • The City of Vancouver 
  • Nokia (formerly NAVTEQ)
  • TomTom (formerly Tele Atlas)
  • DigitalGlobe  
  • GeoEye 
  • Landsat 
Finally, think about why we have licenses for data and for creative works. Should we? Do the licenses you found for the geodatasets listed above make sense? Serve their intended goals? What should be changed? Anything?