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

Monday, August 27, 2012

Does Esri Going OER with its Ed Materials Matter?

I was pleased to see Esri make a formal statement about its commitment to open licensing of educational (not training) materials developed by its Ed Team. The company is retaining copyright, but offering ways to use and recast the content via a Creative Commons license. (If that doesn’t make sense, I recommend this short video that helps explain how copyright and Creative Commons licensing work together.) The move didn’t surprise me since it’s something Esri Director of Education David DiBiase championed during his tenure at Penn State.

The announcement got me thinking about how and frankly if OER geography resources are being used and/or re-used. I can’t say for sure that any material from my two OER courses at Penn State has been explicitly used, but I’ve seen evidence that suggests it has.

DiBiase and his Penn State colleagues put together what I consider a quite comprehensive text book for the first course in Penn State’s GIS Certificate program. It’s called the Nature of Geographic Information and it’s been available under an open license for years. I went looking on the Web to see if any educators use it in their online or residence teaching. I found references from the University of Massachusetts and Princeton. I can’t say outside of the Penn State community I’ve ever spoken to an educator who used it. I know only a subset of educators seek existing OER resources or consider building their own. I still see online conversations among educators trying to identify the best textbook for GIS from the commercial publishers. I'm not sure I've seen a discussion that included OER materials.

What are the implications of Penn State and Esri’s efforts to open up their educational resources? The question is timely in part because Audrey Watters, the education writer, is just beginning a project to explore OER content. Her first post on topic appeared last week on her Hack Education blog. (She’s prolific and I confess that I keep up by listening to her weekly podcast.)

Watters shared her takeaways, after looking at the types of OER content available at OER Commons:
It isn't just that the topics skew STEM. It's the dearth of primary-level materials. It's the amount of test-prep (often AP-test-prep) content. It's the preponderance of PDFs. And even with somewhat clearer language regarding licensing ("no strings attached" and "read the fine print" as opposed to Creative Commons' terminology), the continuing confusion surrounding copyright affordances for classroom usage.
First I want to tackle the dearth of primary-leve materials. Esri’s Educational Advisory Board identified the opposite in its review of the companies ArcLessons. (Disclosure: I’m on that Board.) The consensus was more intermediate and advanced material was needed. I for one see intro GIS material popping up all over the place. The latest source to cross my desk: Step-by-Step from the Scholars Lab. (I do want to point out that these lessons are peer reviewed, something that is not true of all open lessons. They are also available under and open license.) Does the geospatial/GIS education community really need more tutorials about how to geocode spreadsheets? I’m not sure. If we do, is it because there are not enough OER materials? Or did the Scholars Lab lesson appear because educators wanted a peer reviewed resource? Or for some other reason?

Next, I want to consider the PDF issue Watters notes. Esri offers quite a lot of material in PDF, though that did not come up in the advisory board discussions, best I can recall. I do see complaints from those trying to use raw data presented in PDF to make maps and we in the media (I work for an online geospatial publication) complain about press releases delivered in this form. For those who don’t use PDF much or don’t think about its limitations: the format was designed to make documents look pretty across platforms, not make their contents usable. Use of PDF in my mind pretty much flies in the face of the OER re-use/re-mix vision.

Now back to my initial question: What are the implications of Penn State and Esri’s efforts to open up their educational resources for geography/GIS education? My gut says it’s a good idea and probably “the right thing to do.” Further, I expect virtually all educators would vote in favor of such licensing. I'm not sure how many would open up their own work to such licensing. But those observations beg the question: Do geography/GIS educators know about or currently use OER materials that are already available?

I return to the question because of a well-told story of a focus group some years ago discussing MP3 players. When asked if they’d prefer a pink one or a black one, nearly all the panelists said “pink.” At the door, on the way out after the session, was a table full of pink and black devices. Attendees were invited to take one home as part of their compensation. They all took black ones. (Note: My pink 2nd gen iPod shuffle is giving me the eye just now...)

I plan to return to this topic of OER geospatial/GIS materials in the coming days and weeks.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Geography Activities and Tools for Teaching and Learning

I collected the activities and tools below in my reading about geospatial education over the last few months. My criteria for including one in this list: These are ideas/technologies I might actually use in my own classes.

Mystery Skype

Remember the good old "twenty question" game? You ask "yes" or "no" questions try to hone in on a famous person, place or thing. Mystery Skype is similar, expect that it's played by two classrooms in different geographies using Skype and the goal is to determine the location of the other class.

One class in Massachusetts divided into teams with different jobs ranging from those who asked the questions, to those who used Google to learn more, those who used Google Maps to find possible answers, to those who used state puzzles to remove states that could not be a possible answer.

Could this fit into your educational objectives for geography, even for college students?

- Mr. Avery's Classroom Blog
- Stamford Advocate

Overlap Maps

This online tool allows users to compare the size of a one feature (country, county, river, etc.) to another (country, county, river, etc.) You simply select the two things to compare from pulldown menus, then click the arrow for the Overlap Map! Or as the page puts it:
An Overlap Map is a map of one part of the world that overlaps a different part of the world. Overlap Maps show relative size.
- Overlap Maps


NoteMap is a web-based app that allows the user to draw lines and polygons or add symbols, notes and icons to a map. The result is basically a unique webpage, with its own URL. That URL is available for sharing. (The site is built on open source OpenLayers and Dojo and uses OpenStreetMap basemap data). I can imagine students using NoteMap to produce project reports or quiz answers.

- NoteMap
- details

Scholars Lab Step by Step

While the Scholars Lab offers far more than tutorials for bringing data into maps, that part of it is quite valuable. The short "cookbook" type lessons include text and graphics outlining basic mapping appropriate for non-GIS users. Most tap ArcGIS Online, though others use Google Maps and HyperCities.

The description from the site (which reveals other reasons this is an authoritative resource):
Spatial Humanities Step By Step is a peer-reviewed series of tutorials and guides to getting things done in teaching and research with spatial tools and resources.
- Scholars Lab Step by Step

Monday, August 20, 2012

How to Get an Entry Level GIS Job at Jacksonville Electric

Jessica Gray sounds like a sharp student. After graduating from high school, she attended college and graduated as valedictorian with an associate degree in Computer Drafting and Design. Among her other academic achievements are induction into the National Technical Honor Society and Alpha Beta Kappa and a grade point average of 4.0. She's leveraged all of that into a full-time position as a GIS/CAD Technician with Jacksonville Electric Authority in Florida.

The rest of the story, as Paul Harvey, would say, goes like this. Gray graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School in Juneau Alaska. Her parents live in Yakutat (pop 662, but claimed to be the largest city by area in the U.S. at about six times the size of Rhode Island) about 100 miles from Juneau. Gray is a shareholder of Sealaska, Goldbelt and Shee-Atika, all native corporations. and a member of Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska and Sitka Tribes of Alaska. From what I understand, being a shareholder of several corporations is pretty normal for native Alaskans.

Here's the interesting part, from the geoeducation perspective. Gray left Alaska for Jacksonville, FL where she earned her degree at ITT Technical Institute. ITT Technical Institute, which advertises heavily here in Boston, is a for-profit institution with national, rather than the more prestigious regional accreditation (source: Wikipedia, the school website does not seem to make its accreditation readily findable). The school offers many degrees but has a large portfolio in technology and IT. Her program at the Jacksonville Campus includes just one course that I could find that touches on GIS and mapping: 3D Civil Drafting. Other degree programs at other campuses have a course titled Civil Drafting and Introduction to GIS.

I point out all of this out to wish Gray the best in her new job and to highlight that while efforts in the U.S. to offer GIS and geospatial training at public institutions and in particular at community colleges grow, so do efforts at private for profit schools.

- Juneau Empire

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

NGA Provides GEOINT Edu Grant to Historically Black College

Early in August Fayetteville State University (FSU) received a five-year $443,000 research grant from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) to develop a Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT) certificate to be offered to students pursuing undergraduate degrees in geography, computer science, and intelligence studies (press release). The four recipients of the grant are part of the university's Center for Defense and Homeland Security (CDHS).

I didn't realize FSU was a historically black college or university (HBCU) until another educator pointed it out. The certificate will be the first of its kind at an HBCU and FSU intends for its work to become a template for other schools interested in pursuing such offerings (press release).

The two year grant with three one year add-ons has several goals:
  • develop courses for the GEOINT certificate 
  • establish a geospatial teaching laboratory 
  • obtain certificate accredited from the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) 
  • develop an online component for the program 
  • expand the certificate to include allied programs such as Political Science
Currently, the university offers a B.A. and a minor in Geography and has three faculty members in the department. That said, the list of geography courses (which fall under History and Government) is quite long. I count four that deal with computer cartography and GIS. There's one remote sensing, course, too.

FSU, I have learned, is the second-oldest public institution in North Carolina., part of the University of North Carolina System. It serves about 6,000 students and offers 60 undergraduate and graduate degrees. Trajectory Magazine (from the USGIF) reports that the GEOINT program lead, Dr. Rakesh Malhotra, is a member of the USGIF Academic Advisory Board. Several other members of that board are involved in GEOINT programs at other universities.

The NGA includes HBCU grants among its academic research program, but does not cite this grant anywhere on its website, at least not yet.

Jeremy Crampton, at his Open Geography blog asks a number of questions about grants in general in the context of this announcement:
Would you take $443,000 from the government to build a Certificate Program? What about from a government intelligence agency?
This grant and the program it creates support a number of firsts for HBCUs, geospatial, NGA, USGIF, GEOINT and geo education. Many eyes will be watching its progress.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Central Pennsylvania Geospatial Technology Center to Support Experiential GIS Learning

Back in June Gannett Fleming announced a new organization to provide central Pennsylvania college/post college GIS students with hands on work experience (press release). The Central Pennsylvania Geospatial Technology Center (GTC) is a joint effort of the company with Harrisburg University of Science and Technology and Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC). Per the press release:
Students, faculty, and professionals from the three organizations will offer their expertise and resources to geospatial technology projects for the public. The partnership will focus on providing substantive and practical knowledge for students, while providing valuable services for the greater central Pennsylvania area.
First off, who are these players? These blurbs come from the organizations' "about" page save the one from HACC, which has no such page. The blurb is from that school's employment page.
Gannett Fleming is a global infrastructure firm that provides planning, design, technology, and construction management services for a diverse range of markets and disciplines. With 2,000 highly qualified individuals across a global network of 60 offices, we are united in our passion to deliver excellence. We have played a part in shaping infrastructure and improving communities in more than 65 countries, specializing in transportation, environmental, water, energy, and facility-related projects.
Founded in 2001 to address Central Pennsylvania’s need for increased opportunities for study leading to careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, Harrisburg University is an innovative and ambitious private institution that produces graduates who provide increased competence and capacity in science and technology disciplines to Pennsylvania and the nation. Harrisburg University ensures institutional access for underrepresented students and links learning and research to practical outcomes. As a private University serving the public good, Harrisburg University remains the only STEM-focused comprehensive university located between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Established in 1964 as Pennsylvania's first community college, HACC has grown to become a multi-campus institution that plays a vital role in improving the quality of life in Central Pennsylvania. We provide high quality, low-cost educational opportunities, we strengthen the local economy, we train the region's workforce, and we share our cultural and educational resources with the community.
With a full- and part-time student enrollment of nearly 20,000 and over 55,000 served in noncredit courses, we are always seeking leaders in various fields to join HACC's mission to provide excellence in all aspects of the community and in quality education throughout the Central PA region.
So, that's one private infrastructure firm with a geo division, GeoDecisions, that's considered "a global leader in the design and development of innovative geospatial solutions and application," a private college that grants a four year geospatial degree and a certificate, and a state funded community college that offers an associates degree in GIS as well as a certificate program. The announcement left me with more questions than answers.

So, beginning in June, I left sent e-mails, left messages and finally spoke to a rep at Gannett Fleming who promised a response to the questions on July 9. Sadly, I never received a response. So, I made contact directly with GeoDecisions. The team there passed my questions on to Harrisburg University. Albert R. Sarvis, PMP, GISP, Assistant Professor of Geospatial Technology & Information Technology Project Management answered my questions. He comments that "We will likely have several months of business development work to do before the first official GTC project will begin," but all systems are in place.

Ignite Education: Is this a separate entity from the three partners?
Albert Sarvis: The center is virtual, in that work can take place at any of the three initial partner locations. A Memorandum of Understanding defines how the initial partners will operate together.

IE: Who will run it? A full time executive? Will there be a board?
AS: Liaison’s from each of the initial partners will coordinate activity and contribute to decisions regarding the future direction and activities of the Center. We intend to add additional partners over time and more fully define the governance and leadership of the center.

IE: Is it a non-profit?
AS: Revenue from GTC projects will cover employee/student direct costs and overhead for HU and HACC and will include a small profit percentage for the GTC to be used for both GTC capability expansion and public outreach activities. Non-academic partner organizations will continue to bid projects with profits built into their proposals, including profit to be contributed to the GTC.

IE: The press release notes the Center will be "online." I could find not Web presence at this time. Is there one?
AS: We will be building an online presence as activity increases. For now we have allocated space on the Harrisburg University Website for information about the GTC. http://www.harrisburgu.edu/academics/undergrad/gis/gtc.php

IE: How will these projects "for the public" be found/solicited? Will they be for non-profits only? For governments? For whom?
AS: The academic partners will primarily focus on grant based project opportunities and look to partner organizations, such as Gannett Fleming, to develop public, private project opportunities.

IE: Which students will be involved in the projects? A whole class? If not, how will they be selected?
AS: Individual students will be selected based on their ability to perform specific project requirements. Evaluation of their qualifications will be based on their completed coursework and demonstrated abilities.

IE: Will students get course credit for their project work?
AS: Students may work within the GTC for Internship or Project based experiential learning credits. Harrisburg University students must complete 2 experiential learning projects (each for 3 credits) and in internship (a minimum of 3 credits).

IE: What was the impetus for setting up this organization?
AS: The center was set up to provide robust alternative experiential learning for Geospatial Technology students. All of the initial partners recognize the importance of extended and substantive experience in addition to academic coursework. The GTC will provide students with opportunities to gain valuable experience that is not possible within the traditional post-secondary academic model.

IE: How is it funded?
AS: Each initial partner contributed startup funds and organizational resources such as software and workspace.

IE: Are the faculty being involved in efforts to put these projects in the context of a course or a program? How?
AS: Harrisburg University’s Geospatial Technology courses have been designed to put the program in the context of the needed skills for Geospatial Technology services. Any project tasks assigned to students will be directly correlated to the instruction they have received in class.

IE: Are faculty looking for ways to explore ways to evaluate learning from these projects?
AS: Students who conduct their internships or experiential learning projects (See HU requirements above) develop a Learning Contract with specific learning objectives and outcomes defined based on the GTC projects they are working on. Learning evaluation and grade assessment will be based on how well they meet the objectives of these contracts.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Kingston University Closes First Bachelors GIS Program

Kenneth Field (@kennethfield) writes on Twitter:
News reaches me that Kingston University London have closed the world's first Bachelors GIS course after 23 yrs. Words fail me.
He was there until joining Esri not long ago. He follows up:
@andnewmanGEO @jeremy_morley @osbornec someday I may post a long essay I wrote on what went on & what went wrong at KU...still too soon tho
I have no particular insight into this program or university, but I have been doing some work detailing new GIS degree and certificate programs in the United States. One conclusion I drew from my limited data was that there are new two year GIS certificate and associates degrees and masters degrees but no new four year bachelors degrees. There are few GIS bachelors degrees in the U.S.; off the top of my head I can think of just the one at American Sentinel, a for profit school, but I'm pretty sure there are few others. Somehow that degree package has not been popular here. Why not?

I think some geography programs were not comfortable with GIS leading geography. So degrees are conferred in geography but with a specialization in GIS. That's how my alma mater Penn State does it.

The current economic downturn and the push for more career focused learning has but students in the drivers' seat. They are demanding shorter programs that can get them into real jobs faster. Hence a two year certificate or two year associates degree can be a shortcut to a good paying job. The new masters programs I see are not academic masters, but rather professional masters aimed at adding skills to those of a currently working professional. Again, the goal is workforce enhancement.

Mr. Field suggests other factors may be at play at Kingston, but at some level its following the pattern I'm seeing here in the U.S.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Does Advocating for GIS Preclude Advocating for Geography Education?

The New Hampshire Sentinel Source has an article about the state's new K-12 statewide education license of Esri software. The article offers a responsible look at the potential uses of GIS and the challenges of educating teachers to use the technology and apply it across the curriculum.

What jumped out at me was this:
Bryant [Lara M.P. Bryant, an assistant professor of geography at Keene State College] also is the coordinator for the New Hampshire Geographic Alliance, which spent almost two years advocating for a statewide license for the software.
Best I understand it, the New Hampshire Educational GIS Partnership (NHEdGIS which includes the NH Geographic Alliance and partners) spent two years advocating  to sign a contract with Esri for its software for use in public and private schools across the state. And it was successful!

And, here's a key bit of the deal, that seems to have been at Esri's prompting:
For the partnership, the institute [Esri] wanted a commitment from the state education department that the department would teach instructors how to use the software, so the full potential is achieved, she said. The partnership calls for a $45,000 match in professional development for teachers to learn about Geographic Information Systems.
That's a great addition since as we know, software without training and professional development, just sits there!

This success story highlights yet another divide in geography education advocacy. I wrote in the past about how it's tough to promote GIS because it's got a dual personality as both social science (humanities) and STEM. We may have the same dual pathway issue in advocacy.

The Geographic Alliance and its partners decided to use its energy to go after a statewide K-12 GIS license from Esri. I do not know when or how that decision was made. But based on the various partner websites, that focus overshadowed others advocacy efforts including support for for federal funding of geography via Speak Up for Geography (which in turn supports TGIF, the geography is fundamental act).

Is it possible that efforts to get technology (in this case Esri software) are pre-empting advocacy efforts to enhance geography education and geography professional development in particular (TGIF)? It is possible this is akin to energy put into getting a 1to 1 iPad or laptop program into schools without  a clear picture of how it will help second graders to learn how to read?

I do not mean to criticize the efforts of the organizations of NH. I'm sure they made the choice they felt best enhanced geography education in that state. I just wonder if having this "tech route" (Esri K-12 license) vs. the "PD geography route" (TGIF) implies a split loyalty across the country and hence a split set of advocacy efforts. Could these different (and I should be clear, compelling) advocacy options be part of what's holding back success in broader geography education?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Are We Ready for Advertising Funded Degrees?

I'm a sucker for new education business models, so when the Chronicle detailed the still fuzzy plans for World Education University, I took note. Scott Hines, the university’s chief executive holds firm to the idea that students will know that their degrees are being funded (mostly) through advertising.

What degrees? The programs website notes, "WEU expects to be able to offer credentialed diplomas in a variety of industries, Associate Degrees, Bachelor Degrees, Master Degrees, and Ph.Ds." About 20 disciplines from computer science to theology are listed as possible areas to earn a degree.

The school doesn't share its location, nor the specific accreditation it hopes to capture. A commenter found an address in California and suggest accreditation via DETC (one of the national level, lower level, accreditors focusing on distance education) or WASC (one of the six highest level or regional accreditors in the U.S.) would be logical, though that would require a few years at least in the making. WASC, by the way, recently earned kudos from a Chronicle commentator when it denied accreditation, publicly and tightened its stance of graduate percentages.

For his part Hines shares the plan for national, regional, and international accreditation. There's also a plan for competency-based accreditation where corporate partners "stamp" the university as properly preparing students for a particular industry. ("GIS company X says students who complete a course of study at WEU are competent to do GIS.")

The article shares three methods of monetization of students via advertisers (Remember, if an online product is free, you are the product!):

- targeting advertising to student interests (like running)
- outright advertiser sponsorship of students
- academic achievement points that can be exchanged by students for advertisers prizes or discounts

A fourth money maker does not involve adverstising. The school may charge for tutoring or premium content (unclear if that means specific lessons, courses, degrees or what). That last option is essentially a freemium model. (You read Free, right? Worth a read if not.)

The source of the content? In the long term the school plans to create original content; at the outset materials from two undisclosed institutions will be offered.

The faculty? Here's the recruiting blurb regarding salary.
We pay our professors based on academic performance. Each student will grade you, the professor, and the course you create for our online community. The more students who rate your course highly, the more students will take your course and the more you will get paid. We can’t wait to meet you and have you join our team.
If something sounds too good to be true....

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Spatial Training Works and May Enhance STEM Learning

Northwestern University posted a story about research led by its own Professor David Uttal confirming that training in spatial concepts does indeed raise spatial thinking and reasoning abilities. The meta analysis (a study of studies) reviewed 217 research studies on educational interventions to improve spatial thinking. The upshots:
  • Yes, training will improve spatial skills.
  • Yes, that improvement will last and transfers to other skills, including perhaps STEM subjects.
Great news! Still aspects of the research, or perhaps just the news story, do give me pause.

Are we talking about training?

The term used throughout the article to describe the intervention is training. Maybe I don't know its proper meaning in this context. I do know we do not do training in GIS at at Penn State. We don't even teach software (something I would describe as training). 

Do we train K-12 students? Do we train them to read? To do fractions? Perhaps we do.

The few examples of the spatial training offered in the article include physics students using 3D representations (not physical models only, I guess) and the use of video games. The good news here is that more than one type of intervention can work. But is it really training?

What interventions work "best"?

I'm sure this is already being researched or planned for the future, but which of the various interventions show the most return? Do different ones work better at different ages? For different types of learners? For different genders? Will adults get as much out of spatial puzzles as five year old Max and Theo do at school?

How do we use these results?

With the current focus on STEM education and the never-say-die efforts to promote geography in he U.S., who will take the lead on translating this research into action or policy? Whose job is that? Do the findings necessarily make geography and GIS key tools in advancement of spatial skills?