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Monday, September 24, 2012

Integrating Top Tech Skills for Students in GIS/Geography Coursework

eSchool News asked readers to identify the top five tech skills students should learn. Interestingly, few were really tech skills.  In fact, some of them are akin to the soft skills that some argue are more important than "cognitive skills." (Did you listen to This American Life a few weeks back? Highly recommended!) The responses in brief:

1) Digital literacy
2) Critical thinking
3) The Science Behind the Tech
4) Adaptability
5) Courage

The tricky part, as some of the commenters point out, is putting these in the context of technology, rather than other subjects taught in school. What I want to do in this post is provide examples of how to incorporate them into GIS and geography teaching and learning.

Digital literacy, to me, covers everything from protecting one's privacy online, to addressing online bullying, to knowing how to evaluate an online source as authoritative or biased, to appropriately citing the use of other people's content. One great place to practice some of these skills is via evaluating online resources. How good are the datasets available for the city of Atlanta (for use in a GIS)? How do you find them? Evaluate them? Pick the best one for the project at hand? How good are the online maps for regarding the upcoming election (for geography). Who produced them? For what purpose? What is the source data? Is it credible? Was the right projection used? Is there metadata? Part of such an evaluation should always include suggestions for how to improve the content. How could the dataset and/or its metadata be improved? How would you make the map "better?"

Critical thinking is a term I hear a lot in education circles and it's a hot topic in GIS education as well.  What is it exactly? I think of it as making good logical decisions. A toddler might tackle this critical thinking challenge: What goes on first, shoes or socks? In GIS there are number of similar procedural questions: Which data sets are needed to answer the question? What preparation must be done to use them? (Re-project them, merge townships into counties, etc.) What is the best way to display the answer?

The science behind the tech speaks directly to GPS! Using a system is easy; understanding how it works and why it may fail is a bit more difficult and frankly, more valuable! Other technologies students can study and understand: LiDAR, satellite imagery, drones, mapping applications on their cell phones, wi-fi locating, indoor locating, Photosynth...the list is very long. But, if forced to pick one, I'd pick GPS. (I wrote an article on just that topic for Directions Magazine.)

Adaptability refers to empowering students to accept and roll with changes. What if all of the sudden they need to change from using Windows to Linux? Or MapInfo to QGIS? What if a new version of ArcGIS comes out? Do they have the skills to take what they already know and apply them to the new situation? Can they ask the key questions about the new environment? I particularly like classes where students work with more than one GIS package or geography application; it helps hone adaptability.

Courage is needed to try something new and potentially, make a mistake. Younger students tend to be less apprehensive about such things while older students can become self-conscious among their peers. Sadly, older students sometimes lose the excitement of experimenting. I was reminded of this in recent years when the "old" Microsoft Surface came out. I spoke with a vendor who had one in the booth at a conference. He was disappointed that children would happily touch the screen to make the fish swim but their parents were hesitant.

GIS is a great place to practice courage and "risk taking via "what if" questions. Some may be based on project: "What if we have 18 categories on our choropleth map? Is it useful?" Others may be about the software itself: "What happen is if choose this option?" Courage relates to hardware too, and sadly, sometimes means a device may be ruined. I know of several schools that collect old tech precisely for students to disassemble and explore. That type of project relates back to "the science behind the tech" topic above.

I do think it's valuable for GIS and geography instructors at all levels to keep these five skills in mind as they craft their lesson plans.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ten Things You Need to Know About Reusing Web Content

Disclosure: I’m not a lawyer, nor do I have any specific expertise on these matters. I've compiled what I’ve learned over the years as an editor of online magazines and an instructor of online courses. I encourage you to take detailed questions to the experts in your own organization.

1) Copyright

Copyright refers to the right to control copying and other use of content that you create. On the Web, It might be text, graphics, music, video or something else. Even if you do not explicitly state that you claim a copyright, in the U.S. at least, you are considered to hold it for your own works. (See: Copyright on Wikipedia)

2) Creative Commons

Creative Commons (CC) is a type of license that sits on top of copyright. The variety of licenses explain the conditions under which the content can be used and how the content must be attributed. Content creators select the license that fits their needs and make a statement to that effect on the website, typically with a link to the text of the license. (See for example, the bottom of the Creative Commons home page!)

3) Attributing Content with a Creative Commons License

When republished or enhancing CC content, it can be unclear how to properly attribute an article or an image. I found this blog post on the topic quite helpful. I prefer to err on the side of providing more information about the source rather than less.

4) Crediting Source of Discovery

Bloggers and others who create on the Web often read about a news story or issue form another blog, a tweet, a Facebook post or via e-mail from a friend. It’s best practice when writing about the topic to cite not only any sources you reference or quote, but also to credit the publication or person that “tipped you off” to it. There are a variety of ways to do this: “H/T to John Smith” means hat tip to John Smith. To credit a tweet, a blogger might write: “via @johnsmith.” Podcasters can put such credits in the show notes or offer a verbal “shout out” or “thank you” to John Smith in the audio itself. There is no formal procedures for this sort of attribution, but one blogger has proposed a Curators Code.

5) Public Domain

Content in the public domain is free from intellectual property rights, most often, that means free from copyright. The creator may have removed the copyright, or it might have expired or be impossible to enforce. Most U.S. federal government website content is public domain as are many older documents and pieces of music. If content is in the public domain, so far as I understand, you need not attribute it from a legal standpoint. That said, I consider it best practice to attribute such content. In geography and GIS writing and teaching I often use maps from USGS or imagery from NASA, and attribute them.

6) Fair Use

Fair Use is a doctrine in the United States that grants an exception to copyright to use small pieces of works for specific purposes such as "commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving and scholarship." There are four factors used to determine if the use is fair or not. They are noted in the United State Code. This discussion and checklist from Columbia is a useful guide to the topic.

7) Permission

Any and all copyright or licensing requirements can magically disappear when the content creator/owner gives explicit permission to use it in a specific way. That permission may be given without a fee or there may be a fee. When a creator/owner grants permission, he or she may ask that you provide some type of attribution. If not, it’s best practice to make it clear permission has been obtained with language like this: “Reprinted with permission of the New York Times” with a link to the original article.

8) Adding a License to Your Content 

If you create content, it’s up to you how you want to share it. You can be quite strict and hold a copyright and insist that everyone come to you for permission (and/or pay a licensing fee) to use the work. Or, you can share your creative work under one of the Creative Commons licenses and detail how the content can be used (only for non-commercial use, for example) and attributed.  Or, you can put the content in the public domain. Those are just three ways to license content; there are other ways, too. Which ever you select, be sure it’s clear on your website which of these options you have selected.

9) When You or Someone Else Slips Up

Now and then someone will mess up and use your content without permission or without following the license you specified. And, you might use someone else’s content without permission or without the correct attribution.

What should you do if someone misuses your content? My advice is to respectfully let them know. My experience has been that more than 90% of the time they were not aware they needed to ask to use copyrighted material!  (That's in part why I am writing this post.)

What if you receive an e-mail noting you misused someone else’s content? Check to see if in fact you did, and if so, apologize and offer to make it right either by removing the content, adding attribution or paying a fee.

10) Pass Along Best Practices

Many who read this blog are educators. We are role models for one another and for our students. We have a certain responsibility to lead by example. That means taking intellectual property rights seriously and trying to follow best practices when sharing content on the Web. I’ve been convinced lately that we need to teach one another as well as our students how these rights work and how to use them in practice. (If you missed it, see: Tales from the Web Literacy Files: Geo Edition)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tales from the Web Literacy Files: Geo Edition

Last week I sent a GIS news site a tip on a story since it was the sort of thing it might cover. The topic was in fact covered in the next issue. I was pleased to help, but disappointed to see no suggestion of where the publication heard about the story. Many media sites, from one person blogs to CNN, use H/T ("hat tip") or via ("via @adenas") to give credit to those who pass along such tips. There's even a movement to formalize this behavior with a Curator's Code (Wired UK).

Early this week I saw a link on Twitter for an educational geography resource on tornadoes. The tweet commended the analysis, so I was curious to read it. It turns out, the content was republished from Wikipedia. That's acceptable. However, the attribution was incomplete. There was no way a reader would know the content was not original, nor was the Creative Commons license used on Wikipedia respected. (Here's a blog post on how to do Creative Commons attribution by Molly Kleinman for those who need to read up on the topic.)

Finally, just yesterday a GIS news site pointed me to a new website with resources to encourage students and those in the job market to consider a career in geospatial technology. Those behind the website had the best of intentions and wanted to offer the content under a Creative Commons license. However, instead of stating that intention with a link to a specific license, the site developer simply put a link to the Creative Commons organization. (Here's the page about what the different licenses offer.)

To be clear, the websites and content I'm discussing were published by professionals in our field, not students. Somehow these individuals, and likely many of their peers, have not learned or taught themselves about these Web literacy and etiquette issues. I'm hoping renewed interest in all things open, both in and outside of geospatial technologies, will afford more opportunities to highlight best practices in these areas.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Look at Unmanned Vehicle University

Unmanned Vehicle University opened its online doors in February of 2012, after about a year of planning. The school currently offers online courses using Webex. Some are non-credit "executive certificate" courses (you receive a certificate of completion) while others are part of certificate programs (a one year post-baccalaureate program) or Masters and PhD degrees related to UAVs/UASs. Short courses, typically three days, are offered in person. The faculty includes some 30 experts in the field located all over the world. In August the school had about 50 students.

Jerry LeMieux, a retired Air Force colonel, commercial airline pilot, and college lecturer founded the university and is leading the marketing charge. You can hear him on this podcast interview with Small UAS News.

UVU received its accreditation in July 2012 from the International Association for Distance Learning. Wikipedia includes that association on its list of unrecognized higher education accreditation organizations.

Executive non-credit courses cost $999 (eight weeks) while certificate/degree courses (12 weeks) run $1600. A masters degree requires eight courses (no masters thesis is required) and runs $12,800. A PhD requires ten courses, plus 36 credits of dissertation preparation and a defense. I calculate the cost at $25,600. The Unmanned Vehicle University Graduate Course Catalog and Student Handbook, 2012 – 2013 with details is available in a PDF titled "graduate catalog" on this page.

The university shared recently that it is looking to gain Federal Aviation Administration certification, is writing a first textbook on UAVs, and hopes to open a physical campus at Lake Havasu City, AZ. An e-mail to prospective students in early September included plans for financial aid and Veterans Administration benefits for students:
We are working very hard to get financial aid and VA benefits approved. Please be patient with this certification process. We anticipate this occurring in the later part of 2013. Once we have this approval, the course prices will increase by 100%. Anyone who enrolls now, willl [sic] be grandfathered into the lower price structure.
I wanted to be sure members of the GIS education community were aware of this university and its programs.

More Information:

- Unmanned Vehicle University
- Washington Times
- Las Vegas Review Journal

update 10/11/12: You can now buy the UAV Fundamemtals Course
on DVD for $650 via Amazon.
Learn the basics of unmanned aircraft vehicles (UAVs). This DVD includes 16 hours of lectures from the popular Unmanned Aircraft Vehicle (UAV) Fundamentals Executive Course offered by Unmanned Vehicle University.
- e-mail from UVU 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The State of Educational Geography Apps and Games

I was pointed by USA Today to a website  called Common Sense Media. It indexes and reviews educational materials for a variety of platforms including apps, games, books, TV shows and more. I keyed in a search for geography and up came six pages of results, some 100 products. I especially enjoyed the summaries from reviewers:
  • "Great educational content; slightly dry gameplay."
  • "Find-the-country geography app with detailed statistics."
  • "Stunning interactive geography and animal science game."
  • "Great way to learn states and capitals by region."
  • "Advanced quiz questions target true geography buffs."
These comments suggest to me just what I feared: most of the digital offerings are of the "learn the locations of counties and the capitols of states" variety. Why are these types of resources? They are what developers think parents and educators want. And, they may well be correct on that.

The website gives each product a suggested age target (best for age 10, for example), a star rating (how good, aka fun/engaging is it) and an intriguing measure of "learning potential of a title in terms of whether it's BEST, GOOD, or FAIR for learning -- or not for learning." The criteria for that score:
Sample Criteria
Is it engaging, fun, absorbing?
Learning approach
Is the learning central and not secondary to the experience? Is it relevant and transferable to real life? Does it build concepts and deep understanding? Do kids get exposure to a diversity of people and situations?
Do kids get feedback about their performance? Does their experience (e.g., game play) adjust based on what and how they do?
Support and extensions
Are there opportunities and resources to support, strengthen, and extend learning? Is the title accessible to a variety of audiences?
I think that's a pretty good list for evaluating potential for learning. Sadly, few offerings get the top rating, Best for Learning, symbolized by three books. The grading system is in beta (it launched in April, press release), so only a small fraction of the content is rated. Which of my results rate Best for Learning?
  • HowStuffWorks for iPad rates three books, but it's certainly not geography specific or even geography focused.
  • National Geographic Challenge has the highest rating in potential for learning among the real geography offerings, but gets just two books, not three. The review may indicate why: "Game show/board game is a blast -- but questions are tough!" Digging deeper you find: "Learning social studies facts is wild fun with this competitive game show." Oh boy, another game to learn facts! Hooray!

This is just one website, one with a limited number of learning products, but I fear it reflects the state of geography apps in 2012. Most seem to attack the need to learn the facts about and locations of the countries and cities of the world. I continue to look forward to the next generation of geography games that teach the underlying principles and skills of geography. I point those interested in this opportunity the shiny new volume of national geography standards, the second edition of Geography for Life.