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Monday, October 29, 2012

Unmanned Vehicle University's New Products: Five Stars

Unmanned Vehicle University's new textbook is titled Introduction to Unmanned Systems: Air, Ground, Sea and Space ($144) and is available at Amazon. It has one review to date by Dr P Marques. He gives it five stars. He is on the university faculty.

The new DVD course UAV Executive Course ($650), also available at Amazon, has five reviews. The university sent me an e-mail highlighting them.

One review is by Brian Binnie, who is on the university Board of Directors and wrote the book's introduction. He's written just this one review on Amazon.

A second review is by Dr. Dimitrios Gkritzapis, who is the school's Athens, Greece Campus Director. He's also written just this one Amazon review.

A third review is by Dr P Marques, the university faculty member noted above. He writes:
I took this course recently and I was amazed at how much I learned about UAV components, communications & data links, sensors, ground control systems, civil airspace integration, sense and avoid systems, alternative propulsion, UAV swarming, and many other topics by studying just two hours per week. Dr LeMieux is, without doubt, the most intellectually stimulating lecturer I ever had.
There are two other reviews of the DVD course by people with no direct link to the University (that I could find). One is by M Blades, who I surmise is Michael Blades, a  Frost & Sullivan Senior Industry Analyst who comments on, among other things, UAVs (Frost and Sullivan PR). The second is from Rob Han who is as effusive in his praise as Dr. Marques. In all, five reviewers give the course five stars.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

NCLB In, Field Trips Out

Cinncinatti.com mourns the loss of the field trip. The K-12 staple took students to zoos and museums, historic sites and state capitals. Today, in an educational environment based on testing, those perks, I mean learning experiences, are no longer available in many areas. Instead, there are virtual field trips using Google Earth and museum websites. As a geographer, both the lack of travel to these places and the solution of visiting them via computer, sadden me.

Talk to graduates from my home town public schools from the 1970s and 1980s and I bet you'll hear the same stories I can tell about our field trips.

So far as I know every kindergartner/first grader went to Drumlin Farm, an Audubon site in Lincoln, MA. I vaguely remember mud and animals and maybe, just maybe, I realized that within a few miles of my house, there was an actual farm.

And, I think it was in 3rd or 4th grade, we went to visit a Senator. He was one of my classmates grandfather's, a Senator from Rhode Island. I'm pretty sure we met him at the Massachusetts State House in Boston. Senator Pastore gave each of us a booklet containing the Constitution. I kept that through college. It had "From the office of Senator John Pastore" stamped on it.

The big trip in elementary school was in fifth grade: We spent a full week at an environmental camp (Camp Wingate) on Cape Cod. My mom was a chaperon. To this day I remember riding bikes to the recycling plant, doing a night walk in the woods and creating a huge web of life with yarn on the floor of the "Leoj," the main building named after, I think, the founder, Joel. (Get it? It's Joel backwards!) I remember making mobiles from broken colored glass. My classmate Eric gave his to my Mom; she stayed up with him all night when he had a tummy ache.

The junior high trip was unforgettable. Sadly, only the top science students got to go. We drove to Clarksville, NY (leaving at 6 am) and crawled around in a cave for hours. We used acetylene lamps, looked at rock formations, and examined bat guano. I remember how it felt and smelled to this day. On the way home we ate a McDonalds. In the bricks were imprints of fossils.

I can't recall a high school trip, just band trips, which were pretty educational. My host in Westchester, NY ate Rice Krispies with Pepsi instead of milk. I didn't know you could do that!

I suppose some of the learning completed on these trips could have occurred online. I wonder if I'd remember them as well as I do these experiences?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Unengaged at NEURISA Day 2012


On Monday I drove for 90 minutes to attend the NEURISA Day conference in Sturbridge, MA. Then I sat in the same room for seven hours. Then I drove home. I was exhausted. Not my body so much, but my brain.

I’d been pretty much passively listening for those seven hours. And, while the content was valuable (see my coverage in All Points Blog), the presentations were just that, presentations. Experts and practitioners stood up front and talked and showed slides. Some presenters were very funny, but that’s not engagement. At least one presenter showed a demonstration, but that was 100% passive, too.

Making Change is Hard

I know it’s hard to change how things have been done, but I’m pushing 50 and I can’t go another 15 or 20 years sitting in dark rooms watching slides go by. I really can’t. How can we fix this? Well first, read this blog post summarizing what eighth graders suggested their teachers do to be engaging. (I discussed the findings in some depth here.) Everyone is an eighth grader when it comes to engagement and these students have it spot on!

How then could the presenters at NEURISA Day 2012 have used some of those ideas to better engage the audience? Let me set the stage. We had about 100 people at 15 or so round tables. We had a whole separate extra room where the exhibitors were and another one across the hall. Many, maybe half of the attendees has some electronic device and free Web access and we all had paper and pencils. There was a big screen and projector at the front of the room.

Turning NEURISA Day 2012 into Engaged Learning

The first set of sessions were on the basics and applications of LiDAR. I have yet to find an activity detailed on the Web that physically illustrates how a laser pulse leaves the sensor and comes back. I can imagine having individuals become laser pulses and walking until they “bump into” something before returning. I can also imagine using devices in people’s hands to look at LiDAR data or (data derived from them) in say ArcGIS Online and teasing out how to use it, analyze it, or make sense of it. You could have groups of tables or all the tables compete in attempting the same simple task. Or maybe have tables sketch what a lidar cross section of a specific type of physical feature would look like - a football stadium, an airport hanger, a McDonalds? Or, groups could brainstorm about how to use LiDAR data to address a real issues - like moving the Space Shuttle through the streets of Los Angeles.

The presentation on Free and Open Source GIS might have had the audience try to tease out the key criteria a small town in New Hampshire might have for selecting a free piece of GIS software. Would every table come up with the same list? Could each table fire up one piece of software and report back on how hard it was to import a shapefile (or other basic task) just to get their hands on and look at the different offerings? Could one table research exactly what the different between free and open source is and report back to the group? (That issue was not really addressed.)

The discussion of UASs centered around the Federal Aviation Administration restrictions. Maybe instead of presenting them, groups could have pretended to be the FAA and come up with their own list of restrictions. Then we could compare them to what the FAA has on the books currently and plans for the future.
If the goal of one of the mobile presentations was to show how easy it is to build mobile forms, why not give a five minute overview and have each table create a new form? One table could create a form for the city dog catcher, another for the arborist, a third for sanitation, etc.?

I know thinking through and actually implementing these type of hands on activities takes more time than re-using an existing PowerPoint (or making a new one the night before the conference). I know I’d learn more and I bet instead of being exhausted at the end of seven hours, I’d be enthusiastic. If someone had asked me what I’d done that day, I’d say, “First I was a laser pulse, then I was an FAA staffer setting up regulations for UASs, and finally, I built and app for the city dog catcher!”

One Final Thought

What sticks with me from my day in Sturbridge? A story Gerry Kinn of Esri told me. He was in a graduate course with Mark Monmonier, the well-known geographer/cartographer/author from Syracuse.

Monmonier noted that people only remember things if they happened in some unique way. So, he shared his pet peeve with his students regarding choropleth maps without normalized data. He made his students take an oath that they would never do that. They stood on their desks, hands rasied and then hands on heart to affirm their commitment. Then they signed a document to that effect and Monmonier affixed the seal (it has an mammalian seal on it per Kinn) to the paper. That sounds engaging, physically interesting and clearly, memorable. Gerry Kinn was certainly engaged that day of class!

Monday, October 15, 2012

The New Face of GIS Training

The new paradigm of GIS training (and perhaps education, too) is upon us. It's epitomized by shorter, more focused and less expensive classes, if not full courses. These classes are being created and taught not by only by traditional academics (with current or paste employment at a K-12 school, college or university), but by our peers, GIS practitioners.

Last week two such offerings crossed my browser. These individuals are among the pioneers in this sort of training.

Gretchen Peterson is offering a four hour workshop at Colorado State University.
Geospatial Workshop: Introduction to Cartography

Join the Geospatial Centroid on Friday, October 26, 1:00 - 5:00 p.m., for a workshop with renowned cartographer, Gretchen N. Peterson (see: http://www.gretchenpeterson.com/blog). The workshop will introduce you to general concepts of cartography, design principles, and introductory skills for adding clarity to your maps. The cost for the workshop is $60 and is payable either by CSU Account number or by check at the workshop. Please register by October 19! Spaces are limited.
Rolling Hills Consulting is offering a course on LiDAR and ArcGIS.
Course Title: How to download LiDAR files and process them in ArcGIS to make a high resolution bare earth Digital Elevation Model (DEM).
Software Required: ArcGIS 10.0 and 3D Analyst extension
Course Cost: $25.00 (if you are interested please click the PayPal Add to Cart button and send us an e-mail).
Course Description: Iowa has acquired LiDAR data statewide. The Iowa Geological and Water Survey have available to download already processed DEMs from the raw LiDAR data at a 3-Meter resolution. One may want to process their own DEMs at other resolutions to bring out subtle elevation changes. This course shows the student how to download LiDAR files and process them in ArcGIS 3D Analyst to create their own DEMs and also how to view those DEMs as 3-dimensional surfaces in ArcScene.
I'm very excited about the potential of these short term, focussed offerings. After reading these short descriptions, I didn't get all the information I needed about the classes. The good news is that when queried, Chad Goings, President of Rolling Hills Consulting and Gretchen Peterson of Peterson GIS provided the details I requested. Goings agreed that adding the information he provided me would be valuable in his marketing. Peterson put up a blog post addressing my questions.

Here are the things I wanted to know as I ponder whether I'd like to attend a single class (or a whole course) from a person/organization (beyond the title, when, where and how much it costs):
  • Who wrote/is giving the class? What kind of GIS and/or teaching experience do they have?
  • Is the course face-to-face, online (synchronous or asychronous), a tutorial that I do on my own  or something else? 
  • Are there any pre-requisites or knowledge that will make the course more valuable?
  • Will the course be all lecture or will there be discussion, projects, etc.?
  • What are the learning objectives (at the end of the course, what will I be able to do)?
  • What materials do I need for the class (pen and paper, hardware, software, OS requirement, headset mike, etc.)?
  • What materials will I receive (PowerPoints, PDFs, access to online content, printed materials, software, DVDs, etc.)?
  • Will there be evaluations of what I've learned (exercises, quiz, discussion, formal paper, etc.)?
  • Will I receive a credential at the end to confirm I've completed the class (badge, certificate, letter of completion, etc.)?
  • Do any bodies recognize the course for points or credit (GISCI GISP point, CEUs, etc.)?
This is same information a school faculty member or corporate trainer would share about an upcoming course. These short form courses are aiming to do the same kinds of training, just at a different scale.

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.