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

Monday, February 25, 2013

Early Feedback on Geo-MOOC

On Feb 21 Penn State announced it would be working with Coursera to offer Massive Open Online Classes (MOOCs). Among the first five courses is what I and others believe is the first planned geography/mapping related MOOC, Maps and the Geospatial Revolution. As is typical of the whole MOOC movement, there was a lot of excitement and response, even though the course is barely outlined and won't be live for its five week run until July of this year.

Here are some of the responses, all from industry insiders, that gave me pause.

‏@RIGEA1 wrote:
Want to learn #GIS but not sure where to start? This free MOOC "Maps & the Geospatial Revolution" is for you!
The course webpage uses the term geographic information system just once; it certainly does not promise that students will learn GIS. It does say they will make maps.

@SkipCody wrote:
I am excited to attend! ...
Both the intro video and webpage text make clear this course is not for geogeeks. The webpage includes: "If you're already a Geospatial Guru, then you might find this work a bit basic, in which case I hope you'll consider taking the online courses that we offer at Penn State." The tweet author is a "Product Manager for a SaaS GIS Company."

Some MOOCs have been overrun by "experts," making me wonder about the experience of the real newbies. See for example stats shared here in section titled "students" describing a machine language MOOC at Stanford.
Among 14,045 students in the Machine Learning course who responded to a demographic survey, half were professionals who currently held jobs in the tech industry. The largest chunk, 41 percent, said they were professionals currently working in the software industry; another 9 percent said they were professionals working in non-software areas of the computing and information technology industries.
Of course, when a course is free, it's hard to dissuade interest, and I'm not sure any company, educational institution or instructor would want to do so. Hopefully this sort of interest by experts will die down as the MOOC concept is more familiar to all.

@jodygarnett wrote:
... better cover open source?
While I'm sure it's possible to run a five week course that uses, or covers, open source GIS, I don't believe that's the goal for this very first Geo-MOOC.

@SS_Rebelious wrote:
finally a GIS course! But unfortunately ESRI's software will be used(((
The course will use ArcGIS Online. Could it use something else? Sure. Will it really matter what software the students use for a five week course if the goal is exploring mapping and geospatial technology and making a map? As an educator, I think not. Equally importantly, I think think Penn State pushing ArcGIS Online in this way is a good thing.

All of these comments are from people inside the geospatial industry. What will be far more interesting will be the comments from students outside geography and GIS after they take the course.