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Monday, April 1, 2013

SpatiaLABS 2013: Across the University

Just about a year ago, in advance of last year's Association of American Geographers meeting, Esri announced SpatiaLABS, a set of lessons aimed at universities. The product, which aligns well with a university site license is sold as a separate service, with its own annual fee. I wrote about SpatiaLABS last year and was disappointed that learning objectives were not included. I also wondered if the small fee was worth the trouble for Esri to administer.

Last month, Esri released an update (press release). The positioning is a bit different this year:
Designed for disciplines across the entire university, SpatiaLABS 2013 Edition complements and enhances an instructor's course with geospatial investigations. The computer-based lab sessions, published by Esri Press, build students' spatial reasoning and analysis skills.
This time the focus is less on GIS (and perhaps GIS and geography departments or departments managing a site license) and rather on getting GIS used across campus and across the curriculum. That ties in well with the vision Esri Education Director David DiBiase offered in this presentation, one that injects spatial thinking and GIS into more traditional college courses.

The updated collection include 64 lessons including some "sexy" topics such as Sea Level Rise and Storms on Manhattan, Customer Profiling: Demographic and Lifestyle Segmentation. The topics cluster just as the previous version did: 29 independent topics, 19 for business, and 16 for forestry. The lab datasets are mostly U.S. based.

The press release does not indicate that learning objectives were added, nor does it detail who wrote these lessons. I did find the list of authors - on the SpatiaLABS "topics" page. The authors are 12 university faculty members. The license fee is not noted in the release, but is based on the nature of your organization. It seems the fee is the same as last year ($500/year/enterprise license); a tweet from @barbareeduke noted that GIS Etc. offers a 10% discount: $450. 

Esri hosted a webinar last April which details the history of the package and answers attendee questions. And, SpatiaLABS is on twitter, @spatialabs.

My Take

I appreciate the effort that went into developing and adding to these labs. I wonder how widely they are being used. My guess (and fear) is they are being used in GIS courses for the most part and not yet creeping out to other academic programs. 

That is Esri's (and every geospatial educators') challenge: to push spatial thinking out of geography and GIS courses out into the curriculum. This set of resources is a great start. The next step? We need to turn to successful user institutions to tease out best practices that other institutions can repeat. Perhaps those will appear alongside version 3 of SpatiaLABS?