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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Geographer Looks at EdTech in 2013 - Part 1 - Zombie Ideas

--- This post is the first in a ten part series examining top 2013 trends in education technology in the context of GIS and geography education. ---

Back in 2011 I "piggy-backed" on my favorite education writer's list of ed-tech trends for a series of articles. My goal was to put these trends in the context of what geography and GIS educators are doing or not doing. Audrey Watters is back at it this year and so am I.

Watters first theme for 2013 is "Zombie Ideas," or in short, education ideas that come into being, are refuted by research, but refuse to die. They are "reinvented" in cycles.

She cites a return of:
  • "bite-sized learning chunks" - education solutions where ideas or skills are broken down into, then taught, as tiny bits
  • education portals - websites where content can be found, downloaded or purchased, some include "reviews"of this content
  • new or better (?) learning management systems
Let's take these one at a time.


I have run into the "bite sized"phenomenon in geospatial and GIS education this year. There's been some discussions of atomizing training modules down to tiny nuggets, both as parts of tech support and training and within formal GIS education.

One great example, and this is pretty well established, is Safe Software's FMEPedia, that company's knowledge base. Among the goodies in there are short snippets of "how to do something." Short is relative; the one I dug up, and I'm pretty sure this is Don Murray, is 15 minutes long. Still, it's one tiny chunk of info about the now huge FME product.

I created similar, if shorter, videos for my students (on demand) when they got stuck in my online class. I don't really believe in nuggetization for its own sake, but I do believe in "just in time" learning.

FMEPedia works, and my informal videos worked, because users or students were just at the right place in their working or learning to understand and digest the nugget offered. There was actual authentic (or simulated) work going on. Snippetization without that framework sounds most dull and ineffective to me.

I'm curious how snippetization might relate to bagdification in GIS. Both Skidmore and American Sentinel GIS educators are exploring badging, which also breaks downs larger learning activities into smaller ones.


For better or worse geography and GIS education is too small a niche to have too many portals for content. There are  few specialized ones. For example:

How valuable are those or others like them to you as geography or GIS educator? Or do you get more valuable (and perhaps more authentic) content from the wildness of the Web?

I know I do. I post articles, interactive maps and the like via Twitter (@adenas) that I would use in class over some of valuable but far more cookbookier offerings sometimes found in those portals. Other educators share this sort of content too, including @APHumanGeog. I'm with Watters here; we still need to do our own curating for educational content. The good news: there are more and more shiny new resources created out of the real news of the day. The hard work for educators (and this to me is what makes us educators) is crafting these into authentic learning projects and activities.

Learning Management Systems

I don't have much to say here save these seem to be a necessary evil. Most educators are simply users of whatever others have selected and must grin and bear learning management systems (LMS). So, sadly, do our students. My only thought: let's work hard so that LMSs do not get in the way of teaching and learning!