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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Geographer Looks at EdTech in 2013 - Part 10 - The Business of EdTech (in Geography/GIS)

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

Audrey Watters introduces her final trend of 2013, the Business of EdTech with this often noted quotation: “Education is broken, and someone should fix it.” And, this being 2014, that means businesses should play a key role and be appropriately compensated for the fix. In the big world of education this means companies are jumping at the chance to offer:
  • learning management systems
  • MOOC platforms
  • e-text and regular books
  • hardware such as tablets and smart boards
  • education communication tools
  • resources for teachers and students in support of the Common Core and its respective tests
Our little world of geography and GIS education benefits only casually from most of these (iPads, say) and loses out quite a bit since geography and GIS are not explicit parts of the Common Core (but see part 3 of this series with resources on how these can be integrated into it).

I'm the first to agree that most individuals who go into business to help teach geography or GIS are not doing it for the money. No, they do it because they love the discipline and/or technology and believe others should know about it and use its principles to make the world a better place.

So, what are the "hot" geography/GIS education businesses and business opportunities in our space in 2013/2014? 

GIS Etc. GIS Etc. is small company that offers both GIS education books (All Esri Press Books are 40% off the retail price) and consulting. GIS Etc. folks are the same ones raising money for GeoPorter.

Esri - Esri offers a map of its various education licenses implemented in the U.S. and publishes many of the top selling GIS training books. There's a story map of there the Esri Ed team travelled in 2013. I think the most innovative thing Esri did in education this year was to host an unconference as part of Ed UC. Said another way, I can't point to any specific edtech innovation from the company.

National Geographic - I found this year's Geography Awareness Week support/tools/outreach less than stellar. In fact, I for one feel it's losing steam.

The company still offers educational products. It also was a recipient, with three others, of NSF funds to explore the future of geography education, aka "The Road Map." I'm not sure if these documents (three at NatGeo, one at AGS - why these do not all live together, I can't say) have caused any innovation in the areas they cover. Could/should these reports be a resource for new education products and services?

National Geographic Learning, a partnership between the National Geographic Society and Cengage Learning, an educational publisher, is sort of on hold as Cengage declared bankruptcy in July and is restructuring.

ICA/OSGeo - A memorandum of understanding has these two organizations standing up 100 (there are now 64) university open source GIS software labs worldwide. Are there business opportunities here? I'm not sure.

Certificates - GIS certificate programs seem to draw students and bring in money. That would explain why more appear every few weeks. Elmhurst College is making waves by offering an AP Human Geography certificate for educators. The college feels there is demand, but is there money to keep such a program going? With few state geography requirements and no in the common core, funding for educators to study, may be a challenge. I hope I'm wrong.

Drone Training - I've noted Unmanned Vehicle University, a for-profit, unaccredited school, but other training organizations are popping up. Just this week Northland Community and Technical College announced a one year remote sensing programming specifically aimed at interpreting drone-collected imagery. The school is using drones as a marketing opportunity. Well played! We'll see more plays in this space in the short term now that the FAA has selected the UAS test areas in the United States. 


This list is a way to highlight two things: (1) there is little money in geography/GIS education and (perhaps therefore) (2) there has been little to no innovation in it in recent years.

The innovation in geography/GIS edtech with the greatest impact this year was MOOCs, most notably Penn State's Maps and the Geospatial Revolution (which is running again next spring). While I applaud it and its peers, the current MOOC business model, as I understand it, is not one that can spur many competitors or innovators. 

And, that perhaps explains our situation. In contrast to the larger edtech business space where all sorts of businesses are funded, pop-up, survive, die, pivot or are acquired, geography and GIS education lives in an edtech desert.