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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Geographer Looks at EdTech in 2013 - Part 4 - MOOCs

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

Watters identifies MOOCs as her fourth theme in education technology for 2013. Watters has followed the ups and many downs of the new teaching and learning paradigm through the year. She argues that if 2012 was the year of the MOOC, 2013 was the year for a bit of backlash or reality check. The most recent "turn" from the MOOC: Sebastian Thrun's Udacity is pivoting from free academic education to focus on corporate training.

In this post however, the focus is on geography and GIS MOOCs. In our world 2013 was the year of the MOOC.

Year of the Geography/GIS MOOC

I've covered, in some detail, the four geography/GIS MOOCs that I found in 2013:
That's a nice mix of course providers (public university, large public company, an edu team with a grant from HP, private university) and a variety of platforms (Google's own, Instructure Canvas, Coursera, Blackboard CourseSites) and a variety of sizes (tens of thousands, hundreds, tens of thousands, hundreds).

What's the status now of these and other MOOCs?
Google has not indicated it will rerun its course. While the course was well-liked (review by my colleague at Directions who took it), there was much frustration shared by those who could not download their certificate of completion. Apparently, it was only available for a two week period, then disappeared.

The STEMx MOOC was run for a second time this fall. I've not been able to connect with the writer/instructor. I did catch him before the original session launched. I think there is a lot of potential for MOOCs as professional development. I even suggested one on teaching small ensembles to the assistant music director of my band who also needs continuing ed credit for his "real job" in a public school.

Penn State's Maps and the Geospatial Revolution will be run again in spring 2014. Despite demand for an "advanced" course on the topic, to date creator and instructor Anthony Robinson has stated he will not offer such a course.

The Pace University GIS Basics course is just winding down during the week of Dec 2.

There were a few other courses that tapped into or mentioned geography and GIS in 2013 and 2014. I found, for example:
  • Sustainability, society and you (FutureLearn) (Jan 2014) 
  • Cultural Geography of the World (edX) (Sept 2013) 
  • Water: The Essential Resource (National Geographic) (Oct 2013) 
  • Flow (National Geographic) (2014) 
There are a few rumors about other MOOCs and one was just announced today.

Why Geography and GIS MOOCs are Special
The best attended MOOCs are about computer programming, electronics and business, best I can tell. Why? Part of it has to do with the supply of such courses, but part I think too has to do with individuals collecting skills. Many look to a MOOC as tool to get a, or get a better, job. Further, MOOC learners, most of who have bachelor's degrees already, know of these disciplines and their promise of good high paying jobs.

Geography and GIS? Well, not so much. While we may know these are in demand jobs, most of the world is not aware that such jobs even exist, let alone what geography is or what geographers do. Despite our best efforts, few know of the current or future demand for those with geospatial skills. Geospatial MOOCs, as we discussed at some length at a session at the Esri Education Unconference, are about marketing our field, among other things. If that turns into more students paying for courses at community and four colleges and for graduate degrees and certificates, all the better. If, that in turn means filling all those empty seats at NGA and variety of retail stores, again all the better.