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Thursday, December 22, 2016

GIS Education Weekly: Top Geography and GIS Education Trends of 2016

In this post I want to revisit the top news stories, events and themes in geography and GIS Education in 2016. They are in no particular order. I last compiled such a list in 2012. Happy Holidays!

Esri Forges Ahead 

What do I mean by forging ahead?
  • The ConnectEd initiative in the U.S. was renewed for another three years.
  • Similar efforts are starting in other geographies.
  • There are now dozens of GeoInquiries that act as "starter kits" for educators and mentors new to GIS or new to teaching GIS.
  • The MOOC program now includes four courses and a new title expected in 2017.
  • Higher education licensing is being updated and simplified.
  • And, on a personal note, as a recent addition to the Esri Education Team, I get to work with some incredibly dedicated colleagues to bring GIS education to as many people as possible.

CARTO, Mapbox and Boundless Education Efforts

CARTO offers some use cases and has special pricing for education and research. Boundless, just this month updated its education offering. The company (sometimes confused with an education company Boundless, that offers online textbooks) also sponsored 50 AP Human Geography teachers to attend the Geography 2050 event. Mapbox has accounts for students and other resources. That's awesome; I feel strongly that students should touch as many different software packages as possible during their formal and informal studies.

Contests Open Up

I've been a bit of an "activist" about publicly supported and public agency-hosted GIS contest requirements. In 2016 I pushed the EPA and USGS to make clear that participants in its water focused contest need not use Esri software to enter. In the end, it did not matter since every one of the 100 entrees used Esri software. Still,  it's the principle of the thing! I also pushed the GeoTech Center (funded by the U.S. Department Of Labor) to make a similar statement in the rules for its skills competition. The result was this statement in the contest description: "The competition is software neutral." Further, the GeoTech Center, based on input from Geo fro All, added an open source award to the prize list.

All those Graduate GIS Programs

In June I did little roundup of graduate GIS programs. I looked at Maine, Kentucky and Hopkins. Kentucky, by the way, continues to offer its certificate, but the Masters is still "to be determined." In December I typed "GIS graduate degree" into Google and the first page returned six ads for grad programs (Hopkins, Kent State, NCSU, Denver, USC, PSU). The big challenge is distinguishing one from one another beyond some being residence, others online and still others using a hybrid approach. The good news, I think, is that those looking at these degree programs and certificates, are talking with fellow students and graduates. As is happening outside of the education marketplace too, "the buyers are having a learning party and the salespeople are not invited." I see discussions about the now commoditized graduate GIS credentials on Reddit/GIS all the time and have yet to see a representative from a program make a contribution.

UC Davis Launches Five Course GIS Specialization on Coursera

I first heard about and wrote about the UC Davis specialization last January. I hoped to hear from lead instructor Nick Santos about how the year played out and to report back in this post. Unfortunately, he seems to have his hands full of MOOC! Stay tuned.

Virtual and Augmented Reality in Geography Education

There's been  lot of talk about the use of virtual reality and augmented reality in education in general, and in geography education in particular, this year. Google Expeditions and Pokemon GO (more on that below) popped up quite a bit. Google Cardboard got some press and by the end of the year, the company's implementation of Google Earth on the HTC Vive had the tech media (and actual people I know) giving a thumbs up. I'm holding out for actual geography education products and actual research showing students learn from them. As Audrey Watters noted in July, we've been here before.

Pokemon GO

There was a lot of coverage of the first "big hit" augmented reality game and quite a lot of speculation about its application to education in general and geographic education in particular (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Sadly, the fad peaked and faded fast. Niantic tried to regroup and recall its vast player base with a new release this month, but active users never returned to peak levels. On the positive side, the game really did help educate the public about the difference between augmented and virtual reality and set a high bar for future efforts, be they for entertainment or education. I'd love to see a study comparing geocaching and Pokemon GO as entertainment and educational experiences related to geography.

Name Changes and New Centers

Geography is not a hot name these days. Many departments are getting plastic surgery of sorts. In March I noted two changes, and a third in July:
  • Grand Valley State in Allendale, MI changed the name and focus of its geography department; it's now the geography and sustainable planning department and will incorporate over 20 courses concerning sustainability. 
  • Michigan State University's geography department expanded to the Department of Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciences. 
  • The University of Chicago’s Center for Spatial Data Science (CSDS) also known as Spatial@UChicago debuted. That center sits at a university that does not have a geography department. 


How do organizations show their commitment to geospatial technology? By holding a mapathon. The White House and the United Nations hosted mapathons this year. There were many for GIS Day and others popped up to get ahead of or respond to specific disasters during the year including earthquakes in Ecuador and Japan. There was one at Geography 2050 to engage the invited AP Human Geography teachers. Expect to see more of these non-competitive typically humanitarian focused events in the coming years.

AAG Proposes AP GIS&T Course

In July the AAG issued a proposal for a new Advanced Placement course in Geographic Information Science and Technology (AP GIS&T) and continues to solicit "attestations" from U.S. high schools, colleges, and universities. For the course to become reality, 250 high schools need to sign on confirming interest and capacity to teach it and 100 colleges and universities have to be willing to offer some sort of credit to students who score high enough on the exam. How's it going?
  • College/University Attestations Received (as of December 9, 2016): 117
  • High School Attestations Received (as of December 9, 2016): 118
This is a big deal and I'm hopeful it will come together in 2017.

Great Ideas I want to Repeat

This last topic includes a few ideas I wrote about this year that I hope educators (and others!) might consider implementing to enhance teaching and learning.

Three Before Me

I learned the phrase "Ask Three Before Me" at EdCamp a few years back. The idea is that students are welcome to ask the instructor a question about a project or assignment, but only after asking three fellow students. I want to point out "three before me" to help our community better serve students and peers. I encourage responders to consider challenging queries about "Where can I find this data?" "How do I run a buffer in ArcGIS Pro" and the like with "What have you tried? Who have you asked? Where have you looked?" I see that occasionally on Reddit/GIS, and would love to see it on other platforms including LinkedIn, Facebook, and e-mail lists. In the Esri MOOCs we try to let the students help one another before we come to the rescue!

Students Give Lightning Talks; Get Feedback

I know Lightning Talks presented at conferences typically receive no time for feedback or questions. The Los Angeles Geospatial Summit throws out that tradition for student presented short presentation. Students give the talks, which are "followed with discussion and Q&A with industry professionals and the audience." I note this idea so conference organizers might consider something similar to help engage students and attendees.

Click all the Buttons

I appreciated the "no fear" and "just play" attitudes of the educators who presented at and attended the Maine GIS Educator's conference last February. One motto of learning technology is "Click all the buttons!" How do you learn to use apps? Click all the buttons! How do you learn from interactive maps? Click all the buttons.