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Thursday, February 23, 2017

GIS Education Weekly: Update on UC Davis Coursera Specialization

Update on the UC Davis Coursera Specialization

As promised back at the end of last year, here's a Q&A with Nick Santos on the state of the UC Davis five course Coursera GIS specialization. Thanks to Nick for taking the time to answer my questions.

1) How’s it going teaching desktop users remotely? So far as I know, you were the second MOOC instructor to do so. You noted that as a key distinguisher of the specialization.
It's going well - the biggest challenge for me is volume of students. [When] things in an in-person course don't go perfectly, you're around to address [them] with the students. [In the specialization,  issues must be] smoothed over and made clear online. The great thing is that this format allows for rapid iteration, so fixes for unclear items can be made as soon as we have them ready, but it's still a lot to deal with so many students who understand instructions a little differently.
The other issue is that we don't control the deployment environment, so plenty of students have issues with installation, software conflicts, etc. The Esri Ed Team wisely pointed this out when we said we wanted to do a desktop specialization, and we knew it would be an issue. Mostly, it's gone well, but some students have fumbled through licensing and installation (which is different than most of them will have seen before with consumer software). The other issue here is that even when I instruct students to use 10.3 for the course, many choose the newest version because to them, newer is better. 10.4 had an issue with the zonal statistics tool that made the final assignment for one course problematic, and then there has been a learning curve of exactly which files students can submit without version issues (such as needing to tell students submitting toolboxes and models to export a copy as a 10.3 file so their peers can review them). At some point, I'll go through my materials and make sure that everything works in 10.5 and then use that as the baseline (and then in the long run, start incorporating more instruction with ArcGIS Pro and ArcGIS Online).
Another quirk of the hybrid environment is students who bring their own licenses, but don't have access to certain tools I'm teaching. When preparing materials I need to consider that.
2) How’s the new “on demand” model of Coursera working out? Do you get steady enrollment for each course for each new cohort? Do the students interact and move through the courses together? I know other GIS MOOC providers have either reworked their material to fit that new model or moved to another platform.
I think it's going very well overall - enrollment is high and the community mentors have been doing a great job of working with the students to resolve issues. Some students do move through the courses together, but others can create their own schedules with the courses, so they may not always be with the same peers. Students have found the 3rd and 4th courses in particular to be difficult, and I've focused a lot of my attention there to make sure students can succeed. The fourth course is only now getting enough people completing it to have community mentors, since it launched later; so it has less peer support but more of my attention.
3) The capstone course, the final one in the specialization, opened up this fall for the first time. How many students who started in February 2016 are taking this to finish up their certification? How many started in that first cohort?
I don't actually have this information ... Definitely far fewer people are taking this course than the others. I suspect that's because 1) In the old Coursera model, you had to sign up for the full specialization to take it, so it limits who from the previous courses has access - though that's not the case anymore and 2) It's less focused on instruction and more focused on workflow. I think it's still a very valuable course, but it may not have the same appeal as the others. Overall, the work coming out of the students in the capstone has been pretty impressive. We require the students to make a web map and a report, and encourage them to turn it into a portfolio piece on a website - here's one student's work.
4) What kind of feedback have you received from students about the specialization? What have you learned about preparing materials for MOOC students and their study habits? Have you made any significant changes in any of the courses based on student feedback?
We've received all kinds of feedback, it's been kind of a deluge! Sometimes [the messages] contradict each other in opinions from different students. The biggest item we received after the first course, which seemed like a no-brainer after the fact, but that I'd missed in designing it initially, was that students really wanted to follow along with what I was doing in the demos and we needed to provide the materials to them to do that. I quickly went back and retrofitted the first course to provide map packages for all of the demos (thanking myself for having been organized enough to be able to do that), and then designed the future courses with that in mind.
I think that gets at the broader question too about what our MOOC students want: they want as many educational opportunities as possible. While many of them won't touch the extras, there are many who will consume everything I provide. The courses provide the videos (with the aforementioned materials to follow along), links to documentation and resources for each of the topics we cover, a tutorial assignment each week, and then suggestions for extra practice materials each week. In the first course or two, I often suggest chapters out of Getting to Know ArcGIS. In later courses, I suggest other activities we're not covering in the courses, but which may be useful, such as network analysis. We link out to datasets and resources, suggest communities to get involved in, related skills, news sources, etc. And some of these students are clearly taking in as much of it as possible.

For other changes, we have some planned in the pipeline, but we mostly adapted as we went along since the courses were staggered and we could see what GIS students in particular needed before designing future courses. I also was fortunate to work with such an experienced team at UC Davis Extension, so I think that, while there are always improvements, including some major ones and items to keep up with technology (including incorporating a stronger online component), I think we got a lot right.
5) What’s been your biggest challenge keeping up with so many students and so many different points in the series of courses?
The biggest challenge has been remembering what I've taught them at what point! When I see a question, it's hard to know at times if a student should have already seen that video and I need to explain a different way, or link them back to a video or assignment for review, or give them some sort of explanation for now, and let them know that the topic will be covered in more detail in the future. Since some of the videos were recorded 16 months ago at this point, I need to work hard to remember the exact curriculum and what students are learning in what order.
6) Anything else you want to share?
It's been an intense ride already - something like 30,000 students have been involved on some level in the first course, with the vast majority of them having completed it. The scale of this kind of education, and the ability to teach to people around the globe (I think 1/4 are in the US, 1/3 in North America, the rest are in ~100 countries around the world) is pretty amazing. Coursera provides subtitles in English and many other languages in order to help students learn the materials as best they can. I just keep thinking that if I taught 30-60 students a quarter for the rest of my life at UC Davis, I still couldn't reach the number of students I've taught on Coursera in a year, and the fact that so many of these students received it for free and can augment their own careers skills is pretty exciting to me.
Editor's note: I found myself nodding my head in agreement with many of Nick's observations. We see many of the same things in the Esri MOOC program.


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In and Out of the Classroom

University students Mélanie Vallui and Laureline Gérard realized that children needed to be made more aware of the flood risk in France. They created My School Underwater, an interactive story map that includes maps, 3D models, and a video to inform students of the dangers of flooding.

There's more on the University of Louisville app aimed at immigrants, I noted earlier this year, in the school's local paper.

The LARSGIS Institute, a Louisiana-based nonprofit that provides education and training on the use of Remote Sensing science and GIS technology joined the Louisiana Business & Technology Center at the LSU Innovation Park. The Institute teaches Louisiana school students how to use remote sensing and GIS as part of STEM and STEAM education.

Clarkson University will host the second annual Facility Management Technology Workshop on March 23 and 24 at its Capital Region Campus in Schenectady, N.Y. GIS, BIM and more! via press release.

Texas A&M geography students helped update the campus fiber optic map. It took students a year and half. There's a video, too.

Degrees and Courses

The new one-year Geographic Information Science and Technology (GIST) concentration within the MS in Geography at UMass has been formally approved and is now seeking applicants. It includes eight courses and an internship/praticum. There are details in this pdf; I pulled out the fees. h/t Jon Caris
  • Massachusetts’ residents:~ $20,000 for 30 credit hours 
  • New England regional residents: ~$34,000
  • Out-of-region residents: ~$39,000 

Rethink the City: New approaches to Global and Local Urban Challenges is a new MOOC from TU Delft. It's on the EdX platform and runs for six weeks starting March 28. h/t Esri Higher Ed Facebook Group.


Getting Smart: What is Place-Based Education and Why Does it Matter? - The first of three documents on the topic provides an overview.

FastCoDesignWant To Fight Inequality? Forget Design Thinking - I noted other concerns about design thinking from Tom Fisher last week.