UNIGIS offers online master’s degrees and diplomas in Geographical Information Science and Systems in a variety of languages to students all over the world. Professor Josef Strobl, the current chair of UNIGIS International, details the key ways this program differs from other online learning options.
UNIGIS offers online master’s degrees and diplomas in Geographical Information Science and Systems in a variety of languages to students all over the world. Here are the key ways this program differs from other online learning options.
According to the website, UNIGIS is “the world’s premier distance education initiative offering masters and diploma programs in Geographical Information Science and Systems.” Initially conceived by European universities in Manchester, Salzburg and Amsterdam, its study programs now are accessible in multiple languages through partner universities worldwide – sharing curricula, online learning platforms and the didactic approach to distance education.
As a global network of recognized higher education institutions, the International UNIGIS Association is dedicated to enhancing the competence of GIS professionals. UNIGIS member universities award postgraduate academic qualifications, and cooperate with UNIGIS study centers worldwide to reach out to a wider community. (Watch the Youtube video)
At any UNIGIS program, typical students have several years of professional experience, are involved in the field of GIS or aiming at a geospatial career, and have professional and family commitments that do not allow “going back to school” for full-time residential study. The flexibility provided by an online program makes it possible to earn a highly regarded postgraduate qualification through part-time, in-service learning – making the idea of lifelong learning a reality.
This is at the core of UNIGIS’ uniqueness: starting out in the early 1990s as a correspondence course, the Internet was rapidly adopted and continues to evolve as the glue binding all phases of learning together. Learning management systems like Blackboard and Moodle serve as platforms for learning media; synchronous and asynchronous online communications facilitate interaction among students and with teachers. New paradigms and toolsets are brought in, ranging from webinars to cloud-based GIS and microlearning via smartphones.
Most modules are completed one at a time, with the instructors and tutors available online for questions and discussion of exercises and assignments. Quick turnaround and easy accessibility is critical for student progress from lesson to lesson – with students sometimes commenting that they have better access to teachers than in college, during their undergraduate studies.
Individualized learning offers advantages with flexibility of scheduling, location and style of studying. Learning for most of us works best as a social activity, though. Students in distance learning classes are therefore encouraged to form study groups, and to get, and stay, in touch to work with each other. Not surprisingly, groups of UNIGIS students can be found on social networks all over.
Students do take exams. However, most credits are earned based on written assignments submitted to teachers for feedback and grading. Some on-site or telco-based assessment of students’ performance is required depending on partner universities’ individual regulations. Graduating with a masters’ degree requires development and defense of a thesis – often winning awards due to the unique combination of professional experience with a strong academic foundation.
Most actors in the GIS industry certainly recognize the importance of higher education for developing the human resource foundations critical for future growth and success. Based on agreements with key software companies, UNIGIS students have access to most leading software architectures, enabling them to build the skills needed for translating geospatial concepts and knowledge into professional practice.
Since the inception of UNIGIS, more than 5,000 alumni have graduated from programs at partner universities with MSc degrees or postgraduate diplomas – making this the largest GIS program worldwide. They today form a key part of the geospatial workforce across all application domains, in academia, industry and public administration. The UNIGIS alumni “community of practice” has grown into a professional network sharing experiences, leads and skills, and collaborating in all things geospatial.
It depends. It certainly is not for everyone – requiring sustained motivation and a disciplined approach to self-management. Particularly in part-time degree programs, balancing studying with job, family and other commitments at times will challenge everyone. But such programs offer a great opportunity to move ahead in one’s career, acquire conceptual underpinnings for daily routines, grow as a person, and to get “the bigger picture.”