Extracting the Learning Objectives from the Esri Education User Conference Opening Plenary

Esri’s David DiBiase welcomed the more that 800+ registrants to the opening plenary of the 2012 Esri Education User Conference (Esri EdUC) Saturday morning. I don’t think there were 800 people in the room, but I know from walking in that some international visitors had extra challenges just getting to San Diego. Dibiase also noted that about one half of the attendees are first timers.

The bulk of the plenary included pairs of geospatial education experts (one from Esri, one from another institution) discussing issues in geospatial education. Instead of detailing what was said in detail, below I attemped to decipher what Esri's intended learning objectives were for us, the attendees.


The Presentations


(1) Esri’s Tom Baker and National Geographic’s Daniel Edelstein addressed the value of online GIS for education. 


The learning objectives (and the key content) included:


Explain why online GIS is valuable in education 

  • publication and sharing
  • geo analysis
  • privacy/security
  • collaboration
  • low barrier to entry

identify special opportunity in using online GIS in education (and think of how to take advantage of this opportunity)

  • introduce real geospatial analysis to students (beyond just map interpretation)

Describe challenges to using online GIS in education (and think of solutions)

  • provide engaging activities to students to create learning - citizen science could be the poster child (this includes not just data collection, but real data analysis by students)


(2) Esri’s Joseph Kerski and the University of Redlands’ Diana Sinton discussed geospatial educational resources.


The objective of this discussion included:


Explain why we are still discussing the need for new/more geospatial education resources

  • GIS is changing
  • learning and learning expectations are changing
  • society and its expectations are changing

Identify the implications of these changes

  • resources must change since the need outpaces what we have
  • we must work together

Define open educational resources

  • they are "open" modifiable, shareable and can be adaptable and encourage further collaboration and partnerships

List a variety of Esri and non-Esri resources

  • see the listing here

Describe the steps Esri is taking to provide more resources and make them more open

  • more resources are being developed
  • education advisory board launched (first meeting on Monday)
  • expand ArcGIS Online Grant Program for Educators from five to 12 (didn't know about those grants? see this press release)
  • creative commons attribution for resources
  • educators should leverage Esri infrastructure to get their ideas out - be a guest blogger, contribute to the education newsletter, participate in the SpatialRoundtable

(3) Esri’s Esther Worker (corrected 7/22, Sorry Ann, thanks Mike!) and GeoSearch's Richard Serby discussed the role of geospatial in STEM (definition below!) and value of STEM education in employment.


The objective of this discussion included:


Define STEM

  • science, technology, engineering and mathematics

Explain how STEM can impact the job seeker

  • students with STEM education make 10% more money

Describe the value of low-paying internships

  • allows students to learn if they enjoy that sort of work
  • provide a leg up into a full time job (80% of interns in one program got full time, higher paying positions after their internship)

Detail what employers want in their employees

  • employees who can write and speak clearly, think, be self starters with little or no need for supervision, understand that learning is a life long endeavor

My Take

Unlike previous EdUC plenaries that focused on Esri technology, these discussions only occasionally referenced technology. When they did, there was just one product noted, ArcGIS Online. DiBiase first mentioned it just nine minutes into his introduction.

There was quite a bit of tweeting during the session, with many comments appreciating the sharing of resources new to them. What resources? National Geographic’s FieldScope, the Geospatial Technology Competency Model (GTCM), a variety of Esri books and lessons including Spatial Labs. Those tweets are a great reminder that many of these educators are “heads down” teaching and may not be tracking what’s going on in education in general, geography/GIS education more specifically, and within the Esri education community in particular. 

The big takeaways for me revolved around the challenges of bringing true geographic analysis to students and the growth of open educational resources. 

While there is quite a lot of talk about moving beyond students making simple maps and doing simple analysis, there is quite a lot of demand from educators for it. I hope ArcGIS Online will be a stepping stone to more analytic teaching and learning in geospatial education. If in fact the platforms of the past (desktop GIS, simple Web mapping) were the big barrierin the past, ArcGIS Online should solve it. If there are other barriers, or this is not the key one, the challenge will remain.

Open educational resources (OER) are receiving a lot of interest in English, math, science and engineering, especially with more institutions exploring free online content (MIT OpenSourceware, for example) and others offering free online courses (Massive Open Online Courses, MOOCs). Geography and GIS are ripe for more offerings to appear. The best way, I think, is for departments or entire universities to challenge their own faculty members to not just use OER, but to create their own courseware to be similarly shared.

I look forward to hearing how far these two challenges have progressed when this group reconvenes in 2013.

Published Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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