Letter from the Low Lands: Getting the XYZ Generation to Go Geo
Jan Willem van Eck
Recently I was invited to a meeting at the University of Applied Sciences in Utrecht,
where the faculty meets on a regular basis with an advisory committee.
Their institute expects to celebrate its first centennial in September
2010, as the first lectures occurred in September 1910. An important
topic on the table: How do we attract more students? During the
meeting, I realized that there are several initiatives in the
Netherlands which share the same challenge: How do we get the XYZ
generation to go geo?
You might have heard about the Y-generation. To me, as a term, it
relates to the generation that has grown up with digital technologies.
For them, computers and the Internet just "exist." There never was that
first introduction to e-mail, the Internet or mobile phones. This
generation acquires knowledge in a more open way than previous
generations. As I see it, this generation is much more geographically
aware. They know where they are (thanks to ubiquitous locations) and
through consumer geography and navigation, "it all just works" to them.
To name them "the XYZ generation" is quite appropriate. But how do we
get them to choose a geo education? Several interlinked initiatives
play a role; allow me to mention two major ones.
Edugis, in Dutch
This educational project started in 2005 with the support of sponsors
and the Space for Geo-Information Program. Its main goal is to
stimulate the use of GIS in the secondary schools in the Netherlands
(high school students). Also, it aims to make students and teachers
more aware of the possibilities that digital maps and spatial analysis
have to offer. Edugis is well-known among geography teachers, and the
program had already reached more than half of the geography students in
Edugis maintains a portal, trains teachers and develops teaching
materials. It is yet undecided whether Edugis will become part of the
digital curriculum of all geography students, but hopes are high. Prof.
Joop van der Schee, Free University, Amsterdam, comments: "We have
recently received a research grant from the NWO (Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research)
, which will help us to continue with Edugis. We are always looking for
more cooperation to progress GIS education for high school students.
And we are actively seeking European partners, since various European
initiatives have a lot in common."
Its challenge is simple: overcome the widening gap between the demand
for qualified employees and their availability. GoGeo's concrete goals:
get more students to study geo-information, adapt the education program
to market needs and intensify the cooperation between the educational
institutes and companies.
GoGeo's first move was an intensive campaign to increase geo awareness
at high schools, using posters and postcards which tell the story
(note: in English, not in Dutch). But mostly, GoGeo relies on digital
methods to reach the XYZ generation: banners on websites, keyword
search optimization and an interactive website. On this site,
visitors can watch a video with recent alumni, who receive an intro by
well-known Dutch vjs, and play an interactive GeoGame. They can win a
t-shirt with their location coordinates!
GoGeo gave a progress report
during the recent GIN Congres. The first results of the campaign look
promising, but its success will ultimately be measured by "more
students." Says Godfried Barnasconi, member of the board of Kadaster,
"Our active involvement in GoGeo stems from a starting self-interest:
our workforce is aging and we need to recruit new talent. A joint
call-for-action is needed to overcome the situation in our sector and
Kadaster accepts the responsibility to lead. So far the results are
Point of view
No doubt, a professional society for geo-information like
Geo-Informatie Nederland needs to embrace and support activities
related to promoting geo-education to students. Professionals in our
field seem to have a special bond with education at large. Sharing your
work experience with colleagues-to-be is a challenging and rewarding
experience. By participating in this advisory committee, I hope to be
able to contribute to a "next period of times" at Utrecht's University
of Applied Sciences. These are exciting times for the college since the
XYZ generation is making its way, and we want to be sure that way
From my point of view, what I am describing above is not merely a Dutch
national challenge. I look forward to further discussions and
contributions on the subject during the ISPRS Commission VI Mid-Term Symposium on Cross-Border Education for Global Geo-information,
which is being organized by ITC in early June in the Netherlands. Some
key words I picked up from the brochure: Web-Based Education,
E-Delivery of Education Services, Promotion of the Profession to Young
People (The Student Consortium). The deadline for submitting abstracts has extended to Feb. 15.
May I add OpenCourseware to
the agenda there? Sharing high quality educational materials, organized
as courses, will further empower that new generation!