Pace University GIS Basics MOOC Launches Sept 9

By Adena Schutzberg

Peggy Minnis, who introduced the idea of a “GIS 101” sort of course to readers back in April, is currently welcoming students to the real McCoy. Her “GIS Basics” massive open online course (MOOC) begins September 9 and runs for 12 weeks. The course focuses on key GIS skills using ArcGIS for Desktop.
Building a MOOC
Minnis is a member of the Department of Chemistry and Physical Sciences at Pace University. While she’d hoped to use many of her existing resources from her residence GIS course for the free online course, it was not to be. When she looked them over she decided it was time for a refresh. While it was a lot of work, Minnis is happy that her videos now populate YouTube and do not require Flash.
The course is hosted on the free BlackBoard CourseSites platform; Pace uses BlackBoard as its learning management system (LMS). CourseSites manages registration, forums and content hosting. There are currently about 40 courses on a variety of topics, from various schools and organizations, on the site.
When we spoke in late August, Minnis shared that GIS Basics, with just a few notices posted to state GIS e-mail lists, had enrolled more than 170 students. Among them are a team of students from New York state government. With training budgets slashed, they hope to work through the course together and master the skills.
The Course
Students are expected to gain access to a copy of ArcGIS 10.1 either by buying the GIS Tutorial 1: Basic Workbook for ArcGIS 10.1  book ($51 via Amazon in the U.S.), a Home Use license ($100 worldwide) or for those who are testing the waters, a free trial available for 60 days. Of course, those with access at work or elsewhere can use those licenses.
Each week of the course, students will view an introductory video laying out the plan for the seven days. The complete syllabus provides more detail. Short, focused skill videos will introduce key concepts. Then the fun begins! Students will take on assignments and projects. The first one, for example, is creating a map of the student’s home using Census data. International students are invited to explore data from their own country or to adopt a U.S. location.
Online asynchronous text-based discussion forums will be available for students to share insights, ask questions and share their maps. Students can leave comments and read responses whenever they have time. Minnis will be teaching five courses at Pace during the same time period, so while she will visit the forums, she’s looking to students, including several of her Pace GIS students, to take on leadership roles. 
Assignments will not be turned in weekly. Instead, students are asked to keep their maps and other products such as videos in a portfolio. At the end of the course, students who would like a certificate of completion or a badge can submit their work to Minnis.
Pace is dabbling in MOOCs. The school offered a few over the summer for incoming freshmen and has tried some internal ones. GIS Basics will be the first course open to the entire world.
Into the Unknown
Teaching a MOOC (or any course for that matter) for the first time can be unnerving.
Minnis is not sure if she wants the course to be huge or if it’d be better to pilot it with a smaller group. At this point it sounds like she’s ready to take on whatever number of students appear come September.

Published Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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