Fall 2015 Geospatial MOOC Roundup

September 23, 2015

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We experienced an abundance of geospatial-related Massive Open Online Courses in the winter and spring of 2015; current and upcoming sessions are notably fewer. Esri’s Go Places with Spatial Analysis just began its fourth instance. A second Esri MOOC titled The Location Advantage, targeted towards a business audience, launched in spring 2015 and will be offered again beginning in early November. Another new Esri class on building geo-enabled web and mobile apps is planned for early 2016. Desktop GIS, offered by Dr. Peggy Minnis from Pace University, has become a steady offering each fall and spring semester. The 12-week MOOC, now offered through Blackboard’s Open Education platform, is currently running and Dr. Minnis expects to offer a spring 2016 session as well.

Otherwise, at this moment we are in a lull for traditional geospatial MOOCs. Can you believe that a MOOC is now common enough to have a “traditional” one?  There are currently no officially announced upcoming sessions of Penn State’s Maps and the Geospatial Revolution or Geodesign: Change Your World.  According to their respective lead instructors, Geospatial Intelligence & the Geospatial Revolution will be available in February 2016, and the University of West Florida is planning to offer another session of its Introduction to Geographical Information Systems in summer 2016.

Other courses may be on the shelf for longer. The University of Minnesota’s From GPS and Google Maps to Spatial Computing is currently on hiatus. Elmhurst College has no immediate plans to offer Skills for the Digital Earth again. The edX class Mobile Devices for Land Management, taught in Spanish, may repeat again in the future but no dates have been shared.

Some MOOCs don’t just fade away, they transform. One former MOOC, Del Mar College’s Introduction to Geospatial Technology using QGIS, is now a series of five self-paced classes. These are offered by GeoAcademy, an “independent consortium of GIS educators dedicated to promoting the use of open source software for geospatial technology education.” Lead instructor Phil Davis says that there are currently about 500 students who have enrolled in the courses. This isn’t a massive number, but this reflects the trend towards open online courses with self-paced content, like the Discover Spatialcollection.

Such courses often focus on professional development and career readiness. For example, at SkillsCommons.org, one can find a 6-lesson course on Open Source GIS, authored by Adam Dastrup of Salt Lake Community College and developed as a National Information Security and Geospatial Technologies Consortium project. Two other geospatial courses available there include an Introduction to Global Information Systems and a Spatial Analysis course, both of which rely on the use of Esri software tutorial books. SkillsCommons was funded by the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant program of the Department of Labor.

Self-paced classes require significant commitment on the part of the learner, and may not be particular effective or suitable for many seeking geospatial expertise. Adding in the potential for technological challenges with software or online applications further raises the opportunities for frustration. Without the support of an instructor or a cohort of fellow learners, one would need to be very focused and determined to become demonstrably competent in these subject areas — in my humble opinion.

Another type of emerging OOC is the tiny type, the “micro credentials” or “nanodegrees” that are popping up. Selections from these a la carte instructional menus are aligned well with people seeking to learn a specific thing quickly and efficiently. Through udacity, you can build your Google app skills for location-based functionality and adding maps to apps. With access to Lynda.com, you can find multiple different GIS “courses” which include hundreds of tutorial videos.

If a traditional MOOC format is still what you seek right now, all is not lost. This week, edX begins a session of Exploring Humans’ Space: An Introduction to Geographicity, taught by geographers and other social science faculty from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. Definitely not a technology class, nor one that will contribute to any nanodegree, but these perspectives on “how geography, cartography, urbanization and spatial justice play a role in shaping the notion of human space” might be just what you need to round out your understanding of the geospatial world. Geographicity was a term coinedabout 20 years ago by geographically-minded philosophers to mean the spatial component of all phenomena. It was a new word for me too. Let’s take the class and learn more.

Selected Open Online Geospatial Courses

Course Organization Next Offering
Desktop GIS Pace University via Blackboard's OpenEducation Currently in session
From GPS and Google Maps to Spatial Computing  University of Minnesota via Coursera No future sessions yet scheduled
Geodesign: Change your World Penn State via Coursera No future sessions yet scheduled
Geospatial Intelligence & the Geospatial Revolution Penn State via Coursera February 2016
GIS 101, Introduction to Global Information Systems  SkillsCommons Open, self-paced
Go Places with Spatial Analysis Esri Currently in session
Introduction to Geographical Information Systems University of West Florida via Canvas Network Summer 2016
Maps and the Geospatial Revolution  Penn State via Coursera No future sessions yet scheduled
Mobile Devices for Land Management (in Spanish) UPValencia via edX No future sessions yet scheduled
Open Source GIS SkillsCommons Open, self-paced
QGIS Courses GeoAcademy Open, self-paced
Skills for the Digital Earth  Elmhurst College No future sessions yet scheduled
Spatial Analysis  SkillsCommons Open, self-paced
The Location Advantage Esri November 2015
Various geospatial courses Discover Spatial Open, self-paced


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