Takeaways from the Esri Education GIS Conference 2014

July 24, 2014

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Esri’s 15th annual Education GIS Conference began on Saturday, July 12 in San Diego and ran for three full days. More than 750 people registered, about 40% of whom were first timers. The breakdown of attendees was roughly 70% higher education, 25% K-12 and 5% other. Here are the ideas that I think are valuable to share. (There is more Education GIS Conference coverage at All Points Blog.)

ArcGIS Online as a Textbook

New Orleans in 12 Movements is an interdisciplinary three-week course taught at Bucknell this spring. As development proceeded it became clear that the spatial perspective would be key. Janine Glathar, GIS specialist in Bucknell's Library & IT Division, helped the faculty create an online GIS textbook used as the basis for lectures, student exploration, data collection and student assignments. Glathar noted In Time and Space as a resource for those looking into these sorts of texts.

University of Richmond Engages Students with Campus Map

Andrew Pericak, who just graduated from the University of Richmond and will attend Duke in the fall for graduate school, was a key player in enhancing the campus map. He helped the Geography Department enhance its map with valuable, meaningful, student-collected data. Getting students involved, getting access to a physics department drone to capture photos, and using the technology were the easy parts. Convincing administrators to adopt the changes was the hard part, per Kimberley Klinker, Professor of Practice, Geography, Director, Spatial Analysis Lab. As is true outside the university: tech is easy, people are hard. Still, the successful engagement of students in authentic work suggests to me that it’d be worth the “people-side” effort to explore such efforts on other campuses.

Defining and Rewarding Spatial Universities

Jack Dangermond appointed University of South Carolina’s Dave Cowen professor emeritus to explore defining and perhaps creating a “top ten list” of spatial universities. We had an energetic discussion about the why, how and who of such an idea. While details are still in development, there was general agreement that setting a bar to which universities might aspire would only enhance use of spatial technology and thinking across campuses. Keep an eye on this effort; Cowan expects to share some details for how the project will move forward next year.

Engaging New GIS Students with Messy and Active Lessons

Richard Kos of San Jose State University tackled a favorite topic of mine: student engagement. He offered a few simple but memorable and active projects to get “new to GIS” students engaged.

  • peeling oranges to understand the challenges of projections
  • locating themselves on the grid on a tiled floor to make sense of coordinate systems
  • using Model Builder early in the class

These and other techniques have remained in his curriculum because they work. Some students roll their eyes at the initial suggestion of such “childish” activities. My experience suggests that activities that work with young learners work just as well (and sometimes better) with more experienced learners. Others agree.

Archiving Mobile Student Apps

Jennifer Swift of USC teaches mobile geospatial application programming. For many of her students, this is their first real programming course. The final project is, of course, building their own app. She has students make videos of the app for future reference as they are likely to be deleted from a current phone. And, they may not run on a future (different OS) phone. We had a lively discussion about her choice to run the course on Android devices rather than iOS.

ArcGIS Online as Content Management and Grading System

Mary Beth Booth of Austin Community College teaches GIS three ways: residence, hybrid and fully online. And, she teaches each using both ArcGIS for Desktop and ArcGIS Online. She has her students work in ArcGIS for Desktop, but upload map packages for her review and grading via ArcGIS Online. ArcGIS Online, she observes, acts very much like acontent management system (which it is). She doesn’t worry too much about credits: students do mostly “non-credit requiring” tasks in ArcGIS Online such as uploaded map packages.

SpatiaLABS: The Next Generation

SpatiaLABS was at one time a “for fee” package of lessons from Esri aimed at universities teaching GIS. Then Esri removed the fee. Then Esri added a Creative Commons license so teachers could repurpose parts or all of the content of a lesson. That progression is admirable. Unfortunately, tools to search the materials are still limited. But, help is on the way! Diana Sinton,the series editor, has a prototype toolset on her TeachGIS website. For now, it allows searching and sorting of the lessons. To download a whole lab (~8 Mb file), users are directed to the Esri website. I’m in favor of any tools that make any lesson easier to find and use.

GIS in Language Learning

Trevor Shanklin of the Language Acquisition Resource Center at SDSU isn’t a GIS person, but a language person. He sees the value of integrating mapping and geography into basic language study and study abroad programs. The center’s students who studied abroad in Italy took photos and wrote about cultural sightings during their time in the field via an app byPriyanka Torgalmath, who used the project as his master’s thesis (pdf).This kind of implementation of GIS seems like a great and natural way to extend use of GIS on campuses that teach foreign languages or offer study abroad.

Lack of an Esri Plenary

There was no Esri Education GIS Conference plenary where Esri told attendees “what was new” for educators at this year’s event. Instead, there were three nearly-two-hour, three person panels on K-12 education, highereducation and campus sustainability. (I recapped the first two, but was unable to attend the third.) I was disappointed attendees did not hear from the Esri team about efforts that I see as important to this community, such as:

  • ConnectED- What is it? How might the education community help?
  • Learn ArcGIS- How might educators and students leverage the new, free website (Directions Magazine coverage)?
  • GeoNET- How might educators use this new social network (All Points Blog coverage)?
  • Esri U - What might be coming down the road to unite Esri education/training offerings for users and their potential for educators?
  • Going Places with Spatial Analysis- How might educators and students leverage the upcoming Esri MOOC?
  • Coaching Points Wiki on Practices for ArcGIS Online - Were all attendees aware of this resource for managing AGOL licensing/credits (All Points Blog coverage)?
  • Changes in ArcGIS Online Credits for Educators - Are educators aware of the changes (noted in the Wiki)?

I understand some of these topics were covered in two “resources” sessions, one for K-12 and one for higher education. I think those sessions, or at least selected content, should have been highlighted in an Esri-focused plenary.


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