Creating a Geospatial Technology MOOC for Educators

July 22, 2013

Sharing is Caring

Geospatial Tech for STEMx Learning is a professional development course for educators offered as part of the HP Catalyst Academy. Dr. Rick Smith, an assistant professor in the Conrad Blucher Institute for Surveying Science at Texas A&M University—Corpus Christi, was on the team that developed the course. He addressed some pedagogical questions about this free, Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).

Directions Magazine (DM): The course was described as requiring 16 hours. Does that mean it ideally would take students 16 hours to cover the material or something else?

Dr. Rick Smith (RS): Yes, that’s correct; the entire course should take no more than 16 hours total. We wanted to err on the side of caution and to give a realistic estimate to students who are new to the field of GIS or may not have developed computer skills.

DM: What were the key challenges in putting together the course?

RS: Designing learning material that could be completed autonomously in a traditional setting assumes that there will be a professor or teaching assistant available to assist. In a MOOC setting, however, there is not enough teaching manpower and it is not the purpose to provide this level of support. Therefore, we chose to have all students post assignments in the open for peer review and learning.

The timeline HP set for course development was very short, which restricted what we could accomplish.

Making material accessible and interesting to a wide audience is always a challenge.  What made it even more challenging in this case was to make it interesting without relying on recorded lectures. We wanted to avoid having any sort of long video students would have to watch.

DM: Did any of the team have MOOC teaching or learning experience? Did that help guide the development of the course?

RS: None of us had MOOC teaching experience.  However, we have all taken at least one MOOC.  We all do have online learning experience (non-MOOC) and many years of combined online teaching experience.

DM: You used the Instructure learning management tool from Canvas for the course. How did that work out? Were there things you wanted to do in the course that the platform didn’t support?

RS: We chose to use the Instructure platform for a few reasons.  First, we really like its look and feel; it feels like a modern Web application compared to other popular LMS platforms out there.  Second, we could easily host the course in the cloud and it will scale if we need it to.  I can’t think of anything that we wanted to do that it couldn’t support.

DM: This course, like all those in the HP Cadalyst Academy, is aimed at educators who teach in grades 6-16 (college), as professional development. How is this course different from one aimed at students? What content is specifically aimed at educators that would not be in a course aimed at students?

RS: When designing this content, we wanted to provide something that educators could take into the classroom. Ideally, they can take the labs and lecture and repurpose them in their classrooms.  The lectures are generally short and sweet, and at a general level (6-16 is a wide range).  For the labs, we went for software that was no-cost and easy to use/install, yet provided some powerful functions.  As educators, we know that cost is often an issue, so we wanted to set the barriers for adoption as low as possible.

DM: How did you choose which geospatial software tools to work with? What were the key criteria?

RS: There were three key criteria when choosing the geospatial software tools to work with:

  1. Free and/or open source, so that the “Open” aspect of the MOOC was satisfied
  2. Easy-to-use, so that people new to geospatial would get some quick victories in making maps they can hang on their refrigerator
  3. Web and desktop flavors from different vendors/groups, to expose the MOOC students to the two different levels of capabilities without exposing the students to only one company’s software/ecosystem

Editor's Note: Graphic used under Creative Commons license.


Sharing is Caring

Explore more: Education

Geospatial Newsletters

Keep up to date with the latest geospatial trends!

Sign up

Search DM

Get Directions Magazine delivered to you
Please enter a valid email address
Please let us know that you're not a robot by using reCAPTCHA.
Sorry, there was a problem submitting your sign up request. Please try again or email

Thank You! We'll email you to verify your address.

In order to complete the subscription process, simply check your inbox and click on the link in the email we have just sent you. If it is not there, please check your junk mail folder.

Thank you!

It looks like you're already subscribed.

If you still experience difficulties subscribing to our newsletters, please contact us at