Pace University Faculty Member Prepares "GIS 101" MOOC

April 25, 2013

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Update 9/2/13: The Pace University GIS Basics MOOC begins Sept 9, 2013. You can learn more by reading Pace University GIS Basics MOOC Launches Sept 9.

Peggy Minnis, Ph.D. is a member of the Department of Chemistry and Physical Sciences at Pace University in Pleasantville, New York. She’s developing what may be the first massive open online course (MOOC) offered by Pace. And, it’s a GIS course.

Minnis teaches a variety of Pace science courses in the classroom, and a few others including Consumer Chemistry and Environmental Science, online. She also teaches the one-semester face-to-face introductory GIS course once a year. That course begins as a skills course and wraps up with a hands-on, real world service learning project. 
It’s Minnis’ approach to supporting students in that course, with videos, that’s key to her planned MOOC. Over the years she has developed a library of some 40 videos that walk viewers through specific tasks in ArcGIS. Students use them while in the course and often times, after they’ve graduated, when using GIS in the workforce. “Everyone forgets how to do things,” Minnis jokes.
Pace, she explained, is anxious to get involved in MOOCs. Why? Minnis thinks the university sees an opportunity for public exposure. She’s more interested in getting GIS skills into more people’s hands. She imagines a corps of retired people learning GIS, and then helping out with environmental causes in their communities. But first they have to learn GIS...
The course does not yet have a name, but Minnis says the aim is “GIS 101”-type content. The key learning objectives include: (1) working with GIS software and (2) making useful maps (perhaps with ArcGIS Publisher/Reader or in PDF).
Minnis has little funding, only $6,000 from a Verizon Corporation Thinkfinity grant. Fully half of the funding is designated to pay a student for help with course development; the other half is for some hardware and software upgrades. The limited resources prompted Minnis to share that she’s open to offers of help from the GIS community as she focuses on writing the course this summer. Interested parties can contact her via her university webpage.
Minnis imagines a 13- or 14-week course with students reading her original essays as “lectures,” tapping into her videos for “how to” lessons, and doing assignments with Esri’s $100 ArcGIS for Home Use. She’s not sure how the lessons will be assessed, but is sure a new lesson will be opened up each week to keep the students “together” as they move through the lessons.
Pace University is a user of the Blackboard learning management tools. Thus, the company’s free MOOC platform, CourseSites, is the most likely candidate to host the course. She’s looked at Udemy, as well, but since Blackboard is familiar that may well get the nod.
With many details to be decided, it’s unclear at this point if the first offering of the MOOC will be in the fall of this year or early next year.
MOOCs are Not New
Minnis is not overwhelmed by the idea of a MOOC. With nearly 20 years at Pace and many years of online teaching experience, pedagogy will not be a challenge. In fact, MOOCs may be in her blood.
She recalls family members getting up early to watch Sunrise Semester on TV. The early morning show, a partnership of CBS and New York University, offered for-credit courses during the summer months from 1957-1982. Sunrise Semester, she suggests, was probably the first MOOC, and one of the early promises of the value of television. The Web, she’s feels, is simply another platform.
Minnis has taught GIS to students from a variety of backgrounds with career aspirations in education, earth science and business. Most find value in their GIS training in their later work. 
Who will take the MOOC? She imagines it being very useful for those in local government or non-profits who are less likely to have access to Esri’s formal training courses or other fee-based options. Minnis is clearly excited about the possibilities and will be sharing a first look at the course at the NEArc Spring Meeting in Amherst, MA in May.
Graphic from Antenna licensed under Creative Commons 3.0

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