EduContribution to Turn Nonprofits' GIS Needs into University Level Educational Material

November 30, 2011

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EduContribution is a new nonprofit organization that plans to serve as a resource for both nonprofit organizations and educators teaching GIS technology. The idea is not just to match nonprofits’ geospatial project needs with student talent, but also to package the projects for effective educational use within GIS coursework.

At the heart of the organization, which incorporated in April, is a website where nonprofits (meeting the required criteria) can learn about GIS and what it can do and request help with a project. Educators will use the site much like a library of projects to enhance student GIS learning. A team from EduContribution and, in time, volunteers will help to package the projects for distribution. A project package might serve as an individual student’s capstone project or be large enough to tap the efforts of an entire class. EduContribution will review the final product and return the highest quality product to the nonprofit. The service is free to both nonprofits and the educational organizations.

Founder Reed Tomlinson, a 2010 graduate of Sewanee-The University of the South in computer science and English, introduced EduContribution to the geospatial community at URISA’s GIS-Pro event in Indianapolis at the beginning of November. The organization is seeking GIS-savvy volunteers and nonprofits in need of geospatial products. Tomlinson expects pilot projects to start in the next few months.

The Process

Tomlinson explained the process:

EduContribution acts as a mediator between the nonprofit and the educator. We want to provide projects for educators that they can use in their classes, without the worries of working with an outside client.

First, we help the nonprofit learn about GIS and create a project proposal that's reasonable and realistic. We try to manage the expectations of nonprofits as best we can as we teach them the power of GIS.

Second, we match nonprofit projects to classes that can use them. When we send a project to a professor, we package the projects with educational material (theory introduction, reflective observation exercises, etc.) -- when it arrives at the professor's desk, it's already enveloped in an experiential learning framework that allows them to plug it in to the class syllabus easily. We try to give them something that looks just like a project they would develop for their classroom, without having to worry about a client.

We allow them to be a part of our consultation and mediation process to the extent that it meets their educational objectives-- but if a class is simply working on batch geocoding, we present them with the data and accept the geocoded end results, and we take care of the rest.

Finally, we make sure the finished project meets our standards, and that it can be used responsibly and effectively by the nonprofit. We teach the nonprofit how to use their data the right way, and inform them on legal and other issues surrounding their use of GIS data.

Tomlinson explained the projects will be based on Kolb's theories on experiential learning and its application to GIS education. The vision is that the end products will be immediately usable by the nonprofit without need to purchase software. Deliverables might take the form of a PDF, static map or online app.

The Motivation

Tomlinson’s research suggests there is a dearth of service learning, a method of teaching, learning and reflecting that combines academic classroom curriculum with meaningful work in the community, in GIS. He reports that the majority of professors in the GIS field with whom he and his colleagues spoke have not yet made their first foray into service learning.

We think that service learning in GIS education can be "disruptive" in the same positive way that GIS is a "disruptive" technology-- but when it comes down to using nonprofit projects in the classroom, we want the process to be smooth and easy for everyone.

The Future

The success of this venture depends on demand from both the nonprofit sector and the educational sector. It further depends on how well the projects fit with the varied curricula of GIS programs.

Interested nonprofits and university educators can learn more and sign up to participate at EduContribution.



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