Letter from the Low Lands: Getting the XYZ Generation to Go Geo

February 5, 2010

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Recently I was invited to a meeting at the University of Applied Sciences in Utrecht, where the faculty meets on a regular basis with an advisory committee. Their institute expects to celebrate its first centennial in September 2010, as the first lectures occurred in September 1910. An important topic on the table: How do we attract more students? During the meeting, I realized that there are several initiatives in the Netherlands which share the same challenge: How do we get the XYZ generation to go geo?

XYZ generation
You might have heard about the Y-generation. To me, as a term, it relates to the generation that has grown up with digital technologies. For them, computers and the Internet just "exist." There never was that first introduction to e-mail, the Internet or mobile phones. This generation acquires knowledge in a more open way than previous generations. As I see it, this generation is much more geographically aware. They know where they are (thanks to ubiquitous locations) and through consumer geography and navigation, "it all just works" to them. To name them "the XYZ generation" is quite appropriate. But how do we get them to choose a geo education? Several interlinked initiatives play a role; allow me to mention two major ones.

Edugis, in Dutch
This educational project started in 2005 with the support of sponsors and the Space for Geo-Information Program. Its main goal is to stimulate the use of GIS in the secondary schools in the Netherlands (high school students). Also, it aims to make students and teachers more aware of the possibilities that digital maps and spatial analysis have to offer. Edugis is well-known among geography teachers, and the program had already reached more than half of the geography students in 2007.

Edugis maintains a portal, trains teachers and develops teaching materials. It is yet undecided whether Edugis will become part of the digital curriculum of all geography students, but hopes are high. Prof. Joop van der Schee, Free University, Amsterdam, comments: "We have recently received a research grant from the NWO (Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research) , which will help us to continue with Edugis. We are always looking for more cooperation to progress GIS education for high school students. And we are actively seeking European partners, since various European initiatives have a lot in common."

Also in 2005, the Dutch National Kadaster initiated several town hall-like meetings about the changing landscape of the geo labor market. In November 2008, Kadaster, GeoBusiness Nederland , the association of Dutch Geo companies, and Geo-Informatie Nederland together formed a joint foundation named GoGeo.

Its challenge is simple: overcome the widening gap between the demand for qualified employees and their availability. GoGeo's concrete goals: get more students to study geo-information, adapt the education program to market needs and intensify the cooperation between the educational institutes and companies.

GoGeo's first move was an intensive campaign to increase geo awareness at high schools, using posters and postcards which tell the story (note: in English, not in Dutch). But mostly, GoGeo relies on digital methods to reach the XYZ generation: banners on websites, keyword search optimization and an interactive website. On this site, visitors can watch a video with recent alumni, who receive an intro by well-known Dutch vjs, and play an interactive GeoGame. They can win a t-shirt with their location coordinates!

GoGeo gave a progress report during the recent GIN Congres. The first results of the campaign look promising, but its success will ultimately be measured by "more students." Says Godfried Barnasconi, member of the board of Kadaster, "Our active involvement in GoGeo stems from a starting self-interest: our workforce is aging and we need to recruit new talent. A joint call-for-action is needed to overcome the situation in our sector and Kadaster accepts the responsibility to lead. So far the results are promising."

Point of view
No doubt, a professional society for geo-information like Geo-Informatie Nederland needs to embrace and support activities related to promoting geo-education to students. Professionals in our field seem to have a special bond with education at large. Sharing your work experience with colleagues-to-be is a challenging and rewarding experience. By participating in this advisory committee, I hope to be able to contribute to a "next period of times" at Utrecht's University of Applied Sciences. These are exciting times for the college since the XYZ generation is making its way, and we want to be sure that way includes geo.

From my point of view, what I am describing above is not merely a Dutch national challenge. I look forward to further discussions and contributions on the subject during the ISPRS Commission VI Mid-Term Symposium on Cross-Border Education for Global Geo-information, which is being organized by ITC in early June in the Netherlands. Some key words I picked up from the brochure: Web-Based Education, E-Delivery of Education Services, Promotion of the Profession to Young People (The Student Consortium). The deadline for submitting abstracts has extended to Feb. 15.

May I add OpenCourseware to the agenda there? Sharing high quality educational materials, organized as courses, will further empower that new generation!

A "Prezi" of this article is available.

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