What Keeps College GIS Courses Relevant?

February 19, 2020

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This article brought to you by Elmhurst College

Back in 2004, the geospatial technologies field was one of 14 top growth industries, with the workforce projected to grow by 13%-20% through 2020. 

We have reached 2020—so what now? More growth, and more needs in the workforce. The Global Geospatial Solutions Market is projected to reach $502.6 billion by 2024, from an estimated $239.1 billion in 2019, at an annual growth rate of 13.2%.  

The challenge in education is how to keep content and technology up to date and relevant. Geospatial applications, software and hardware are ever-changing and challenging to stay current with.

So, how can any GIS program best prepare students for careers that lie ahead in a world of constant change? Here are three things to consider.

Workforce Skills

The Geospatial Technology Competency Model (GTCM) is a recognized competency model that guides the development of course goals and objectives—particularly the foundational and industrywide characteristics necessary to address workforce needs and provide skills for success in the geospatial industry. 

Geographic Information System (GIS) and remote sensing (RS) specialists can apply their skills to almost any business. Earth observations (satellite imagery for defense and intelligence) and geovisualization (data exploration and decision-making) are trending now, and professionals with training in these areas will be in great demand.  GIS and RS also require that the GIS professional be flexible and creative, open to changes and challenges. So, as a practical matter, these affective qualities must be built into any curriculum.  

Software and Hardware

Geospatial programs often use Esri products as a foundation for most GIS skills but should also incorporate other software and open source solutions. 

Students should gain experience with exposure to Python programming and Virtual Machine Environments (VME), as well as RS software, Feature Manipulation Engines (FME), and database and analytics software like SQL and R. 

Providing significant hands-on time with the most widely used software is important to their future success.

Quality of Instructors

Consideration for instructors should include GIS and RS practitioners, because they use GIS and RS on a daily basis. They share practical and relevant management strategies and software skills that they know are part of today’s work.  Crucially, they provide authentic situations and solutions.  

“Having spent 15 years in the emergency management space at various levels, I understand exactly what type of information emergency ops centers will need to help them make decisions,” says Carmella Burdi, GISP, an adjunct professor at Elmhurst College in the Chicago suburbs.

Burdi specializes in using GIS to aid in emergency management decision-making. “We use maps and web applications to stage exercises in the preparedness phase,” she says. “We provide road maps and inundation maps during the course of a disaster to help guide first responders or evacuees. And we create mobile apps to aid in disaster assessments during the recovery phase. 

“All of these things prove just how integral GIS is to emergency response agencies across the U.S. I am always trying to give my students a sense of real-world problems they’ll encounter on the job, and these are the realest problems you can find.”

Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), or drones, are increasingly being used to collect geospatial data that ranges from simple aerial photography to more complex sensing of biological or radioactive materials. Providing opportunities in these newest systems is essential.

Meanwhile, with software as a service (SaaS), an increasingly lucrative business model, many companies are looking into ways in which GIS solutions can be served up via the cloud to their customer base. As a result, an understanding of modeling and scripting has become an important skill for a geospatial professional to possess. 

Programs That Stay Relevant Create the Workforce of the Future

Keeping geospatial courses relevant is a blend of content and skills, of new technologies and applications. Elmhurst College provides quality instruction, available 100% online and accessible to all seeking to advance their knowledge and careers in the geospatial world. Practitioners as instructors in GIS and RS offer authentic situations and solutions, providing students with a broad and practical education. Find out more about our M.S. in GIS program.


For Reference: Works Cited (These are also hyperlinked in the article.)

DiBiase, David, Tripp Corbin, Thomas Fox, Joe Francica, Kass Green, Janet Jackson, Gary Jeffress, Brian Jones, Brent Jones, Jeremy Mennis, Karen Schuckman, Cy Smith, and Jan Van Sickle.  “The New Geospatial Technology Competency Model: Bringing Workforce Needs into Focus.” URISA Journal - Vol. 22, No. 2.  2010https://www.e-education.psu.edu/geog160/sites/www.e-education.psu.edu.geog160/files/DiBiase_etal_2010_GTCM_URISA_Journal.pdf

“Geospatial Technology Competency Model.”  Competency Model Clearinghouse.  2020.  https://www.careeronestop.org/competencymodel/competency-models/geospatial-technology.aspx.

RNR Market Research.  “Geospatial Solutions Market Estimated to Reach US$ 502.6 Billion by 2024 According to a New Research Report.”  WhaTech Channel: Industrial and Manufacturing.  31 January 2020.  https://www.whatech.com/market-research/industrial/633480-geospatial-solutions-market-estimated-to-reach-us-502-6-billion-by-2024-according-to-a-new-research-report


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