Adding Open Source to your Geography Curriculum

We’re planning a webinar to help train educators to add open source GIS to their curriculum. In this post, I introduce the general idea and share some of the topics we’ll discuss.

Background

In the 90s, many schools were lucky if they had any GIS in their geography eduction. My geography program didn’t offer it, but I could learn PC Arc/Info through the Forestry department. A lot has changed since that time when PC software was just taking off.

In the decade that followed, I used HP UNIX Arc/Info before our company tried to use ArcView and finally landed on ArcMap for Windows. However, I’m sure the company today would be trying to integrate more open source GIS tools that analysts picked up on their own. The most valued professionals can learn what they need and bring that value to their work or businesses regardless of education. How, then, should institutions be helping to increase the value of their students in a similar way.

Many universities and colleges treat GIS training as a technical skill that will help them get a job. While this is certainly true, the dependency on using a single product that students will not have free access to in the future has made it difficult for some academics to feel comfortable with this approach. It’s a huge business and many marketing dollars are spent to continue this approach. Incidentally, that’s fine with us, it’s a big market and we serve a growing group of professionals that are well beyond ‘niche’ status.

Regardless, there has been a continual and increasing push for decades toward using more open software solutions, including open source GIS, in education.

Spreading the word

We started OSGeo to help spread these tools around the world, developing local user groups to support peer groups who weren’t familiar with the options they had. However, it was much more than just a marketing effort, professors and teachers needed solid training material to use in their courses. They weren’t familiar with the options either and it is extremely time consuming to make dramatic changes to an existing GIS course. We helped them find their peers and learn new tools.

This is also why we started Locate Press – to produce material to help courses and trainers teach an open source software approach. Half of our books are geared toward educational users and are designed as workbooks and guides that are used in colleges and universities.

So, if the books, software, and international support groups exist, why isn’t everyone learning, say, QGIS at university?

Because there are several other challenges that make it hard to adapt to these new approaches.

How to add open source GIS to courses

Rather than gloss over those issues in this post, we will dig into them through a webinar instead.

The 90 minute event will cover case studies from teachers who integrated open source GIS training approaches. Our roundtable of speakers will share their varied approaches to making their courses successful. We will identify the issues that remain and need to be addressed going forward. We will discuss what makes a good GIS course in general as well. Here is a rough outline of the topics we are planning to cover:

  • Top 5 challenges to adding open source to a GIS training program
  • Who is already using open source GIS in their curriculum?
  • Why is it difficult to adapt to today’s educational climate?
  • How did our panelists make the switch?
  • What standards/curriculums need to be addressed by any course?
  • What materials are hardest to find and need more focus?
  • How can cross-product integration help students get the best of both worlds?
  • How can this tie in to certification efforts, like, GISP?
  • How can we keep extending the reach of new teaching options?

What questions are we missing? Let us know @locatepress. Or use the Q&A channel the we will have open throughout the webinar.

We hope this will be valuable to any trainer, educator, or professor who has the challenge of leveling the playing field while providing optimal training for their students.

More information is to come. If you want to be informed about the webinar (and our other initiatives), please subscribe to our mailing list and select the “Education” interest checkbox. More information will be shared there when things are finalized.

Further Reading

Here are some of our books that are used in university courses around the world.

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