On a sunny July day in San Diego, I happily found myself behind a computer surrounded by fellow Geographic Information System (GIS) educators. Thanks to a Teaching Enhancement Grant from CATL, I attended the 2014 ESRI Education Conference (EdUC) and the general User Conference (UC). For five days I honed my GIS technical skills while attending presentations on the skills needed for new GIS professionals, ESRI’s latest software offerings, spatial and computational thinking in higher education, and best practices in GIS education.
One of the main attractions of the EdUC is that it offers a vast array of technical training sessions. These workshops offer hands-on training for a range of GIS topics and skill levels. I attended many of the advanced skills sessions to finding new material for this spring’s PU EN AF 450: Advanced GIS class. I am constantly on the lookout for what is “new and next” in the world of GIS. I want students graduating from UWGB with GIS experience to meet today’s demand for basic skills and be confident in emerging areas of digital display, multimedia integration, and web platforms.
Did I mention the training session rooms overlooked the pool area?
With the help of the training sessions and user presentations, I am developing lab exercises and class material to introduce students in PU EN AF 450 to WebGIS. Maps are no longer constrained to a printed page or a desktop computer. We interact with maps on tablets and on our smartphones. WebGIS allows you to build, collaborate, and interact with maps across devices and across organizations—an essential skill for students entering into a workforce centered on new media.
Part of my interest in attending this event was the chance to gain insight into interactive methodology for teaching GIS skills. Teaching PU EN AF 250: Introduction to GIS can be a challenge. Traditionally, student learn new skills through self-guided lab exercises. This practice can be isolating and tedious for students and decrease student interaction. I was disappointed to find most of ESRI’s technical skills training sessions to be more of the same, a short introductory lecture followed by a self-guided exercise. I did gain some ideas from other educators in the sessions and from user presentations, but overall I was frustrated by what I felt was the absence of innovation in GIS teaching methods. The lack of sufficient and substantive updated material available has inspired me to rethink, develop, and test new GIS teaching methods for a way to fill this pedagogical gap.
Throughout the EdUC and the UC, I was able to meet new GIS professionals and reconnect with old friends and colleagues. Large-scale conferences with thousands of participants and vendors can be overwhelming and impractical for making contacts or having a productive experience. The smaller meeting rooms and informal nature of training sessions promoted conversation and the exchange of successes and failures in classrooms around the country and world. Additionally, the LARGE name tags provided by ESRI made for easy introductions—and chance meetings. Before one of the EdUC plenary sessions I happened to walk by Martin Goettl of UWEC and Douglas Miskowiak of UWSP and my name tag caught their eyes. It was great to meet more UW System GIS professionals and get networked into a larger support network.
I look forward to sharing the ideas and skills I acquired this summer with students taking GIS classes this fall and spring!
Environmental Planning and Policy