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Reflections of a MOOC newbie

2014 August 31
tags: , ,
by Jw

When I discussed ‘trends in education’ during a presentation last summer 2013, I mentioned the Khan Academy, Open Access and particularly MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) as trends to watch out for. I thought it would be better to not to just talk about MOOCs, but rather talk about the MOOC experience. And although I suspect I am not in the priority target audience for MOOCs, I have taken the liberty to enjoy a few of them.

My MOOC premiere was at EdX, Introduction to Philosophy by Caspar Hare, MITx (if this MOOC does not get you excited about philosophy, you are forever lost – for philosophy). I followed up with Luc de Brabandere’s On Strategy : What Managers Can Learn from Philosophy, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Now that I just finished the assignments for my third MOOC (Leading Strategic Innovation in Organization by David Owens at Vanderbilt, Coursera), I thought a bit of reflection would be appropriate.

Especially after I attended (and organised) an event on life-long-learning last week, I am even more convinced that MOOCs will permanently change the education landscape. To me MOOCs are a natural way for educational institutions to do what they are here for: share knowledge in a most accessible manner. MOOCs enable them to reach out to a whole world of new ‘students’, or sometimes just ‘attendees to a lecture’, or two. I see clear benefits of MOOCs for educators as well: by making their 101 knowledge openly available, they don’t have to go into a repeat mode every year. And by also using the MOOC of other professors, they can fully focus on the magic that can only happen in the classroom.

So here are a few of my early experiences:

Sign up many, take only one
As there seems to be an avalanche of MOOCs of the various platforms these days (Weise/Christensen refer to ‘a fanfare of MOOCs’ in HIRE Education – do read), I have taking a ‘sign up many, take only one’ approach. I will decide to finish a class and stick to the program after the first lesson or two. The reasons I ‘quit’ are divers: schedule clashes, topics turns out to be less interesting compared to what I already know, may I write that not all MOOC lectures are created equal? A bit of digital enthusiasm certainly helps, but that is no different from the analogue classrooms I recall.

Blended learning
The various ways of learning which are available in these MOOCs complement each other and strengthen the learning capability: read papers, watch the video lecture, discuss in a forum (could be more of that). Real plusses are videos of class room discussions (with real students, not the models Clayton was lecturing to), (in video) quizzes and peer reviews. One can also learn by judging the work of others and get judged by them.

lots of partners at Coursera

How I have studied
Nothing is more personal than the way we learn. I treated these MOOCs as a regular education, meaning with dedicated hours in the week for reading and homework. It did help that the lectures could be downloaded on my iPhone (there is hardly a better way to spend your daily commute). I make notes during the video lectures, which means the lecture times easily doubles.

Sometimes the schedule and deadline have been difficult to figure out (time zone issues) and occasionally technology has failed us a well. But complaining about that just seems a bit more difficult when you don’t have to pay at all.

What I miss
Some of the learning in these MOOCs was a bit too ‘scripted’ for me. I missed being able to discuss about a certain topic – and actually get an answer that mattered. I did not yet value the forums as a way of getting to those answers.

Also, sometimes it was quite a quest to find the relevant documents. I would pay for better access to that and for a chat option – discuss with a teacher. I did miss a classroom-like experience and a local study group, with co-students who share the same fate) would help.  In that respect I am curious to find out if the innovation teams in David Owens’ MOOC have worked out.

So what is next?
Overall, participating in these MOOCs have been a genuine positive experience. A MOOC beats ‘just reading the book’ by light years. I have been able to ‘learn and apply’ (and enjoy) by participating in these MOOCs. A big thank you to professors Hare, de Brabandere and Owens, their colleagues and institutions to make these lessons publicly available.

When taken seriously, a MOOC requires serious time (no complaint). I look forward to the ones to come and intend to will contribute a bit more. If you are only half as passionate about education as I am, do give a MOOC of your interest a try. I predict that a series of MOOCs, all related to a certain topic, will count for real college credit in the near future.

 

Watch Clayton Christensen, about ‘it;s your life, go ahead and waste it’ (start at 37 minutes, but do watch the complete presentation)

As a tiny payback to these professors and institutions, below is one paragraph review of each of these MOOCs.

Introduction to Philosophy by Caspar Hare, MITx at Edx. Very inspiring professor. Lots of papers to read. Great classroom discussions. Actually missed the professors tapping his shoes. Will take this one again if it includes writing a paper, and getting it reviewed. Could do with more ‘further reading’ (or a beyond 101 lecture).

Luc de Brabandere’s On Strategy : What Managers Can Learn from Philosophy (a lot). Good structure of the lectures, keep the tensions. Good structure and forum discussions. Interesting presentations and graphics used.  Bought the book afterwards, will do a review of that.

Leading Strategic Innovation in Organization by David Owens at Vanderbilt, Coursera. Interesting approach of innovation (by zooming in to the constraints and trying to fix those). Long videos. Good schedule of lectures. Very practical method. Bought the book about halfway the MOOC. Review to follow.

On my watch list: HarvardX: ER22.1x Justice by Michael Sandel (will first read the book) and “A beginner’s guide to irrational behavior” by Dan Ariely (have read some of his books) and Advanced Competitive Strategy by Tobias Kretschmer, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (I had to stop after a few lectures, schedule issues).

Het nieuwe vakantiewerken, met 3D en open data

2014 July 20
In mijn eerste Web Scene waren de bomen wat aan het zweven…

In mijn eerste Web Scene waren de bomen wat aan het zweven…

Het zal niemand in de geowereld (en daarbuiten) zijn ontgaan: er is een golf van data op ons afgekomen, die steeds meer van het type “open” en “3D” zijn. Ook al weten we nog niet helemaal wat de impact zal zijn, meer begrip, betere communicatie en betere antwoorden op geografische vragen liggen in het verschiet.

Esri begeeft zich al een aantal jaar op het 3D vlak met o.a. als gevolg dat virtuele landschappen in films (zoals Cars 2 en Total Recall) en computergames nu door Esri technologie worden gegenereerd. De stap naar Hollywood is voor de gemiddelde gebruiker van GIS-technologie niet zo snel weggelegd. Maar een digitale maquette of 3D-model als overzicht van de eigen omgeving is wel een mooie eerste stap. CityEngine genereert een 3D-model uit de bestaande topografie door regels (procedures) toe te passen op een 2D-model. De op deze manier opgebouwde omgeving kan daarnaast gemakkelijk via ArcGIS Online met de buitenwereld worden gedeeld.

3D voordelen op een rij

Meer begrip
Het gebruik van een 3D representatie van de wereld om ons heen zorgt voor een betere interpretatie van de omgeving: 3D communiceert gewoon beter. Gebruikers van de kaart kunnen zichzelf beter plaatsen, in een 2D kaart is oriëntatie een stuk lastiger. In 3D kan je de verticale dimensie tonen, die niet mogelijk is in 2D (…). De symbolen zijn een stuk intuïtiever, waardoor je de kaart minder hoeft uit te leggen via een legenda.

3D-analyse
Met 3D kijk je anders naar de werkelijkheid en zo is er ook een ander manier van analyse mogelijk. Hoewel de voorbeelden nog wat sporadisch zijn, is er veel te halen in 3D-analyse, waar 2D-analyse niet aan kan toppen. Een paar voorbeelden: was/wordt visualisatie in 3D, de beste locatie voor zonnecollectoren, validatie van bestemmingsplannen. Maar ook tijdvisualisaties (hier van de beroemde kaart van Minard) zien er in 3D heel anders uit.

 

Gemakkelijk ontwerpen, en delen

De flexibiliteit van het ontwerp (huizen in detail of grof weergeven is een druk op de knop) spreken mij zelf erg aan. Overigens blijft in 3D de kunst van het weglaten gewoon van toepassing: gebouwen met al te veel details werken verstorend voor de lezer van de 3D-kaart.

Zelfstandig leren 

CityEngine leren kan men  natuurlijk tegenwoordig zelfstandig (en dat hoeft niet te stoppen in je vakantie…). Voor CityEngine kan men online aan de slag met de Virtual Campus (Getting Started zonder kosten) of met de webcurses Modelling a City Using Esri CityEngine. Bij het Resource Center staat al het cursus materiaal en de video tuturials zijn ook online te vinden. De MOOC is nog niet formeel aangekondigd, maar dat is slechts een kwestie van tijd.

Naast al dit vrij beschikbare materiaal, organiseren we een workshop City Engine bij Esri Nederland in Rotterdam, op maandag 25 en dinsdag 26 augustus. Tijdens deze workshop gaan we aan de hand van een aantal voorbeelden ‘aan het handje’ door de grotere stappen van CityEngine heen. Je leert zo niet alleen van een docent, maar ook van je lotgenoten die zich ook in het onderwerp willen bekwamen.

Als klap op de vuurpijl eindigt de workshop met een preview van wat we op 3D gebied tijdens de Esri GIS Conferentie gaan demonstreren. En worden de deelnemers uitgenodigd voor een uitstapje in de inmiddels beruchte Oculus Rift. Dat alles is lastig door de online variant van leren te evenaren.

Wie doet er mee met 3D?

Voor het gebruik van 3D is inmiddels genoeg open data te vinden (Top10NL, AHN2). Voor de duidelijkheid: 3D heeft ook een groot nadeel: als je een tijdje met 3D werkt, is het lastig om weer terug te gaan naar een 2D beeld van de werkelijkheid*. Maar eigenlijk is 3D helemaal niet zo’n onderwerp om over te schrijven, je moet het gewoon zien:

Wil je ook naar huis met de kennis om zo’n digitale maquette van je eigen stad te maken? Kom dan ook naar de workshop! Ik heb me inmiddels ingeschreven :) Heb je geen toegang tot ArcGIS of CityEngine? Deelnemers van de workshop krijgen de beschikking over een tijdelijke licentie, zodat je achteraf nog even door kan werken aan je eigen digitale stad.

Eerste echte Web Scene – Weerwater Almere (klik door!)

 

*in de ArcGIS Pro app zitten 2D/3D keurig naast elkaar. Verplicht teruggaan naar 2D is er dan niet meer bij.

[zo teruglezend is het wel een enorme promotie blogpost geworden; met als enig excuus dat het wel erg lastig is om niet enthousiast te zijn over de mogelijkheden van 3D en open data!]

The (near) future of GIS as we know it

2014 June 29

UUtrechtSharing a few thoughts with a (hopefully) interested audience is always somewhere between a privilege and a true challenge, depending on multiple variables. This time, at the University of Utrecht, the topic was about future developments of Geographic Information Systems. Especially after a chat with Joseph Kerski, I felt quite comfortable with the topic at hand. My only caveat: “Our past has known many futures”, meaning we tend to predict a lot more than the actual future can bear.*

Independent of the school of strategy you follow, strategy is often viewed as a ‘predicting far away futures’. I rather view strategy as about positioning yourself today and focusing on what will change in the very near future. Far away futures in information technology tend not be very realistic at all anyway.

For the future of GIS, regardless of your definition of the term, it is likely to refer to changes to people, software and data (and most often brings up data capture, management, analysis, presentation and distribution). Although it is always hard to summerise a presentation in a few paragraphs, I have given it a try below, in bullet point style (whereas the presentation itself is using mostly images). In order of priority:

People

The P in GIS has changed quite a bit ● From data capture by experts only, e.g. through photogrammetric plotters, people themselves have now become sensors and are actively participate in the data capture part (sometimes without their knowledge and approval). ● GIS has escaped the basement of organisations and is now reaching out to the whole organisation, and beyond. ● It is becoming a foundation of working together in enterprises. ● This is impacting the role of those working with GIS. ● And it should have an impact on the curriculum at universities as well.

In the near future: more and more people (as sensors) will contribute to geographic data, in real-time. It calls for different ways of interpreting that data.

Data

Like technology, data has become abundant (big if you will) which is good news for geography. Content has always been an important part of the ecosystem of GIS. ● Open data is too big a trend to ignore. ● 3D data changes the ‘face of a map’● The challenge with 3D scene (they are often too realistic to be named ‘maps’) is the to make them  ● Maps are not reality and should not depict reality too realistically. ● Content is the oxygen of the (GIS) ecosystem.

In the near future: we will have an intelligent 3D basemap in the Netherlands, which allows for interesting 3D analysis, and off course for great 3D visualisations as well.

In the near future: intelligent 3D basemaps (Image by Esther Carney)

Software

Once rather monolithic tools have transformed into smaller building blocks and enriched by programmable environments ● Small functionality is now accessible in many ways. ● Maps and apps: users expect simple interaction answering complex questions.  ● The life span of the apps is relatively short. ● Users expect (read demand) and applications to work in an integrated fashion. Anywhere, anyplace, anytime.

In the near future: ‘tiny’ functionality will enrich applications which not a lot, yet crucial functionality.

tostiRecommended skills 

At the end of presentation I discussed the geospatial management competency model and then brought up a few recommended skills for professionals-to-be, more like ‘tips’ for your career if you will. I encourage students to find a balance between talent & compassion, hobby & work, curiosity & stubbornness (not sure they are opposites). I also urge them connect to the professional world as soon as possible, to specialize in one of those current trends (e.g. 3D visualization, big data, realtime GIS etc) and work towards a t-shaped profile (a bit more info).

I also did share a few of my personal misconceptions ‘when I left school’ (like I actually thought I was done educating myself) but these misconceptions are more easily shared during a presentation then in a blogpost. Had to end with a short overview of what Esri aims to contribute to the student community, the commercial break if you will.

We had a Q&A and a short discussion at end of my talk, but the better part of the discussion was during the world-famous Tosti lunch at EGEA, whilst discussing with international students where to go next and what minor to take there. Talking about near future ahead.

 

* read the Black Swan by Nassim Taleb if you are interested.

Do note: the cover is a scene from one of the standard CityEngine data sets. The landscape looks very much like the surroundings of Zürich!