March 15, 2004
University Distance Learning GIS Programs
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Welcome to GISWeekly! Distance learning has become a popular way for professionals to beef up their GIS skills or learn completely new skills to add to their professional expertise. In an earlier
article we heard about what vendors had to offer in the way of online educational programs. This time, university program directors offer their views on the programs their institutions offer.
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University Distance Learning GIS Programs
By Susan Smith
Distance learning has become a popular way for professionals to beef up their GIS skills or learn completely new skills to add to their professional expertise. A number of
vendors and universities offer online programs designed for those students who are working professionals and can't take time away from their busy schedules to take a college course. These programs have their advantages and disadvantages. University program directors offer their views on the programs their institutions offer.
World Campus GIS program has been going strong for five years. It offers a non-credit course designed for members of the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) to “earn the maximum number of continuing professional development program credits permitted from an organization external to the AICP.” An 18-month effort has spawned a full academic credit online degree program that will offer baccalaureate as well as master's degrees, which should be launched in the fall of 2004.
What changed to make it a full credit online program, I asked David DiBiase, program director. “First of all we need to make clear, when we say 'online' people think of ESRI's Virtual Campus but this is different than that in one important way - our program is intensively instructor-led. So every day in every class a real live person walks in and answers questions and has both one-on-one discussions and group discussions, so it's very people oriented, it's not just a lot of course material that's published on the web. And also students aren't working in isolation they are working in groups so classes of people get to know each other.”
don't have any formal education in GIS or geography. What they want is to get the groundwork, the formal education, to supplement the training they might have had on the job.”
discussion so that
everyone in the class can benefit from the questions and answers. We try really hard to help students get to know one another and start to build personal and professional relationships. The way we do that is that every student has to create an e-portfolio, that is they have to publish on the web a page that describes themselves. Linked to that page are all the project reports that they have to create throughout the program. Those are all published online so students can look at each other's work and get to know each other. We want students to work together and help each other as a team.”
people can work
when it's convenient to them. For the one-on-one interactions, we'll use real time audio.”
in a way that works best for them so they can be relatively active and vocal or they can be quiet.”
Students' progress is assessed using their e-portfolio. “One of the big concerns people have is about academic integrity,” explained DiBiase. “They're concerned that students are actually doing their own work and there's a lot of fear among those who aren't familiar with distance ed that it might be easy to cheat. The way you take care of that and ensure academic integrity online is same way you do it in person: you get to know your students, you can then tell if the work is theirs or not. And the way we get to know them is through their portfolio.”
Close to 1,000 students have entered the World Campus program, over 400 have graduated. DiBiase said the way to make online learning successful is as follows: 1) focus on active learning --on their activities, to make sure the things they do are active experience, 2) a lot of communication; accessible instructors - instructors log in every single day, year round, and are there to answer questions, so people don't feel isolated.
points and contributions to the profession that they need to be certified.”
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