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David DiBiase, Department of Geography, 302 Walker Building, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, firstname.lastname@example.org
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Abstract: This paper, the result of panel discussions and working groups convened by the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science, examines several key issues in distance education with respect to the profound impact that they will have on training and education in geographic information science in the U.S., and on the overall effectiveness of colleges and universities with strong programs in the field. While there is clearly a national demand for GIScience education and growing evidence that distance education has the potential to deliver it rigorously, many challenges remain. These are discussed in terms of gaps in educational research that can be bridged by GIScience academics, such as the development of distance education pedagogies specifically for GIScience, the interaction of multiple (as opposed to single) technologies for effective learning at a distance (e.g., GIS with remote sensing, digital image processing, location based services, and the like), the general effectiveness of digital geospatial libraries for supporting GIScience distance education, how best to support faculty innovations in distance education using the latest technologies (such as web GIS, virtual learning environments, etc.), and research into the best cost and funding models for distance education in GIScience. In the end, the primary issue may be not what GIScience can contribute to the improvement of distance education, but what distance education may uniquely contribute to GIScience
"Distance education" is now familiar terminology on university campuses nationwide and is viewed by many not only as a revolution in increasing the access to higher education, but in reforming it (e.g., Benyon et al. 1997, Browning and Williams 1997, National Center for Education Statistics 1999). As the Institute for Higher Education Policy (1999) and others point out, distance learning is hardly a recent innovation. Colleges, universities, and commercial enterprises have offered correspondence courses throughout the U.S. since the development of the U.S. Postal Service and rural free delivery. The diffusion of inter-networked computing and two-way interactive video, however, coinciding with an increasingly competitive higher education market, has led to rapid growth in distance learning in the 1990s.
Educators are not of one mind about distance learning. Some celebrate the potential to expand access to higher education to lifelong learners not well served by traditional place-bound courses (e.g., Kellogg Commission 1999). Others welcome the opportunity to enrich education for both on- and off-campus students by leveraging computers and networks to create a new, more active more student-centered pedagogy (e.g., Benyon et al. 1997, Browning and Williams 1997). Still others view distance learning as evidence of a regressive trend toward the automation of higher education and the commercialization of the academy (e.g., Noble 1998, Gober 1998). Hopes and fears notwithstanding, distance learning appears to be here to stay.
The potential benefits, costs, and risks of distance education are certainly not lost on the geographic information science (GIScience) community. As the demand for training in geographic information system (GIS) software, as well as in GIScience education (the fundamental science behind GIS) grows, so too does the demand for effective modes of instructional delivery to students, regardless of time, place, or, in some cases, educational background. The early success of commercial distance learning programs such as UNIGIS in Europe and the Environmental Systems Research Institute's (ESRI) Virtual Campus attests to this need (Phoenix, 2000). Since its founding in 1997, and based on ideas gleaned from the very successful UNIGIS effort, the Virtual Campus has emerged as a major portal to GIScience technical training and education in the U.S. Virtual Campus courses are included as assignments in many U.S. university courses that lead to formal certificates and degrees in GIS, geography, and related fields.
The challenges faced by GIScience classroom educators are by now well known. The technological orientation of the subject, the head-spinning rate at which that technology is evolving, the need for collaboration - not only for creative innovation in the classroom but merely to keep up - and the realization that many institutions of higher education are not yet equipped to support these instructional requirements in classroom settings, all conspire to confound the efforts of even the most conscientious educators (Kemp et al. 1999, Wright 1999). But what about teaching GIScience at a distance? The University Consortium for Geographic Information Science (UCGIS) has long been concerned with the broader expansion and improvement of GIScience education (Kemp and Wright, 1997) and is now focusing on issues specific to distance education. The UCGIS is a consortium primarily of 63 U.S. research universities from 37 states whose mission is to serve as the academic voice of geographic information science in both research and education (www.ucgis.org). It does this in part by training and educating students in GIS and GIScience in order to advance the discipline and to meet new employment demands. Panel discussions and working groups on distance education and GIScience convened at the 2000 and 2001 Summer Assemblies of the UCGIS. This paper is the result of numerous informal discussions and explorations of issues at these sessions, and from a white paper that was written by the UCGIS Distance Education working group in response to an action item proposed by the UCGIS national education committee. It seeks to frame a discussion of the opportunities and challenges posed by distance education with respect to the profound impact they will have on education in GIScience, as well as on the overall effectiveness of colleges and universities with strong programs in GIScience. It should be noted that this paper deals only with a U.S. perspective and experience, and does not purport to review or provide an inventory of programs, experiences, or advances in GIScience distance education within the United Kingdom, Europe, or other parts of the world (including the very successful International UniGIS Consortium).
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) defines distance education as "education or training courses delivered to remote (off-campus) location(s) via audio, video (live or prerecorded), or computer technologies, including both synchronous and asynchronous instruction" (NCES 2000a:2). By definition, then, distance education is a set of transactions among students and instructors who are located in different places - an arrangement that should be of special interest to geographers. Distance education may also differ from traditional education by being asynchronous, where students and instructors are performing their roles at different times. Distance students may work as individuals or in cohorts. Instructors may or may not be available for consultation.
Existing programs in GIScience vary significantly. For example, at the University of Maine, lectures in some GIScience courses may be viewed either in real time at the student's desktop via one-way web streaming or at any time later from a web video archive. Students must enroll begin activities in the courses at the beginning of the term when on-campus students are taking the exact same course. In contrast, Penn State's on-line Certificate Program in GIS (http://www.worldcampus.psu.edu/pub/gis/ index.shtml), is semi-asynchronous in that there is a schedule of weekly deliverables, but students may work anytime they wish during the week, and they need not enroll at exactly the same time as on-campus students. One course is available for independent study credit all year round. Courses at Maine and Penn State are instructor-led, and/or cohort-based, whereas ESRI's Virtual Campus (http://campus.esri.com) is largely an asynchronous, non-instructor-led learning environment in which students work independently. See Berdusco et al., (2001) and the GeoCommunity site at http://spatialnews.geocomm.com/education/distance_edu for information on and web links to similar offerings at institutions such as Carnegie Mellon (Pennsylvania), Ferris State University (Michigan), Louisiana Tech, Oregon State, the University of California-Riverside, University of Colorado at Denver, the University of Denver, the University of Montana, the University of Southern California, and Western Michigan, as well as programs in Canada (i.e., Simon Fraser), the UK, and other parts of the world. According to Mayadas (1997) and NCES (2002) the instructor-led, cohort-based model (sometimes called "asynchronous learning networks") still offers the greatest potential for effective distance learning. A theoretical framework for such an assertion is built upon five "pillars" of quality for effective asynchronous learning as outlined by Mayadas (1998): (1) student satisfaction; (2) access to all desired courses, degrees, programs and accompanying support services; (3) learning effectiveness; (4) faculty satisfaction, and (5) cost effectiveness, where the best educational value is provided to learners without compromising the financial stability of the institution.
Distance education is growing rapidly. NCES (2000a) reports that in the academic year 1997-'98, about one-third of 2- and 4-year postsecondary institutions in the U.S. offered distance education courses, and one-fifth of institutions planned to start within the next three years. The number of courses available online increased from an estimated 25,730 in 1994-'95 to 54,470 in 1997-'98. Enrollments in 1997-'98 were estimated at 1,661,100, more than twice the number enrolled in 1994-'95 (NCES 2000a).
The recent growth of distance education reflects not only the diffusion of Internet usage, but also the changing demographics of higher education. Between 1976 and 1996, the proportion of U.S. college and university students aged 18-24 increased only 0.4% when adjusted for population growth, while the number of students aged 25 or older increased 47.5% (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1998). The average age of the approximately 600 students who have enrolled in the Certificate Program in GIS at Penn State is 40 years. As the Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities observed:
With a more diverse and older student population, we need a more diversified set of educational offerings. As people mature and move through successive careers, we need to be there to help them retool and retread, with special courses available at their convenience. (Kellogg Commission 1999:8)
Distance education clearly offers the potential to make higher education more accessible to lifelong learners. However, many people also believe that distance education poses a risk to the quality and integrity of higher education. Demonstrating the effectiveness of distance learning is even more difficult than demonstrating the effectiveness of traditional resident instruction, because distance education (as defined above) is a relatively recent phenomenon. We are still learning how best to foster learning at a distance. It is not surprising, therefore, that the widely cited report What's the Difference? A Review of Contemporary Research on the Effectiveness of Distance Learning in Higher Education (IHEP 1999) observes the "relative paucity" of reliable research on the effectiveness of distance education.
One of the first things distance educators learn is that they cannot hope for a successful learning experience if they simply put existing courses designed for resident instruction on-line. For instance, faculty members in the School of Education at Oregon State University who have experience implementing distance learning technologies, generally agree that simply replicating traditional instructional models in a distance learning context may not be the most effective strategy for teaching and learning in any discipline (Merickel 1997). The recommendations of the NSF Geoscience Education Working Group (GEWG) include the statement: "uncertainty exists regarding which practices work best in the classroom [and at a distance] to promote better learning about the geosciences. We do not have a sound pedagogical understanding of how students learn about the geosciences effectively at any level. As a result, we rely primarily on anecdotal information" (Geosciences Education Working Group 1997:1). As Moore (2000) points out, there is not even complete consensus that the web is a more commodious medium than group-conferencing via two-way interactive video.
Despite the uncertainties associated with distance pedagogy, educators are approaching consensus that "distance learning can be quality learning" (IHEP 2000:4). In a review of the current state of knowledge in distance education, Hansen et al. (1997) conclude that:
· with regard to "learner outcomes" distance education is just as effective as traditional education (NCES 2000b);
· distance learners generally have a more favorable attitude toward distance education than traditional learners, and feel as though they are learning just as much in a distance education mode as they would in a traditional classroom;
· successful distance education learners tend to be abstract learners who are intrinsically motivated and possess "an internal locus of control"; and
· each form of distance education technology has its own advantages and disadvantages in contributing to the overall quality of the learning experience.
In a similar vein, a report of a year-long faculty seminar at the University of Illinois, composed of both experienced distance educators and critics, concludes that "online teaching and learning can be done with high quality if new approaches are employed that compensate for the limitations of technology, and if professors make the effort to create and maintain the human touch of attentiveness to their students" (University of Illinois Faculty Seminar 1999:2). In a recent report entitled Quality on the Line: Benchmarks for Success in Internet-Based Distance Education, The Institute for Higher Education Policy outlines 45 characteristics of successful distance education programs, in such categories as institutional support, course development, teaching/learning process, course structure, student support, faculty support, and evaluation and assessment (IHEP 2000). A compelling case study of the potential to achieve high quality in distance learning is The Open University, which has served over two million off-site students since 1971, and was recently ranked 11th of 98 U.K. higher education Institutions in quality of teaching (Lyall 1999). The lessons learned by early adopters of distance education can be applied in GIScience education. Further, the GIScience community needs to be cognizant of and take advantage of the continually increasing technological capabilities for facilitating the dissemination of teaching and scholarly materials.
Issues for GIScience
Capitalizing on Current Successes
There is growing evidence that distance education has the potential to deliver rigorous GIScience education. One example is the achievements of students in the distance education GIS certification program at Penn State since January, 1999. Their courses include tutorials based upon a developmental approach. At the outset, students receive problem scenarios, data sets, and detailed instructions (workflows) on how to use GIS software to solve real-world problems. Students use the GIS software that they have purchased through the program to follow the instructions, then publish illustrated reports in their on-line portfolios to demonstrate that they have completed the assignment. As courses progress, tutorials include less and less detail. By the end of the courses, assignments contain problem statements, data, and only a minimum of instruction. Students are expected to develop and deliver their own workflows, sometimes in collaboration with other students (via threaded discussion, chat, or telephone). Instructors review and comment upon the student workflows. Finally, students enact their own workflows, complete the assigned task, and publish their results in their portfolios. In this way, students learn not just how to operate software, but how to use GIS to solve problems. By requiring students to take greater responsibility for their own learning, educators can transform distance from a disadvantage into an advantage. Instructors at Penn State are convinced that these students are learning more effectively than they would in comparable on-campus courses.
A second example is what can be gained by leveraging the new technological infrastructure provided by Internet2. Internet2 has been created specifically for the research and instructional needs of higher education, and at this point is far less crowded than the commercial Internet. An immediate benefit is reduced cost as instructors using Internet2 would not necessarily have to rely on satellite transmission (at an estimated cost of $500 per hour) for some courses. While not providing a complete replacement for the commercial Internet, Internet2 does offer: (1) a means of expediting the development of new technologies, such as virtual learning environments (VLEs), that allow for collaborative course structuring, conferencing, chatting, grading, and even course evaluation in near real time, as well as online tutoring and peer group support; (2) a testbed for monitoring/measuring end-to-end bandwidth needs; and (3) the infrastructure for "pioneering" applications such as digital libraries, tele-immersion, digital video, virtual laboratories, and all the "emerging technologies" on the horizon for distance education (Wright et al. 1997). In the Fall of 1999, Oregon State University, in collaboration with Kansas State University and the University of Nebraska, held the first fully-interactive distance education course using the high-speed Internet2 network known as Abilene (Stauth, 1999). Features of the course included:
· shared lectures, responsibilities and course planning all done over Internet2 by faculty at the three institutions;
· distributed classrooms connected by digital audio and video for two-way interactive lecture sessions between all three institutions in real-time, and fiber optic cables transmitting at 2.5 gigabits per second (a rate capable of transmitting the entire contents of a library in one hour);
· advantages such as the greater ease of achieving a critical mass of students and the leveraging of complimentary research skills, and
· the disadvantage of needing last-minute adjustments by network experts.
Although the course was not about GIScience (it was an offering in Botany and Plant Pathology), it is clear that such a course could be implemented using Internet2, making use two-way compressed video, webstreaming technologies for interactive audio and video, webcasting of live and delayed lecture videos and accompanying course materials directly to students' desktops in their homes or offices, wireless communication directly to students' personal desktop assistants and/or cell phones, and the like (e.g., Community Media Center, 2002). And for GIScience, it will be important to incorporate the latest map server technologies (such as ESRI's ArcIMS,), VLEs that allow students and faculty to exchange remotely-sensed images and perform digital image processing techniques on them. Or they may want to exchange algorithms and pieces of codes such as Arc Macro Language or Avenue scripts, Java applets, Visual Basic programs, etc., for collaborative testing in a GIS.
Perhaps a suitable GIScience testbed for Internet2 would be to structure course offerings based on the experiences of the UCGIS Virtual Seminars that were held over the commercial Internet in 1996-'97 and 1998 (Wright 1999). These seminars involved 10 UCGIS member institutions in 1996-'97 and 5 in 1998 in asynchronous discussions and readings about the GIScience research agenda developed by the UCGIS (http://www.ucgis.org/research98.html). An Internet2 GIScience seminar might transform the information/data retrieved from databases and sites found on the Web, as well as from textbooks and journal articles, into interactive learning experiences for the students by way of a set of web-based interactive interfaces that entice students to ask questions as they prepare or gather data, as they perform GIS analyses, and as they interpret the results.
Opportunities for Universities
A National Demand
Most will agree that distance education is growing rapidly, along with the
adoption of GIS technology and the evolution of GIScience as a discipline.
Moreover, the adoption of GIS technology continues to increase across
commercial, academic and government sectors. It follows that an adequately
trained and educated workforce is essential to the appropriate
implementation and use of GIScience technologies. It is widely known, though
poorly documented, that there is currently an unmet demand for education and
training in GIS and GIScience. Phoenix (2000) reports the following:
· the annual demand by professionals for GIS course work is estimated at 75,000;
· the annual demand for GIS students enrolled in universities is estimated to be 50,000;
· there are more than 200 programs in the U.S. that offer a certificate in GIS, with an annual graduation rate of 4,000;
· the shortfall in the U.S. in producing individuals with an advanced level of GIS education is 3,000-4,000; and
· the shortfall outside the U.S. is even greater.
There is the potential of distance education to contribute to the successful implementation of a GIScience Model Curriculum, seems likely to demand a breadth and depth of faculty expertise that few individual departments possess (Marble 1999, 2002). Several departments from different universities, joined together in credit-sharing consortia, might be much more effective in offering students the courses needed to satisfy the curriculum. By definition, these would be distance courses. Advanced GIScience courses offered synchronously through two-way interactive video, or asynchronously on-line, offer the potential to achieve economies of scale necessary to ensure their viability. A distributed model curriculum also poses opportunities for collaboration in GIScience education that until now have only been realized in GIScience research projects. Ultimately, the act of formalizing and distributing the content of the Model Curriculum sets the stage for peer review of GIScience education, a tried and true method of quality assurance with which GIScience researchers are so familiar, as explained in more detail by DiBiase (this issue, 2002).
Gaps in Research (Challenges) That Universities can Address
There are several important issues regarding the effectiveness of distance learning that require further investigation and validation. These include intellectual property rights (e.g., does an instructor really own what he/she puts online?), how best to retain online students (drop-out rates for some forms of distance education courses are often higher than those in traditional classrooms; NCES, 2000a), and assessing the benefits of various technologies (especially with regard to how they may support the education process rather than dictate it). Moreover, there are issues specific to GIScience that are currently not being addressed at all in the literature, as discussed below.
Five Specific Issues
Rigorous research in the pedagogy of GIScience, specifically for education at a distance, needs to be encouraged and pursued. Pedagogy is here defined simply as the art and science of teaching. An active pedagogy, which is here advocated for GIScience distance education, is further defined as a student-centered approach that involves students actively in their own learning, assures their involvement with the material (i.e., their world), and teaches skills for problem-solving, rather than merely instilling information for occasional regurgitation (Moser and Hanson 1996, Chalkley and Harwood 1998, Healey 1998). A theoretical framework that provides criteria for effective, intuitive instruction (Jenkins 1998, Shephard 1998, White and Weight 1999) must guide the pedagogy. In particular, models employing constructivist theories and stressing collaborative learning should be explored (Bruffee 1993, Hurley et al. 1999, Palloff and Pratt 1999). And an analysis of what pedagogies work best with the various distance education communication technologies that an instructor might choose to use would be extremely helpful.
More research attention should be devoted to the interaction of multiple technologies (such as the interaction between GIS, remote sensing/image processing, location based services, and other mobile technologies). Current research centers on learning with technology that focuses mostly on the impact of individual technologies. There are few studies that examine more than one technology or the synergistic effects of certain technologies in addressing specific education outcomes and student groups (Institute for Higher Education Policy 1999).
More research efforts need to address the general effectiveness of "digital libraries," as well as the effectiveness of "digital geospatial libraries" for education. Current literature provides guidelines for cataloging and distributing materials (e.g., Lopez, 1999) but now how they are effecting the quality of distance education in GIScience. While the brick-and-mortar library is an integral part of the teaching/learning process on university campuses, particularly for graduate students, do current digital libraries measure up to the same objectives? Anecdotal evidence suggests that the potential of some distance education courses has actually been impeded by the limited variety of books and journals available from the digital library (Institute for Higher Education Policy 1999), as well as the quality and ease-of-access of data from geospatial clearinghouses.
Research is needed to assess what training and support are most effective in encouraging faculty to make use of new technologies (Foote 1999a and 1999b). Previous research has focused on learner outcomes, but has not addressed the issue of how to support faculty innovations in distance education, particularly with regard to VLEs.
And finally, research is needed into the best cost and funding models for distance education in GIScience. More than many other distance courses, GIScience requires students to use significant amounts of relatively sophisticated technology (e.g., GIS and remote sensing software, GPS receivers, geospatial data sets and imagery). Distance education materials are costly to produce and for some GIScience materials, the data may be proprietary or purchased on a single license that does not transfer to other parties (e.g., the costs and licensing that Geographic Data Technology enforces for the use of its street network and address data products that are used in many GIScience college level labs throughout the U.S.). Given that materials are indeed costly to produce and that not all institutions can afford to follow MIT's lead in making all of their materials free (e.g., Heterick and Twigg 2001), the tension between recouping costs and sharing education resources and intellectual property will continue to grow. And what happens to distance education materials (and some GIScience data) when a professor leaves one institution for another, but the former institution is still making money off of the materials that remain under its electronic purview? Formidable as well is the current challenge that institutions face in sharing tuition revenues, credits, and curricula for distance education courses.
This paper has attempted to identify some of the issues in distance education unique to GIScience that need special attention and leadership by the GIScience academic community within the U.S. Indeed, the primary issue may be not what GIScience can contribute to the development of distance
education, but what distance education can uniquely contribute to GIScience. By realizing the potential of distance education, the GIScience academic community may strengthen education in GIScience within existing programs of higher education, to provide U.S. students with more competitive technical skills for the national and international marketplace. Distance education may help to promote the development of new GIScience programs at two- and four-year colleges and universities that do not already focus on the discipline, as well as within K-12 education. There is the potential for fostering important cooperative links between GIS software vendors, for-profit educational institutions and academia, especially in terms of distance education programs currently operated by commercial companies (such as the ESRI Virtual Campus) that may complement or support university efforts. With distance education, educational opportunities in GIScience can be extended to people who do not have ready geographical access to institutions of higher education. And there is certainly a national need for professional education in GIScience that can be partially met by the continued development of specialized and customized programs at universities for "just-in-time" or "course-on-demand" instruction.
About the Authors
Dawn Wright is associate professor of Geosciences at Oregon State University and director of the university's cross-disciplinary minor in Earth Information Science and Technology.
David Dibiase is senior lecturer of Geography and director of both the e-Education Institute and the Peter R. Gould Center for Geography Outreach and Education at Penn State University.
Cherri Pancake is professor, interim chair, and Intel Faculty Fellow of Computer Science at Oregon State University and director of the Northwest Alliance for Computational Science and Engineering.
Richard Wright is professor emeritus of Geography at San Diego State University.
Kenneth E. Foote is professor of Geography at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Thanks are extended to five anonymous referees of the URISA Journal for careful and thoughtful reviews that greatly improved the manuscript. Remaining weaknesses are the authors' sole responsibility. Karen Kemp is thanked for helpful comments and insights during the earlier stages of this manuscript. And, finally, we thank panelists Art Getis of San Diego State University, Ann Johnson of ESRI, Lyna Wiggins of Rutgers, and all attendees of the session on distance education and GIScience at the 2001 UCGIS Summer Assembly in Buffalo, New York (http://www.geog. buffalo.edu/ucgis/distanceeducation.pdf) for helpful discussions.
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Stauth, D., 1999, Cutting-edge Internet Class Demonstrated at SC99, Oregon State University Press Release. link. Accessed 2 July 2002.
University of Illinois Faculty Seminar,1999, Teaching at an Internet Distance: The Pedagogy of Online Teaching and Learning. link. Accessed 6 October 2001.
U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1998, Table A-6: Age Distribution of College Students 14 Years Old and Over, by Gender: October 1947 to 1996. link, Accessed 29 November 2000.
White, K. W. and Weight, R. H., 1999, The Online Teaching Guide: A Handbook of Attitudes, Strategies, and Techniques for the Virtual Classroom, (Boston: Allyn & Bacon).
Wright, D. J., 1999, "Virtual" Seminars in GIS: Academic Future or Flash in the Pan?, Geo Info Systems, 9(3): 22, 24-26.
Wright, D., G. Elmes, K. Foote, J. Chen, N. Faust, B. Savitsky, and J. Sewash, 1997, Emerging Technologies for Delivering GIScience Education. University Consortium for Geographic Information Science Education Priority White Paper. link. Accessed 6 October 2001.
Further Reading and Visitation on the Web
DiBiase, D., 2000. Is distance education a Faustian bargain? Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 24(1),130-135
- considers ethical implications of distance learning in geography
DiBiase, D., 2000. Is distance teaching more work or less work? American Journal of Distance Education, 14(3), 6-20.
- analyzes the results of a study during which the author and his teaching assistants analyzed the time and tasks involved in teaching two similar courses: one on-line, the other the classroom
Alexandria Digital Library (ADL) and Alexandria Digital Earth Prototype (ADEPT)
Shariah Program Links to Distance Degrees
UCGIS Education Committee
University of California-Riverside, Online GIS Courses in Association with ESRI
Copyright (c) 2002, University Consortium for Geographic Information Science
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