AGI Education Lecture: Professor Dave Unwin

I attended an evening lecture last week organised by the AGI (hosted by UCL) as part of their “education” series. Professor Dave Unwin presented a provocative talk entitled “Masters of GIS? Educating the GI labour force.”

Worry was a major theme of the presentation; should academics be concerned about employers, are we teaching the right curricula, who are the main users of GIS, what are employers asking for and where should we be going? There were lots of questions about the future direction of GIS in the workplace.

Current surveys suggest that (in the UK) over 70% of current GIS practicioners have geography (and related) degrees, yet there has been a ~30% decrease in student numbers in geography in schools, during a period of increasing demand for GIS specialists and (in the US anyway) further predicted increases. Spatial literacy (however it is defined) is a major concern; with relative ease of use of modern GIS, increasingly large numbers of employees routinely use it. Whilst it is a good thing that spatial data is widely available and usable, this creates problems of misuse/abuse. In the same way that many do not understand statistics and unwittingly misuse it, so we are seeing the same effect within GIS.

Professor Unwin also mentioned that geography has a raised profile in US schools, partially riding the “wave” of popularity in GIS. Yet in the UK GIS is not embedded in the curriculum; in contrast nearly all levels of commerce and research use it as the primary means of interfacing with geographic data and concepts.

This really is a worry for the UK and something we should be taking very seriously. Whilst businesses often have unrealistic ideas about GISers, as educators we need to understand the marketplace and where it is going. At a national level there is a responsibility to embed spatially literacy early in the curriculum and make sure that students take these skills through to higher education and employers.

Net House Prices

House buying/selling is big business in the UK and as a result there is an increasing presence of related online services. This is even more so with the launch of electronic conveyancing services from the government and the publicly accessible Land Registry.I came across the Net House Prices website earlier this year and was staggered at what was on offer. Whereas places such as Right Move give you access to average prices within a postcode or street, Net House Prices actually transcribe all house sales from the Land Registry. What this means is that, since 2000, you can search by postcode (for free!) and see the date and price of any sale. And I have to (personally!) admit that this really brings out the “voyeur” in people; go on, see what your neighbours paid for their houses!!

SoTL 2006

I’ve just returned from two days at the London Scholarship of Teaching and Learning conference. Whilst I firmly believe in delivering module materials to enable students to learn better, and am interested in trialing new methodologies, I have never actually attended a teaching and learning conference before. So a new experience.

What was perhaps striking, and evident through an underlying tension, was that you get a mix of “educationalists” and “lecturers”. I fall firmly in the latter camp and know little about educational theory. Whilst I am interested in “developing” my teaching, I don’t have the time to devote to deeply research the educational underpinnings. The other tension was between those science and arts based subjects. Being science-based I am not familiar with the idea of “discourses” and find research and discussions based around them alien. This sounds like a negative comment on the whole event, but it isn’t meant to be. Rather, it is one of those unique areas that brings together a whole variety of researchers from different backgrounds, nationalities and subjects. Whilst I personally would wish for a more “hands-on” discussion of teaching methodologies I am happy to participate in the current structure.

Whilst I picked up many useful tips over the course of the two days (Note: Katerina Baitinger gave a very interesting presentation on using humour in the classroom), perhaps the strongest message I brought away was don’t do a Midgeley. That is, you may, with all good intentions, introduce something to the classroom that has unforseen adverse effects. The Midgeley Effect was introduced by Keith Trigwell (Oxford) whilst opening the conference (email him if you want to know more!), but was constantly referred to, in various guises, by other speakers. So beware!

AGI 2006

Just a quick reminder to those that are unware; the AGI Conference and Exhibition has moved from Chelsea Village to the Business Design Centre in Islington. As a result, the date has moved from October to 12-14th September. Entry to the exhibition is free and the new (stylish) location should providing a fitting backdrop to this expanding event. Kingston University continues its decade tradition of providing high quality training in the completely new Solutions Centre. Watch this space for more details!

British Library Map Section

I visited the British Library (nice URL!) in London last week, which is next door to the magnificent architecture of St Pancras (aka where Harry Potter departs for Hogwarts). I have to admit at being amazed at the architecture and impressed at the feeling of space that gives this building the feeling of a true civic amenity. It obviously has books (and maps), however it is intended to be far more than that. Conference arena, meeting space, leisure space, coffee shop, book shop, work space and more. In fact, I gather it is the busiest wifi hotspot in London; a credit to the truly peaceful and reflective nature of the location.

Anyway, I was on a visit to look at some old geological maps (circa. 1880). You have to apply for a readers pass first (and carry the requisite ID). This in itself was simplicity and efficiency. Enter your details on a public PC, note down the reference number and then wander the 20 yards in to the membership area to have your ID checked, photo taken and card printed. A process that took 10 minutes in total. Service as it should be!

Every member of staff I spoke to was jovial and helpful and, after depositing my belongings in the locker room, went to the map section. You have to pass through security first and then are in a map library. All maps that are in storage (the majority of them) have to be ordered. Yet again this is efficient; log in to a public access PC, search for the map you want, select it and order it. You get an estimate of the delivery time (normally about an hour) and go and collect it. The beauty of this system is that you can order the maps for any date you wish meaning that you can log in to the system from home, order your maps for the following day and come and collect them at a convenient time. Wonderful. So a big thumbs up to the insitution and the staff that work there.

Cost of OS Mastermap

According to QI, the cost of OS mapping for the UK in 2002 was nearly a round UKPounds 4,000,000. I guess the OS don’t get many queries for the whole country, so perhaps I should inquire?! Anyway, I assume this is Mastermap, licensed for a certain number of years.

My RSS Feeds!

Following on from my recent posts on RSS feeds I thought I would list the most useful ones that I monitor:

  • All Points Blog - very useful aggregation of GIS news in and around the industry, although somewhat US centric.
  • Ed Parsons - CTO of the Ordnance Survey; an interesting blend of industry and OS info.
  • Hill and Valley Coffee - a semi-regular blog on coffee from my favourite roasting comopany!
  • GIS Matters - semi-regular blog from Dave Maguire at ESRI.
  • GIS Cafe - GIS industry news.
  • Mapping Hacks - open data access blog from Jo Walsh, co-author of Mapping Hacks.
  • Nick Robinson - personal musings from the political editor at the BBC.
  • PC Pro - industry computing news.
  • PerryGeo - Matt Perry’s ” random adventures with geospatial data.” Nice little GIS snippets!
  • SlashGeo - interesting GIS industry aggregator: “In+ersec+ion for Spatial People”.
  • Tiny Apps - blog dedicated to hunting out small, functional, software.
  • WorldKit - follows the development of this low overhead Flash mapserver (now open source).
  • BillBlog - blog of Bill Thompson, BBC Technology columnist.