GeoAcademy

Teaching QGIS is a Labor of Love

I love teaching QGIS and FOSS4G and I've been doing it a long time. I developed and taught my first semester long Intro to Open Source GIS course in 2009 featuring QGIS v1.0 Kore. In 2014 I co-authored the GeoAcademy curriculum and that led to opportunities to publish several QGIS books. In the last few years I've developed a FOSS public health curriculum with the National Library of Medicine (Community Health Maps). 

I've taught for a lot of schools both face-to-face and online. Plus I've taught countless of workshops all over the U.S. In fact because of the books and the GeoAcademy I have so much material I can assemble a workshop pretty quickly. Teaching...I think I'm pretty good at it. I truly love turning students onto QGIS, especially after they've been indoctrinated into the world of geospatial via Esri. Seeing those light bulbs go off is awesome. Lately my favorite demo is showing students a street reprojecting race between ogr2ogr and ArcMap. It blows minds. Spoiler alert: ogr2ogr wins.

For better or worse I always need to temper my teaching schedule. First of all, it is a lot of work to maintain and update material, and that part is always volunteer. More importantly though, my bills are paid with consulting. Teaching takes time and I need to have enough time to do my consulting work. Plus I like 'doing' more than teaching. There are various ways to teach: there are face-to-face courses at the local colleges and universities, there are online courses on various platforms, there's authoring books, and there are professional training workshops. I've done a little of each.

The local colleges and universities just don't pay part-time instructors well enough. While I wish it were different, I've known this is the reality for a long time and accept it. But I do occasionally teach courses. When I go into teach at a school I just focus on the material and the students. It feels like an act of service. Giving back to the community. I'm cool with this aspect of it. I never wanted to be a full time academic.

Now there are platforms like Udemy where you design a course and make $10 per student. If one went viral you might get a small income, but I'm not sold on that model. Authoring books is good for street cred, but they are a lot of work and have a really short shelf life.

Recently I've been interested in helping agencies and organizations migrate to a FOSS/hybrid workflows. I'm well positioned knowing Esri and FOSS equally well. It's here that I've noticed something interesting. My local State and Federal agencies seem willing to fork out whatever Esri demands for training. However, when it comes to learning QGIS people seem to just want it for free, or close to it. Recently at a local GIS meeting I had a casual conversation with someone wanting to learn QGIS. He then actually said, "You'll come teach us at our office for free right?" 

Part of my work with the Community Health Maps project is teaching a Fulcrum/QGIS/Carto workflow to public health workers. These workshops are all free as they are subsidized by the National Library of Medicine. I've taught dozens all around the nation. People get really excited and afterwards they often talk about getting more training. However, when it comes to signing an actual contract they balk, and believe me I'm a good deal. I'm not trying to get rich. Meanwhile I continually hear about local agencies signing up for Esri workshops costing them hundreds or thousands per student. 

This trend exists for both face-to-face or online training. The GeoAcademy courses have always existed for free online. When we attempted to teach instructor led GeoAcademy courses online we couldn't get anyone to enroll unless courses were offered for $25 or less. The school wasn't even breaking even at that rate. So needless to say the offering didn't last long. I guess when a Udemy course goes for $10 it's a hard sell. But these were instructor led courses where a teacher was available to answer questions, provide feedback and grade labs. 

There seems to be some dynamic, at least in the States, where people know the software is free of charge so they shouldn't have to pay to learn it. I think the open source business model still confuses mainstream GIS users. It also tells me that people see little value in being able to teach it. I know teaching has never been a lucrative profession. However, the fact that people seem willing to pay Esri so much for training makes me wonder what's going on. For now l see it as a labor of love.

Announcement: Learn the new QGIS 2.8.1!

The GeoAcademy is pleased to announce the launch of their new Introduction to Geospatial Technology Curriculum. The curriculum will be based on the latest version of QGIS, version 2.8.1 Wien which is a long term release (LTR).

The curriculum is a complete package of five GIS courses leading to a Certificate of Proficiency in QGIS from the Del Mar College continuing education program. The five courses will be offered in a limited-enrollment online class format (25 students maximum), taught by leading GIS professional educators (GISP & PhD) who created the course material. I am one of the instructors.

The first course, GST 101—Introduction to Geospatial Technology Using QGIS 2.8.1 will begin April 3, 2015 to be followed each month by a new course through August 2015. Tuition is $25 USD per course, or a total of $125 for all five in the Certificate of Proficiency. The courses include:

  1. GST 101—Introduction to Geospatial Technology Using QGIS 2.8.1 (April 2015)
  2. GST 102—Spatial Analysis Using QGIS 2.8.1 (May 2015)
  3. GST 103—Data Acquisition & Management Using QGIS 2.8.1 (June 2015)
  4. GST 104—Cartography Using QGIS 2.8.1 (July 2015)
  5. GST 105—Remote Sensing Using QGIS 2.8.1 and GRASS 7.0 (August 2015)

Anyone interested in learning more about the offer or enrolling should contact the GeoAcademy director: Phillip Davis at (361) 698-1476 or email:pdavis@delmar.edu

FOSS4G Academy Launched

For the first time there is a complete GIS curriculum based on free and open source (FOSS4G) software! Better yet the material are freely available to everyone. The curriculum consists of five courses:

  • GST 101 – Introduction to Geospatial Technology
  • GST 102 – Spatial Analysis
  • GST 103 – Data Acquisition and Management
  • GST 104 – Cartography
  • GST 105 – Remote Sensing

Examples of FOSS4G Academy QGIS Labs

The courses were developed via the National Information Security and Geospatial Technologies Consortium (NISGTC), under the leadership ofPhil Davis (Del Mar College). Kurt Menke(Bird’s Eye View), andDr. Richard Smith(Texas A & M – Corpus Christi), authored the material which includes: theory, lecture, labs, data and task oriented video tutorials for each lab exercise.

The courses are aligned with the Department of LaborsGeospatial Technology Competency Model(GTCM). The GTCM  was published in 2010 and will be revised in 2015. It describes the complete set of knowledge, skills, and abilities required by GIS professionals. It is designed around a hierarchical tiered model of knowledge and promotes use of open source technology.

Geospatial Technology Competency Model

QGIS is the featured software for all courses. When appropriate other FOSS software’s are also included such as GRASS and InkScape.

The vast majority of US based colleges and universities use a single vendor’s proprietary GIS software, making this series of courses very unique. In fact it is the first national attempt at a completely open source GIS curriculum. By their very nature of open source software, there is no marketing engine promoting them. This has slowed the adoption and overall use of open source GIS. One hope is that this material will entice people to learn about FOSS4G. Bird's Eye View will be offering instructor led online versions of these courses in the near future.

The targeted audience is broad and includes:

  • Secondary school educators and students
  • Two and four year college educators and students
  • Students in need of GIS skills
  • Workers seeking to broaden technology skills
  • Anyone desiring QGIS and open source knowledge and skills

FOSS4G Academy

The courses are available online at theFOSS4G Academy. Over 2,500 students have already enrolled for these courses demonstrating how in demand these materials are. Visit the FOSS4G Academy now and explore the material!