Education Report 2008

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Education and Curriculum Committee

  • Contact name: Charlie Schweik

Overall, the OSGeo education and curriculum committee's goals are to: (1) build and maintain a social network of educators at all education levels; and (2) build and maintain a system for the storage or linkage to geospatial educational content. As we will note below, there are mixed feelings in the committee about the degree to whether a third goal should be a focus on the sharing or development of geospatial curriculum recommendations.

Key Accomplishments

  • Continued expansion of our educational inventory

Our key accomplishment for 2008 was the continued growth in our inventory of educational material on the OSGeo wiki ( Our inventory grew to 47 submissions in multiple languages with submissions from all over the world. This year we hit the nice problem of having a wiki inventory page that reached the wiki length limit.

  • Creation of an online searchable database for educational content

This “problem” led to our second key accomplishment (thanks largely to Tyler Mitchell), who developed a new educational inventory system that is a web-database application. We now have an online mechanism that allows the user to search for educational material based on software type, language, or topic keywords (see This system also has an easy to use input form to the database which allows new entries to be added, or the ability for a user to edit an already existing record (see

  • Live-DVDs

In addition to the above, several of our committee members worked to help produce “live-DVDs” for use in various situations, and also for distribution in the FOSS4Geo conference in South Africa. More information on these efforts can be found at and
There are also several members who are actively working on a “Free GIS” textbook (currently written in Spanish), with much of the authoring being done by group member Victor Olaya Ferrero, Universidad de Extremadura, in Spain.

  • Subversion system for new derivative work

We also established a subversion system on the OSGeo server in an effort to develop a library of the “source” of these tutorials, so that we could establish a “new derivative work” system. Specifically around the idea of software-related tutorials, the situation could easily arise where some new user or educator wants to take an existing OSGeo inventoried tutorial and modify it in some way. Translations of a tutorial into another language is one example. Updating a tutorial for a more recent version of the software it describes is another. For this reason, we established a subversion-based repository to maintain the source of some of our educational material. As we will describe in the “Areas for Improvement” section below, this system has not been used by our members.

  • Continued growth in our OSGeo edu listserv subscribers, from 111 in October to 139 currently.

Areas for Improvement

  • Keeping momentum going in the group

The most significant challenge is keeping the committee active and moving forward. My sense (Schweik, the edu chair speaking) is that we have a very engaged group, with a core group who care about what we are collectively trying to do and are committed to helping it move forward. The challenge we have is how to get more people to contribute to the groups' collective efforts. I have been reflecting on this, and think two issues are particularly important.

First, our group is made up entirely of volunteer contributions. Consequently, two concepts are key to keep the group moving forward. The first is the concept of user-driven innovation, raised by Eric von Hippel (2005, Democratizing Innovation) in his discussions of open source software collaboration. This concept is meant to capture the motivations of people to voluntarily contribute to an open source collaborative effort when the effort is on something they personally need and want for their own work or other personal situation. A great incentive to contribute to something is personal need. The more we as a group can connect people with similar needs and interests and match that to group goals the more progress we will make as a group. For example, if we can somehow “match up” two, three or four people world wide who have a need for a set of educational material in some open source geospatial domain, and help them to collectively act, the more likely it will be that we will see continued contributions.

The second important concept is what Yokai Benkler (2005, The Wealth of Networks) refers to as “task granularity.” In short, finer-scaled (easier to do) tasks will be more likely done by volunteers than coarse-scale (more difficult, time consuming) tasks. This concept explains why Wikipedia has made more advances than Wikibooks, or why microblogging applications like Twitter seem to be gaining traction. To the extent we can identify fine grained tasks to move our group forward, the more progress we will make. From this standpoint, contributions of educational modules is more likely than contributions of full courses, for example.

This insight into the value of fine scaled tasks leads me to realize that it is more likely we will continue to get contributions for educational material if we make the posting of this material very easy. The web-based input form that Tyler Mitchell developed to our searchable database makes it quite easy for a contributor to post information about material they have developed and link to it (assuming their content is on the Web somewhere). The idea that some in our community will make the added effort to learn how to submit their source material into the Subversion system is perhaps, in retrospect, wishful thinking. This is a coarser-scaled task, requiring many associated with our group to learn how to use Subversion, and then to take the effort to place their content on this system. Subversion may be easy for programmers, but it is not something non-programmers commonly use. My sense right now is that asking educational material contributors to post their “source” in Subversion may be too coarse a task to ask of these volunteers. My conclusion from this is that if we want to move to a system where we enable new derivative works to occur, it will probably require a decentralized system where one person contacts the author of some work we have inventoried, and they work it out between them how the source code is shared. But we should all encourage people undertaking new derivatives to share them with the OSGeo community via our inventory Web system once they are developed.

  • Forge connections to the OSGeo Local groups

One way we might be able to harness the incentive of user-driven innovation is through the closer linkage between our education effort and local OSGeo groups. It seems natural that these local OSGeo groups will devote some of their efforts toward educating people in their geographic areas about open source geospatial technologies. For example, in the regular (bi-annual ?) physical, face-to-face meetings of local chapters, I could see opportunities for presentations or tutorials on some recent advance in open source geospatial technologies. It should become almost second nature to share any educational content developed for such meetings with the rest of the OSGeo educational community. Somehow we as a group need to figure out a way to push for this to happen.

  • Improve communication of individual edu members on what they are planning to do over the next year

A second way to harness the user-centered innovation incentive is by creating a better system for communicating what we (individuals associated with the OSGeo education group) are working on or planning to work on over the next year. What I have learned from my empirical work studying open source software projects, is that software projects that continue to be successful in terms on ongoing collaboration involve small teams (an average or 2-3 people). The key is to connect the few people on the planet who have the same educational content needs and who can see benefits in collaborating and sharing each others end-products.

  • Better communication between the OSGeo edu committee and OSGeo software groups

Finally, I continue to wonder why we don't have a better connection with the software groups affiliated with OSGeo. In my view, the software groups should be very interested in working with us, since through education their tools will be promoted. At the very least, any educational material that they develop on their products should be inventoried in our system. Moreover, they may have a need to find people to help develop educational material on their product, and therefore having a periodic “conversation” with the members of our group on their educational needs couldn't hurt. We need to strive to develop a more direct dialog with these groups.

  • Unclear as to whether we as a group should be trying to develop GIS-related curriculum recommendations

At the October 2008 meeting at FOSS4Geo in Cape Town, there was some interest in the second education BOF meeting to develop guidelines for open source geospatial curricula. However, there was some mixed reactions as to whether this is something we should pursue. There are already some well established organizations doing this kind of thing, and in hallway conversations later I heard some with strong feelings that this is not an initiative this group should pursue. This remains an open question that perhaps this group should revisit.

In short, over recent months the activity and dialog within our group has diminished. That in part is because I have been distracted in my own work and perhaps haven't encouraged and engaged the group enough. But we continue to inventory material, and there is a core group who has continued to meet at the last two FOSS4Geo conferences and have developed some fairly strong “social capital.” I am personally very appreciative of the people in this group who have, through the posting of their material or their active participation in the listserv discussions helped to “lead by doing.” Over the next six months, I will be working to pursue the ideas listed above. I hope others in the group will step up and help to take a leadership role in moving some of the above ideas forward, or by taking on something they think is important that we should be doing that I haven't listed here.

Opportunities to Help

  • Contribute relevant educational material into our educational repository
  • We need people to help us develop a "new derivative" work system. We need examples of material taken by others, modified, and given back to the community. This could be in the form of translations of material, updates of old material for new software releases, etc.
  • Contributions to the FreeGIS book effort
  • Help this group develop better communication with OSGeo local groups, software groups, and data group
  • We need people to step up and take on the tasks above, that is, take on some group leadership for our subtasks
  • Please join us!

Outlook for 2009

Given the above, we should stay focused on the effort of building educational material for all kinds of users (K-12, higher education, or other educational situations) and work toward building a system where new derivatives can be made from old, perhaps out of date, material. Our goal should be that the OSGeo educational repository becomes the first place people look to for open source geospatial educational materials.

With that goal in mind, for the rest of 2009, our group will:

  • Continue our work migrating content from our old wiki-based educational inventory page to the new database-driven and searchable system with the goal of eventually decommissioning old wiki page.
  • Work to grow the number of members associated with the education group;
  • Continue inventorying new educational content stored or linked via our established repository. I hope this leads to identification of some key material to be included on the next Live DVD, and that we continue to build a system where translations of material are completed.
  • Strive to achieve some “success stories” where new derivatives of some educational content are created from some of our already inventoried older content;
  • Strive to help Victor Olaya Ferrero in his effort to develop the Free GIS textbook;
  • Work to develop an inventory of data for various parts of the world that sits, side by side, with our educational inventory (in conjunction with the OSGeo data committee); and,
  • Develop and maintain stronger connections between educational committee and other OSGeo groups, such as the OSGeo local chapters, the data group, the live DVD group, and specific software projects.