Download the pdf - Open source GIS education resource

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Open source
GIS education resource
by Tim Sutton, Linfiniti Consulting, and Nwabisa Kakaza, Office of the Premier, Eastern Cape

A "Gentle Introduction to GIS" – GIS in education in the Eastern Cape.

     n the Eastern Cape Province there           familiar with. The more adventurous          the resources they need to become
     are still many schools that are             may dabble in products from other            role players within our economic and
     lacking computing infrastructure and        vendors or in FOSS offerings, but the        intellectual community. We followed the
teacher competencies in IT. In addition,         software they learned in their formative     open source approach in the creation
access to the internet is extremely              years will normally constitute their "fall   of this resource, making it truly open
uncommon and most teachers lack                  back position".                              and accessible to all and with enough
access to even basic communications                                                           breadth and depth that it could be used
technology such as email. The province           Having a proprietary vendor's expensive
                                                                                              in a self-help way, avoiding the need
is very rural and many schools do not            software offering as the fall back
                                                                                              for poor schools to send their teachers
even have electricity, let alone computer        position for knowledge workers in our        on expensive training courses from
equipment. Those schools that do have            economy is problematic. It creates an        proprietary vendors.
computer equipment are often using               economic and intellectual dependency
out of date hardware and software on             on a vendor based outside of our             The products
these devices. Because of these issues,          borders (since most proprietary GIS
                                                                                              The aim of the project was to produce:
creating a successful programme for the          vendors are based abroad). While
                                                                                              l	 A series of worksheets constituting
tuition of GIS in schools is no easy task.       some may argue that an aversion to
                                                                                                 an educational resource for
                                                 using products from foreign vendors
In 2008, Sindile Bidla (then of the                                                              teachers that introduces in a gentle
                                                 constitutes "navel gazing", we argue            manner the fundamental concepts of
Department of Land Affairs, Eastern              that promoting FOSS fosters our local           GIS.
Cape) put out a call for interested              economic and intellectual development.
parties to submit proposals for the                                                           l	 "Screencasts" - videos showing a
                                                 FOSS software makes all of its users
creation of an educational GIS resource                                                          walk through (via computer screen
                                                 "first class citizens" in the intellectual      recordings) of the various concepts
based on open source software. The               playing field – since any user may              outlined in the worksheets to
contract was awarded to Linfiniti                delve into the inner workings of the            assist with recapping and practical
Consulting and the project is funded and         software and modify it to their own             application of knowledge gained
supported by the Office of the Premier,          needs. In addition, the open nature of          from the worksheets.
Eastern Cape.                                    FOSS creates an opportunity for local        l	 A branded, customised version of
In this article we describe the results of       entrepeneurs to provide GIS solutions           QGIS to accompany the resource.
this work and the rationale behind the           to businesses and government that are        l	 A dataset to accompany the
process.                                         competitively priced – since they only          tutorials.
                                                 need to charge for consulting services       l	 A website [1] where the resources
Why open source?                                 and not for the basic software itself.          mentioned above will be made freely
                                                 Since there is no net economic export           available to the general public.
The DLA's call for proposals was a far
                                                 in the result of such service delivery,
sighted move to create an educational                                                         In keeping with the spirit of open
                                                 the commerce generated from such
resource based on free and open source                                                        source and open content, the products
                                                 transactions circulates within our local
software (FOSS). A common meme                                                                of this project were released under the
                                                 economy. As an added bonus, building
amongst proprietary software vendors is                                                       Gnu Public License for Documentation
                                                 local FOSS-based GIS expertise provides
the so called "crack cocaine" marketing                                                       (GPLD) for the worksheets, and the
                                                 us with the ability to market these
approach. In this approach, vendors                                                           Creative Commons Share Alike licence
                                                 skills beyond our borders, creating an       (CC-BY-SA) for the screencasts.
donate (or make available at very low
                                                 opportunity to build a net economic
cost) their software to educational                                                           These licences basically mean that
                                                 import based around South African GIS
institutions. This is the so called "first hit                                                the content can be freely shared and
is free" step. Although superficially the                                                     modified but the attribution to the
act seems benevolent, they are creating          Against this background it was desirous      original authors should be retained and
an intellectual dependency on their              to build a resource for building GIS         any new products derived from this
software. When learners eventually               skills in Eastern Cape learners that         work should be released under the same
leave schools and tertiary institutions,         empowered them not only with GIS             licence as the original body of work. The
they will try to convince their employers        skills but also enabled them to move         terms promote a collaborative basis for
to use the software that they are most           out of the education system with all         future expansion of the resource.

PositionIT – March 2010                                                                                                                   47
          GIS             technical


     For consistency, the worksheets all
     follow a similar format (see Fig. 1).
     An initial header section provides the
     title for the topic and gives a one
     sentence overview of what will be
     covered. Important keywords relevant
     to the topic are also listed here.
     Following the header section, the topic
     is introduced and then described in
     detailed but approachable language
     using illustrations to clarify concepts.
     Each topic ends with a topic summary
     which reinforces the concepts learned
     through the worksheet. After the
     summary, we make some suggestions
     to teachers on the kinds of learning
     activities that can be carried out with
     learners in order to apply this new
     knowledge in a practical way. The
     worksheets end with links to printed
     and online resources that educators
     can visit to obtain more information on
     the topic. Although we have provided
     QGIS with the educational resource,
     we have tried to keep the worksheets                       Fig. 1: The worksheets all follow a similar format.
     "application agnostic" as far as possible
     and rather focus on describing concepts.
     In contrast, the video screencasts are
     by their nature application specific
     and eschew the "concept only" based
     approach for a mixture of informative
     dialogue about the topic and a
     step-by-step procedural walk through of
     the activity being covered.

     While we have tried to keep the
     terminology simple and the amount of
     jargon limited, this is balanced by the
     need to build the learner's knowledge.
     Each worksheet builds on the
     foundations of the previous worksheets
     to extend the learner's knowledge. The
     ten worksheets cover the following
     topics:                                              Fig. 2: Each video is narrated, with a video insert showing the narrator's
                                                          face in a corner of the screen as the video plays.
     l	 Topic 1 introduces what a GIS is and
        provides an overview of the basic
        capabilities that a GIS application will
        usually offer.                                it may be used to ensure data               As you can imagine there are an endless
     l	 Topic 2 introduces vector data and            consistency.                                number of additional topics that could
        how it can be used to represent            l	 Topic 7 covers coordinate reference         be added – in planning the project
        real-world features.                          systems in detail and describes why         we chose these ten topics since they
     l	 Topic 3 examines vector attribute             it is important to use an appropriate
                                                                                                  provide a good overview of the subject
        data in detail and how they open              coordinate reference system for the
                                                                                                  area (GIS) while having the potential
        a wide range of visualisation                 task at hand.
                                                                                                  to be used to good effect in practical
        possibilities when combined with           l	 Topic 8 covers map production and
                                                                                                  class projects and activities. The open
        spatial information.                          describes the key elements that
                                                      make up a useful and informative            nature of this content means that over
     l	 Topic 4 describes how vector data
                                                      map.                                        time users of the resource can contribute
        are captured and the process of
                                                                                                  additional topics, in so doing growing the
        digitising is explained.                   l	 Topic 9 introduces the idea of spatial
                                                      analysis in vector data by discussing       amount of content.
     l	 Topic 5 introduces raster data and
        the key reasons as to why one may             buffer analysis.
        wish to use raster data rather than        l	 Topic 10 introduces raster spatial
        vector data in some situations.               analysis by describing interpolation        A series of screencasts were produced to
     l	 Topic 6 introduces the concept of             of vector data to produce a raster          accompany the worksheets (see
        topology in vector data and how               surface.                                    Fig. 2). As we mentioned above, while

48                                                                                                                    PositionIT – March 2010
          GIS             technical

                                                  or higher education they are equipped        role here as they lend their expertise and
                                                  with the best possible foundation on         assist in the training sessions.
                                                  which to build our local skills base and
                                                  economy. There were other benefits to        Conclusion
                                                  using QGIS for this project – we were        In many contexts Africa, and to a lesser
                                                  able to re-brand the software as the         extent South Africa, are seen as global
                                                  "Eastern Cape Edition", creating a sense     followers rather than global leaders
                                                  of identity in the project that pervades     when it comes to technology. Embracing
                                                  into the software itself. Also, we created   open source and the philosophy of open
                                                  a customised installer that included         content gives us a chance to shine and
                                                  all of the sample data used in the           show the world what we are capable of.
                                                  screencast exercises. QGIS also has a        This project has been a good example of
                                                  comprehensive user manual which is also      that. Since we have made the resource
                                                  under an open license and which was          publicly available [1], the Eastern Cape
                                                  bundled with this educational resource,      has gained worldwide exposure for this
                                                  providing a migration path for learners      work. At the time of writing, one of
                                                  who are curious to go beyond the skills      the screencasts has been downloaded
                                                  they acquire in the ten worksheets.          over 30 000 times, and we have been
                                                                                               contacted by, or made aware of various
                                                  The software shipped on the CDs is for
     Fig. 3: Training workshop for Geography                                                   organisations around the world who
                                                  Windows only – a reflection of the "on
     subject advisors in the Eastern Cape.                                                     are now making use of this resource –
                                                  the ground" situation where Windows
                                                                                               including a university in London.
                                                  XP is pervasively used. For non-windows
     the worksheets focus on conveying            classrooms (QGIS runs on Linux and Mac       The "Gentle Introduction to GIS" pack
     concepts, the screencasts are generally      OS X operating systems too) teachers         has also been included in the excellent
     more focused on the practical application    can still use the educational resource but   FUNDISA disk, which has been created
     of these concepts. One self-imposed          will need to obtain a copy of the sample     by the CSIR Satellite Applications Centre,
     limitation of the project was that we        data from the project website [1].           a free resource containing a wide range
     wanted all the resources to fit onto a                                                    of earth observation and vector data.
     single CD. We chose CD as the principle      Training                                     The FUNDISA disk is being distributed to
     delivery medium because many rural                                                        tertiary institutions around the country
     schools have old computer equipment          When planning the project, it was
                                                  envisaged that the resource would            in an effort to promote and facilitate
     (e.g. lacking DVD players) and we                                                         skills development in GIS and earth
     wanted to ensure that we made the            be aimed primarily at teachers who
                                                  would then formulate lesson plans from       observation sciences.
     resource available on the lowest common
     denominator that would work on as            the materials and devolve their GIS          Beyond the benefits of raising
     many school computers as possible. This      knowledge down to learners. However          awareness around the world, the "Gentle
     obviously limited the size (file size and    we are also pragmatic and realise that       Introduction to GIS" resource offers
     video resolution) of the screencasts we      many teachers, through time pressures,       learners in the Eastern Cape something
     could produce. As such, we tried to limit    may simply pass the resource directly        they never had before – a free GIS
     each screencast to around 10 min. Using      on to their learners. Before teachers        platform on which they can learn and,
     a 10 min cap on the length of the videos     are able to train learners in GIS, they      if they have the interest, delve into and
     also means that we reduce the risk of        themselves need to be trained. As part       acquire in-depth skills. We very much
     the video content running beyond the         of the project strategy, training sessions   hope that other provinces in South
     attention span of viewers. Each video is     will be held for teachers throughout the     Africa will take a look at what we have
     narrated, with a video insert showing the    Eastern Cape so that they are familiar       produced and that in the future we find
     narrator's face in a corner of the screen    with the core concepts of GIS before         out about people using this resource in
     as the video plays. The main content         attempting to pass the knowledge on          new and interesting ways, even beyond
     area of the video consists of the QGIS       to their learners. We emphasised the         the education system. More than that,
     application. As the narrator describes the   strategy of teaching concepts in the         we hope that the step that the Office
     procedures to follow, the video zooms in     worksheets (as opposed to rote-learning)     of the Premier, Eastern Cape has taken
     and out of the application to show, for      because we want teachers to be able          to develop this resource will act as an
     example, a close up of an icon before it     to apply GIS generally as a teaching         example and encourage other provinces
     is clicked.                                  tool, as well as simply fulfilling the       and organisations to follow their lead
                                                  requirements of the curriculum to teach      and build educational resources for a
     Bundled software                             GIS.                                         wide range of subjects in an open and
                                                                                               collaborative way – and based on free
     Quantum GIS (QGIS) [2] was used as           The first training workshop was held in
                                                                                               and open source software!
     the basis for the educational resource.      East London in September (2009) and
     The fact that QGIS is open source, freely    was presented to Geography subject           References
     redistributable and user friendly made it    advisors in the Eastern Cape (see
                                                                                               [1] Website for the "Gentle Introduction to
     a good choice for this project where we      Fig. 3). Making curriculum advisors
     are seeking to disseminate the resource      aware of the resource is an important
                                                                                               [2] Quantum GIS website:
     as widely as possible. As mentioned          step as they are in direct contact with
     in our introduction above, there were        the teachers. Further training sessions
     ethical considerations that also motivated   are planned in order to get teachers         Contact Tim Sutton, Linfinity Consulting,
     the choice of QGIS – we want kids            acquainted with the resource. The GIS        Tel 071 407-6101,
     to learn GIS on free software so that        department at the Office of the Premier,     and Nwabisa Kakaza, Tel 079 891-1052,
     when they go out into the workplace          Eastern Cape is playing an important 

50                                                                                                                PositionIT – March 2010

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