Thoughts on the start of the Spring Semester

Today marks the beginning of the Spring Semester. For many students, this will be their last semester at Rowan University. For me, I’ll be teaching GIS II, which is mostly upperclassmen, and Intro to Mapping and GIS, which is more mixed, but often filled with freshmen. I know most of my GIS II students by now; all of the Intro to Mapping students are brand new faces. One big change this semester is that I’m in the Pilot Group for the University’s move to the newest version of Blackboard. I’ve been rewriting my materials so that more of the course is available through the web. In doing so, I’m putting more of my materials out there on the web for anyone to use, provided they comply with the Creative Commons license. While most of my presentations have been available online for anyone to view, the class materials have been a somewhat different story; if I’ve put them online, it was only on my university web page and not a service like SlideShare. I feel more reserved about posting classroom materials online for two main reasons.

First, more eyes means greater scrutiny. While I don’t mind an outsider finding typos or minor issues and I hope that those bugs get reported back to me so that they can be fixed, I still worry about the silent criticism.

If I’m presented with a new idea or different way of viewing a topic that I’m teaching, I try to incorporate it into the course. I’m very open in that sense. Students get the most out of, and the best discussions are had when presenting an entire topic and the opinions people have about it and letting them decide what’s best. While my courses are often more technical, theory and opinion still come into play. When the topic is not black-and-white (and often it’s not) it’s best to be an objective presenter than a subjective preacher.

That said, my materials may still not be broad enough to cover every aspect of a technology that is rapidly changing and my personal bias may still be in the materials. The silent criticism comes into play when many eyes view a work, but don’t share that opinion back with the content creator. While the Internet seems to be chock-full-o’-opinions, often they are on the level of YouTube comments – short criticism. Identification of typos, disagreement with a minor point and sometimes just statements of displeasure are often what is directly applied to the subject; for example, a comment left on the SlideShare page of one of my presentations. The more intelligent and valuable, longer form comments are usually made on someone else’s blog – or not shared online at all. When I release all of my materials to the Web, the materials I present in my classroom no longer limited to an audience of 24. Millions could see what I present and some of those people will be GIS users far more knowledgeable in certain topics than I will ever be. My hope is that by opening it up, more people have access to my materials (which I feel are good) and can learn from them and those that find any fault with them can help me in correcting them. What I fear is a collective negative opinion forming around my work that I am completely unaware exists.

The second issue I have comes back to the licensing. I began teaching at Rowan in 2008 and my first course was GIS II. I jumped right in to a difficult course, one that has been the capstone to GIS education at Rowan. It was also only offered every third semester before I began teaching the class. Thankfully, I was given materials for the course, but they were out of date and needed a serious overhaul. Many weekends I was a fixture at PJ’s Coffee House in Highland Park working on the course to improve it. I kept some of the diagrams and illustrations. Some were produced in house, others were likely cut-and-pasted from various places on the Internet. Others were from the slide series that comes with the book. I’d like my released materials to be “clean” in that all of the illustrations or text that was not produced in house is either cited or otherwise cleared for use. Fair use gives me some flexibility, but I know I would be somewhat upset if my material was used without attribution. I don’t mind when my CC-licensed material is used to promote an idea I oppose, provided the attribution is in place. Before releasing the slides online, I am going back through them to find anything that needs replacing, but I still worry that I might miss something that will be singled out later.

Despite my two worries, I intend to share more of my work online, giving free access to GIS education materials to whomever is interested. And if you haven’t surmised by now, any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

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3 Responses to Thoughts on the start of the Spring Semester

  1. LConlow says:

    Prof. Reiser,
    I was so excited to find out that you were going to be posting the slides from your GIS II course and I’d like to encourage you to continue to post more material. Because ArcGIS is constantly evolving, it’s difficult for users to stay up to date with the latest information and trends. As I have experienced, it’s very hard for working professionals to (1) find extra time to continue their education in GIS in addition to their full-time job and (2) find the extra money to pay for a GIS course. Even if you have the time to take a GIS course at a local university, I’ve noticed fewer and fewer companies are less willing to pay for their employees to get the supplementary training they need in order save the company some money. Therefore GIS users today would really benefit from any type of free online education. I think in this case, the benefits of you posting your PowerPoint slides from your GIS II course certainly outweigh the negative.

  2. meta man says:

    Gee, John, this is kind of meta of you…all self analytical and stuff. I almost don’t recognize you anymore.

  3. Elise says:

    I totally understand what you mean. It’s a little disarming to release your personal work to as broad an audience as the Internet, but hopefully both your readers and yourself will be able to benefit :)