American Sentinel at GIS in the Rockies: Competency-Based GIS Learning

Stephen McElroy, GIS Program Chair at American Sentinel University

As we mentioned last week, American Sentinel is delighted to take part as a sponsor of and participant in the annual GIS in the Rockies conference Oct. 9 and 10 at the Cable Center, 2000 Buchtel Blvd., Denver. Our GIS Program Chair Stephen McElroy is speaking twice in the geographic education track sessions. We previously mentioned his talk, Teaching Enterprise GIS: From Theory to Practice.

But Dr. McElroy has a second one that should be a challenge: a five-minute lightning talk, called Using Badges to Document Competency-Based Geospatial Learning, Oct. 9 at 2:35 to 2:40 p.m. in the Kahn Conference Room. During the brief time, he has to explain American Sentinel’s new GIS badge system, which provides a way to document competency-based learning about different geospatial topics.

If the concept of getting badges sounds familiar, it should be. It’s a basic tool in scouting to get children to open themselves to new experiences and master skills. The concept is brilliant and one being increasingly used in corporate education. Instead of asking people to master concepts and skills, companies use a concept called gamification that borrows from the gaming world, which has long adapted concepts like badges.

American Sentinel’s GIS program created a geospatial learning lab that brings together resources and educational materials in a way that helps create an active learning community. Students and faculty together use the destination as both a way to learn and to have fun. Students can explore particular topics in greater depth than might happen in a course not focused specifically on those topics.

The badge system is part of the online learning lab and serves as a way to help track the work students do and given them a measurable feeling of accomplishment. There are currently 10 GIS topic areas, or competencies, including image analysis fundamentals; spatial statistics; geoprocessing modeling and automation; and 3D visualization and analysis. Each topic area has a three-tiered system: basic, intermediate and advanced. There are usually six to eight activities or tasks that a student must complete to obtain a badge and each of the three badges in a topic area will require about six to eight hours, or roughly an hour per activity.

At the basic level, students review online help pages about the particular concept and there might be supplementary reading or videos. The intermediate level would typically require participating in a video course or webinar. At the advanced level, students must demonstrate that they can do tasks using the concepts.

Drop by to see Dr. McElroy try to explain all this in five minutes. Or, if you can’t make the session, stop by the American Sentinel exhibit, booth 104, from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 9 and from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 10. Also, we’re sponsoring a social event on the Exhibit Hall floor from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 9. We hope you can say hello!

Follow our coverage of this event here in our blog. For real-time updates, follow us on Twitter @AmerSentinel using the #GISITR.

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