March 15, 2002
Over 900 students attending five University of Maine System campuses, who study in 20 different majors, but all work with technology known as GIScience, will soon have new upgraded equipment and further assurance they are all receiving a uniform, top-quality education on the state-of-the-art equipment used to map and analyze data.
A grant proposal written to the National Science Foundation by a group of U-Maine System professors, including University of Maine at Fort Kent professor of forestry and environmental studies David Hobbins, has resulted in $78,000 in new funding for all but two of the seven UMS campuses. The money will be used to enhance the teaching of geographical information science (GIScience), which includes the cluster of technologies and methods centering on Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Global Positioning Systems (GPS).
Specifically, grant funds will go toward the purchase of computer equipment and GPS units for laboratories at the Fort Kent, Machias, Augusta, Farmington and Southern Maine campuses. Money will also be used to support faculty development for the five key faculty working on the project and to hire a shared curriculum development assistant.
The overall goal of the project is to develop two new introductory GIScience courses incorporating key elements of a core curriculum already developed by the National Council for Geographic Information and Analysis with elements of materials already used at each of the universities.
The two three-credit courses, taught at each of the five campuses, will include a basic systems operations class designed to introduce students to the technology, and a second offering that will center on data acquisition, data management, and more advanced techniques using GPS, aerial photography, and databases.
At UMFK, students enrolled in the forestry sciences program will be the direct beneficiaries of the enhanced offerings.
"The curriculum of both courses will be tailored to the needs of the individual institutions, local student bodies, field areas, communities and circumstances, however, it will be consistent in form across the five campuses. This will facilitate transfer credits and teaching materials between schools, and will allow individual students to transfer more easily from one campus to another within the system, in pursuit of their individual interests," said Hobbins.
The project will be developed in four stages, beginning with set-up this spring. Initial planning meetings with representatives from each campus will be scheduled and equipment will be purchased and installed on the five campuses to bring all to a common standard.
Following set-up, the same team will meet for a week-long seminar this summer to design and test key elements of the curriculum and to plan the courses. That work will be forwarded to an advisory panel for comments and feedback prior to holding a preliminary one-day GIScience workshop for interested faculty on each of the five campuses to test the first draft of the materials and to gain early evaluation input from other faculty.
The courses will be introduced at each of the universities beginning next fall and will be repeated during the following academic year.
A final stage of the project will involve the evaluation of the curriculum in the Summer of 2004. A final version of the curriculum will be posted on a website.
Although grant money will fund the initiative for two years, all courses are planned as ongoing parts of programs at each campus, and will continue to be taught after the project is closed. To ensure faculty will be prepared to continue after funding runs out, over 30 workshops will be offered as part of the initial grant.
According to Hobbins, the need for strong GIScience programs at each of the participating campuses is greater than ever in an ever-demanding technological world.
"In earth, environmental, and applied social sciences GIScience literacy is fast becoming an expectation among graduate schools. In Maine, several mapping companies, a large utilities sector, a growing community of urban and environmental planners, and a large forestry industry all demand these skills in future employees," said Hobbins.
The forestry professor credits UMFK academic outreach coordinator Don Eno as being instrumental in the process of detailing funding needs for UMFK's portion of the project.
For more information on the new integrated GIScience curriculum, contact Hobbins at 834-7614.