Science & Technology

UWF to build upon success of first massively open online course

The University of West Florida saw enormous public response to its first massively open online course, as more than 3,400 students enrolled in the free, six-week “Introduction to Geographic Information Systems” web-based course in May 2015.

“The fantastic reception by the public from around the world certainly exceeded our expectations,” said Dr. Matthew Schwartz, chair of the UWF Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, which houses the Online GIS program staff who developed the course.

The MOOC was a six-week, student-directed experience designed to introduce novice users to the capabilities and content of geospatial science. This subject area is one of strategic importance for economic development and research in a number of academic disciplines, ranging from criminal justice and urban planning to STEM fields.

Online GIS program director Amber Bloechle led the project, working with her staff to review and develop content that would be actively engaging for an online audience.

“The MOOC in GIS provides a free, but high-impact avenue for students to engage in real-world GIS applications and to gain a better idea of the field before entering an academic program,” Bloechle said.

The course was an innovative addition to traditional on-campus and fully online certificates in GIS currently offered to both undergraduate and graduate students at UWF. GIS is a central component of the BS and MS degrees in Environmental Science.

The impact of the UWF MOOC was far reaching. A research team from the University of Hawaii-Manoa used content from the online offering to create their own course, “The Use of GIS and Remote Sensing in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management,” which was taught to professors and professionals from University Zambeze in Mozambique. The MOOC was also recognized during the plenary address of the July 2015 ESRI Education GIS Conference, an international gathering of GIS professionals, educators and users held annually in San Diego, California.

In November 2015, Online GIS program coordinator Salina Randall will present excerpts from the UWF MOOC at the Seven Hills Regional User Group for GIS Conference in Tallahassee, Florida.

UWF plans to offer the free, online course again in 2016 from May through June. For more information, please contact the Online GIS program staff at 850.857.6121.