I’ve been providing workshops/trainings to groups and individuals to get them started with using FOSS-Geo tools for work, research and other things. Workshops spans for a 1-day-basics to a full 5-day-geo-bootcamp. I find it personally rewarding because I can share my own skills and at the same time, this is my personal means to spreading the FOSS-Geo love.
Every session is unique (different audience, different use cases) and I can’t emphasise more than enough that the key to a successful session is PREPARATION. At the end of every training, I keep notes on what worked and what didn’t . Here’s my short list of geo-edu guide/notes that worked so far (warning: it may not work for you).
1. Avoid the computer lab /bring your own machine – Avoid the computer lab setup where everything (software, data, learning materials) are pre-installed.
In the past, I have seen many technology workshops fail, due to this computer lab setup. Participants were very excited to try to test what they learned back home/work after a training session only to find out later that they cannot use the software because either they don’t have the license, or find it difficult to install in their own machines. Fortunately, with FOSS-Geo, I don’t have this license problem. Whenever possible, I encourage our participants to bring their own machine. We devote a considerable effort to the installation process. It is fairly straight-forward anyway but always prepare for some obscure install issues and guide the machine owner in fixing them. With this approach, I can guarantee that every participant have a working machine they can bring home and explore the application further.
2. I don’t bring my own machine – A bit contradictory to the item above but let me explain. My personal machine is highly customised to suit my own preference both in the user interface and the list of applications I use. This may not be the case for the participants and their own machines.
When a participant is having trouble with a specific task, my usual impulse would be to use my own machine to solve the task. This usually involves firing the terminal and pounding some obscure syntax. This approach may overwhelm newbies. So in order to resist the urge, I don’t bring my own machine and we try to solve the task within the participant’s existing machine configuration.
3. Use local datasets – when I mean local, try hyper-local. When using sample data, participants appreciate the concepts more if they use datasets closer to home or related to their own fields.
4. Training session are bug hunting sessions – I always look forward to any training session as an opportunity to hunt down software bugs. I keep reminding the participants that in the FOSS community, bug reports are a key part in improving any application.
During the course of the training session I have a pen and paper at hand to jot down possible bugs and participant’s impressions on the user interface. Back home, I immediately report these bugs to the specific FOSS community list. In most cases, new version of the application that includes fixed of the reported bugs is available by the time I conduct my next training. 😉
5. Map design matters – In most technical training, we are too focused on the procedures, the quality of data, and the accuracy of results. We tend to relegate map design as an afterthought.
Geospatial is visual!
Your data maybe accurate, precise and true, but, if your visualization is crappy, you can’t transmit the message. As a geospatial practitioner, I believe I am responsible as well to teach basic map design and uphold the cause against misguided use of north arrows, scale bars, default software colors and all other map junks.
So, are you a geo-educator? Share your guide here.