As reported on 16 May 2012 (below), student participation was a major benefit of the GEOIDE research funding. I was recently asked to provide information about all students funded from my GEOIDE projects and found 21 individual students. By the numbers reported in the other post, that’s 1.5% of all students who ever participated in GEOIDE, while I was just one out of 400 investigators ;-)
Nine of my GEOIDE students were Bachelor’s, nine Master’s, one doctoral, and two students participated as both Master’s and doctoral students. Most of the Bachelor’s students were from our BA in Geographic Analysis while a couple came from Ryerson’s and UofT’s BSc in Computer Science programs. All of the Master’s students were in our Master of Spatial Analysis. The doctoral students are in Ryerson’s Policy Studies or Environmental Applied Science and Management PhD programs.
Of the 21 students, six are now working in industry, three have government positions, and three are employed in the academic sector. In addition, seven are completing either the same degree as when they were participating in GEOIDE, or the next degree level. Only two are unemployed or have unknown status, both with their final degree just completed (and not under my supervision!). The jobs that my GEOIDE alumni are holding include several software developers, spatial (data) analysts, an enterprise GIS consultant, a health informatician, and a postdoctoral researcher.
While the GEOIDE Network always had to demonstrate short-term benefits for the funding it received, my own GEOIDE research was conceptual – not highly theoretical but not directly applied either. I consider it “blue sky research” (see 26 April 2012, below), since it is driven by my own and my students’ curiosity. I did not directly collaborate with industry partners within GEOIDE, and planned collaborations with government and non-profit partners were often slow. But apparently, this approach has worked well for my students, while making a significant contribution to the advancement of knowledge in geography, GIScience, and geomatics!
Congratulations to BA in Geographic Analysis candidate Michael Markieta, who won a GEOIDE Student Poster Award at the Global Geospatial Conference 2012. Michael’s poster was entitled “Using Web Map Overlay for Visual Multi-Criteria Analysis: The Example of the Ontario Human Influence Index”. It presents a newly developed version of an online map overlay tool, with which we can represent multiple criteria or indicators in a composite index through the opacity/transparency of map layers.
A screenshot of the poster is seen above. The poster is listed at http://www.gsdi.org/gsdiconf/gsdi13/prog_details.html#s31 with ID P411. Partial funding for Michael’s work-study position was provided by the GEOIDE Network of Centres of Excellence, project PIV-41.
The GEOIDE Network of Centres of Excellence is holding its final annual conference as part of the Global Geospatial Conference 2012 in Quebec City. From 1999-2012, GEOIDE brought together some 400 Canadian University researchers and over 1,400 students in collaborative, multi-year projects that spanned Geomatics engineering and the natural, social, and health sciences. At Ryerson, faculty members in Civil Engineering, Geography, and Planning were involved in GEOIDE-funded research. Upon a quick count, at least ten graduate and five undergraduate students contributed to my own research within GEOIDE between 2005-2012. During this time, we developed and tested tools for argumentation mapping to engage stakeholders in spatial planning and decision-making.
An argumentation map combines an online cartographic map of an area of interest, e.g. for urban re-development, with a discussion forum. People interested in, or affected by, a spatial planning or decision-making issue can reference their comments and opinions to specific places in the mapped area. This enables others to read existing posts from either the map view or the threaded structure of the discussion forum. Additionally, decision-makers can investigate hot spots of discussion, the most contentious areas within the plan, as well as the patterns of contribution (by date/time and by participant) during an online public participation period.
Interest in argumentation mapping and related concepts has gained traction with the increasing availability of geospatial Web tools such as Google Maps, OpenLayers, etc., many of which have a global reference map already included (e.g. from the OpenStreetMap initiative). Building on my most frequently cited article in Environment and Planning (2001 – over 90 citations), the GEOIDE network has enabled student research such as the project that led to an article in Computers, Environment and Urban Systems (2008), which draws the link between Web 2.0 concepts and argumentation mapping. That article has 57 citations as of today and is featured as the third-most cited article of the journal since 2007.
Besides the direct funding of graduate student stipends and undergraduate research assistantships and work-study positions, attending the annual GEOIDE summer school was a highlight for a number of students. A series of my students were actively involved in the GEOIDE student network and the planning of the last three summer schools. The network provided a great deal of organizational and leadership experience and valuable professional networking to Ryerson students and helped involve them in cutting-edge research at the intersection of geography, geomatics, planning, and policy studies.
At the risk of raising a few eyebrows among my own students, I want to pass along another pointed opinion from the ranks of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT). This time, Michael Morse, a professor at Trent University, wrote in the CAUT Bulletin Vol 59 | No 4 | April 2012 about why “Calling Students ‘Clients’ Doesn’t Fly“.
Prof. Morse argues that students or their parents are not the clients of the university. University serves society as a whole, not individual customers. This leads to an interesting association with the student protests going on in Quebec. In a comment on “Tuition hikes, student strikes and lessons in applied politics” for the Toronto Star, Prof. Pierre Martin of the Université de Montréal notes that the Quebec view of higher education used to be that of a “collective good for society as a whole rather than a personal investment made by individuals in search of future income gains”. But through increases in tuition, this culture is gradually shifting towards the latter view.
While Prof. Morse uses the example of a flight school to present education/training as a public good, my example is broader. Consider the road network in Toronto as government-funded infrastructure. It is so varied in its form and function, and more importantly its uses and benefits, that we accept that it is built and maintained from our tax money. Higher education is a critical part of this country’s infrastructure too. And its job is to get its users (students) through effectively for their own direct benefit but more so for indirect societal benefits (greater productivity, increased tax revenue, good decision-making, responsibility, civic engagement, …). I can think of additional parallels, e.g. regarding express toll routes (~fast-track programs, continuing education) or fees for out-of-town drivers (out-of-province/country students), but I want to leave these for another time!
Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) executive director James Turk wrote an interesting article about “Why we need blue-sky research”. The term stands for basic research that is conducted out of the researcher’s curiosity, not for a clearly defined result. Examples abound that document how blue-sky research yielded innovations of critical importance to human society and the economy.
Unfortunately, support for basic research requires long-term, strategic thinking that is rare among our politicians. In November 2011, the Ontario government cancelled the “Ontario Research Fund – Research Excellence program” in the middle of a call for proposals, which over 100 groups of researchers across the province were working on. On the day of the notification, I had hired a research coordinator to help with putting together a proposal for interdisciplinary research on “Spatial Analysis and Geovisualization in the Social Sciences”. Incidentally, in the week of the ORF cancellation, premier McGuinty announced a new $20m Southwest Ontario development fund to support businesses in creating jobs. My impression from other recent news is that research funds and other support provided to for-profit companies has been found to be largely ineffective in spurring economic growth.
This insight seems equally lost on the federal government, which has mandated the research granting councils to move funds from basic research to targeted, industry-led programs. I am currently working on a proposal that would support a single partner company’s product development. This is an interesting collaboration for me, but I am convinced that the same amount of taxpayers’ money would have a greater long-term effect when invested in curiosity-driven research.
“Recognizing mapmakers” is the motto of the National Geographic Map Awards. We are talking serious mapping, by which I mean the professional design of thematic maps that are used for research, planning, and decision-making in a broad range of disciplines.
I am extremely pleased to report that Brad Carter, a parttime student in our Master of Spatial Analysis (MSA) program, won the 2nd place prize of the 2012 National Geographic Award in Mapping. Brad created his award-winning map on “Broken Windows & Violent Crime in Philadelphia” as his final assignment in my course on “Thematic Cartography and Geovisualization” in November 2011. A high-resolution PDF of Brad’s map is available from the CartoNews blog of the American Association of Geographers’ Cartography Specialty Group.
With his map, Brad illustrates crime theories by superimposing social factors (single-mother households), environmental factors (vacant buildings as a proxy for urban decay), and crime incidents. The combination of data from the US Census, the Crime Reports Web site, and from Pennsylvania Spatial Data Access allows the map reader to determine whether the “broken windows theory” can explain the distribution of crime in Philadelphia. The uncommon dasymetric mapping technique used in the large-scale map places aggregate information only in those areas where the phenomenon is likely to exist, instead of uniformly distributing it across the entire enumeration unit. A crime analyst himself, Brad is creating and using this kind of map to support prevention programs and policing operations at Durham Regional Police. In the MSA program, he is working with me on a locally weighted heat vulnerability index (more to come soon;-).
A group of 4th-year Geographic Analysis students and a few faculty members went to the offices of Environics Analytics today to get a better idea of how “geography works”. Environics is a leading marketing and business intelligence firm, and has been a prime employer of outstanding graduates from our BA in Geographic Analysis and Master of Spatial Analysis programs. This afternoon, a number of graduates from the 1990s and 2000s provided the students with an overview of their careers and current jobs as well as an insight into the most useful knowledge and skills learned in school and on the job. Several speakers emphasized the ability of geographers to keep high-level issues and goals in perspective, and see connections between seemingly unconnected phenomena. Paraphrasing Mrs. Jan Kestle, Environics founder and president, there is nothing in the world that cannot be examined through the geographical lens, which in turn translates into job opportunities for engaged students. Jobs held by our grads at Environics span the sales, research, and software development groups, and include (senior) client advocate, sales consultant, research analyst, research associate, and senior developer. It was rewarding to see how a number of students I taught in the last 6-8 years have found their vocation in a trendsetting yet friendly work environment.
The Geography Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is notorious for detecting and/or setting trends in the field. In February, they held a panel discussion on “Big Data in Geographic Information Science”. Moderator Dr. Krzysztof Janowicz reports that Big Data are not only characterized by their volume, but also by the variety of their data sources and data types, and by the velocity with which they are accumulated. In geography, Big Data are generated from high-resolution satellite images, transportation simulations, government data published in spatial data infrastructures, volunteered geographic information (e.g., geo-tagged flickr photos, OpenStreetMap data), and geographically referenced social network activity (e.g., twitter messages).
Coincidentally, the Obama administration has just announced a “Big Data Research and Development Initiative” with US$200m research and development funding in the sciences, health, military, and earth science fields. The initiative also aims at new undergraduate and graduate student training in advanced data management and analysis. My students’ research in public participation GIS, volunteered geographic information, geographic visualization, and spatial decision support are contributing to this emerging research area.
Ryerson’s Department of Geography, Master of Spatial Analysis (MSA) program, and Student Association of Geographic Analysis (SAGA) are hosting the first-ever Canadian, and second-ever North-American meeting of OpenStreetMap (OSM) developers, the Toronto Hack Weekend March 2012. We want our students and the community to be aware of this “Wikipedia for geographic data”, as keynote speaker Richard Weait of the Toronto OSM group put it.
The OSM data were contributed by over half a million volunteers world-wide, and are often more detailed, accurate, or up-to-date than those of commercial competitors such as Google Maps or Bing Maps.
Friday afternoon’s presentation and discussion session raised a number of interesting issues regarding the future development of OSM, including the thematic scope of the data being collected and the mechanics of rendering the comprehensive dataset (“planet file”) into maps (map images, or “map tiles”) of different contents and styles for different purposes. I think Ryerson-trained geographers and spatial analysts will make valuable contributions to OSM in the near future ;-)
A report on how the weekend proceeded can be found on Steve Singer’s Scanning Pages blog. Ryerson Geographic Analysis student Michael Markieta has also posted a summary on his fabulous Spatial Analysis blog.
Today was the last meeting of the external advisory committee of Scholars GeoPortal. Scholars GeoPortal was developed by the Ontario Council of University Libraries (OCUL) with funding from the Government of Ontario. The project received the 2012 OLITA Award for Technological Innovation.
The portal officially launched on 1 March 2012. It facilitates access to geospatial data from Statistics Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, DMTI Spatial, and other data providers. Those are data that are heavily used by University students and researchers in geography, planning, civil engineering, and many other disciplines.
It was a privilege to work with data, map, and GIS librarians across Ontario and contribute to the development of the GeoPortal.