This past semester, I had the opportunity to facilitate learning in an Introduction to Geomatics course in a unique way – through collaboration. This meant that we were not sitting at computers, reading from a geomatics textbook or online learning course, or even working directly with mapping software! This was through the PASS program at Carleton – Peer Assisted Study Sessions; which this year, was offered for the first time for a Geomatics course. This program is offered for courses that typically have a high DFW (D-grade, F-grade, and withdrawal) rate. It is a standardized program for which students attend in addition to their lectures and labs. PASS emphasizes collaborative learning using a variety of unique study skills. As the facilitator for these study sessions, I was to lead the group following the peer-oriented principles we were provided, keeping in mind not to treat myself as a TA, or the groups as my students. This can be particularly difficult in a GIS-based course. Students would often ask me to troubleshoot their GIS lab, or ask me what projection could be used for their specific task, and I had to answer with “What do you think is the issue here?”

After shifting my mental gears to where I was able to support students without providing them with direct answers to lecture and lab material, we were able to work together through study activities that I had planned to support their lecture learning.

So how can this be achieved in a GIS course?

First of all, I had to plan for the different types of learners: audio, visual and tactile. For example, a tactile way of collaboratively learning about projections is to take some molding clay and some paper, and work in small groups to represent areas of a mini globe onto a projected map. A visual way of learning about lines of latitude and longitude is by drawing on a chalkboard globe – and then using this information to perform calculations on the lines of parallels. An audible way of learning about rasters and vectors is by pairing off, becoming experts in the attributes of one of these, and then teaching the attributes to the partner, comparing and contrasting the two concepts.

One goal of PASS is to encourage first year university students to discover new study strategies and build on already-existing study skills. This could be achieved by using hand-made flashcards for various GIS terms, and defining them as a group. We also solved equations relating to calculating lines of latitude and longitude along different parallels using a relay-style problem solving activity. Finally, students were exposed to a variety of different GIS and Remote Sensing applications, careers and potential uses, by brainstorming together, creating mind-maps, and other social-learning activities. This was especially beneficial for introductory students who may have found themselves in this course without any knowledge of the topic, but ended the semester more excited than ever to pursue geomatics!

We were able to implement Esri applications into our study sessions so that students could see a variety of significant uses for GIS – not simply what they learn in lectures and labs. For example, sessions were facilitated using Storymaps instead of regular Powerpoint, with embedded maps and applicable videos. Additionally, Survey123 was used as a means to gather feedback from the students after sessions – and also to expose them to the various web apps that can be used. For this course, the students were to use ArcGIS Collector and collect bicycle rack locational points. When discussing this during our session, we were able to troubleshoot any issues using the students’ phones right away in our classroom, without requiring any equipment, desktops or software.

Facilitating these study sessions forced me to think critically about how geomatics can be studied in an innovative, exciting, but most importantly, collaborative way. Students worked together to solve problems, think about potential issues, and learn and discuss lecture material. The study strategies we used are only touched on here, but I think it is important to consider the versatility of learning exciting new technology – studying doesn’t always have to be boring!