Engaging students with multiuser editing, and FOSS4g

A friend is doing some research on estrogen and estrodial in water samples in Delaware. We have about 50 sub-watersheds that show the upstream contributing area for each water sample. We’ve done some regression analysis to see if we can find any correlation of estrogen with landscape parameters, like land use.


Geography students collaborating on data collection for a research project. Notice there are no windows in this lab – this is the best way to get students to want to go to graduate school so they don’t have to work like this again!


So far, we haven’t been impressed with the results. Nonetheless, I’m not ready to give up, so I thought:

what if there is a relationship with the number of poultry houses upstream of each sample.

The bad news: we don’t have a layer of poultry houses in Delaware.
The good news: I have a bunch of eager students who want to learn GIS.
The solution: Let’s use a lecture to teach students about multi-user, simultaneous editing with Postgres and PostGIS, and have them do it.

So that’s what we did. On Wednesday, I took 18 of my Advanced GIS students, and introduced them to an 8 minute video that would step them through digitizing all the poultry houses in the watershed. We had Postgres running on the teaching computer, and QGIS on 18 workstations in the classrooms. Our basic setup looked like this (with 18 QGIS workstations, of course):

I then had to instruct my students how to do the digitizing. Since people catch on at different paces, the best thing was to just use this video:

After 1h 40m, the students had around 1,000 poultry houses digitized! And, as a learning experience, they had the opportunity to see how an enterprise class database could be stood up in a matter of minutes to facilitate mult-user digitizing. It blew their mind to realize that after 2 hours, we had actually put in 36 man hours of digitizing. They had never used QGIS before, and it only took an 8 minute video to spin them up on the project!

This was easy to do, excited the students to be exposed to multi-user editing and open source GIS, and accomplished an important task for a research project that an individual student is working on. Everyone wins!

I hope this inspires you to come up with some creative ways to introduce GIS concepts to your class.

If you want to learn more about how to build an enterprise GIS with open source tools, check out my courses on www.gisadvisor.com

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