The goal of our Geospatial Technology program is to ensure our students are best prepared for a geospatial career.
Harrisburg Area Community College's Geospatial Technology Program Provides Experience with Cutting-Edge Applications
Established in 1964, Harrisburg Area Community College was the first—and is now the largest—of Pennsylvania's 14 community colleges. With more than 19,000 degree-seeking, remedial, and workforce development students, HACC is the sole institution of its kind serving the central Pennsylvania region. HACC's mission, "Learning for all; learning for life," aims to provide a quality, innovative, and student-focused educational experience.
Helping to fulfill this mission is the school's Geospatial Technology program. Introduced in 2005, the associate degree and certificate program has empowered students who are passionate about maps, geography, and growing technology to find careers in the geospatial community. As technology advances and student needs change, program organizers continue to adapt the program to keep it thriving. In 2020, they introduced a new credit structure for the program and a new, web-based GIS course—a move that is creating opportunities and benefits for students and the community.
"We saw a gap in the Pennsylvania geospatial professional community where there was a need for more web and more mobile GIS experience," said Nicole Ernst, associate professor for geospatial technology at HACC. "More students were returning to our program to update their skills, since many had been trained in desktop GIS. Introducing a web and mobile GIS course presented a dual opportunity to better serve our diverse student body."
Using ArcGIS technology and the course adaptions, HACC has been able to fulfill its student-centric mission to serve a blend of working adults and traditional students over the last year while also creating meaningful projects.
Creating an Agile Geospatial Technology Program for Student Success
Since the program's inception, the ongoing challenge of how to remain agile and relevant to students has led to many program changes over the years. Ranging from coursework requirements to internships and prerequisite changes, the program has both consistently adapted and used ArcGIS to educate students. In 2020, HACC instructors implemented two significant changes to the existing program to increase flexibility to its blended student base.
• For more than 15 years, ArcGIS has served as a fundamental learning tool for students in Harrisburg Area Community College's (HACC) Geospatial Technology program.
• Staying adaptable to changes in the geographic information system (GIS) career field, HACC added GIS courses that give students entering or returning to the workforce experience with modern ArcGIS mobile and web applications.
• With ArcGIS, students in HACC's Geospatial Technology program are creating powerful projects that support their education and provide real-world experiences.
One of the changes included restructuring the 30-credit program to a 17-credit program that incorporated five major-related courses. These online courses are beneficial to traditional students seeking an associate degree or can be taken independently by working professionals. Four of these courses are Introduction to Geospatial Technology, Cartographic Design, Data Acquisition & Remote Sensing, and Spatial Analysis. The second change HACC enacted was adding the Web Geographic Information Systems course to its program.
"The goal with our program is to ensure our students are best prepared for a geospatial career," said Ernst. "In adapting the program sequence, students can complete the program on a part-time basis and in under two years while working. Adding a Web GIS course to our current program also gives our students access to learn a little about everything, which is so important to the technical skills needed for the workforce."
Implementing a Web GIS Course with ArcGIS
Creating a new course is never an easy task, so leaders at HACC leveraged the school's ongoing license with Esri to tap into ArcGIS resources, such as Learn ArcGIS and ArcGIS Online, to build the course structure. Over the semester, students interact and learn to use various Esri web applications including ArcGIS Web AppBuilder, ArcGIS Experience Builder, ArcGIS Survey123, ArcGIS QuickCapture, ArcGIS StoryMaps, ArcGIS Dashboards, ArcGIS Insights, ArcGIS Community Analyst, ArcGIS Editor for OpenStreetMap, and ArcGIS Business Analyst Web App.
"We're covering a lot of ground in this course, but that's the beautiful thing about ArcGIS Online, is that we can be teaching so much because we don't have to worry about having the hardware needs that the desktop projects require," continued Ernst. "Most importantly, the course provides a wide range of experiences with these technologies for students so that when they go into the workforce, they already know these functionalities exist and can make recommendations to their organization's needs."
Engaging Students with ArcGIS and Real-World Applications
Since implementing the new program, Ernst says student enthusiasm has grown as they have had opportunities to use the course bonus assignments for real-world projects and personal interests. For example, students work with data from The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) to make an Insights workbook. The workbook would help students learn about protests happening in the country. Students can also use the bonus projects to connect with working professionals to help solve a problem at work and collect feedback.
"We are seeing our adult and traditional students are not only attracted to the new program, but they are engaged with the coursework because they are seeing the real-world job applications of what they are learning," continued Ernst. "With these changes, we are meeting students where they are."
Looking to the future, Ernst hopes the introduction of the Web GIS course will continue to benefit students and extend to faculty from different disciplines to enhance curriculum college-wide.
"We have some faculty already using geospatial tools, and with how fun and enlightening Web GIS can be, I'm hoping to grow that," said Ernst.
For now, the HACC Geospatial Technology program will continue to serve students and provide opportunities to enhance their skill sets for the next generation of geospatial experts.