GIS Day 2011 at UWFox: Preparation

I never knew I would coordinate and host a GIS Day event.

As you may know, this is my first year as a tenure-track faculty at UW-Fox Valley. UWFox is part of the UW-Colleges system, which is a set of 13 two-year liberal arts institutions geared toward preparing students for a four-year school in the UW System. The Colleges have a shared department of around 20 geographers and geologists. Two of them are at this campus, and I’m the only geographer. That means I’m basically a “stand-alone” geographer who’s responsible for, well, everything geography on campus.

That brings us to this year’s Geography Awareness Week. While I haven’t had my feet under me long enough here to put together a week-long program, I was fortunate to be contacted early on about hosting a GIS Day event on November 16 by the Fox Valley GIS Users Group. The FVGISUG is the local GIS professional networking group for Northeast Wisconsin, and they’ve been putting on a GIS Day event for several years. Last year, they worked with my predecessor to mild success. This year, we’re trying again, and we’re doing everything we can to make it big. The FVGISUG has been an outstanding collaborator for this project.

What We’ve Got Planned

According to records, there hasn’t been a GIS course taught here since Fall 2009, so being that UWFox is a two-year institution, there is very little institutional memory of such a course. In other words, we’re starting from scratch with our current students. In order to help students engage with the event, we’ve tried really hard to make this as relevant, interesting and engaging as possible to the student population here. We took a four pronged approach to doing just that:

    1. Open House format.  Let’s face it, students (and faculty/IAS for that matter) who have no idea what GIS is are not likely to come to a programmed seminar for four hours on a Wednesday morning.  People are busy, and getting them to invest that kind of time is just not something that’s very likely to happen.  By putting together an open house that runs from 9:00 am until 2:00 pm, we maximize our curiosity audience while not requiring a “commitment” to a longer program.


  • Planning for projects and presentations that are related to courses currently instructed at UWFox.  We dug through the entire schedule for the institution to find courses that members of the FVGISUG could create or adapt projects around.  For instance, given the strong political science curriculum at this school, we made sure that posters were available showing the various implications of redistricting debates.  For anthropologists, we’ve got several posters showing recent archaeological digs through the Fox Valley.  For fitness and wellness students, we have several projects showing the planned implementation of recreational trails.  We’ve connected posters and presentations to a variety of fields.  We hope that by connecting it directly to relevant course materials, and by letting the respective faculty know that we’re doing this, that we can increase inclusion of GIS Day into a wide number of course curricula.



  • Using a variety of presentation media to engage as broadly as possible.  In the education industry, we know that we’re more likely to get students engaged if there are a variety of learning methods presented.  In our case, we’re going to have several different ways of content delivery.  A couple of the FVGISUG members will be presenting a traditional PowerPoint mini-lecture on certain projects, upon request.  Others will be presenting with prepared posters, standing ready to field questions from interested students.   Several from the FVGISUG have organized hands-on demonstrations of certain aspects of GIS.  Some information will be presented through looping video demonstrations on classroom computers.  We’ve even brought in a few of our personal iPads to allow students to interact directly with and other applications.



  • Providing a worksheet to help students digest and synthesize the information presented.  Even if the students who show up have absolutely no interest in GIS, that’s not a reason this shouldn’t still be a learning experience.  Students need the skills to comb through the tremendous amount of information we’re presented.  I’ve constructed a very basic, non-discipline-specific worksheet to help them through that process for GIS Day.  For my students, it is a required activity.  For everyone else, it’s optional, and I’ve alerted the faculty that they can require the worksheet if they want to award credit or extra credit for attendance.


Our Goals for GIS Day 2011
We’re realistic about our goals for GIS Day on a campus that hasn’t had a GIS course in over two years.  With that in mind, we do still have some goals that I’m hoping we achieve with this event:
    1. Improve overall attendance over the 2010 GIS Day event.  Last year, the UWFox GIS Day event hosted a total of 23 people.  Through various efforts, we’re hoping to top that number easily.


  • Increased awareness of GIS among students and faculty.  That much should be easy, and really, it’s the biggest goal of any GIS Day event.



  • Boosted enrollment in and demand for our GEO 106 course on GIS.   Seeing GIS in action is the best way to get students “hooked.


So, all of the preparations are made, the publicity is done.  We will see what happens tomorrow morning!

Author: Andrew Shears

Andrew Shears is an Assistant Professor of Geography at Mansfield University in Mansfield, Pennsylvania. His research interests lie at an intersection of the human-environmental nexus, and includes branches of mapping, technological, memorialization and urban geographies. He lives in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania with his wife Amy, a professional photographer.

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