Exploring GeoSpatial Techniques and Technologies

Exploring GeoSpatial Techniques and Technologies

Show Video

Welcome to this episode of UMBC's Mic'd up  podcast. My name is Dennise Cardona from   the Office of Professional Programs at UMBC.  Today we are joined by Dr. Dillon Mahmoudi   and Ron Wilson of UMBC's graduate program in  geographic information systems. I hope you   enjoy this episode. Thanks so much to both of you  for being here with me on UMBC's Mic'd up podcast,   it is fantastic to have you both here with me. I'm  so excited to talk with you about you UMBCs GIS   program. And let's first hear from both of you on  a little bit about your background just to kind of  

orient viewers of this on YouTube or listeners on  a favorite podcast channel. What led you to UMBC?   To this GIS program here? Me? Well, I started way  back when the program first was created in 2009.   And I was just brought on to do one class. And  then, and that was successful, and I kept doing   other classes and I started getting more involved  with the director at the time Erwin Villiger.  

And we sort of built the program and went into  different directions as time went on, just to kind   of keep the program modernized and whatnot. But,  things were changing in the geography department,   they were slowly at the time going in more  environmental science and physical sciences.   And we just kind of stood out on our own a little  bit, but then a number of professors started   coming on that were more human geography side.  So Irwin, decided to take a job, and he left out.  

And they kind of left the program with needing  somebody to take over and I was recommended, for   which I guess Dillon was instrumental in making  that happen, because he, the name was floated.   And I kind of took over right when the pandemic  started. And I had to manage my classrooms and   manage the program. And there wasn't a whole  lot to do to figure out everything was online,   it was pretty easy to do. And then Dillon started  reaching out to me, and we started talking about   ideas for the program. And we realized that we  were pretty much in sync with the ideas of what it   needed to be and where it needed to go. Not that  we don't have different visions for everything,  

but our ideas, our core ideas there, which  allows each one of us to just kind of like,   alright, we're going on the same page here. We can  just keep plugging along without having to worry   about what differences or similarities gonna  be. We have the same vision for the program,   maybe some differences in classes and ideas about  them, but there's just, we built the program up,   put it in the new program in front of the Graduate  Council for the university. They approved it. And   wow, we're now relaunched, and going strong and  towards building up our new student body. That's   exciting. Awesome. And Dillon, let's hear from  you. I know that you just came back from Calgary.  

So you're a little jet lagged. That's okay.  Let's, let's hear from you and your path to   UMBC. How did you get here? What was that path  like? Yeah, great. Thanks. So yeah, I just came   back from a digital geographies workshop. And  one of the core kind of themes was that, was how  

digital geography has a lineage and critical GIS.  And that's really where my background comes from.   I was originally trained as a computer scientist,  and worked in tech, got out of tech, to go back to   graduate school to do social sciences, but realize  that there really was a need for people that could   work with datasets have technical skills, but  also do some of the social science or apply their   technical skills and another realm, whether that  be social sciences, or even physical sciences.   So I interviewed at UMBC, it was a good  fit. And what I occurred about Ron Wilson,   this mysterious GIS instructor and in the master's  program at the time, and because of COVID,   we kind of had some time to think through what we  wanted out of that master's program. And that's  

really when Ron and I started connecting and  thinking through what do we really want this   program to do. How can we embed some of the kind  of open source philosophies that we both agreed   upon? How can we actually make this a program for  just futures and just maps and that's really where   we get that kind of tagline for the program  just maps we have that dual focus on justice   and the focus on what a lot of people sometimes  skip over but the actual map production itself.   Yeah, see, I think that's really great to be able  to take a step back like you both did, take a step   back and allow some ideas to marinate. And to be  able to build this program from the ground up.   That sounds like it benefits the students, it  benefits the faculty and benefits UMBC. And now   you have a program that you both can really get  behind, and you're proud of. So that to me is  

like just a great synergy. And I'm excited for it.  I've been at UMBC since 2007. So I've been with   the GIS program, helped market them back then.  And I've seen the evolution. And it's just it's   really cool to see this. And I think it's really  exciting for students. And speaking of students,   what do you want most for our graduate students?  Yeah, great question. I think that goes back to   my previous answer a little bit as well. We say  focus on open source, and we set our open source   technologies and our curriculum. But it's more  than just a focus on open source for any kind  

of reasoning. It's because we want to have our  students understand the concepts behind what   the open source technologies do. There are  many open source geospatial technologies out   there. And the choice of which technology to  use whether it's open source, or proprietary,   depends on what is the goal that you want  to accomplish? What is the task that's at   hand? And so what we've done is we centered those  open source technologies, because there's so many   of them so that our students can take that step  back, like you just said was so important tickets,   step back and think about what it is that  they're trying to accomplish in their analysis,   or in their production, and pick the  right technology for the right task.   A lot of times as a graduate student, myself, I  just well, I just graduated from a UMBC program   in May. And one of the things, thank you. And  one of the things that I was concerned with,   when considering graduate school was okay, am I  going to be able to, what am I going to be able   to do with this? Is this going to be a value to  my life to the field? Is there a need for it? Can   you talk a little bit Ron, can you talk a little  bit about why study GIS? Like what is it what's   in it for the student? Well, what's in it for the  students is that we operate daily our daily lives   in any geography at the point where we kind of  take it for granted and we move through it. But  

a lot of that interaction with the world around  us, has repercussions back and forth between the   way we interact with it the way it affects us  back and forth, to which there is no aspect in   any discipline out there that doesn't have some  spatial aspect to an even seemingly disciplines   like mathematics, or even brain imaging  sciences that has a spatial component. They   use GIS geoprocessing techniques to do overlays  in the brain from slices across the brains,   where they've done imaging from. We're not really  focuses on those kinds of things that Dillon said,   we're doing justice. So a lot of our students,  particularly in the objective of that, that   justice and environmental and social, that we're  looking at, deals with a lot of public policy,   a lot of solutions that are placed based, not  all the time. And it, is even when it's there,   it isn't the front and center. So it's important  that we get our students to recognize that the  

space that they're operating in, has this  measurement aspect to it to try to understand   the effect back and forth between the people  in their environment, people and other people,   and vice versa. So we've built our program, to  have them gain that recognition and understanding   so that they can think about the world more  spatially, rather than just them being in it and   taking it for granted. Who is the ideal student  for this program? So what kind of backgrounds   should somebody have when they are considering  applying for this program? Good question. We're,   we're actually, the program is designed  to take anybody with a hard working ethos.   There's no necessarily requirement on  technical skills, no programming is required.  

The first several courses help students get on  the same page and build a shared vocabulary around   space, geospatial techniques, and technologies.  And from that platform, it's a very collaborative   extension into the other courses. So right,  who do we who's the ideal students? Someone   who's gonna get in there work hard and work with  other students? Of course, if there are advanced   students who already have geospatial experience,  GIS experience or programming experience, we can   slot them into kind of later on courses and  build from there. But from the get-go The   course is designed for everybody. So now we have  this emergence of AI technology, right? It's the  

elephant in the room that we all have to deal  with. And I know as an instructional designer,   that's my, that's where my graduate studies  were. It is becoming a huge component of   instructional design. And I, from speaking with  other programs, alumni, faculty, instructors,   it's becoming, it's starting to build into almost  every field out there, I think, every field,   how does it go into effect, the field of GIS  and is it a benefit? Is it something that people   should be concerned about? Or is it something  to just embrace and see where it takes us?   For the listeners that can't see us, there was  a lot of nodding, as Dennise was describing   the potential of AI, but we actually we had  had this question in one of our open houses,   and solid raw ticket. Yeah, I actually put this  in my notes at the end, when I was thinking about   what to say in here. And yes, Dillon says, we were  asked that by students like how would you program  

going to make us from not be coming obsolete from  AI? And I said, well, that's a great question, and   I've got a good answer for it. We get students to  embrace using the AI my assignments in my classes,   I had them do some assignments with AI. I have  used chat GBT to answer a question. And what   they realize is that they can't, they can't  complete and pass assignments, if they just   plug in the questions and put it because they have  to put it in the context of what we're studying,   the data that we're analyzing, and fit to the  requirements of the analysis. And that takes a lot   of their own brainpower to make it work. The AI  just gives them a lot of material to work with. So   they can build coherent answers. And even if they  were to let chat GBT, to answer the entire thing   that still requires them to tell chat GBT what it  is that they have to answer. So they're learning  

while they're doing that, too. But one of the  things that I also learned about, so that's just   an analysis. One of the things I learned recently  about programming, because that's become a big   one. So I was working on a project where I was  looking at the overlaps and gaps in bicycle docks,   to see how much bikes were out. bikes were  sitting there, and things like this. So this   requires actually doing an analysis where you're  looking at multiple bikes, in a dock where there's   overlapping times. And if you're trying to count  the time that a bike dock has at least one bike  

in it, or if one if there's no bikes out. This  requires getting rid of the overlaps in the time.   And it requires getting rid of the gaps in the  time as well. So I was typed, programming this   in Python. And I had one technique where you take  advantage of Python by using its functionality.   You don't have to write a lot of code. And  so what I did was that I got that working.   But what I wanted to check it, I couldn't get it  to quite work. So I asked chat GBT to write me a  

program. And it did. It wrote me about an 18 line  programming code in the old way of doing it loops,   and if then else statements and everything like  that, when I said that's not right, so I finally   figured out the solution. And my solution was only  four lines of code. Taking advantage of pythons   full functionality. AI can't figure out, AI does  not know Python AI does not know R it knows how  

to program in R it knows how to program in Python,  but it does not understand the language. Our job   is to tell students show students how to think to  use and know Python and R so that they can make   proper use of Woof, that's powerful. I think with  chat GPT, I use it a lot now with what I do with   instructional design, lesson plans, development  and things of that sort. And it's really about   the quality of the input determines the quality of  the output. And we have to remember that chat GPT   I think it goes back to 2021. It starts there.  So it doesn't have any reference to between now  

and 2021. At least at this point. I'm sure that's  due to change. But there anything that's the new   in the past year, it will not have an answer  for that if it's brand new information. So   with coding, I would imagine that is would be  problematic if you're relying solely on chat GPT   and AI technology to be able to do your job. So  that was yeah, it's really interesting. hearing   that story about the bike and the bikes and how  coding that and how what your variance was with   that. And I really enjoyed hearing that you're  embracing as instructors, as directors of programs   that you are embracing technology that it's it's  not something to fear and it's not something to,   think it's going to diminish the quality of  education because I think a lot of people   were fearful of that in the beginning. And it's  really about educating students and learners,   that you can use it as a, I personally use it as  a an idea generator, it helps to brainstorm ideas,   and then I can build upon those, I would never  take something black and white right from it,   because you need to have that human element.  And if we want to be able to coexist with AI in  

the future, we need to really make sure that we  are holding dear to our human aspect, our human   capacity, in addition to AI capabilities. Yeah.  And both of those examples that both gave really   reflect how AI is good at solving problems that it  has encountered in the past. But new problems like   the scooter problem that Ron was describing, it  doesn't know how to do that. And part of that   is because AI does not think, does not think  critically about what the data represents,   behind the scenes. And that's one of the things  that ends up being core to our curriculum is a   book that I just grabbed when Ron was describing  that this book called All Data Are Local: Thinking   Critically in a Data-Driven Society, right? So  it's data is everywhere. And we're more than   just data and well, data scientists, if you dare,  what we want to two as you want to think about,   or we want to think about that spatial data, and  critical ways that perhaps AI has not been exposed   to in the past. So again, we want to build with  AI. But AI cannot replace us, if you will. Yeah.  

And I've started to build up questions that  have sparked a bunch of materials that I've   been putting into advertising to that point out,  because I think this is a real fear for students.   And we want to show them like no, you can marshal  that power and make it work for you and make you   more productive, and gain more opportunities for  insights that you otherwise wouldn't have seen.   Yes. Oh, I love that spirit. Yes. So, let's move  on to that. My next question for you both, is what   makes UMBCs graduate program in GIS stand apart  from similar institutions, or similar programs,   I should say at other institutions? Who wants to  attack that? Go for that one. Start with that when  

I'll follow up. Sure. That sounds great. Yeah,  so I mentioned a little bit before about the   using sentry open source technologies. But it's  more than that it's actually several different   things in combination. Yes, it's open source,  but it's also the purpose behind why we met.   And so we are focused on tackling difficult or  interesting questions in ways that have not been   tackled before. So taking a kind of holistic and  rigorous view of geospatial issues or geospatial   questions. And we, part of that is the just,  again, the focus on just maps are gonna focus on  

making maps themselves, but also making maps for  a more just future, for a better future. So it's   incorporating those things together. And then what  we've done is we've connected our our instructors   in the program are just phenomenal. They are  all throughout the kind of GIS industry, from   local planners to like Ron's work in the federal  government. So they have this huge kind of span,  

to be able to expose students to a variety of  different issues that present themselves in really   interesting and unique ways. So what we can, what  we add is the DMV is such an interesting place,   because there's a lot going on. And so what we've  been able to do is call instructors from those   different places to, to bring them in and expose  our students to different ways of thinking. Yeah,   and so to capitalize on that, there's a number  of GIS programs out there and to the point where   if you look on Reddit to there's concern about  the saturation of the market, but that's where   our program stands apart. A lot of the programs  have similar classes to ours. But what I've come   to realize about a lot of these programs, even  in programs not around this particular region.  

They'll teach spatial statistics. They'll teach  cartography. They'll teach spatial databases,   and things of that nature. But what our program  does is say, All right, we're going to provide   the meaning behind all that. The book that Dillon  mentioned there is one that I've had to and I know  

one of our other instructors, Eli Pousson, uses it  as well, to try to connect students to the local   real world around us to show how this impact  gets back to that idea that I mentioned about   people being in space all the time working through  their geographies. Things like that. So it gets   them to think about their place in all of that,  and the data that is around them and understanding   how to measure that and how to think about that.  But when it gets to the classroom level, our   classes are designed to get students to not just  do the techniques, learn how to use the software,   how to select library or whatever technique  they're going to use, they have to understand   what choosing the making those decisions has on  their analysis in two ways, one of which is that   there's, when it comes to geographic analysis,  it's a lot more complex than a lot of other   analysis is because there's multiple dimensions,  and there's multiple dimensions in time.   So we have to, we get them in one of my classes,  for example, I teach students about the various   clustering techniques out there to identify where  things are clustering and talk about their shapes   or patterns and everything. But there's so many  things that affect that, I put them through   that, where I have the measure, like if you set  these parameters, this is what you get, if you   pick this technique, this is what you get, if you  use this geography, this is what you get. And they   get kind of like, oh, really, this is a lot of  work. But by the end of it, I can, we go through  

the results and say, see what happens when you  set this parameter and use this technique? Or you   use this geography? You lose this, you gain this.  So at the end, the assignment has them assessing   which technique did the best under what  geography under what settings to make the   analysis understand. And so they learn right  there is examples like you can't get AI to do   that. So they have to go through that. And they  understand. So our other classes are very similar,   where they're shown a bunch of other libraries,  because these are some of these classic geography   problems that you can't escape. And so where  my class will teach them about those things,   a class like, like building spatial datasets, or  geoprocessing, will have them saying, alright,   how do we set this up, this data up or process  this data, so that classes and the analytical   or the more advanced technical, can make use  of solving those particular problems? Sounds   like there's a scaffolding element to the course  curriculum design, which is a really great way   for learners to be able to learn and apply that  knowledge as they continue to gather new knowledge   and be able to grow in that field. So that  sounds really great. Being able to make meaning  

of what you're learning is imperative to being  able to be effective and successful out there   in the real world. It's not just theory, it  sounds like it's really applied knowledge. Yeah,   the students grumble about the work,  but in the end, they're like, yeah,   I am glad I guess I did that. Alright, I'll admit  it. Or, the other one that I hear is, oh, that   makes that explains so much about why scooters  are where they are, or something like that, or,   oh, now I understand why the city is so, or has  so many houses, in this particular neighborhood,   but not this neighborhood. And it's like,  oh, yeah, well, we we can kind of spatially  

look at how the trajectory of that place. Can  you talk about the course curriculum? How does   this program prepare students to go out there  in the real world and have a successful career?   The core curriculum is designed to provide a deep  level of rigor that is founded in methodological   thinking. Where students learn to process  their analysis in a systematic and planned way.   All the while framework, by this ability  to bring subjectivity to their analysis,   that passion, those ideas, what interests them,  but temper that subjectivity with objectivity,   so that they have rigor and sound thinking  behind it so that their, their results don't   become biased or become open to attack from  critics or people who have disagreeing ideas.   Excellent. Dillon's like  "Yes!" Well stated. Absolutely.   In what ways is the GIS program innovative?  And how does it instill that innovation in   its students? One of the ways that the UMBC GIS  program, just baps incorporates innovation and   is always I think one step ahead in terms  of innovation is through its instructors,   our instructors are exposed to so many different,  unique problems on a day to day basis. So what we   do is we bring those problems into the classroom  and expose students to these tricky problems that   we've all run into and real world examples. So,  what that does is that gives students a way to  

say oh, well, hey, this problem that I heard in  the classroom, or that I had an assignment on I   know to apply that in my own work or in my own  unique way, and that can take place and, or that   can take shape and in different ways, right? It  could be a novel dataset, it'd be a novel method   that a student applies. Or it could be something  completely different and saying, okay, well,   we actually don't have that kind of data, we need  to go out and collect a new type of data that does   not yet exist, or we don't have access to that  so that we can analyze it in traditional or ways.   Ron, how has your experiences, like job or  even personal, shaped the way this program   has been created? Oh, quite a lot. For the first  12 years of my career, I was in a research center   at the Department of Justice for which I ended  up taking over which was originally called the   Crime Mapping Research Center but it became the  Mapping and Analysis for Public Safety Program,   and our job was to originally get crime analysis,  spatial analysis tools into police departments.  

But then once that we did that I took over  because the previous director moved on to bigger   and better things, I think she wanted something  more. And she did, she went on to do great things.   That was Nancy Levine. She's now, well she's the  director of the National Institute of Justice.   She, so she left it to me. And so I've started  well, where are we gonna go with, so I started   bringing the geography to it. And I started  bringing sort of the environmental psychology   into it, which is good, because I spent a lot of  time in the psychology literature, and I'm like,   this is where we have to go. Because that's where  police departments are really sort of focusing on   these places. And sort of it's not just going  there and dealing with crime, it's trying  

to understand what are the root causes and the  interactions with the environment that are going   on to this. So I started building research agendas  that looked at that, building that understanding   so that not only researchers, but practitioners  would be able to take this information and do   a geospatial analysis that allowed them to solve  the problems and under, understand the underlying   mechanisms under them. So the idea was to bring  not just the police departments together, but to   bring them together with the county executives,  local community organizations, and everything,   to try to get them to work together to solve  this problem simultaneously and get the root   cause. Just not what they used to call seven  cops to the dots and stuff like that it was  

just was never completely about that. So I was at  the time still trying to bring geography to that.   But then I went to HUD, and I was one of  the main researchers evaluating Public   Housing Choice Voucher Program, trying to help  people who would get housing vouchers to move   to a better neighborhood, give them the tools  and the understanding of where they're, where   their choices might be, as well as evaluating, is  the program succeeding? Where is it failing? And   how much change has occurred? And things like  that, but I was also a bit of a gatekeeper,   I won't go too deep into this story. But there was  one instance where sometimes you run into people.   And it doesn't matter if it's the federal  government or academia or the private industry,   who just don't have this sort of connection  or concern to the constituents that they're   serving. And there was a decision going to be made  about running this big program that I was like,  

you can't do that. There's just too much geography  there, there's too much interaction, you're not   going to be able to do this and succeed and get  any results that are going to matter. And the kind   of the end of it was like, well, we should just  do the program and see what happens. I'm like,   no! Here's the geographic reasons why you can't  do this. And so I had, I wrote up a big sort of   rebuttal, to try to, like, to try to like mitigate  this potential of this program being designed in   a bad way that, that can, that could harm or  set people back, because the constituents were   often trying to help, particularly in Housing  and Urban Development. They said at one time,  

in an interview that sort of backed up  my ideas is like, we run these programs.   And we get these people to participate,  who don't have many resources, they're at   a huge disadvantage. And if you don't get it,  right, they've lost time, that they don't have,   and they can't recover. And so we got to make sure  this right, this is what we try to bring into our  

programs to understand that your work will in  fact, impact people and you've got to connect   with that. Oh, wow, that is very powerful, and who  doesn't want to make a difference in this world?   So, there you have it, viewers, listeners, if  you're looking for a career where you can make   a difference. Think about GIS. Seriously,  that you just really brought it home.   For those listening in, myself included because  I didn't realize the level of impact that you   can make in this field using geography, GIS, to  be able to make really important decisions that   affect many people's lives. So, wow, thank you for  shedding light on that. And we just did with with   that story is described the importance of spatial  thinking. And I'll just add very quickly that  

there's kind of a running joke in geography,  that the economists just discovered space.   This is true. Yeah. In fact, Paul Krugman won  a very prestigious economics prize for the   incorporating space into economic analysis. Well,  the thing is, we've been doing it for decades, and   we have a lot of insight into how and when best to  apply those kinds of spatial thinking. And so yes,   I think that if there is a way to make positive  change in the world, a GIS degree Just Maps,   our program, is a good place to start. So  here is your here's your chance to say one  

last thing here that you think that listeners  or viewers of this video need to hear about GIS,   about our program, about anything that you think  would be of value to somebody tuning in here,   what would that sound like? What would that  be? I'm gonna let Dillon finish it up. But   I'm going to start with just saying that don't  look at the GIS program, as a technical degree,   look it, as a social science degree  with a technological foundation,   because you're going to get all the benefits of  social science, understanding research analysis,   with the tools and technology to be able to make  use of it. So that's my finish. I'll add to that.   A lot of problems that we see today are, in fact  have or do, in fact, have a social route to them.   So problems that may appear to be, for  example, natural science, or just purely   sustainability oriented, are in fact, social  problems or have a social component to them.   Everything happens in space. So how can we use  spatial thinking, to tackle the issues that we  

face today? Thank you so much, both of you for  sharing your insights today. It to me it was an   eye opening conversation, and one that I derived  a lot of value from and I'm positive that our   viewers and listeners will do the same, will have  that same experience. So thank you for being here,   sharing those insights, really excited to be part  of this helping just being seeing the growth and   the eventual pathways that will grow from this  and the impacts that students will make in the   world as a result of studying here at UMBC.  Thank you, Denise. That was a lot of fun. Yes.  

Thanks so much for listening to this episode of  UMBC's Mic'd up podcast. I hope you enjoyed this   episode. If you'd like to learn more about our  offerings, do a quick search for UMBC graduate   program in geographic information systems,  or simply click the link in the description.

2023-07-18 00:30

Show Video

Other news