Recognizing postermakers

Congratulations to BA in Geographic Analysis candidate Michael Markieta, who won a GEOIDE Student Poster Award at the Global Geospatial Conference 2012. Michael’s poster was entitled “Using Web Map Overlay for Visual Multi-Criteria Analysis: The Example of the Ontario Human Influence Index”. It presents a newly developed version of an online map overlay tool, with which we can represent multiple criteria or indicators in a composite index through the opacity/transparency of map layers.

A screenshot of the poster is seen above. The poster is listed at with ID P411. Partial funding for Michael’s work-study position was provided by the GEOIDE Network of Centres of Excellence, project PIV-41.

The GEOIDE Network of Centres of Excellence – an era of geomatics research in Canada

The GEOIDE Network of Centres of Excellence is holding its final annual conference as part of the Global Geospatial Conference 2012 in Quebec City. From 1999-2012, GEOIDE brought together some 400 Canadian University researchers and over 1,400 students in collaborative, multi-year projects that spanned Geomatics engineering and the natural, social, and health sciences. At Ryerson, faculty members in Civil Engineering, Geography, and Planning were involved in GEOIDE-funded research. Upon a quick count, at least ten graduate and five undergraduate students contributed to my own research within GEOIDE between 2005-2012. During this time, we developed and tested tools for argumentation mapping to engage stakeholders in spatial planning and decision-making.

An argumentation map combines an online cartographic map of an area of interest, e.g. for urban re-development, with a discussion forum. People interested in, or affected by, a spatial planning or decision-making issue can reference their comments and opinions to specific places in the mapped area. This enables others to read existing posts from either the map view or the threaded structure of the discussion forum. Additionally, decision-makers can investigate hot spots of discussion, the most contentious areas within the plan, as well as the patterns of contribution (by date/time and by participant) during an online public participation period.

Interest in argumentation mapping and related concepts has gained traction with the increasing availability of geospatial Web tools such as Google Maps, OpenLayers, etc., many of which have a global reference map already included (e.g. from the OpenStreetMap initiative). Building on my most frequently cited article in Environment and Planning (2001 – over 90 citations), the GEOIDE network has enabled student research such as the project that led to an article in Computers, Environment and Urban Systems (2008), which draws the link between Web 2.0 concepts and argumentation mapping. That article has 57 citations as of today and is featured as the third-most cited article of the journal since 2007.

Besides the direct funding of graduate student stipends and undergraduate research assistantships and work-study positions, attending the annual GEOIDE summer school was a highlight for a number of students. A series of my students were actively involved in the GEOIDE student network and the planning of the last three summer schools. The network provided a great deal of organizational and leadership experience and valuable professional networking to Ryerson students and helped involve them in cutting-edge research at the intersection of geography, geomatics, planning, and policy studies.

Current issues in academia: Calling students “clients” doesn’t fly

At the risk of raising a few eyebrows among my own students, I want to pass along another pointed opinion from the ranks of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT). This time, Michael Morse, a professor at Trent University, wrote in the CAUT Bulletin Vol 59 | No 4 | April 2012 about why “Calling Students ‘Clients’ Doesn’t Fly“.

Prof. Morse argues that students or their parents are not the clients of the university. University serves society as a whole, not individual customers. This leads to an interesting association with the student protests going on in Quebec. In a comment on “Tuition hikes, student strikes and lessons in applied politics” for the Toronto Star, Prof. Pierre Martin of the Université de Montréal notes that the Quebec view of higher education used to be that of a “collective good for society as a whole rather than a personal investment made by individuals in search of future income gains”. But through increases in tuition, this culture is gradually shifting towards the latter view.

While Prof. Morse uses the example of a flight school to present education/training as a public good, my example is broader. Consider the road network in Toronto as government-funded infrastructure. It is so varied in its form and function, and more importantly its uses and benefits, that we accept that it is built and maintained from our tax money. Higher education is a critical part of this country’s infrastructure too. And its job is to get its users (students) through effectively for their own direct benefit but more so for indirect societal benefits (greater productivity, increased tax revenue, good decision-making, responsibility, civic engagement, …). I can think of additional parallels, e.g. regarding express toll routes (~fast-track programs, continuing education) or fees for out-of-town drivers (out-of-province/country students), but I want to leave these for another time!