Hands-On Learning at Selkirk College

"SEG has invested in developing instructional labs that incorporate Avenza Maps Pro in many different courses spread over our diploma and degree programs."

Located in Castlegar, BC, Selkirk College has delivered environmental science training since 1966. Today, the School of Environment and Geomatics (SEG) is home to three nationally accredited programs: Forestry Technology, Recreation Fish & Wildlife Technology, and Integrated Environmental Planning Technology. The School also delivers an Advanced Diploma (ADGIS), an online Geomatics in the Workplace Associate diploma, and a Bachelor Degree (BGIS) in Geographic Information Systems. SEG is also associated with the Selkirk Geospatial Research Centre (SGRC) a leading-edge research centre specializing in geospatial technologies aimed at solving critical issues pertaining to environmental and socio-economic problems.

More than a decade ago, the SEG faculty recognized that the environmental industries for which their students were training were moving in the direction of digital data collection. At the time, Avenza Maps Pro (formerly PDF Maps) was one of a number of geospatial apps that they tested to incorporate into their curriculum. In 2013 SEG co-hosted a conference called “New Ways to Use Digital Technology in the Field” which exposed many of our Faculty to different data collection and GIS apps and Avenza Maps emerged as one of the more popular apps, featured in several workshops presented at the event.

“To adequately prepare graduates for the current and future workplace, students need plenty of hands-on experience using tablets in the field.”

More recently, several important drivers led to SEG adopting Avenza Maps Pro as a primary mobile GIS platform on which to teach to its students. First, the Faculty recognized that to adequately prepare graduates for the current and future workplace, students needed plenty of hands-on experience using tablets in the field. This need was most obvious in the forest industry, where, in many operations, almost all of the data collection and navigation happens digitally using tablets. Second, when past and present forestry industry advisory groups were polled on a preferred mobile GIS app, Avenza Maps came out on top as many advisory members considered the ability to use Avenza Maps Pro a "must-know" for entry into the workplace. Finally, Avenza Maps Pro includes functionality that is particularly useful to SEGs students; namely the ability to create attributes with picklists, use layers, to collect data in polygon format and to import and export attribute schema.

Mapping students working outside

SEG has invested in developing instructional labs that incorporate Avenza Maps Pro in many different courses spread over our diploma and degree programs. ‘As a Geomatics/GIS instructor for our first and second-year programs, I have used Avenza in all my classes for at least one lab.’ says Rena Vandenbos, a Senior Instructor at SEG. ‘When students arrive in second year (after their first field season), if they used a mobile device to collect data in the field in their summer job, they have used Avenza Maps Pro, with very few exceptions.’

Vandenbos generally spends one lab session teaching students how to get maps and data on and off the devices, then they go out in the field in other courses and collect data. ‘The next step is to show students what the different formats for data export look like and which are best suited for which software (KML for GE, SHP for ArcGIS, CSV for tables or bringing in attributes with point features).’ she adds. ‘Having their data in shapefile format really streamlines the workflow (they don’t have to go through the extra step of converting data or tracing data and renaming/adding attributes.

Students in the Forestry program at SEG are using Avenza Maps Pro in the field for every course. During the student’s final, month-long project, the app is integral to all their data collection, field verification of initial plans and creation of accurate map products. ‘By then the students are quite advanced users.’ notes Vandenbos.

Overall, SEGs experience working with Avenza Maps Pro to provide achievable student learning outcomes, and student feedback has been positive. Students cite ease of use, ease of collecting and exporting data, and the ability to import maps or download from the Avenza Map Store as features that they liked most. Our students have become higher level users of the app in a way that will satisfy our external advisory groups.’ says Brendan Wilson, Chair, School of Environment & Geomatics, ‘And will likely impress future employers and peers that may have had little or no experience with Avenza Maps.’