Live lecture/webinar hybrid experiment

I’m currently teaching two sections of the same introductory GIS course, one face-to-face (F2F), and one online.  This morning I tried a little experiment – I taught my regular F2F class in a lecture hall as usual, but I had a live webinar version of it online at the same time.  It went remarkably well, so I thought I would briefly explain what I did, why, and how.

What I did:

Students that did not attend the live lecture (in either section of the course) could see whatever I showed using the projector in class, which included PowerPoint slides, web pages, and a live demo of ArcGIS ModelBuilder.  They could hear me talking, but could not see me (no separate video feed of the instructor).  Besides this main window, there were two smaller windows, one for questions, and one for chat (these were not visible to the F2F students). I recorded the entire two-hour lecture, broken into two parts, that was then posted online for students who couldn’t watch live, as well as for those who may want to refer to it again later.  The students who attended the webinar version were from both sections of the course (I did a quick poll before class started).

Why I did it:

There were three main reasons why I wanted to try this.  I have been thinking about trying this hybrid approach for a while, but the current impetus was that I have a guest speaker coming to class next week.  After I invited him, I realized that I couldn’t ask him to do what I have been doing up until now, namely recording a separate podcast version for my online students and then teaching the lecture to my F2F section.  I wanted to have a way to capture him speaking in class in one shot.  Second, I have been a little uneasy about the fact that my online students were not benefiting from the spontaneous questions, discussions, demos, and announcements that would come up in class, and I wanted to capture that.  Third, my in-class attendance has dropped off dramatically in the past couple of lectures (I’m guessing this is due to  the F2F students having access to the online lecture podcasts) and I wanted to have another way for them to participate if they can’t (or won’t) attend in person.

How I did it:

Aside from the usual software (PowerPoint, using presenter view; ArcGIS; Chrome browser) I used Adobe Connect for the webinar.  I have used this for about two years for holding online office hours, so I was quite comfortable with setting it up.  I presented using my own laptop (Dell Latitude E6520) and used my own newly-purchased wireless lavalier microphone.  After consulting with my amazingly helpful colleagues through the U of T Educational Technology Interest Group, as well as a professional sound engineer (a friend of a friend), I decided to go with the Sennheiser ew100 G3 system.  It worked very well, although the sound today was a bit muddy.  I think this is mainly a matter of my learning the correct settings, especially mic sensitivity.  I can also increase the sound quality settings in Adobe Connect next time, which takes a bit more bandwidth, but may be worth trying.  I used my iPad (3rd generation) with the Adobe Connect app so I could see how the webinar looked from the students’ perspective, and it was easier for me to check for online questions without having to keep switching windows on my laptop.  I didn’t go so far as to monitor the audio this way, but will do so next time (at least to check the quality).

How it went:

Really well!  I had about 15 students watching online, and they were able to ask questions and use the chat window to talk with each other (this was minimal and not distracting). I got some very positive feedback and will definitely be doing this again.  I’m really pleased that my online students now have the option of participating in a live lecture.

Student view of the webinar
Student view of the webinar
Instructor view of the webinar
Instructor view of the webinar

GeoDesign as a teaching concept

I recently had the good fortune to attend a GeoDesign workshop presented by Bill Miller, who is the Director of GeoDesign Services at Esri, and one of the people credited with coining the term. It was a fascinating morning, and it was a reflection of how important this topic is becoming that Alex Miller, president of ESRI Canada (and no relation to Bill), attended. I had been hearing more and more about GeoDesign, but only had a vague notion of what it was, and wondered if it was just the latest buzzword.

While it may be true that it is relatively new and trendy, as I listened to Bill’s presentation the concept just “clicked” for me, especially when he put it in the context of Carl Steinitz’s GeoDesign framework (previously called the model of landscape change). I instantly saw the value of using this as a framework for teaching problem solving to my GIS students.

After the workshop, I realized that there has been an explosion of activity related to GeoDesign, which made me feel a bit late to the party. If you’re like me, a great place to start is the GeoDesign Summit website, which has a number of recorded presentations from the conferences. As I watched them, I was struck by the sheer number of examples of GeoDesign given by the speakers. I think there are several reasons for this: the definition of GeoDesign is still evolving, and it is easier to define it by example; these examples provide dramatic proof of the relevance and power of GeoDesign and each presenter wants to make that clear; most speakers tend to talk about what they know, and so approach the topic from their own area of expertise and how they are using GeoDesign; and, by providing so many examples, each participant is hoping that others will see overlaps with their own discipline, which will then promote cross-fertilization of ideas. It is fascinating to watch as all of these big thinkers hash out ideas. Another great resource is the comprehensive GeoDesign Bibliography created and maintained by Matt Artz.

From what I have seen and read so far, I have found some useful nuggets. Tom Fisher, Dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota, said that “Geography looks at the way the world is and the way the world was. Design looks at what could be” (The What and Why of GeoDesign). I think GeoDesign is still many things to many people, but I’m struck by the number of definitions and explanations of GeoDesign that mention the words “integrate” and “collaborate”. This seems to get at the heart of it, as exemplified by Kimon Onuma’s presentation Getting Real with GeoDesign and BIM and the concept of “BIM Storms” where a group of people collaborate in real time to design one or more buildings in a short period of time through the integration of a number of tools, including GIS.

The appeal of GeoDesign as a teaching concept stems from its grounding in high-level, conceptual thinking. When teaching GIS/GIScience, it is easy for students to lose sight of the forest for the trees; we spend a lot of time discussing specific tools and how they are used to solve small, specific problems (“How far away is it? How many are found in this area?”). GeoDesign provides an opportunity to show students how to approach a problem at a conceptual level, how to evaluate the process, how to include different types of reasoning (e.g., inductive, deductive, abductive), while also providing opportunities to drill down at each stage of the process to examine what tools should be used, how, and why. One of the best quotes I’ve seen about GeoDesign was from James Fee, who contends, “I think we’ve all been doing GeoDesign…for years, even decades, but not as a whole concept to implementation practice” (ESRI, 2010).

I find it interesting that, what is now referred to by Bill Miller as Carl Steinitz’s “GeoDesign Framework”, was originally created as a framework of theory for education (specifically for landscape architects) (Steinitz, 1990). Bill Miller mentioned during his talk that students need to learn methods for problem-solving, and that the GeoDesign framework is one such method. I agree, and I’m sure that many instructors, such as those at Northern Arizona University who have recently started a blog GeoDesign in the Curriculum, are contemplating how they might incorporate GeoDesign into their curricula. Many students will be excited by the possibilities of GeoDesign and its potential for integrating, collaborating, and connecting the past, present, and future.


ESRI 2010. Changing Geography by Design. Geography. Redlands, California: ESRI Press. 

Steinitz, Carl, Peter Rogers, Garrett Eckbo, Anne Spirn, and Angus Hills. 1990. A Framework for Theory Applicable to the Education of Landscape Architects ( and Other Environmental Design Professionals ), Landscape Journal 9 (2): 136-143.

Simultaneously published at V1 Magazine with thanks to Matt Ball, co-founder and editor, Vector1 Media.