Multimedia Tools for
Advanced GIS Training in Europe

The MUTATE project is funded by the Educational Multimedia Task Force of the European Union.

MUTATE: Project Presentation

As we take the Information Society for granted, computer based tools invade the workplace and a technical workforce which had no information technology related training is expected to start working with the new tools. The tradition of permanent on-job training in the USA managed to cover this gap in a decade. Gigantic steps in terms of advanced training are required in Europe to achieve a similar result.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are a good example: many institutions are developing information systems which are centred around GIS concepts, their technicians having to work on a day to day basis with those tools. A boost in productivity is expected; however, practice shows that, without proper training, these tools end-up decreasing the efficiency of the institution.

Clearly, our society is demanding new types of training: the public are technicians with previous degrees and usually more than 5 years professional experience, with no chance of spending long periods away from home and professional responsibilities that prevent them from devoting 100% of their time to attend a course. Given the increasing budget cuts, universities are willing to provide these new services. However, to achieve that, they need the right tools: on one hand course management tools, enabling them to establish the course, register students, create the interaction between students and professors, evaluate the students, etc.; on the other hand multimedia educational tools, enabling them to create really interactive course material.

MUTATE, Multimedia Tools for Advanced GIS Training in Europe, a R&D Project funded by the Educational Multimedia Task Force of the European Union, emerged from the practical experience of a multi-national team of SME's and universities.

Having started in January 1998, MUTATE has a two year lifetime. Its ultimate goal is the creation of a set of tools, designated MUTATE Bundle, which will allow the development of Web Based Advanced GIS Training and Education, thus opening the door for Universities to introduce a new type of educational service, multimedia, Internet based, which can be offered world- wide, making the most of the European know-how and, through the implementation of real cases demonstrate the validity of the concept.

From 1999 onwards European citizens will benefit from a new offer in advanced training, made available on an equal basis to every European, from southern Portugal to northern Sweden. Any technician willing to attend a course of world reputation, with the world leading experts as directors and tutors just needs a normal PC and a phone line. Universities will have the chance to generate a new source of income, using their main asset: the pool of teachers and researchers.

MUTATE: the idea

MUTATE is a R&D Project funded by the Educational Multimedia Task Force of the European Union, whose ultimate goal is the creation of the new tools for Web Based Advanced GIS Training and Education. The main steps in the project are:

  • development of the MUTATE Bundle;

  • use the developed tools to implement four different GIS courses:

    1. a environmental analysis and geostatistics course;

    2. a GIS and decision making course;

    3. a GIS and planning course; and a

    4. geomatics course;

  • establish the European Internet Open GIS Course, based at the University of Utrecht and directed by Professor Peter Burrough, as an example of the new type of course.

A new pedagogical approach

MUTATE proposes an innovative pedagogical approach, ultimately aiming at finding out new means of conveying knowledge from experts and a pool of knowledge to students. This approach is based on the following principles:

  • principle of interaction: by dynamically interacting with a Web Site the student can customise the sequence of the teaching materials to meet his or her specific needs;

  • principle of complementarity, no matter how sophisticated the computer tools are, human intervention is always required. The human dimension is assured by assigning a tutor to each registered student as part of the service provided; this may be extended to include capabilities like net-conferencing with the tutor;

  • principle of empiricism, learn by trying, rather than by reading about other people' s experiences. By providing a modern GIS environment and complex simulation models on the web site MUTATE gives students the possibility to carry out studies as if they were laboratory experiments. By using interactive simulation as the major learning method, this approach will enhance the understanding of fundamental processes, leading to the possibilities to create "what-if" scenario analyses and to the exploration of far-reaching solutions.

  • principle of learning by peer discussion, learn by discussing with your own group. Since the ancient greek times discussion is the basis for continuous learning. By creating discussion forums associated to each course, MUTATE motivates discussion as an essential part of the course.

  • principle of fair evaluation, besides exercises that will automatically be evaluated by the system, and projects which will be evaluated by the tutor, attendance at a live examination will be mandatory if the student wants a final certificate. This examination will be conducted at an affiliated university.

    There is increased evidence of the advantages of Multimedia training: "The multimedia approach saves time- anywhere from 25% to 50%, with most reports showing a 35% to 45% decrease in training time. This savings is achieved with equivalent or better learning gains in terms of retention (remembering what was learned) and transfer (using what was learned). "

    MUTATE: the products

    MUTATE will produce a Software Bundle (to be shipping in 1999), the MUTATE Bundle, which includes several modules:

    • course management module;

    • course evaluation module, for tracking student performance and to perform student evaluation, based on the interaction between the student and the Course Web Site and his/her Tutor;

    • content database management system;

    • content database retrieval and navigational module, capable of dynamically generating multi-media content through the client-server integration of dynamic simulation models, optimisation models, and spatial expert system;

    • dynamic content generation, customisation, editing and rendering tools;

    • dynamic simulation models

    MUTATE Bundle is installed in a Server machine, integrating an ORACLE database server and a WebServer. The structure of the MUTATE based courses is such that different parts can be run by different computers, for instance dynamic simulation models may be run in super- computers anywhere in Europe. Management and development modules are client server programs; Student tools are accessed through the WebServer, and includes HTML contents, XML contents, ActiveX controls and JAVA applets.

    The services

    MUTATE will also provide two types of services: Web Based Training Services and Content Development Services. The main characteristics of the MUTATE Web Based Training Services are:
    • high quality (students are experienced professionals, not freshmen, thus requiring vocational training);

    • highly flexible in terms of schedule (may start any time in the year, do it in one month or in six);

    • demand the minimum amount of travelling (students can attend the course from home);

    • give access to high level knowledge from well known experts in the area;

    • combine freedom of choice with tutor direction to insure the learning process, inviting the student to define his/her own schedule within a set of rules from the course;

    • be recognised in the market place;

    • give access to powerful tools from the home or office micro-computer.

    MUTATE Content Development Services include creating or organising contents for specific courses, other than the Open GIS Course.

    MUTATE: the users

    MUTATE has two types of users in mind:

    • the potential buyers of the package of tools, which are universities, training institutions and corporations with internal training programs;

    • the end users, which are experienced professionals requiring vocational training.

    To test the MUTATE products four well known universities, distributed around Europe, were selected. In order to demonstrate the potential of the proposed approach and training philosophy end user involvement was taken one step further and MUTATE is involved in the launch of the European Open WebGIS Course as an example of the new type of course.

    GIS training

    GIS training concerns a variety of agents in private or public organisations dealing with the management of spatially distributed activities. As a first taxonomy we consider the following classification:

    • International agencies (typically a "UN or EU organisation");

    • Governmental agencies and public administration (typically an "Environmental protection agency", general directorates and municipalities);

    • Public or private firms with a spatially distributed activity (typically a Power Utility or distribution companies);

    • SME's (typically a Consultant Office);

    • Non-governmental organisations.

    These agents have a background in different areas of knowledge, including Sciences, Social Sciences or Information Processing and Decision. Depending on the task they have to perform in their respective organisations these different agents will require different training offers. However a common structure may be defined, along three main topics: Understanding GIS, Performing geographic analysis and Analyse decisions on the basis of a GIS. European Internet Open GIS Course

    Starting in 1999, the European Internet Open GIS Course will be centred in the University of Utrecht and will offer four courses:

    1. a environmental analysis and geostatistics course;

    2. a GIS and decision making course;

    3. a GIS and planning course; and a

    4. geomatics course.

Copyright 1995-2002 by:   ESS   Environmental Software and Services GmbH AUSTRIA