Technology

Brandman partners with Esri for big-data approach to adult learning

February 05, 2018 by Cindy O'Dell

Esri's approach to the "Science of Where" provides Brandman University with multiple options for incorporating it into programs.

How does Facebook know where you want to take your next vacation? Big data. How does Amazon know which shoe style you like? Big data.

Now, Brandman University is going to make sure its students know how to put such geographic data to good use.

“One of the most influential quotes I’ve ever heard came from (mathematician) Clyde Humby who said, ‘The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, it’s data,” said Brandman University instructional designer Lindsay Yossef. “Data is so valuable to companies, to governments to decision makers. There’s an increased demand for understanding it because of what a hot commodity it is.”

Teaching students how to find, understand and present data that might solve community problems or help a business grow is the goal behind the trio of programs using geographic information systems (GIS) this year in the School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Business and Professional Studies and the School of Extended Education.

The first, a bachelor’s degree with a major in integrated social science, is already giving students access to Esri variety of GIS software to help them understand and analyze the importance of location (using maps and more) for understanding social issues. Two more programs, an MBA program with an emphasis on data analysis and a nonprofit certificate program geared toward staff and volunteers from nonprofit organizations, are enrolling students now. A graduate certificate in data analysis will also use the Esri programs.

All three are part of a collaboration between university and Esri, a longtime leader in GIS technology.

From one to three

Professor Sheila Steinberg, Ph.D., started what she calls “the snowball effect” by adding courses that used Esri’s new Online ArcGIS software when she revised the integrated social science program. A longtime collaborator with Esri for her research and an Esri Press published author, Steinberg’s conversations Brandman Provost Charles Bullock got her thinking about other programs that might benefit from the same focus on location and data.

Sheila Steinberg
Professor Sheila Steinberg, Ph.D.

“Esri is the kind of company that when they develop a good working relationship with someone, they keep it,” said Steinberg. They’re also grounded in real-world problems, an approach that Steinberg said mirrors how Brandman educates its students, the majority of whom are adult learners with experience outside of college. She worked closely with Esri's Clint Brown, director of Software Products, and Riley Peake, team lead for Learn ArcGIS.

The “snowball” grew when Esri’s David Gadsen, who leads the Nonprofit Sector at Esri, realized that Brandman might be the answer to one of his company’s challenges. Nonprofits were interested in using GIS information. So the company developed less expensive, more accessible online programs and training around them. But they found they were still in an uphill battle to get nonprofits to take advantage of what they offered.

“Where we fell short was with organizations that are new to GIS, that weren’t using specific tools or aware of how spatial technology could improve their decision-making. Brandman brings a unique way of engaging students who are trying to enhance their careers with technologies. Brandman has taken a step back and really modeled what the potential of GIS is to help an organization and then feathered in the technology,” said Gadsen.

“Brandman has helped us advance the idea that thinking spatially is no longer confined to just the geography department and that the rise of location-centric big-data collection now permeates almost all walks of life,” said Peake, who worked closely with Brandman representatives for nearly two years.

Business applications

Introducing spatial thinking is also part of the new data analysis emphasis offered through Brandman’s MBA programs, said Monica Shukla-Belmontes, the assistant dean in the School of Business, who oversees the curriculum.

Monica Shukla-Belmontes
Associate Dean Monica Shukla-Belmontes

“We want them (MBA students) to know the best way to convey information whether it’s through maps or pie charts or other ways of looking at data using a geospatial approach,” said Shukla-Belmontes. “That’s the driving force behind this program. How do we make sure our graduates know how to understand and interpret the data and then communicate the information effectively so that those making the decisions can make the best decisions?”

“This is giving our business students an edge for understanding the data. This is not a data science program. This is applying the concepts,” she said.

The collaborative effort behind developing the programs also gave Esri the opportunity to fine-tune its approach to education, said Peake. “Location analytics is deeply embedded with modern technology. Understanding how to explore location-based data is going to be key to finding jobs and advancing careers over the next decade and beyond,”

Building as they learn

In each program – undergraduate, certificate or MBA – students are first introduced to the various ways other organizations have used GIS. That can be something as global and complex as how the World Health Organization and United Nations work with Esri to understand the spread of the Zika virus or the potential effects caused by raising the minimum wage. It can be as local as how a business could map out the location of competitors and potential customers to decide where to add a new store. It can be a nonprofit, such as the Dolores Huerta Foundation, using GIS and Esri storytelling tools to further social justice by explaining the impact of pesticides on farmworkers.

In the next phase of each program, students apply those concepts to problems they want solved. Social science students might focus on anything from a health issue to homelessness. A business student might look at how location relates to profitability in the company where they work. A nonprofit volunteer might use Esri’s 1-2-3 survey tool to gather information about the people being served and then use the storytelling tool to craft a presentation for potential donors or an annual report.

“GIS is all about solving problems, taking information, understanding it and taking action,” said Steinberg. “That is also what sets Brandman apart from other universities. We lead by teaching problem-solving. The concepts of applied learning and the technology are there to help students achieve success.”

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