For the past three years Nuala Cowan & Richard Hinton of the Geography department at the George Washington University have integrated the open source mapping platform, OpenStreetMap into the curriculum for their introductory undergraduate Geographical Information Systems (GIS) & Cartography classes; traditionally the domain of desktop, proprietary software. Professors Cowan and Hinton have sought to expand the traditional curriculum, and expose students to various different open source softwares, web based platforms, and data collection initiatives, specifically in a service-learning environment.
In collaboration with both local & international partners (American Red Cross 2012, USAID 2014), GW Geography students have used high-resolution satellite imagery to trace road and building infrastructure (Columbia & Indonesia 2012, Kathmandu 2013, Philippines & Zimbabwe 2014), data that is subsequently used to support disaster preparedness efforts.
Initiated by a small innovative teaching grant we have started work with OpenStreetMap foundation to develop a web site that would allow other instructors to replicate our mapping assignment specific to their particular discipline and curricular needs. This site is called TeachOSM.org. Our funding has since been matched by the World Bank, USAID (OTI and The Geocenter), the State Department and The American Red Cross. With this funding the scope of the project has been expanded to include the redevelopment of the OSM Tasking manager. The OSM Tasking Manager is a custom-mapping tool that facilitates collaborative mapping projects with a humanitarian focus. The purpose of the tool is to divide a mapping job into individual smaller tasks for group work, while guaranteeing coverage and minimizing overlap. New additions to the Tasking Manager will allow instructors to assign cells to individual students for both data creation, and data validation roles.
Mapping has applicability across many fields and communities of interest, and can used to document, archive, plan and contribute to both local and international initiatives.
Open source mapping modules and assignments are also a unique way to integrate service-learning strategies in course curriculum, while exposing students to new and exciting technological platforms. The experience teaches civic responsibility and the value of collaborative efforts in the global community.
The collaborative mapping initiatives at GWU Geography have been exclusively disaster related to date, as this coincides with the research interests of the faculty involved. We believe this instructional module/assignment is applicable to many disciplines and teaching scenarios, and the objective of the TeachOSM platform is to open that possibility to these other fields, in a comprehensive user friendly way.