GIS Program Will Allow Students Flex Option

Competency sets, rather than sequential learning, emphasized in online program

 
By Scott Tappa
 
In a typical post-secondary education setting, “A traditional professor is going to say here’s my course, here’s the topics we’re going to cover,” said Keith Rice, Professor of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. The paradigm is different with the new Flexible Online Degree program Rice and his colleagues are developing in the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Center.

The flex program emphasizes competency in a variety of knowledge and skill sets rather than a sequential collection of classes. Assessment is embedded in every step of the process, allowing students to prove mastery of a skill gained either by real-world experience or provided competency development materials. Basing the program online makes it more accessible to prospective students in a wider geographic range and to nontraditional students in the middle of their professional careers.
 
“For an adult trying to complete competency sets to get a certificate or degree, this allows them more flexibility to choose the knowledge and skills they want to complete and use,” said Rice. “If they already have a knowledge base, they could potentially pass the assessment and then not have to do all competency module work, and still get credit for that. “
 
“Let’s say someone has been working in the field for several years using GIS, but didn’t get a degree in GIS, rather in an associated discipline like forestry. They want to earn a professional certificate in GIS using the competency based model, so they say ‘I’ve been doing this work for 10 years, I could take several of my flex assessments in GIS and pass those,’ and then they would only have to take a few other competency sets to get their certificate instead of having to take six traditional classes.”
 
The University of Wisconsin System took a leadership role nationwide in championing flex education, eyeing the thousands of state residents who have taken college courses but not earned a degree. After starting with associate of arts and science degree programs at two-year UW Colleges, UW-Milwaukee went live earlier this year with degree programs in nursing, business and technical communications, diagnostic imaging and information science and technology.
 
Rice and colleague Doug Miskowiak saw a potential flex fit with the UW-Stevens Point GIS program. “We deal a lot with competencies to begin with, it fits into what we’re trying to do in online courses,” said Rice. “Having this funnel through the UW System would make this more attractive, give it more gravitas.”
 
The program was originally designed as a certificate program, but two UW System market studies suggested that a master’s program would ultimately be most valuable for both the university and prospective students. A master’s degree in GIS would give graduates not just the skills to be analysts or technicians in the field, but credentials to be supervisors, researchers and designers.  Those not interested in a master’s degree can still earn a GIS certificate through the flex program.

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