[OSGeo-Discuss] Re: Use cases for FOSS-GIS in universities

Tim Michelsen timmichelsen at gmx-topmail.de
Sat May 12 12:33:21 PDT 2007

Patrick Maué schrieb:
> Hi Tim, 
> I am not sure if using open source alternatives for education does
> necessarily mean that your students learn more than just pressing
> buttons in the right order. Actually, I guess this is one of the major
> arguments against open source software:  it's the lack of user-friendly
> interfaces which forces you to learn the underlying concepts to let the
> software make what you want.
> choice to challenge of using GRASS instead of ArcDesktop. I would like
> to see that (the mandatory) GIS classes should not force any student to
> learn the functionality of a software package, wether it's free software
> or not. 
I can second that. For a normal user a system should be as user friendly 
as possible.
But, as you also state, GIS systems are expert software which require 
some sort of understanding of the concept.
Not like read the manual and off you go.

To my observation, FOSS-GIS differs a lot from the proprietary software. 
If you are interested in FOSS you'd usually go and learn it by yourself. 
And this is not done simply by reading one tutorial. When doing team 
work all others rely on the software that was thought and is present in 
the labs. And when you are short of time due to a coming deadline you 
may just stick to what you already know...

But these issues are really educational matters that seem to be of more 
interest for the edu_discuss ML.
I put this topic here becuase I am looking for a more general approach. 
Like I described I think that software can be learned once qualified 
teaching personel is there. Therefore I'd like to know if it would be 
feasible to implement a geodata infrastructure for a whole university 
like I described in my first posting. This would avoid buying tons of 
licences of a standard product. The money saved could be spend (A) on 
the real reseach (e.g. soil samples) or (B) to have a local GIS 
developer adjust and develop the software to the needs of the research 
groups which would then help others, too.

I think FOSS GIS companies have already implemented geodata 
infrastructures in various organisations like governments or companies.
Could the experiences gained on that field be transfered to the academia?

For example: A guy from another department is now looking at introduce 
GIS in his department. What he does is checking how many licences of 
Arc* he could get for his budget. Maybe he would consider his decision 
if he'd knew that he what services (gdi implementation, adaption, 
training courses) he could get from a FOSS GIS service provider for the 
same budget.
None of the responsible people will launch a tender that a FOSS and 
proprietary vendors apply and the best wins!

ESRI is offering student licences (= Arc* for free during your thesis). 
So, students get a software which they know from classes and on which 
their supervisors have confidence.
What has FOSS to offer?
A lot of software with a superbe licence! But a very steep learning 
curve. To my thinking the GRASS flyer which is currently in development 
will not much. People who know linux or have advanced computing skills 
may give it a try   (see above and previous posts). I can imagine that 
building up a mentoring network could help. Voluteering FOSS GIS gurus 
(in governmental authorities and companies) could mentor students or 
student groups that are interested. Some universities invite external 
experts to teach. Therefore I recommend to send a list of possible 
trainers in the specific country/region along when you start sending out 
flyers like the GRASS flyer.

My university has not only fully equipped labs with Arc*. For remote 
sensing they rely (like many others) on the ITT stack (Envi, Idrisi, 
IDL). Once the licence is there it *has* to be used to justify the 

And please remember that only a minority of users have high comutional 
skills. They have other things like in mind like getting samples from 
the fields, etc. (see Ari's mail).

Kind regards,

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