I had the auspicious pleasure of interviewing Gadget Loon at New Mexico State University’s Aggie Island, where the NMSU Geography Department hosted what is the first known GIS Day event held primarily in a virtual world.
GIS Day provides an international forum for users of geographic information systems (GIS) technology to demonstrate real-world applications that are making a difference in our society. More than 80 countries participate in holding local events such as corporate open houses, hands-on workshops, community expos, school assemblies, and more.
Gadget’s students met in NMSU’s Island learning community to share projects and posters demonstrating their GIS class activities with attendees in both the real and virtual worlds. Students were available throughout the day to describe their projects and help educate those not familiar with GIS about the technology. The event was mainly designed for university educators interested in the use of Second Life as a venue for teaching GIS but was open to everyone.
For GIS Day, Gadget’s students were assigned the task of displaying examples of their actives using GIS to analyze or communicate some information. Geography matters – that’s the GIS motto! Posters began with the term, “GIS means…” and ended with such eye-opening statements as:
- Never seeing the world without a rainforest
- Building safer communities
- Saving the forest from fire
This was all done using a piece of software called ArcGIS – which usually retails for $19,000 by the Environmental Systems Research Institute or ESRI. ArcGIS is a digital geography system that allows one to analyze maps, combine maps, measure elements on maps, find the shortest path between two points, establish good places for land uses, predict fires, or anything else within the confines of imagination.
Gadget appreciates the ability that SL provides to get students from a variety of places together for classwork. SL also provides a certain anonymity due to the avatar allowing some to open up and answer when they would otherwise be mute. He also enjoys the ability to create shared intellectual spaces and landscapes. Gadget has been bringing students into SL for four semesters of learning. His classes have evolved from traditional lectures to experiential exercises to a complete suite of tasks including Sunday night review sessions. And Gadget’s educating exuberance doesn’t stop at students. He also helps other instructors (gratus) for beginning and advanced courses.
So what are geographic information systems? In short – anything that can be mapped! From topography to ants, and houses to ideas, absolutely anything that can be tracked geographically may use GIS technology. A geographer’s primary task is to explore, describe, explain, and predict spatial patterns. Climatology, for example is often taught in geography departments as meteorology. Geographers are the data support structure for all things that might be mapped including the military, intelligence community, homeland security, and commerce.
Gadget Loon is a GIS Specialist and Associate Professor at NMSU where he teaches Fundamentals of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), GIS Institutional Design, Geodatabase Design, and Landscape Ecology. He puts a lot of energy into learning how to use virtual worlds like Second Life as a venue for teaching GIS concepts and ideas. His research areas are effective methods of GIS Education and rapid environmental assessment methodologies in arid environments. Gadget also write textbooks and tradebooks on GIS – the latest of which is GIS for Dummies. Currently Gadget is writing an article entitled Second Life as a Surrogate for Experiential Learning and writing a chapter entitled Subject Matter Content Creation for Second Life Delivery: Teaching GIS in Second Life in the book Multi-User Virtual Environments for the Classroom: Practical Approaches to Teaching in Virtual Worlds.
To access Gadget’s latest articles, visit: http://visualcv.com/akadrgadget
Gadget began his Second Life journey in March of 2007. He had been taking a class in NMSU’S first Online Teaching and Learning Certificate Program called Fostering Online Communities. At the time, he’d already had a Graduate Certificate of Online Learning in addition to his PhD in geography. Gadget’s foray into the Educators Coop was through his attempts at learning how to use SL for education. He had been interacting with another who knew of the Coop and suggest that he speak with North Lamar and Bluewave Ogee. Today, Gadget can’t enough on the subject or stop writing about it.
In addition, Gadget is also part of a group of 4 professors that just received a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to build a prototype environment (perhaps some in a virtual world) that will allow for the seamless sharing of geographic data, information, and expertise.
After touring the GIS Day displays, Gadget then showed me NSMU’s Library complete with a Geography section. NMSU’s geography section connects directly to the live campus library, making it eminently functional.
So why the name Gadget Loon? Due to Gadget having written the Fundamentals of GIS textbook that his students use, as well as GIS for Dummies, his students became intimidated and wouldn’t speak up in class, obstructing Gadget’s ability to educate them fully. So, one day, Gadget came to class with as many electronic gadgets as he could possibly attach to himself. He proceeded to teach his class as usual until finally one of his students pointed to the assorted electronic paraphernalia and said, “what’s with all the … um … ummm,” to which Gadget replied, “Gadgets”? The student replied in the affirmative and Gadget responded, “Didn’t you know my nickname was Dr. Gadget” and the name stuck forever more. At the conclusion of this light-hearted tale, Gadget released scores of Inspector Gadget emblazoned bubbles into the NMSU library. Would that my camera had been fast enough to capture the scene before the bubbles popped on the library shelves.
Dr. Gadget’s story was inspirational, his sense of humor uplifting, and his dedication to engaging his students on a higher level of learning a beacon of light in a sometimes dim and repetitive educational world.
In “real life” Gadget Loon is Dr. Michael DeMers, Associate (not-for-long) Professor of Geography at New Mexico State University. He has a Bachelors of Science in Earth Science and Biology and a Masters of Science degree in Geography from the University of North Dakota. In addition, he has a Masters of Philosophy degree and a PhD in Geography from the University of Kansas. Gadget is also an Associate Editor of the International Journal of Virtual and Personal Learning Environments and teaches Intermediate Second Life for Educators via the Sloan-C group.