Penn State MOOC introduces geospatial intelligence to students around the world

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Geospatial intelligence was born of the defense industry, but Todd Bacastow said it can have broader applications in business and law enforcement as well.

Bacastow, the lead faculty member in Penn State’s geospatial intelligence program, hopes Geospatial Intelligence and the Geospatial Revolution, a free online course that started Jan. 14, will help broaden the appeal of the discipline beyond the world of defense, both in and outside the United States.

“This is a sort of swords-to-plowshares effort,” Bacastow said. “Often in the United States geospatial intelligence is tied to U.S. intelligence agencies. I untie it.”

The massive open online course, or MOOC, is offered through Coursera. More than 16,000 students have enrolled so far — two thirds from outside the United States. Bacastow said he designed the course to provide a global perspective on GEOINT.

The five-week course will explore the application of geospatial intelligence, or GEOINT, principles to business, emergency management and law enforcement as well as defense. A business might use GEOINT, for example, to decide where to locate a new inter-city air transport service, using residential and business demographics obtained from public (U.S. Census) and private sources. Participants will learn how to use and apply GEOINT methods and also discuss questions of secrecy. The course will culminate with a project in which students use real data to decide where to locate an Ebola treatment facility in Liberia.

The course follows Penn State’s first geography MOOC, the wildly popular Maps and the Geospatial Revolution, which will be offered again in March. Another course called Geodesign: Change Your World will be offered in July.

Penn State offers a graduate certificate in geospatial intelligence analytics and geospatial intelligence options in the MGIS and iMPS-HLS through its online World Campus.

The course was developed with the help of mapping software company Esri, geospatial information provider DigitalGlobe and the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation, which will staff a course discussion forum.

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Last Updated January 14, 2015