Tech Trends-Teaching High-Tech Possibilities1 Nov, 2006 By: Kenneth Wong
Budding mapmakers chronicle Hawaii's disappearing beaches.
Hawaii, America's favorite honeymoon spot, is shrinking—by about 6–12 inches a year, according to USGS's (United States Geological Survey's) Hawaii Beach Monitoring Program. Late last year, a research team descended on the stretch of coastline making up the Kaloko-Honokohau National Park, just north of Kailua-Kona village, to measure beach erosion. The project was part of a study funded through a grant sponsored by the NOAA (U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). Using Ricoh digital cameras and GPS devices, researchers recorded the shoreline positions (figure 1). Afterwards, they walked back to their mapping facility, roughly a mile away from the site, to upload their data into a GIS system using GPS-Photo Link software. Later, when the day drew to an end, they poured out into the hallway, ran past the principal's office, the detention center and the cafeteria, and those who weren't yet old enough to drive waited for their parents to come pick them up. The researchers are Kealakehe High School students, ages 15 to 18, and their mapping facility is the classroom of their Career and Technical Education instructor, Larry Rice.
Figure 1. To measure the rate of shoreline erosion in Hawaii, Kealakehe High School students and their instructor Larry Rice used digital cameras equipped with GPS cards. This map shows the outcome of their first field trip.
Life after the Bubble
When the high-tech bubble burst, Rice, a former product marketing director for Cadence Design Systems (www.cadence.com), landed in Kona, where he had previously gone on frequent scuba diving trips. "After 15 years, CAD, PDM (product data management) and supply-chain marketing got a little boring," he admitted. So he went back to school to get a teaching degree. Now this former high-tech marketer, who once peddled Sun Microsystems products to business executives and made his first PDM sale to Hughes Aircraft in El Segundo, California, spends his days advocating technology to a much tougher crowd—ninth to twelfth graders.
"Students in our area see very few high-tech or engineering jobs," Rice observed. "In our area, only 20% of the people have college degrees. At my last place of work, Silicon Valley, it seemed everyone did. So the professional influence on students is significantly lacking here locally. On a daily basis I see students with incredible potential, but much less expectations about what they can do professionally with a college education. I am trying to get them to experience the promising professions through technology." He teaches AutoCAD LT, SolidWorks, COSMOSWorks, SketchUp and ESRI's ArcGIS, among others. So much for turning his back on high-tech.
Mapping the eroding Hawaiian coast is just the latest in a series of geospatial field trips Rice has conducted with his students. Under his stewardship, Kealakehe students put together several maps of Kailua-Kona Bay by combining land parcel data, street data, locations of public services, contour maps and satellite photos, obtained via courtesy of the County of Hawaii, USGS, NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), Hawaii Department of Energy and the U.S. Census Bureau (figure 2).
Figure 2. A map of Kailua-Kona Bay produced by Rice s students.
The cameras and software used by the students come from GeoSpatial Experts, a value-added reseller of Ricoh Pro G3 digital camera systems. The Ricoh Pro G3 camera has a built-in Compact Flash slot for reading GPS coordinates from Bluetooth-enabled GPS units, so users can embed site information in the JPEG files. Users may also insert a Compact Flash GPS card into the same slot, which turns the camera into a GPS-enabled device. These photo files can later be downloaded by GPS-Photo Link software, which then automatically imports them into ESRI's ArcMap as shape files (figure 3). The software also facilitates batch processing, linking to Google Earth and creating Web pages and photos labeled with coordinates. GeoSpatial Experts is a business partner of GIS solutions provider ESRI and GPS technology developer Trimble (www.trimble.com).
Figure 3. Using the GPS-Photo Link software, users can import site photos taken with GPS-enabled digital cameras into ESRI s ArcView.
Like many educators, Rice discovered that students have a way of educating teachers. In his case, his students' behavior yielded insights into why some software products fail: "For computer systems," he observed, "students seem to have much less tolerance for strange or unintuitive UIs (user interfaces). They will quickly give up if they don't get it . . . This will affect the marketing of products. When free downloads are available, the product must be immediately intuitive, easy and fun to use. Don't expect Help or a tutorial to bail out [a poorly designed] UI. This applies to things like GPSs and digital cameras, too."
It's not uncommon for Rice, a high-tech veteran, to be surprised by the students: "They quite often have a completely different perspective on how technology (hardware and software) operates," he said. "I find myself saying 'I never thought of that before' or 'I never saw anyone do that before.' Maybe I am stigmatized by more than 20 years of computer usage. I suggest that software vendors do some teenager user studies on products before release."
Mr. Rice s Opus
In a previous mapping field trip, the Kealakehe students discovered Garmin Rino 110 and Garmin Rino 130, handheld communication devices for GPS position reporting. To Rice's distress, they also discovered that they could broadcast using the radio function in these devices. Before long, the GMRS (general mobile radio service) wavelength was overtaken by the students' chatter. It was only after Rice persuaded them to disable the radio function that the latitude–longitude collection could proceed in peace.
Technology Teachers Wanted
"Only 62% of our school's teachers are highly qualified, by NCLB (No Child Left Behind) definition," he said, "so this rural area is in need of teachers with both proper education/training and, more importantly, industry experience to present the relevance of student studies. Too much of the current curriculum is academic—not application. Professionals from the industry can mitigate and enhance this." It sounds like Rice has found his calling. It's unlikely that he'll leave the tropical paradise to return to his former life in the Silicon Valley.
Kenneth Wong is a former editor of Cadence magazine. As a freelance writer, he explores innovative use of technology and its implications. E-mail him at kennethwongsf at earthlink.net.