The Best Thing I Saw at TUGIS 2013

I spent the day yesterday at Towson University attending the TUGIS 2013 conference. The new one-day format was a firehose that showcased the diversity of geospatial work occurring across the State of Maryland. The keynote by Learon Dalby was well-received and the content of the conference was generally substantive. While the day was a sprint, there was one workshop that really caught my attention more so than I would have thought from its title.

The photo below shows 40 participants of an “Introduction to Free and Open Source GIS Software” workshop getting hands-on experience with QGIS and PostGIS by working through prepared but realistic scenarios. These scenarios included doing multi-user editing and performing spatial analysis to assess the effects of a potential toxic release over a small town.

The workshop was put together by Dr. Arthur Lembo of Salisbury University and conducted by him and a team of his students, who not only led portions of the workshop but were also stationed around the room to provide guidance to participants. The scenarios were prepared in printed workbooks that the participants were free to take with them, along with information about how to download the tools. All-in-all, I thought the workshop was very well-designed and presented a thorough overview of the capabilities of these two tools.

To be sure, the workshop was not all unicorns and rainbows. There were typical glitches such as file system and database permission issues that required on-the-fly adjustments, which Dr. Lembo and his students handled well. Some participants were clearly stumped at points while others were making good headway with the examples.

Many of the participants probably remain committed ArcGIS users after the workshop while others may very well dig in and more thoroughly explore QGIS and PostGIS, but that’s really beside the point. Regardless of what the individual participants decide to do with the information from the workshop, all left with hands-on exposure to the tools that was presented in a manner that was free of hyperbole, FUD, or market-speak. They now have more first-hand information with which to make their own educated decisions as to how they want to proceed with their geospatial technology choices; and that, in my opinion, may have been the most valuable outcome of the workshop.