Maptime: Changing culture in geospatial tech learning, one meetup at a time

There has long been a need for organized community around learning and teaching geospatial open source. It’s way too hard hard to learn about maps and geographic concepts. It’s way too hard to learn about geospatial technology. And it’s a huge bummer.

It’s also why Beth Schechter started MaptimeSF in the summer of 2013: she wanted to make it easier for herself to learn, and for her that meant working with other people. And then MaptimeSF grew in popularity, because it just makes sense to learn things in an accessible way with other people who want to learn. It’s the same reason I started MaptimePDX, and the same reason Will started OpenGeoCLE, and the reason that Maptime chapters are popping up all over the continent.

So what has Maptime become? Maptime is a collection of beginner-focused community groups for learning geospatial technology, techniques, and concepts, particularly using open source tools and hands-on practice and exercises. But Maptime is also an important idea: it shouldn’t be so hard to learn, and we have the power to make it easier – and teach ourselves in the process.

What is difficult for beginners in geospatial tech right now?

  1. The “geo community” as it stands includes developers who do mappy stuff, GIS professionals who largely work in government and utilities, OpenStreetMap editors and developers, and the academic community. Most meetups involve either networking / career seeking or presentations of recent work by experts who are to talk to other experts. If you’re new to the field and trying to learn, there isn’t a community for you.
  2. The “learning tools” for geospatial tech are largely written by developers and/or experts, the folks who perhaps wrote the tool or are active users/maintainers. Often these resources are well-written, but make too many assumptions and can alienate beginners. If you are a beginner and unsure how to learn, there is a lack of accessible and empowering resources.
  3. The “learning mechanisms” for geo involve blog posts scattered all around the web. There are some organized trainings, but they typically rely on learning one piece of software or one particular tool. If you want to learn how to make maps, there is neither a clearly defined starting point nor an intuitive flow so you can understand what to do next.

How does Maptime address these?

  1. Maptime creates community around learning geospatial as a beginner. By simply making a space weekly or monthly where folks can go to ask questions and hang out with other people in a welcoming environment, Maptime is already achieving one of its goals and making a difference.
  2. Maptime provides encouragement and a platform for creating beginner content that is clearly-written, accessible, and makes no assumptions about what the trainee is familiar with. Not only are these resources helpful for those learning, but all of the teaching and mentoring is coming from beginners as well. Maptime provides a platform for both learning and guiding, regardless of skill level.
  3. The Maptime community is slowly amassing content through its chapters to create a repository of resources and build a curriculum. We gain valuable insight from the hands-on work the chapters are doing to teach beginners, and from that we can determine what is helpful, what is not so helpful, and a logical path down which we can guide new Maptimers.

But these are just the first steps.

Where it was once very difficult for beginners in geospatial to get the help they need, there is now a place for them to go and resources for them to use. But there are lots of things left to do in order to make geo a welcoming field for everyone, regardless of background or skill level. We’re keeping a list of our goals, plans, and aspirations, and we want you to contribute. That list is over on the Issues page of the Maptime GitHub repo, and anyone is free to contribute. (If you don’t know how to use GitHub issues, don’t fret! Watch this quick video instead.)

Maptime exists because community, inclusivity, and accessibility are important and necessary components of positive learning experiences. The more we harp on this idea, the more it will become self-evident in communities everywhere. Plus, more people making maps is awesome. :)

Maptime chapters:

If you’re interested in starting a Maptime chapter in your area, shoot me an email. If you’re interested in getting in contact with an existing Maptime chapter in your area, check out the contact page here.