The GeoForAll Research and

Education Collaboration

... between UMass Amherst, Amherst College and Smith College
Why the emphasis on Open Source Geospatial Technologies? 

Reason #1: As a higher educational institution, we have an obligation to expose our students the entire geospatial technology ecosystem, rather than a focus on a subset of this ecosystem.

Generally in the software sector, over the last roughly twenty years a spectrum of “software types” have emerged. On one end of this spectrum is proprietary software where the source code is unreadable, and the copyright licenses for use have specific requirements on how many computers can have it installed. On the other end of the spectrum is “Free/Libre” software, where in general, the copyright license gives the user permission to freely distribute the “runtime” software on as many computers as they wish and gives the user access to the readable software logic (the source code). Often, Free/Libre licensed software comes with the requirement that if the user with programming skills makes a change to the software code, that change automatically falls under the same licensing rules as its “parent” software, and they also follow the belief that software should be a public good. In between, are open source software technologies, that follow some of the “openness principles” but are sometimes more receptive to commercial uses of that software.

UMass Amherst has an obligation to expose students to the entire ecosystem of geospatial technologies available (proprietary, free/libre and open source) so that our students themselves can decide for themselves what is the right technology to use for analysis or management problems they might face in the future.  In short, the future of the technology sector will be a hybrid world involving combinations of all of these kinds of software, and it is important that our students are exposed to all of them rather than a subset. Students should have the skills to pick and deploy the right tools for the job at hand.

Reason #2: In this era of high costs of higher education for our students, we have an obligation to try and reduce the costs of their programs. The use of open source software and accompanying open-access educational materials is one way we can reduce some of the costs our students incur.

Reason #3: Geospatial technologies are critical tools to help manage the natural environment as well as many urgent humanitarian crises or situations. UMass Amherst seeks to contribute to a body of shared, collaborative set of open access educational material related to geospatial data management and analysis that can be accessed by personnel across the world who need it to address environmental management or humanitarian problems. 

Reason #4: A shared, collaborative effort in geospatial research and education is critical for helping the world address some of its most challenging problems.

Simply put, we hold a belief that closed systems create frictions toward innovation whereas open systems provide opportunities for the sharing of innovations and hold the potential for solving “wicked problems” faster.  This UMass node, part of a much larger network of open source geospatial research and education nodes around the world, seeks to contribute, in a small way toward this greater good through collaborative efforts in geospatial research and education.