There's a lot of talk about lessons, quizzes and classroom participation going on at our house these days. That's because Wayne has gone back to school. Not in the physical sense; his class is online but he still has text to read, homework to submit and discussions to join. It's just all done through the computer screen.
His class is Maps and the Geospatial Revolution offered by Penn State University and he'll learn all about location aware technology and spacial analysis tools. Sounds complicated, doesn't it, but the focus is on using maps for far more than getting from Point A to Point B. Like using data overlaid on maps to design a marketing strategy or developing programs that send a message to a smartphone when it comes within a given radius of a business.
He's enrolled under the non-credit option but the course does carry college credit for those who want it. And amazingly it's totally free. Yep...Penn State and totally free. Obviously, he wasn't the only one who thought this was a great idea as the class is big. As in really big. Try 30,000 students from all over the world big. Now that really is amazing!
We've been entertained by the information on one of the first maps the class has been working with. Overlaid on a map of the United States is a graphic depicting the lifestyle data for each small geographic area so you can zoom in on a particular locale and read about the people who live there. Like our subdivision, for instance. We're categorized as Exurbanites, people who prefer a comfortable lifestyle in open spaces beyond the urban fringe. Forty percent are empty-nesters, hold a college degree, live in a single-family house and own two cars. We focus on financial security, work in our yards, play golf and do yoga and take photos. Yep...that pretty much describes us and a substantial number of our friends and neighbors too.
The description was so representative of our neighborhood we decided to click on El Dorado, Kansas, our hometown, to see what the map had to say about it. The overall category was Rustbelt Traditions, denoting that a manufacturing drove the local economy but that it had now waned and the service industry now dominates. That's true; when I grew up, a substantial number of families relied on a paycheck from one of the two refineries or one of the three big aircraft manufacturers in Wichita. Now those businesses are either gone or have substantially cut back on their labor force. The residents stick close to home, the lifestyle descriptor said, living, working, playing and staying in the same area for years. They're not tempted by fads and stick to familiar products and services. So, so true. And they're big TV fans, watching sitcoms, sports and game shows. I had to laugh there. When Wayne called his dad last night, he was watching Wheel of Fortune, a nightly ritual. It was a short conversation.
The days of us being invisible are long over. We may be nameless or faceless (...or maybe not) but much is known about us. Big brother isn't the only one watching. Seeing what was collected on just this one map was fascinating. It will be fun to see what information other maps reveal in his five-week class.
You can sign up for free classes too. It's too late for the History of Rock, Part II, but Exercise Physiology, Understanding the Athlete Within starts July 22. Here's one list of free classes and here's another. You're never too old to learn something new...just ask Wayne.