Keeping Up With What’s Possible – Daily Satellite Imagery from AWS

Via @simonw’s rebooted blog, I  spotted this – Landsat on AWS: “Landsat 8 data is available for anyone to use via Amazon S3. All Landsat 8 scenes are available from the start of imagery capture. All new Landsat 8 scenes are made available each day, often within hours of production.”

What do things like this mean for research, and teaching?

For research, I’m guessing we’ve gone from a state 20 years ago – no data [widely] available – to 10 years ago – available under license, with a delay and perhaps as periodics snapshots – to now – daily availability. How does this imapct on research, and what sorts of research are possible? And how well suited are legacy workflows and tools to supporting work that can make use of daily updated datasets?

For teaching, the potential is there to do activities around a particular dataset that is current, but this introduces all sorts of issues when trying to write and support the activity (eg we don’t know what specific features the data will turn up in the future). We struggle with this anyway trying to write activities that give students an element of free choice or open-ended exploration where we don’t specifically constrain what they do. Which is perhaps why we tend to be so controlling – there is little opportunity for us to respond to something a student discovers for themselves.

The realtime-ish ness of data means we could engage students with contemporary issues, and perhaps enthuse them about the potential of working with datasets that we can only hint at or provide a grounding for in the course materials. There are also opportunities for introducing students to datasets and workflows that they might be able to use in their workplace, and as such act as a vector for getting new ways of working out of the Academy and out of the tech hinterland that the Academy may be aware of, and into more SMEs (helping SMEs avail themselves of emerging capabilities via OUr students).

At a more practical level, I wonder, if OU academics (research or teaching related) wanted to explore the LandSat 8 data on AWS, would they know how to get started?

What sort of infrastructure, training or support do we need to make this sort of stuff accessible to folk who are interested in exploring it for the first time (other than Jupyter notebooks, RStudio, and Docker of course!;-) ?

PS Alan Levine /@cogdog picks up on the question of what’s possible now vs. then: http://cogdogblog.com/2017/11/landsat-imagery-30-years-later/. I might also note: this is how the blogosphere used to work on a daily basis 10-15 years ago…

One comment

  1. Simon Rae

    Hi Tony, I’ve no idea what Landsat 8 data is and hence no idea what Teaching & Learning one could do with with it, but I think your post raises a very real issue for course design.

    With a course design cycle of several years from conception to first presentation, I guess the OU is particularly prone to building in these out-of-date-by-the-end, time dependent anomalies. But with the speed of tech developments these days, almost any tech-dependent aspect of any course, even in a fast moving conventional university 😉, is almost guaranteed to be out-of-date however short the design process.

    Your observation that this is why ‘we tend to be so controlling’ is, I suspect, more often true than people would like to admit to, but to successfully react quickly to change requires a whole gamut of pedagogy and processes to be in place, both individually and institutionally.

    At an OU level one wonders if the mission statement of Openness could be widened even further to include real-time Student input to their course if they have relevant information, possibly via a Computer Supported Collaborative Working platform? (Tell me I’m out of date here and that this is already done 😊.)

    At a conventional university level, one suspects that the issue is more to do with the relevant department’s CPD? Once they’ve adopted a CSCW pedagogy of course 😊.

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