Software, Fieldwork Pay Off for Geomatics Students

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Students in the geomatics classes at the Red River College in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada are getting a head start on their pursuit of a surveying career thanks to two key factors: a devoted surveyor-turned-instructor, and a powerful survey software program that is streamlining the college’s once difficult curriculum.

Bob Watson, the geomatics instructor and a former private surveying consultant, recalls when his students were using a cumbersome survey software packed with too many unneeded features and that was focused on design engineering tasks. This prompted Watson to contact Canada-based MicroSurvey, Inc., a maker of surveying software, to ask if it would provide the college’s geomatics students with site licenses of the company’s popular and widely used MicroSurvey CAD. Watson had used the company’s DOS-based software for field survey calculations back in the 1980’s and remembered finding it easy to use and very fast. Giving his students exposure to MicroSurvey CAD software, Watson believed, would pave the way toward helping them launch a successful surveying career.

MicroSurvey Software agreed and worked out an arrangement to equip Red River College with MicroSurvey CAD licenses for the 2013 to 2015 geomatics classes.

After Mastering Software, Students Undertake `Work Cooperatives’
Watson said transitioning from the older software to the newer software package was smooth, and that students were able to work much faster. "Now, I have students who can wrap up a drawing in one class," Watson said. "Before, with the older method, it took twice as long."

The course work for surveying students at Red River College is intense and lengthy. Courses with titles like Survey Computations, Advanced Survey Computations, and Applied Research Project are what students can expect.

After students complete their first year of classes, they go out for a six-month "work cooperative." Under this arrangement, the students are hired by engineering consulting firms, construction companies, or companies doing survey work. Once a cooperative ends, the students return to classes for another six months followed by another cooperative. In the second and third years of the program, students are exposed more directly to surveying instruction, but also to some civil components such as roadway design (highways, curves, intersections).

"We cover all of this (in the classes) because not every student will be hired for land surveying," Watson noted, pointing out that engineering consultants are increasingly using GPS and total stations, as well as multistations and laser scanners to capture point clouds for 3D modeling. "If these consultants want to stay in the forefront in the business and want to be proactive, they must have the right equipment," Watson added. "Our students are getting hired for those jobs."

Software Sharpens Skills, Makes Students More Tech Savvy For Jobs
During 2015, the college had its first group of graduates from the geomatics curriculum and who were taught exclusively on the new software. This was a proud moment for both the college and Instructor Watson, who noted "There is a direct correlation between the software and how it will enhance students’ (surveying) abilities as they graduate."

Watson said many surveying firms are already using MicroSurvey CAD and are eager to hire the students because they already know the software. For firms that are using other software packages, the students transition well. "This is because we’ve given them a toolkit and now it’s a matter of how they will use those tools,"Watson said. "They pretty adaptive, and tech savvy."

After Cooperatives, Students Suggest New Surveying Techniques
After Red River College’s geomatics students get some real-world surveying experience by working in the cooperatives, they bring a fresh perspective back to the college’s geomatics classes. Students might ask about doing surveys a different way because the survey firm they worked with collected data differently than in their geomatics classes. "Sometimes when they suggest different ways of performing data collection and other aspects of surveying, I can incorporate this in my instruction," Watson said. For example, in one of Watson’s classes, students were tackling a commercial building location certificate (BLC). A feature in MicroSurvey CAD called "house" allows the user to select the corner of a house and the property line, and then the software provides the perpendicular tie. Watson was performing this function differently in COGO (coordinate geometry). "Students told me the shortcut function in MicroSurvey CAD was built right into the software’s dropdown menu," Watson revealed. "So, I said, `let’s use it’."

Software Earns High Marks For Speedy Functions, Time Savings, New Techniques
From Watson’s perspective, tapping the survey software company to acquire its CAD program has paid big dividends for the college’s geomatics classes. The software has proved faster than other programs and given more time for students to learn about different aspects of surveying. So far, 46 students have taken the geomatics course of study, 24 of whom are seniors. This works out well since Watson tries to put groups of two students on equipment such as RTK GPS and total stations equipped with electronic data collectors. When students are done surveying, they put a flash drive into the data collector, download the data points, then transfer those points right into the drawing software. "It’s absolutely seamless," Watson said.

Watson has been dazzled with the results he’s witnessed in his classes through the aid of the software provided by MicroSurvey. "They’ve done things with the software that I didn’t expect," Watson said. For example, some students have incorporated imagery into their site plans. If a person zoomed in on one of these images where the drawing information had been overlaid on it, he could actually see this overlay of all the survey work.

In another instance, Watson said that when students were building a construction layout using the software, he had a ninety percent efficiency rate with the layouts students produced. This bodes well for students who leave Red River College’s geomatics classes for employment in the construction field. Watson noted that the greatest percentage of his students who graduate enter the construction and engineering consulting professions because of the constant need for fresh, new talent. Also, a growing number of survey firms focused on engineering work are pursuing machine control, such as road graders and other heavy equipment, because students from the geomatics classes who work for these firms know how to use GPS. This has been a real boon for local firms since students can use a GPS application on a laptop in tandem with a 3D model of the existing ground where machines are being used for excavation.

The training and software that Red River College has in place is giving students the skills they need to succeed in the professional field. According to Watson, "The fact that students can transfer data from their survey equipment into a software program like the newer CAD software that was donated and generate high quality, detailed drawings or 3D models is exactly what consultants and contractors want. Then they can upload the drawings and perform the stakeout and position everything on the ground."

Understandably, when students go on their co-ops, there are certain aspects of surveying for which there is simply not enough time to teach back in the classroom. But Watson isn’t worried. After all, he affirmed, "When the students work in a survey firm as part of their co-op, they get to enhance their field capabilities with the skill sets they have."

Robert Galvin is a freelance writer who covers surveying technology and trends. He can be reached at:

A 3.833Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE