CLD202x SharePoint Basics for IT Professionals: Yes please

I was planning on posting this a few weeks ago when I signed up for this course, but I’ve only gotten around to it now. I am very pleased with the course offering by Microsoft on edX, and this course is no exception.

Over 2 years ago now, when our GIS team split into Enterprise and Desktop, I was introduced to SharePoint. I had left the City just before they made switch to using SharePoint libraries as storage space instead of My Documents, so I had only dabbled with it briefly (and from an end user perspective).

During the last 2 years, I have had to interact with it in multiple ways – setting up subsites, managing permissions, creating content (such as embedding YouTube playlists, storing geometry in lists, configuring spatial viewers), and generally whatever else came up.

I never received any formal training in it, and simply clicking around in SharePoint while trying to figure it out, as I am inclined to do with other technologies, does not really work. There’s a reason this site exists. This is why I am pleased that Microsoft thought to offer this MOOC – it’s clearly needed.

The notes are very detailed, and explained very nicely in text form. This makes it very easy for me to copy into OneNote, and highlight as needed. The concepts are explained in a way that I would never have gotten from our seasoned SharePoint dev. Not that he doesn’t want to explain – he has shown me so many things on SharePoint – but it’s often the little things that one does automatically that trips up newbies.

For example, one of our clients had recently started using ArcGIS full time after only using it for very basic data capture before. He asked me why ArcMap was complaining about the projection of two feature classes being different when they were both in the same projection. I pointed out that while they were both in LO19, the one projection’s name was “LO19”, while the other one was “Transverse_Mercator_19”. It shouldn’t make a difference, but it does. The central meridian might differ by 0.00001 or something.

Another example is when one runs the Append tool in an ArcMap session, with the target table opened in the map. The tool will complete successfully, but the newly added rows won’t appear in the table even if you click away to a different table. You have to close the table, then open it again to force a refresh. Most of my ArcMap woes are solved this way – closing off whatever I’m doing and trying it again, or forcibly ending the programme. This is something I know after dealing with ArcMap for over 8 years now. It’s the GIS equivalent of

ArcGIS has a seemingly endless amount of this type of issue, and if I were teaching a total n00b how to use it, I would never even think to mention these things, because dealing with them is a reflex now. From what I can tell, SharePoint is similar, except that it probably has even more of it. Nonetheless, I’m just happy that someone has taken the time to lay out the basics in this format.

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CloudIntro.X: Recap

I know I mentioned a while ago that I was going to use the time between UNISA modules to go to town on my MOOCs. That didn’t happen. I got distracted by some exciting personal stuff. As I write this, I have another tab open in which I’m registering for my other two modules. Yay!

I joined this MOOC because not only is it offered by the IEEE, but it covers a topic that I’ve delved into more and more this year: cloud computing. The layout of the tabs in the MOOC is very nice, and the notes are comprehensive.

I’ve downloaded the study material for future reference, but I just don’t have the time right now to do it.

EX101x: Final recap

When I signed up for this MOOC, I expected more Python. I’ll quickly summarise the last 6 weeks of the course.

Highlights:

  1. Learning how to correctly use the Data Model introduced in Excel 2013. The way Felienne explained how to use it was quite simple, and realising that one uses a join between two ranges to create the model was an eye-opener.
  2. Double click the value field in a pivot table to get a new sheet with a copy of that data filtered on it: I can’t remember why I wrote this down, but I know it’s useful.
  3. More uses for named ranges
  4. Data checks: definitions and different types
  5. Using wild cards in COUNTIF: Seriously, I don’t know how I didn’t know this.
  6. DataNitro exists: This would have helped me about 2 years ago.

Lowlights:

  1. I was quite disappointed that Python only appeared in Week 7. More Python please!
  2. I was also disappointed that DataNitro was used, instead of accessing everything through the command line.
  3. Language barrier: I know the course coordinator is not a native English speaker. This created many ambiguous questions in the quizzes, as well as some weird phrasing in the videos.
  4. Fellow MOOC-ers not being constructive: I’ve mentioned on this blog several times that I don’t understand the need for many MOOCs to have peer assessments. One in particular took it a step further with mandatory forum posts. While I’m glad that EX101x did not do this, just opening up the “Discussion” below each quiz reminded me of why I don’t like the forums on these things.
    Many of the comments were about the way Felienne was dressed, or her “strange look”, or the way she spoke. Yes, the videos could have been better – maybe she didn’t have to take up almost half the frame, leaving the spreadsheet off to the side and hard to look at. What do her piercings have to do with that? Good grief.
  5. Not enough Python: I cannot stress this enough. I appreciate that I learnt some new things about Excel, but as a power user, I think I was expecting more analysis out of the course.
  6. Bringing in neo4j: What an interesting programme, but to bring it in at such a late stage (basically at the end of the course) did not make sense. I tried to run it but after getting errors I just abandoned it. I already had 81% so I chose not to complete the neo4j exercises. I feel like after they introduced Python to the people crash-course style, the different commands needed for neo4j was needlessly confusing.

Suggestions:

  1. More Python. More Python. More Python.
  2. The videos need to be redone in a clearer way.
  3. The course needs to be structured differently. Python should be introduced much sooner.
  4. Neo4j seems like a nice tool on its own. It should also have been introduced earlier in the course, to allow for more time for the people still getting to grips with Python.

Overall, I did enjoy this MOOC. I enjoyed it enough to pony up for a verified certificate:

EX101

If DelftX offers a follow-up course, I would definitely take it.

SPD1x Systematic Program Design Part 1: Under consideration

I have been very excited by the courses offered by edX this year. I completed DAT201x recently, and am almost finished with Delft101x. Three edX MOOCs and and one Coursera MOOC I have been eyeing have all opened up this week. Since I now have two months without any UNISA modules, I figure I’m going all in on these.

When I go into a MOOC for the first time, I look around for my dealbreaker: peer assessments. Of course, when I opened up SPD1x, a MOOC I’ve really been looking forward to because it will give me a good foundation for an Honours module I will be taking, it did not surprise me to discover this:

The Final Project will draw from all the material you have learned throughout the course. It will be peer-assessed based on a rubric and assessment tutorial video that will be provided after the project is submitted. The Final Project makes up the final 30% of your grade.

However, because the premise is promising, and because there are two more parts to the course coming up, I will be hanging around for a while and going through the lecture material. I doubt that I will be completing the project though.

DAT201x: Final recap

I really enjoyed this MOOC. I even considered upgrading to a verified certificate, but that was before I realised that after conversion, it would cost me ~ R1100. I might as well take the actual exam (~R747) and use my UNISA school discount to pay ~R422.

Overall, I think it was a very comprehensive basic -> intermediate course on using SQL with SQL Server 2012. It was great for me to able to apply some of the theory I’ve learnt over the years, and to understand more about the technology which underpins our SDE.

I hope that Microsoft will be offering more courses in this format in the future, as I find it a much better environment for learning than MVA. I also like how they’ve tied this course into convincing people to write the official exams. I’m definitely considering it seriously (after studying. A lot).

Now that my schoolwork is done for the moment, I have about two months to get a couple of MOOCs in. Also, I should look at ESRI Certification again, as it is a stormcloud hanging over my head, especially now that my PLATO application is complete.

EX101x: Week 1 and 2 recap

I haven’t been as consistent with these recaps as I would like to be, but as I get closer to my first exam in 5 years, I’ve been cooling it on the MOOC front. As a result, I’m ending up completing two weeks in one most of the time now.

Week 1 focussed on using conditional functions like IF, COUNTIF, SUMIF etc. Week 2 was about using lookup and search functions like VLOOKUP, INDEX and MATCH. A few things which I did for the first time:

  1. Import data into a sheet from a web feed: I’ve never had a need to use this function, and I’m not sure if I have the need now, but it’s good to know.
  2. Using a time criteria for COUNTIF: So useful, and I can’t believe that in my 15 years of Excel usage, I have never needed to do something like this.
  3. A use case for setting the range_lookup for VLOOKUP as TRUE: I use VLOOKUP a lot (or used to, before I switched to doing most of my analysis in Python). I also use a lot of nested IF statements for ranges of items, and some combination of INDEX/MATCH.

    At school, we were always taught “FALSE with VLOOKUP” because every scenario always required exact matches. I never though to question that, nor did I have the need to, because with all the GIS data that needs pre-processing, we always require exact matches.

    Now that I know that by creating a lookup table and using TRUE, VLOOKUP can be used to match value ranges the same way I would use a nested IF statement, I can see how that would really have helped me out on a few projects a while ago.

A big part of why I also focussed on learning more Python wherever I could was because I was tired of exiting ArcGIS, manipulating data in Excel, then bringing it back into ArcGIS. With Python, I could do all the data manipulation I wanted right there, and then take it into Excel for non-GIS people.

I’m also really pleased that I can still learn things in Excel to increase my productivity. One becomes so accustomed to doing things a certain way, that if that method is fast enough, one tends not to look for a replacement.

DAT201x Querying with Transact-SQL: A timely MOOC

I mentioned a while ago that while I was chuffed that Microsoft has started offering MOOCs on edX, I was not at all pleased about the peer assessment requirement in DEV203x.

peer assessment meme

Fortunately, another MOOC caught my eye: DAT201x Querying with Transact-SQL. The timing could not be better – I’m currently preparing for my first university exam in 5 years, so I’m trying to get back into that frame of mind. The exam is focussing more on the theory of database administration, best practice etc (so pure study work – my favourite!), but one of the assignments included a question where the answer was to write a query in T-SQL.

While I did that in undergrad, things have gotten understandably hazy over the years. Coincidentally, I had to modify some queries at work on one our SQL Server databases recently, so after not doing anything pure SQL related in 5 years (besides the SQL stuff in ArcGIS), in the same month I get hands-on experience at work, plus this MOOC to refresh my memory. Just in time for the exam in 3 weeks. Yay!

Also, no peer assessments. Just pure learning.