Mapping the UAS Technician Landscape

Long before educators and trainers can hope to impart the knowledge and skills necessary for educating UAS technicians, they must first accurately identify the requisite technician skills in order to build meaningful curriculum.  Since most educators are not full-time practitioners in the industry, how is it they are able to know these skills and knowledge?  The answer lies in the educator’s practice of Developing a curriculum, or “DACUM”.

uas-kaci-lemler_inside2Northland Community & Technical College UAS technician-student with UAS

The modern DACUM process dates back to the late 60s when the Clinton, Iowa federal Job Corps program developed the methodology for debriefing working professionals in a two day workshop format to systematically discover and validate their job-related Duties and Tasks (ie, skills).  The DACUM workshop is led by a trained facilitator and attended by 5 to 12 technicians and/or managers in the specific industry sector (in our case, UAS technician).  From this workshop, a series of technician-identified duties and tasks are slowly developed.  A consensus is reached among the technicians those duties and tasks that are sufficiently unique and replicable, and therefore necessary for future workers in the industry sector.  Once these items are organized into tabular format, the DACUM facilitator will further vet them using a survey of a larger population of industry technicians and managers from the geographical region.  This survey will help validate the workshop findings, or identified outliers that can be safely eliminated or added to the final DACUM chart.

drone classDACUM Workshop conducted a Central New Mexico Community College February 2017

The DACUM chart provides a template used by educators and professional curriculum designers to build curriculum materials: lecture notes, presentations, labs and assessments for their UAS technician program.  This process is best exemplified by the 2010 US Department of Labor’s Geospatial Technology Competency Model, or GTCM, that has been the basis of modern GIS courses since 2012.  The GTCM was the result of work started in 2004 and completed by the NSF-funded GeoTech Center.  The Center conducted a series of DACUM workshops throughout the US and then engineered a “meta-DACUM” to combine these “new” DACUM results with historical DACUM in GIS dating back more than a decade.  The resulting metaDACUM chart was further vetted among more than 100 prominent geo-educators in a series of faculty workshops, resulting in a validated DACUM master chart of Duties and Tasks for modern GIS technicians.

uastechGEOTEd-UAS training UAS students

Recently, this same process is being applied to the newest GIS industry sector: Unmanned Aircraft Systems technology.   One of the first UAS-specific DACUM was conducted by Northland Community & Technical College and the NSF-funded SpaceTEC Center of Excellence in early June 2016.  This DACUM focused on the UAS maintenance technician.  Another similar effort was conducted by Sinclair Community College resulting in their DACUM chart.  UAS operator technicians are being trained by the NSF-funded GeoTEDd-UAS project which conducted the first UAS operator specific DACUM workshop in August 2016.  They are using this DACUM to prepare their curriculum for in the fall of 2017.  The result of GeoTEd-UAS efforts is a nationally-recognized UAS Technician DACUM chart we are using here at the UASTEC project to validate our own curriculum development.  Our UASTEC industry advisory board and subject matter experts (SMEs) are using the GeoTEd DACUM for reference during our curriculum development process. The UASTEC curriculum will be completed by end of summer 2017 in time for our fall classes.

GEOTEd-UAS staff (front row) and students

Meanwhile, we are witnessing expanded UAS DACUM efforts, the latest conducted independently by Central New Mexico Community College in February 2017.  The take-home message in all these DACUM workshops is that higher education is going about curriculum development for UAS technicians in a highly systematic manner nationwide.  How so many educators in such diverse and widely-dispersed locations came to this skillset is a testament to the ground-work performed by NSF Advanced Technological Education (ATE) projects and Centers over the past 20 years.  It’s no accident that the examples cited above are the result of their educator’s past participation in GeoTech Center DACUMs and other NSF ATE-funded projects.  Collectively, we now form a nationwide network of educators well-versed in proper curriculum development which places the needs of industry first and foremost.  These 2016 UAS technician DACUMs, and their resultant 2017 curriculum, will produce the first class of well-trained UAS technicians beginning in 2018.  We can all be proud that we are “mapping the UAS technician landscape” using scientific and well-established methodologies.


Phillip Davis, PI & Director UASTEC Project

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