Austin Community College Student Work Shines in the World Topographic Map

Sean Moran, GIS Department Chair at Austin Community College (ACC), had ambitious goals for his Advanced Problems in GIS course last spring.  He wanted to offer students exposure to GIS technology and concepts that would challenge them and that they would be unlikely to encounter in a standard GIS curriculum.  At the same time, he wanted his students’ projects and the skills they learned to be as relevant as possible to the scenarios and workflows they would face in the future as GIS professionals.  Finding a project that could wed these various goals was a challenge, until a colleague suggested the Esri Community Maps Program.

It occurred to Sean that by building basemaps for the various campuses in the ACC District, the students would be dealing with a real world GIS project from start to finish – all the way from project design, to data acquisition and creation, to map authoring and project completion.  At the same time, the campus basemap projects were a perfect conduit to introduce the principles of GeoDesign to the students, and they served as the foundation for lessons on 3D data extraction and building modeling using LiDAR data.

Sean began by assigning each of his students one of the eight ACC campuses, across the Austin, Texas metropolitan area.  Some of the larger campuses were assigned to multiple students to work on cooperatively.  He then provided the students a geodatabase with some basic “seed” layers, as well as a copy of the Campus Basemap Template with the Esri Redlands campus to serve as a reference guide.  The students used these resources to build a geodatabase that contained the basemap layers suggested by the template, and, eventually, author their individual campus basemaps.

“Using the Esri template ensured that we could maintain cartographic consistency throughout each of the individual campus basemap projects”, Sean explained.  “And it greatly facilitated the merging of the individual student projects into one seamless geodatabase because the schemas were identical”.

Austin Community College Cypress Creek Campus

One example of an ACC campus basemap

As the students worked on their basemap projects, inevitable opportunities arose to explore geodatabase and ArcGIS functionality that might otherwise go unexamined.  “Whether it’s the advantages of cartographic representations, scale dependent layer display or various editing tips and tricks for digitizing certain features, this project continually prompted discussions that enhanced the learning experience” remarked Sean.

Once the basemap projects were completed, the content was contributed to Esri Community Maps and published in the World Topographic Map, becoming the first community college campus to do so.  “For the students, it was a thrill to be part of this unique international crowd sourcing effort and to see their hard work published in ArcGIS Online”, said Sean.  “It really validated that their school project also had real world relevance”.

The project was so successful that Sean continued it with this spring’s Advanced Problems in GIS class.  They are working on completing the remaining ACC campuses, as well two new campuses that will open in the near future.  Look for these campuses to appear in Esri Community Maps this summer.

Moving forward, Sean intends to have his students maintain the basemaps and continue their work in modeling the 3D built environment in a photo-realistic way.  He is also optimistic that the existing basemaps will spur dialog around the college as more departments start to envision the types of applications that can be built on top of the basemap.

ACC campus basemap with 3D features

ACC campus basemap with 3D features

To see examples of the ACC campus basemaps, as well as other campus contributions to Esri Community Maps, check out the Campus Basemap Tour.  To find out more about ACC and their GIS program, including the Advanced Problems class, visit their website.

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