New Textbook: Discovering GIS and ArcGIS, by Bradley Shellito

Our colleague Dr Bradley Shellito, from Youngstown State University, author of Introduction to Geospatial Technologies, has authored a new textbook entitled Discovering GIS and ArcGIS.  This book uses hands-on experiences and focuses on both the “how” and “why” of Geographic Information Systems. Students learn to combine an understanding of basic GIS concepts with practical ArcGIS skills, following step-by-step instructions to accomplish a wide range of real-world tasks and applications while always keeping sight on the conceptual basis and practical impact of what they are doing.   Discovering GIS and ArcGIS is appropriate for introductory GIS courses, or advanced or applied GIS courses. Instructors will find the coverage they need for a single intro-level course, a single advanced or applied course, or a two-course sequence.

One of my favorite things about this resource is the fact that the data for the exercises are conveniently hosted on the publisher’s (Macmillan) web page.  Also very thoughtfully included at the same location are high resolution images for instructors’ use, a test bank, solutions to exercises, and much more.  Chapters include how to use data and attribute data, how to conduct spatial analysis, how to create data, layouts, and models, and how to use 3D, Lidar, and elevation data.  The textbook is relevant, up-to-date, and focused on problem solving.  I was glad to see that Dr Shellito’s resource includes hands-on work with ArcGIS Online, as well.

I met Dr Shellito years ago when he had just written his Introduction to Geospatial Technologies book, and have had great respect for him ever since.  Congratulations, Dr Shellito!

If you use this book in your instruction, be sure to jot a note below and share your experience with the community.

Discovering GIS and ArcGIS, by Dr Bradley Shellito

Discovering GIS and ArcGIS, by Dr Bradley Shellito.

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Comparing the Spatial Accuracy of Two Location Apps on a Smartphone in the Field

Building on past field investigations where I studied the spatial accuracy of GPS receivers and smartphone location apps, I recently compared the spatial accuracy of two location apps on a smartphone.   My goals were twofold:  (1) To determine which of two location apps was more spatially accurate in varied terrain and conditions; and (2) To model a field activity that integrates geography, science, and mathematics that students can engage in easily and effectively.

On a hike in the chaparral hills of Southern California, I used my smartphone to collect my tracks using two apps–Motion X GPS and RunKeeper–at the same time.  Once the hike was done, I then exported the track lines and points as GPX files and uploaded them into ArcGIS Online.  The results, shown below, indicate that the two tracks were quite similar; within 1 meter of each other.  I was pleased with the spatial accuracy of both, despite the very steep terrain and considering that the phone was in my pocket most of the time rather than held up high to capture a theoretically stronger set of GPS and cell tower signals.

It was also evident that in this location, on this day, RunKeeper was a bit more spatially accurate, doing better at maintaining the trail switchbacks as I walked rather than cutting them off.   At one switchback, the two tracks were separated by 4.5 meters.  However, just downhill and to the northeast of the image below, Motion X was more accurate for a specific 10 meter stretch of trail.  It must be remembered, however, that these statements “assume” that the satellite image is the best benchmark of spatial accuracy, but it too contains distortions and error.  Furthermore, on a different day and time, with the GPS constellation in a different array, my results could vary.  Varying the speed walked, the time and date, the location app, the location at which the phone is held, the type of phone, and other factors all make for easy-to-implement field investigations that incorporate science, mathematics, geography, and geotechnologies.  And, while outside, you can have rich discussions on land use, land cover, natural processes, access to open space, animal habitat, climate and weather, and much more, as I do here.  The results are easily examined using ArcGIS Online, and students can also create a presentation or a story map in ArcGIS Online to communicate their results.

Give it a try and comment below on the results of your investigations!

Comparing the spatial accuracy of two smartphone location apps in the field

Comparing the spatial accuracy of two smartphone location apps in the field.

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Fun with GIS 171: Lighthouses

Maps are magical because they expose so much info so quickly. This works even for GIS in education. In mid-2014, the White House announced Esri’s participation in ConnectED. ArcGIS Online Organization subscriptions started being issued to any US K12 school requesting one for instruction. At the 2014 Esri Conference, we launched a story map showing these. Today, that number is about 1000.

The second map in the series shows “Lighthouses.” A lighthouse is a beacon, a guidepost for those in need, a marker for all to consider as they make their way. Some are tall, robust, and brilliant, with clarion voice; others are more quiet, less dramatic. The best lighthouses work in concert with others, so explorers can advance ever farther. Today, this map shows just one per state, but we know there are other “lighthouses of GIS in K12 ed.”

The map has a link inviting lighthouse nominations — administrative as well as instructional, informal as well as formal. Tell us about someone using GIS in K12 education, or supporting it from outside, so we can explore the story, enrich the map, and help others progress more swiftly and safely.

The other maps contain powerful content as well — educators in search of mentors, GeoMentors willing to help educators, alums of Esri’s T3G educator institute who can provide guidance, and states and districts with broad licenses. The patterns and relationships in these maps tell powerful stories, but we really want more lighthouses with which to guide others. Help us out by nominating situations from which others could learn, whether your own story or that of someone else.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Go Deeper with Historical USGS Topographic Map Exploration

I recently wrote about the extensive set of historical maps that are available in ArcGIS Online.  The tens of thousands of maps in this collection allow for changes due to agriculture, urbanization, reservoir construction, river meanders, seacoast modification, volcanic eruption, and from many other causes to be examined in detail.  And since the maps are all seamlessly accessible in ArcGIS Online, you can add other map layers to deepen your analysis, such as demographics, soils, historical and current satellite imagery, and thousands of other layers.

To access the historical USGS topographic maps, log into your ArcGIS Online organizational account, use the Add Data function, and Browse Esri Map Layers. Select Basemaps, and in that list, find the scale(s) of the USGS historical maps that you wish to examine.  In this essay, I wish to explore additional functionality that exists with these maps in ArcGIS Online, and for this example, I will select and examine 1:24,000-scale maps.

First, I would like to point out the ability to apply a filter to the maps, to further refine the scale or the map date desired.  In the example below, I apply a filter on the map scale and only am interested in maps older than 1965 for Manitowoc, Wisconsin, as shown below.  Note that I also selected “enable time animation” which allows me to explore maps using the time slider bar underneath the map.

Applying a filter to the Historical USGS Topographic Maps in ArcGIS Online

Applying a filter to the Historical USGS Topographic Maps in ArcGIS Online.

Second, by default, the default setting is to display the oldest map on top.  However, if you wanted to display the newer maps on top, you could change the “Image Display Order” and use the “Date Current” attribute with a date of, say, 2015, to accomplish this.

Third,  you can change the pop-up by choosing Configure Pop-up.  You could change the pop up title and create a more user-friendly sentence such as “This map of {Map_Name} was made in {Date_On_Map} and last updated in {DateCurrent}”, which would display as follows:

Historical USGS map popup

Historical USGS map custom popup.

Because these historical USGS topographic maps are part of the premium content in ArcGIS Online, they require an organizational account to use.  However, using them consumes no credits. You can also use the USGS historical topographic map explorer without logging in. Although the ”explorer” does not allow the above additional capabilities, it does feature a convenient time line slider underneath your area of interest that allows you to select the maps and time periods that you wish to examine.

Give these maps and these capabilities a try!  How are you able to make use of these resources in teaching, learning, and research?

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Fun With GIS 170: GeoResolution 2015

For many of us, new year’s resolutions are all too easy to make and break. So, this year, how about something different — a GeoResolution — a specific commitment to help a single teacher start mapping in class with ArcGIS Online.

Esri has made it easy to begin. There’s an ArcGIS Online Organization with starting resources just waiting for exploration.

The first button, “01.InstructionDocs”, has starting materials, neatly arranged from quick and easy to longer and more involved. The document “ArcGIS Online 5×5″ is one that a teacher with only a few minutes of experience can use immediately in class, on Macs, PCs, Chromebooks, iPads, or Android tablets.

ArcGIS Online allows educators great flexibility for instruction, so be sure to walk the teacher through the “ArcGIS Online Use Strategies” document. It has a lot of text, but highlights the advantages of each route, and lists some “best practices.” Many teachers have found it easy to move from “no login” to “public account” to “Organization” in their teaching.

ArcGIS Online Organizations offer professional mapping tools via just a web browser. Already, hundreds of teachers and thousands of students have started using these Organizations. Esri has made these Organizations available for free to US K12 schools, for instructional use. After introducing a teacher to the basics, be sure to point out the form for requesting an Organization for the school.

Time is already flying! When will you complete your GeoResolution?

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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New book: Learning and Teaching With Geomedia

Practitioners in every new field need examples that they can follow and modify for their own use.  So it is with the field of teaching and learning with GIS.  Since 1990, innovative educators began using GIS, GPS, and Remote Sensing to enhance their existing instruction in biology, chemistry, earth science, geography, and in other fields at the secondary and university levels.  They and those who followed have been sharing their results in books, articles, and conferences, some of which are featured in the Esri GIS Education Community.

Every new field also needs a research foundation.  So it is with the field of learning and teaching with geotechnologies.  Research has been conducted about the effectiveness and implementation of these technologies on educators (such as engagement in their own profession and teaching style), on students (such as connection to their community, career paths chosen, and achievement test performance), and about the technologies themselves (such as user interface, and its effectiveness in education).

A new book entitled Learning and Teaching with Geomedia, by Inga Gryl, Thomas Jekel, Caroline Juneau-sion, John Lyon, and Eric Sanchez, published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing, provides many new international examples of using GIS in education as well as new research findings.  The book is aimed at academics in the fields of pedagogy, geography and citizenship education, as well as those working in science education. The professional audiences addressed are teacher trainers at university departments, teachers in secondary schools, and students in teacher training.  The book provides both a theoretical and practical introduction to the field, aimed specifically at secondary education.  The first section consists of three scientific papers introducing the dimensions of the emerging geoinformation society. The second section of the book is specifically dedicated to teacher trainers and teachers.

My colleague Tom Baker and I are honored to have authored a chapter in this book, entitled “Collecting Geo-Data to support classroom field studies,” on pages 59-69.  In it, we feature three rich environmental field study experiences that combine mobile devices and technologies such as web-based GIS, GPS, probes, cameras, and smartphones to support rich, deep scientific and geographic inquiry. Web‐based GIS such as ArcGIS Online enables the analysis of field‐collected data to create visualizations.  These tools encourage student decision making,  hypothesis testing, and the formation of conclusions.  The three case studies—a lichen project in formal education, a macroinvertebrate field experience as part of a species documentation project in informal education, and the gathering of field data with a live web mapping service in a teacher professional development workshop—illustrate the expanding possibilities that result from these converging forces.

Learning and Teaching with Geomedia book

Learning and Teaching with Geomedia – new book.

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Teaching about Watersheds and River Systems with ArcGIS Online

Teaching about watersheds and river systems has long been a major theme of physical geography, earth science, and environmental science instruction.  ArcGIS Online now provides capabilities for educators and students to create watersheds, trace downstream, and create viewsheds, all of which can serve as an effective means to foster understanding of watersheds and river systems, how they are connected geographically and temporally, and why they are important.

Boulder, Colorado, like many mountain-front communities, is prone to periodic devastating floods.  To supplement a lesson that I wrote about floods in Boulder, I used the watershed tool in ArcGIS Online to create the watershed that is drained in Boulder Creek through the mouth of Boulder Canyon.  The area is 130.12 square miles, giving a clear reason why any major rapid snowmelt or any major rain event anywhere in that large area creates flood hazards for the city of Boulder.

Watershed upstream from Boulder Colorado

Watershed upstream from Boulder Colorado.

Where does that water flow once it reaches Boulder?  To find out, I used the new Trace Downstream tool with a 15 mile limit.  The result makes it clear that the areas east and northeast of the city also bear the effects of potential floodwaters.

Trace 15 miles downstream from the mouth of Boulder Canyon, Colorado

Trace 15 miles downstream from the mouth of Boulder Canyon, Colorado.

Using the same tool, I ran another Trace Downstream analysis and extended the distance to 3,000 miles.  The result, shown below, fits in well with the lesson but also in any lesson that asks students, “where does a cup of water flowing from my location flow through before it reaches the ocean?”

Trace from Boulder Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico

Trace from Boulder Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico.

Finally, to get a sense for how the terrain in Boulder is mountainous to the west of the mouth of the canyon but flattens to the Great Plains to the east, I used the new Create Viewsheds tool from a point on top of Green Mountain, above the famous Boulder Flatiron rock formations.  The viewshed, as the name implies, indicates the land viewable from a specific point, and in my case, I specified nine miles for the extent. The result of viewshed analysis can foster understanding of the terrain and how the terrain impacts streamflow and flooding.

9 mile Viewshed from Green Mountain

Nine-mile Viewshed from Green Mountain.

These activities require an ArcGIS Online organizational subscription and to generate the analysis layers such as the ones I did above, you need to have publishing rights in that organization.  With your organizational subscription, examine the map I created above, and try these tools yourself for your own area!

You’ll be amazed at how easy it is, and yet how powerful, because these tools can foster understanding of how streams, watersheds, and terrain are connected spatially and temporally.

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Fun with GIS 169: A New Dimension

Maps in ArcGIS Online just took on a whole new dimension. “Web scenes” can display in 3D in certain desktop browsers. This bit of map magic relies on WebGL, so users of recent versions of Firefox, Chrome, and Safari will be happy; see ArcGIS Online Help for more info, as even recent browsers may need a configuration tweak.

World population atop the oceans basemap, in an ArcGIS Online web scene.

Building, saving, and sharing maps in a web browser has been a tremendous boon for education, but reactions when I showed an equal area world map told how dramatic the distortion is in Web Mercator displays to which we have grown somewhat accustomed. The arrival of good global displays and high speed navigation is breathtaking. The ability to add in many of the same layers we had used in 2D means a much more realistic vision of small-scale (large area) content.

Oblique view of the Grand Canyon, looking WNW. Note compass in lower left, horizon in back.

There is a tremendous amount of new capacity in the December 2014 ArcGIS Online release. But, for me, nothing will match the educational impact of being able to view the globe in a browser, and create/ save/ share presentations as easily as in 2D. Many of us will be madly revising lessons for months to take advantage of this new capacity. It’s a whole new world!

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Teaching GIS in a Computer Science Course, Part 2

In a recent post, I introduced how GIS can be successfully integrated into a computer science course.  While my syllabus was only for an extended single class period, these ideas can be expanded into several weeks of content and can also be used to build a GIS-focused computer science course.  After I used the ArcGIS presentation capabilities to introduce GIS, spatial analysis, and discussed programming languages and workforce skills with the students, we began exploring the main Esri ArcGIS for Developers site.  We then investigated the developers’ site ArcGIS API for JavaScript.  This is a wonderful site for instructional use–as a source of specific tasks to be assigned, for whole-class work and instruction, and for small groups to work on.  One of my favorite things about the site is the “explore in the sandbox” capability.  As the name implies, this allows for students (or anyone) to adjust the code and see how that code affects the map.  Not only does this mean instant gratification for the students coding in class, but because the code is displayed side-by-side with the map, they can quickly see how the code works and how web mapping is driven by code.  The image below, for example, shows the map after the basemap was changed to “OSM” (OpenStreetMap) and the zoom level was changed to 14.  While we investigated the Python for ArcGIS Community resources, we discussed recent GIS Python books here and here as well, and talked about the importance of connecting with the coding community, locally and globally. I encouraged them to attend one of the local Developers’ MeetUps hosted by Esri.

We also explored the the ArcGIS API for JavaScript samples page and the JavaScript Quickstart on GitHub.  Again, we adjusted code to accomplish things such as adding graphics to maps, shown here.  We then explored the ArcGIS Runtime SDK (Software Development Kit) for Java.  A logical next step would be to lead students into the Web AppBuilder for ArcGIS.   This new resource provides a foundation for building intuitive, focused web applications in ArcGIS that run anywhere, on any device, without writing a single line of code.   However, by using the site and the sample code resources above, students learn about coding and are on their way of writing their own.  And since so many of these apps are meant to be run on mobile devices, students are drawn to it in part because they are required to make heavy use of their smartphones in class!

I finished by having a discussion with the students on my colleague Andy Gup’s relevant and timely 10 tips for new web developers, and my GIS reflections on the 10 skills the future workforce will need.

I challenge all of you in the GIS community to look for opportunities to build bridges with the computer science community.  The opportunities for programming within the field of GIS are rapidly expanding and through them, students could make a far-reaching contribution not just to the field of GIS, but to society as a whole.

ArcGIS API for JavaScript Sandbox

ArcGIS API for JavaScript Sandbox.

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Teaching GIS in a Computer Science Course, Part 1

I was recently asked to teach a class about GIS as part of a computer science course.   I would like to share this with the community, and open up the discussion to the broader issue of the linkages between GIS and computer science.

I challenge all of you in the GIS community to look for opportunities to build bridges with the computer science community.  As part of your outreach, you could demonstrate that all GIS software has been developed through coding and testing, show through the Esri developer sites how code makes web GIS work, show real job ads indicating specific programming skills required, and offer resources for further exploration.

I began the class by stating that the opportunities for programming within the field of GIS have never been greater than today, because the need has never been more acute.  I followed this by mentioning everyday problems that are solved because someone in GIS has learned to effectively code to solve that problem.   Next, I addressed the following elements:

  • What are geotechnologies?  GIS, web mapping, GPS, and remote sensing.
  • Why are geotechnologies important to society?
  • Mapping and spatial analysis in GIS.
  • Programming languages important in GIS.
  • Workforce skills you should consider developing to be successful in GIS and computer science.

To address these elements, I used several ArcGIS Online presentations that I have shared in this gallery as an introduction for what GIS  is, why it matters, and its connections to computer science.  I love using the presentation mode in ArcGIS Online because I am using GIS to teach about GIS. Furthermore, I requested to be in a computer lab so we could do hands-on work mapping some data because I feel it is critical to be active learners in GIS.  The mapping included activities such as bail bonds and car washes in Oklahoma City, to foster discussion about spatial patterns, but also on databases and geocoding.  I believe that the ability to construct and use a simple database is essential.  We then used proximity and hotspot and other analysis tools on these geocoded businesses.  Along the way, we discussed such themes as being critical of data, including mapped data, managing error and uncertainty, being careful about where files are stored, what is online versus on the local computer, being careful about how you construct your database.

We then discussed the languages and platforms most often used in Esri mapping technology.   When it comes to anyone learning programming, especially for the web and GIS, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript are the three essentials.  I showed the most common developer APIs (Application Programming Interface) and SDKs (Software Development Kit), such as JavaScript, and for both Android and iOS.  We discussed what GitHub is and why we use it in GIS, the Git repository web-based hosting service that offers distributed version control and source code management functionality for software development, particularly useful for a rapidly-evolving technology such as GIS.  We discussed our most common JavaScript Github repositories, such as Esri Leaflet, used to build web mapping applications, supporting HTML5 and CSS3, and Bootstrap-map-js, a lightweight JS/CSS extension for building responsive mapping apps with ArcGIS and Bootstrap 3, and the Terraformer conversion library, a geometric toolkit for dealing with geometry, geography, formats, and building geodatabases.

In my next essay in this blog, I will discuss the activities I created, with the advice of our Esri development team, for the second part of this class.

ArcGIS for Developers site

ArcGIS for Developers site.

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