SpatiaLABS now available as open educational resources

We’re pleased to announce that Esri SpatiaLABS are now available as open educational resources at or by searching ArcLessons. SpatiaLABS are hands-on GIS activities for promoting spatial reasoning and analysis skills. They are available with a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share-Alike license.

Over 40 labs currently are available on topics in both the social sciences and physical/environmental sciences.  All labs are peer-reviewed and can be customized to your specific needs.  A sampling of titles is below.

SpatiaLABS are designed for use in higher education, but are available to anyone with an interest in spatial analysis and GIS.  Most activities use ArcGIS for Desktop; some also use the Esri Business Analyst extension.  Please send questions to

  • The Spatial Distribution of Poverty: A geographically weighted regression
  • Change in the Right Direction: Monitoring land-cover change by satellite
  • Educational Performance and Family Income: Diamonds on the soles of scholarship?
  • Environmental Equity and Air Toxics
  • Groundwater for Many People: The spatial science of a shared resource
  • Analyzing Ancient Yoruba Political Power and Urbanization Patterns
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Esri Development Center (EDC) Program

ArcGIS has become a platform—a foundation upon which geospatial professionals build custom solutions that meet their organizations’ particular needs. Graduates of higher education programs in GI systems and science who can code software and build apps are highly sought after by employers. The Esri Development Center (EDC) program confers specialEsri Development Center program logo status and benefits upon a select few leading university departments that challenge their students to develop innovative applications based upon the ArcGIS platform. This can include programs that help students advance and extend Esri’s core software or that provide training in system integration and application development within a particular domain. EDCs may be degree-granting academic departments or GIS research and development centers within higher education institutions that maintain an Esri Education Site License. Students affiliated with EDC programs gain special access to Esri software and have opportunities to be recognized for their accomplishments.

One of the expectations associated with the EDC designation is that Centers will sponsor participation by students in the annual Esri International Developers Summit in Palm Springs – or a corresponding regional event. The 2014 Developers Summit attracted thirty-seven faculty members and students representing 13 Esri Development Centers. A record eight EDC students were accepted to present talks. Esri education team members attended most of these.

EDC representatives and Esri staff met at the event. As in previous years, the main agenda item was to hear from EDC reps about activities at their centers, with an emphasis on student app development. In addition, the meeting featured two guest presentations. The first was by Andrew Turner of Esri’s Washington DC R&D Center, who introduced the ArcGIS Open Data initiative. Later, Jim Barry, leader of the Esri Developer Network program, discussed Esri’s support for Dev Meetups and hackathons, as well as Esri’s new website for developers.

Related to this, John Nording and Michael Humber – students affiliated with the EDC at the University of Maryland – earned second place in the Dev Summit hackathon. This is a remarkable achievement considering that their competitors included teams of commercial developers. We hope to see more EDC hackers compete next year, and more EDCs established at leading institutions!

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Fun with GIS 157: Schools of Stories

Story Maps rock! They are spreading like wildfire, and have given birth to a banquet of new options for map geeks to consider. Adults love them, and kids grasp them immediately.

In recent weeks, I have looked at creations by students from grade 3 on up. Esri’s Story Maps page has become hugely popular among educators and kids who wish to integrate subject matter, scientific thinking, math concepts, communication skills, technology, problem solving, and creativity (“Hello, Common Core State Standards!”), or who just want to explore content in captivating ways. Whether highlighting the intricacy of Gettysburg, the deadly power of natural disasters, the analytics of fracking, or icons like … Ferris Bueller? … the Story Map format gives creators an extra dose of creative license, helping them grab viewers’ attention.

The Story Maps gallery offers easy browsing, and there are instructions and templates so anyone can put these together … anyone with a little time and vision … like students. Whether based on photos or analytical maps, these are integrative aides for exploring, digging deeper, and building and sharing a message.

Clark Magnet High School, in La Crescenta, CA, built a tradition of strength with ArcGIS Desktop, earning multiple national awards and a featured slot on stage of Esri’s International Conference in 2011. This year, they took up Story Maps to present their latest work and broaden the distribution of their messages. The Clark team again this year earned multiple awards, and their several Story Maps present powerful evidence. They added to these by looking at illegal marijuana grow sites as well as tracking of threatened species.

Having mastered gathering data, analyzing it, making maps, and telling a story, students have a set of skills that adults value hugely. Building skills along with the underlying data, analytics, maps, and the visible tools of Story Maps makes a great boost for college and career!

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Web Maps, Web Apps, Story Maps

Web maps, web apps, story maps … these and other new terms are frequently used in the new world of cloud based GIS.  Sorting through the lexicon of any field is critical to understanding it and to teach it.  What are the similarities and differences between these terms, and how does one decide when to use each of them?

All three of these terms refer to a web map dynamically stored in the cloud, or a remote server, so that the map user can interact with it in various ways.  By “interact”, I mean change the scale, extent, classification, or symbology, add or subtract data, filter data, analyze spatial relationships, and more.  Depending on your goals, you may want to create and use one or all three of these types of maps.  The way that maps are created and stored in the ArcGIS Online cloud to begin with is via a web map.  Let me illustrate with an example showing a bicycling trip I took from New York City to New Jersey following one of the Association of American Geographers conferences.  Upon the completion of my trip, I created a web map in ArcGIS Online showing my bicycling route, which I captured using a GPS device that I carried with me.  I recorded my route as a track, and I added that track as a GPX file to ArcGIS Online.  I saved the resulting map as a standard ArcGIS Online web map, which I shared with everyone so that can look at it as well, in the link above and shown below.

Bicycle Route, New York City to New Jersey

Bicycle Route, New York City to New Jersey, shown in ArcGIS Online.

Users of your ArcGIS Online maps will not only be able to access your map as you have created it, but they can also save it into their own ArcGIS Online account and make changes to it.  For example, I started with the map above and wanted to analyze the median age along my route.  I easily added that layer to it and saved it as a new map.

Bicycling Route from New York City to New Jersey with Median Age

Bicycling Route from New York City to New Jersey with Median Age.

But now let’s say I want to create a map with multiple panels, each showing a different map theme, or a map showing a 3D profile of my bicycling route.  This is where web apps come in.  A web app is an application, and ArcGIS Online provides a number of useful web app templates that you can use, or you can configure your own.  I think of it this way:  If you want your map user to have access to the full array of ArcGIS Online tools, publish your map as an ArcGIS Online web map.  But if you want specific tools and functions to be available to your users, and you don’t want them to be distracted by the other tools and functions in ArcGIS Online, then publish your map as a web app.  How can you do this?  When you are saving your map, simply indicate that you wish to publish to a web app, and you will be presented with a list of options.

To illustrate a web app, I created a web app from my ArcGIS Online map to show the 3D profile of my cycling route along with the median age.

New York City to New Jersey elevation profile, with median age, web app.

New York City to New Jersey elevation profile, with median age, web app.

Story maps, about which we frequently write in this blog because of their great utility in education, are simply a specific type of web apps.  A whole set of story map apps exist to choose from.  One type of story map is a storytelling text and legend. which I used to create the story of my experience, with tabs indicating streets with my cycling route, income, tapestry lifestyle and consumer behavior, and diversity.

Bicycling Route from New York City to New Jersey as a storymap web app

Bicycling Route from New York City to New Jersey as a storymap web app.

Thus, it is important to think about your goals when making any map and doing any analysis.  Good planning is always worth it!  Web maps, web apps, and storymaps all have great utility in education.  Or, to use the common vernacular, “it’s all good.”

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New K-12 Climate Science and Mapping Careers Video

Climate change is a geographic problem, and we believe solving it takes a geographic solution.  Find case studies, e-Books, mapping tools, and more resources from Esri at or explore the Esri Climate Resilience App Challenge 2014.

Ned Gardiner, NOAA

Virtual Job Shadow in conjunction with Esri Education and NOAA brings climate scientist, Ned Gardiner  to K-12 CTE students around the country interested in mapping and climate science.

The NOAA National Climatic Data Center keeps the world’s largest climate data archive, and provides climatological analysis to every sector of the economy. And while climate change is one of the most debated topics on Planet Earth, the controversy has little to with the scientific data being collected. It’s Ned Gardiner’s job to take all that data and help us understand what it all means. Do not miss this incredible job shadowing experience!

See this video and other GIS-STEM career videos at the Esri EdCommunity’s career video page.

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2 years, 2,895 miles, 4,659 km, 5,790,000 steps

When beginning work on a chapter about geotechnologies for an upcoming book entitled Practical Sports CoachingI began testing smartphone fitness apps.  Upon the recommendation of my co-author Jill Clark, I started using Runkeeper.  Now two years later, I have walked the distance across the North American continent.  While this distance is nothing to what my lifelong walking and running colleagues have accomplished, it touches on several aspects of geotechnology that we frequently write about here and elsewhere.

First, this provides a good illustration of the added value that mapping lends to understanding something.  Like other fitness apps, Runkeeper keeps track of your activities in a variety of graphs and maps, as shown below.

One of the reports from Runkeeper

One of the reports from the Runkeeper fitness app.

However, mapping brings added value and understanding.  I loaded a week’s worth of walks into ArcGIS Online by loading the routes from Runkeeper as GPX files, and symbolized each by the day the walks were taken, shown in the above link and in the image below.  Using the same technique, you and your students could map the locations of your fieldwork, and so much more.

My walks in Redlands during the week of our teacher professional development institutes.

My walks in Redlands during the week of our teacher professional development institutes mapped in ArcGIS Online.

Second, how are these reports and maps possible?  Runkeeper, like so many other apps nowadays, make use of location based services and GPS, and are part of the “Internet of Things” – the geoenabling and monitoring of everyday devices.  My colleague Jill Clark and I frequently write about this on Spatial Reserves, our blog about geospatial data and the implications surrounding that data.

Third, the videos I have made from these walks reflect a great variety of climate, landforms, landscapes, ecoregions, “walkability” of cities (or the difficulty thereof!), weather, seasons, and much more, which might be useful in physical and cultural geography courses.  These include walking in the desert to a saguaro to the rainforests of Costa Rica, through leaves and on land that had been burned, across the Golden Gate Bridge, through a snowy field in Kansas, the forest in Oregon, on a ridge in the chaparral biome, on cobblestones in Belgium, through a cornfield in Wisconsin, on the busy streets of Taipei, and elsewhere. I also have walked in what may be the strangest place of all, near the rental car complex at DFW airport.  As long as my knees hold out, I intend to keep walking!  It is a great form of fieldwork that allows geographers, and others, to really observe what is below, around, and above us.

What privacy implications do the geoenabling of everyday devices have?  What societal benefits does the geoenabling of devices and cloud-based GIS bring to society?

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Educational performance and family income: A common educational research question

Two young girls entering elementary school in Boston aspire to be doctors. Both come from two-parent, one-income families with two siblings. In 13 years and with hard work, assuming all other variables equal, how will their SAT scores compare given that one comes from an impoverished household and the other from a household that is well-to-do?

Is there a relationship between educational performance and family income in the State of Massachusetts, and how might that relationship be illustrated?

Jeff Blossom’s SpatiaLAB lesson addresses this question through an ArcGIS for Desktop activity comparing average family income in Massachusetts school districts and a percent proficiency score in math and English.  The activity is straightforward and well written.  It can serve as a model for a way researchers might illustrate the relationship between income and educational performance in their own state. The activity includes both student and instructor handouts and has prepared the data in such a way as students can quickly jump into the analysis and meaning making of the exercise.

Image above:   Educational Achievement in Massachusetts by School District, 2012

This post is a part of the 2014 blog series on Educational Research and Geospatial Technologies.

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Understanding Our Changing World Through Web Based Mapping Investigations: New Article

I have written a new article for Journal of Research and Didactics in Geography (J-READING) entitled Understanding Our Changing World Through Web Based Mapping Investigations.  The full text is available online.  My goal in writing the article was to demonstrate through research and practice that today’s web maps show more than simply the locations of physical and cultural objects.  They allow students to do more with the maps.  They foster understanding of relationships, linkages, and patterns inherent between and among such phenomena as ecoregions, land use, demography, watersheds, commerce, natural hazards, and social networks.

With the evolution of today’s mapping technologies into cloud-based platforms, educators and students as never before have a wide variety of data and tools at their fingertips that allow them to explore key issues of the 21st Century at scales from local to global.  Students can upload their own data into these web maps alone or as part of citizen science projects, and share their maps with others in an online environment.  These maps become multimedia-rich tools that students engage with while gaining critical thinking skills, career skills, and interdisciplinary content knowledge.

After laying a foundation supported by research, I describe what web maps are and why they are important in society.  I discuss the ties between GIS and web mapping.  Next I discuss why web maps are important in education.   I then illustrate how web maps and imagery can be used to support effective instruction.  I begin by examining change over time using photographs and web maps, with examples from Hurricane Katrina, local changes in any neighborhood using aerial photos, satellite images, and topographic maps, and key regional changes by comparing Landsat scenes.  I then show how ArcGIS Online can be used to examine global agriculture, current issues such as a proposed new road through the Serengeti in Tanzania, and local phenomena through mapping and analyzing field data that students have collected in their own community, meadow, river, or even on their own campus.

Students can use these powerful web mapping tools and data to understand that the Earth is changing. Then, they can use the maps to begin to think scientifically and analytically about why it is changing.  Asking the questions and being inquisitive are critical to the successful use of web maps and GIS in education.  Through the use of these web mapping technologies, instructors can help students to begin analyzing the “whys of where”—the essence of geographic inquiry.

Educators:  What is your experience using web mapping investigations to help students understand our changing world?  How have these tools and methods helped you achieve your educational goals?  Students:  What is intriguing to you about using these tools?  Does it encourage you to dig deeper into the “whys of where”?   What tools and data are needed in the future?

Understanding Our Changing World Through Web Based Mapping Investigations

Understanding Our Changing World Through Web Based Mapping Investigations: Some examples from the article shown here.

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An Easy Pathway to Create Storymaps

Creating storymaps has never been easier.  One of my favorite methods is one I use in creating “map tour” storymaps, involving smartphones and geotagged photographs.  For example, I recently created a story map during my visit to Whitworth University.  The procedures I used adhered to those I describe in my essay entitled “The 15 Minute Story Map.”  As the name implies, I created a storymap in 15 minutes with my smartphone and the Esri story maps platform.  I created it to encourage faculty I met with there, and ultimately, their students, to create storymaps on even more compelling topics than the simple campus tour that I created.  They could do the same for a field trip to a meadow of trees killed by invasive species, or a neighborhood undergoing rapid social and demographic changes, or a river where they are measuring water quality, or other topics local to global.

My workflow to create these types of maps is as follows:

1.  Record Day 1 track on phone. I used a fitness app (Runkeeper) but you could use MotionX GPS or many other apps.  The app you choose needs to be able to export your track as a GPX file.
2.  Take photographs with smartphone with location services turned on.
3.  Email photographs to Picasaweb/Google Plus into a folder named “Whitworth University”.   This is a folder I set up in advance.  The time saving innovation here is that the photographs sent with “Whitworth University” in the subject line automatically are placed into a folder with the same name on Google Plus.  This makes it easy to point to that folder when creating a storymap and access all of the photographs at once.
4.  Send campus video to YouTube.
5.  Create storymap using Map Tour template.  Save and share your map.  At this point, you’re really done, but the additional steps below are enhancements I made to the original storymap.
6.  Add Day 1 track to the ArcGIS Online map as a GPX file from my smartphone.  This ArcGIS Online map is the map that is driving your storymap web application.  It is visible in the “My Content” area of ArcGIS Online.
7.  Trace Day 2 track onto the ArcGIS Online map.  I did this to demonstrate a different way of adding your route; here, simply by tracing on the map, rather than uploading it from a smartphone.
8.  Add Day 2 photographs to the existing Storymap.  I did this to demonstrate that you can add content to an existing storymap just as easily as creating one from scratch.
9.  Edit the photo captions.  This literally is the most time consuming step but is an important part of the story.
10.  Save your map changes and make sure you are still sharing your map.

Some additional details that might be helpful include:  After recording the Day 1 track, I uploaded it to my ArcGIS Online web map as a GPX file simply with the “add layer from file”, where my file on my computer was my GPX file that I had saved onto my local computer.  Note that when I was inside the HUB building, the app lost GPS signal, resulting in a few spikes that are evident on the map.  I left them in the map, rather than editing them out, as a springboard to a discussion about spatial accuracy and triangulation from GPS, cell towers, and Wi-Fi hotspots.  My Day 2 track was traced onto ArcGIS Online map and saved as Map Notes.

A few of my photos, especially those taken inside buildings, were auto-placed a few hundred meters off of their true location.  Therefore, I manually relocated these, which is another feature of the storymap template.  The rest were already within 1 to 2 meters of their true location, so I left them as they were.  But the accuracy of geolocation is another great learning moment when your students are creating their storymaps.  You will note that one of the locations is not a photograph at all, but a video, which is easy to insert into your storymap.

For more details on how I created this, see the playlist of videos I created here.

Storymap of Whitworth University campus

Storymap of Whitworth University campus.

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Esri at the University of South Carolina’s Business School

Dr. Michael Galbreth, Associate Professor of Management Science at the University of South Carolina’s Moore School of Business, stresses the importance of location analytics and GIS in his MBA elective on advanced business analytics. But instead of simply lecturing about it, Dr. Galbreth decided to integrate GIS into the structure of his MBA course using Esri’s Business Analyst Online (BAO) package. “Competency with a tool like Esri is critical in order to effectively visualize business data that includes a spatial dimension,” he says. “I feel strongly that the analytical toolset of an MBA student is not complete without a solid understanding of location analytics. And I also feel that, to add the most value for the students, this topic should be covered using the state of the art in location analytics software, which of course is Esri.”

Now in his 7th year of teaching location analytics using hands-on Esri projects, Galbreth has helped hundreds of MBA students realize the power of GIS.  “By the end of the course, students realize that there is really no substitute for seeing your data on a map – whether it represents your prospects, customers, or competitors. They also appreciate how quickly a tool like Esri BAO enables them to obtain a basic understanding of a particular location, for example a potential expansion opportunity, through simple but powerful tools such as thematic mapping and drive-time analysis.”

Importantly, Galbreth’s students do not hone their GIS skills on hypothetical or textbook problems.  Instead, Galbreth has partnered with real estate developer Edens Inc. to connect the students to real world business problems. As a part of his class, the students use ESRI BAO to develop analytical reports on specific Edens locations, and they present these reports to Edens executives for feedback at the end of each semester. Upon completing the Moore School MBA program, these students are not just generally familiar with GIS, but in fact they have in-depth hands-on experience with the leading GIS package.  “It’s been great working with Esri to implement the location analytics component of my course,” says Galbreth, “and the hands-on experience with the industry partner (Edens) is what really makes this so valuable. I think students appreciate what GIS can do for them as business leaders, and the BAO package makes location analytical accessible to a wide range of users.”

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