Fun with GIS #93: Mapping External Data via ArcGIS Online

ArcGIS Online provides great maps easily. Teachers and students alike take only seconds to start making and saving their own maps. But is there any way to use interesting data from the morning paper, or an old data set from previous activities? You can engage these if (a) you understand enough about shapefile construction to change a database, and (b) you have a shapefile to which you can match your external data. You can do a lot even without having full desktop GIS tools or skills!

A new ArcLesson details the process: “Using External Data Tables with ArcGIS Online.” It walks through exploring the components of a shapefile, exploring the design of the database, editing the database (using Open Office), and testing the results. A sample shapefile of the 50 US states is provided for practice. The fundamentals are simple, and the results impressive.

Recently, the Joint Economic Committee of the US Congress released a report showing the impact of the economic downturn. But, instead of a map, they provided only a data table. Using the procedures in the lesson, I enhanced the database, zipped the shapefile, posted it to ArcGIS Online, and created a new interactive map.



Recognizing data in different forms and knowing how to work with it to understand the world better are key skills that students can practice even at a young age. It is essential as they think about college and career. We need to help students grasp why and how to integrate disparate data if we want them to see the world holistically and solve problems.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

Charlie Fitzpatrick

About Charlie Fitzpatrick

Charlie Fitzpatrick is the K-12 education manager at Esri. Before joining Esri in 1992, Charlie taught social studies in grades 7-12 for 15 years.
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  1. BetsySmalley says:

    I was able to produce exactly the map I wanted. I can see using this regularly.