Tag Archives: Careers
I recently participated in the European Association of Geographers conference in Belgium. There, I had the pleasure of interacting with energetic and knowledgeable young professionals promoting the European Geography Association for Students and Young Geographers, the EGEA.
It is an honor for Esri to partner with and support this organization, along with our colleagues at the University of Utrecht and elsewhere. The goal of EGEA’s network is to exchange knowledge and information for geography students and young geographers. To achieve this goal, EGEA organises congresses, student exchanges, hosts foreign students, and publishes a newsletter. As all of us in the field of geotechnology are well aware, networking is critical for success. But what is also critical is empowering students and young professionals as they begin their careers in this field. How can we as the geography and GIS professsional community best do that?
Associations such as the EGEA can help grow an effective geo-workforce of tomorrow through development of skills, confidence, and, in short, cultivating lifelong learning and career growth. Also playing a key role are resources such as the new GeoPivot and the Geomentor program. But I also think effective nurturing starts at earlier ages, reflected in the efforts that we and others are making in such programs as 4H, the National Girls Collaborative Project, and other after school programs, and through working directly with primary and secondary students and educators. We have numerous complicated issues to solve in the 21st Century, and most of these issues have a geographic component that can be understood through the use of geotechnologies. These young people with whom we are working are skilled, committed, and eager to make a positive difference in our world.
Are you involved in any of these efforts to help build the next generation of geo-minded professionals? What other efforts do you think our community needs to make?
“The illiterate of the 21st century,” wrote Alvin Toffler, “will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
Toffler’s words seem particularly appropriate to the GIS profession. In 1983, I was among the last of students who for over 10 years were using the SYMAP program to create 3D mesh terrain surfaces. My colleagues and I at the US Census Bureau used GIS to develop the TIGER system during the late 1980s. I started using ArcInfo in 1989 at version 4 at the USGS. Despite the huge changes that occurred in GIS at that time, I firmly believe that I have seen more change in the past 3 years than I did for the previous 30 years. The open data movement, crowdsourcing, cloud computing, attention to spatial thinking, mobile apps, and SDKs are among the forces that are modifying huge portions of our profession, from the technology to the number and variety of people in it.
Changes in GIS and society are having an enormous impact on GIS education: What must we teach to help learners update their current skills and prepare them for the future? How must we as GIS educators most effectively educate ourselves? To think about it as Toeffler might, think about all that you have learned, unlearned, and relearned in GIS over the years. (I confess that I am still wondering about Toeffler’s “unlearning” process. Do we really “unlearn” or do we just forget some of the details of what we no longer need to know?) I remember the time I invested in learning how to download, format, and use SDTS-formatted spatial data, and then creating a 25 page document to help others do the same. Is that document still needed? Do most GIS folks today even know what SDTS is? I had to learn how to use that type of data, and then relearn how to use spatial data when the formats and the software changed. Today, with the coupling of desktop and web-based GIS, software updates no longer occur annually, but at least quarterly if not more often. You cannot effectively use all of the ArcGIS Online resources if your version of ArcGIS for Desktop is a few versions behind. New data, apps, and other resources appear daily. GIS seems to me to be the perfect example of why lifelong learning is essential.
Furthermore, something common to every GIS professional is the experience of having difficulty with getting a task in GIS to work, modifying it, trying it again, and assessing the results. I recently had difficulty matching an ArcGIS Online basemap with a set of data, because I had guessed incorrectly at the projection that the vector data was in. While these experiences can be frustrating, we tend to more clearly remember their details than when our problem solving workflow is smooth and easy. In short, the difficulties we experience in learning and relearning actually help us in the learning process.
I see Toffler’s point but I also think that reading and writing are important 21st Century skills, and are more critical now than ever before. In my role on the Esri education team, I spend more time reading, writing, and communicating than I do on other tasks. Yet even the bulk of time I spend reading, writing, and communicating is with the objective of learning and relearning, and teaching others.
How does GIS require and foster lifelong learning? How can you model lifelong learning with GIS with your students?
Everyone wants kids to be problem solvers. Developing this skill takes practice, just as do public speaking, dance, chess, programming, dish washing, or video games. Students crave puzzles to solve … interesting, meaningful puzzles. Not fake ones (“a train leaves Chicago at 8AM and averages 40 mph …”) but real-life puzzles. Geographic information systems like ArcGIS Online provide infinite opportunity.
Recent upgrades to ArcGIS Online added key analytical tools (see Fun with GIS 136 and Fun with GIS 140), some to all users, some just to Organization accounts. But analyses depend on data. The latest update has provided Organizations with easy access (see image at right) to powerful new data for analysis: not just more recent content, but rich attributes. And now the individual sub-layers of information can displayed as tables, sorted, queried, and even have their classification and symbolization schemes changed. This opens vast opportunity for analysis, in search of ever deeper grasp of patterns and relationships.
By giving students puzzles pertaining to their community, or comparing their broad region with a distant place, students can see more clearly the powerful forces influencing lives across the land. With improved access to authoritative data sets, students working in Organizations can focus on substantive questions about meaning, in search of solutions.
The puzzles of the world abound, and we need desperately for young people to develop both the skills to solve them and the disposition to seek them out. A mental diet rich in real-world puzzles like those visible on ArcGIS Online will help young people build a much more secure future for themselves … and for all of us as well.
Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager
Analysis solves problems. It’s that simple. Almost any puzzling situation about the world, from “How could we improve safety at school?” or “Where are the people who want my product?” to “How could we reduce human impact on climate?” is a geographic question that can be addressed through analyzing geographic data. This is why GIS is such a powerful technology for helping young people build long-term thinking skills, relevant background knowledge, a vision of their own impact on community and planet, and interest in and capacity for college and career.
In a previous blog about analysis, I highlighted the filter and query capacities in ArcGIS Online. These elements are available to any user working with feature data published recently through ArcGIS Online. For instance, in a map about education data containing two layers of state data (per pupil expenditures, graduation and dropouts), in addition to opening popups, anyone can open the tables, choose fields, and do queries of each layer.
But there are now new analytical capacities available to users of ArcGIS Online Organizations, and more on the way. Suppose you have a layer of point data, such as the layer in this map showing the locations of professional football stadiums. (Perhaps there is a wild hypothesis to explore, about spending on things other than education, which might affect graduation rates.) By pulling up the properties menu for a feature layer in the map, users who are logged into an ArcGIS Online Organization will see a new set of analysis options, with even more tools on the way. The Esri Federal Conference movies (especially the afternoon video, 53:00-55:00) show the power of these tools.
Geographic analysis is a power tool for analyzing data in order to understand conditions and solve problems. Students can begin such analyses even at a young age, finding the percentage of ant colonies more than 25 meters from vegetation, or the hot spots for trash along a road, or a possible pattern followed for historic burials in a local cemetery. Analyzing data for which they have a hand in the collection and processing, they will develop deeper connections to their existing understanding of the world, and build skills for solving any problem.
This is what colleges and employers seek – people who can explore unfamiliar or puzzling situations, analyze data, integrate information, communicate interpretations, and collaborate with others. Analytical skills are built for life.
Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager
In my last post, I made the case that Jukes, McCain, Crocket, and Prensky’s book Understanding the Digital Generation holds key lessons for those of us who are involved in teaching with GIS and teaching about GIS. Yet the characteristics of these digital learners that I described in that post are not the only instructive elements of the book. The authors’ discussion of changes in the 21st Century world of work I believe are helpful for curriculum developers, instructors, and administrators who seek to embed the geographic perspective, spatial content, and geotechnology skills into instruction at all levels.
Jukes et al. say that to prepare for the 21st Century world of work, while we will continue to teach many traditional skills, there will be a shift in emphasis on the importance of those skills. The authors go on to say that we must adjust teaching to match the new world of technology. New skills must be considered as part of the basic literacy skills of any student. Why have these skills received a promotion? Quite simply, because of technology.
The authors prefer the word “fluency” over literacy because for them it conveys a sense of lifelong learning, such as becoming fluent in a language–in this case, the language of technology. There are five types of fluencies that are important: (1) Solution fluency: This is whole brain thinking, including creativity and problem solving applied in real time. (2) Information fluency: The ability to access digital information sources to retrieve desired information and assess and critically evaluate the quality of information. (3) Collaboration fluency: This “teamworking proficiency” is the “ability to work cooperatively with virtual and real partners in an online environment to create original digital products.” (4) Creativity fluency: The “process by which artistic proficiency adds meaning through design, art, and storytelling.” (5) Media fluency: The ability to look analytically at any communication media to interpret the real message, determine how the chosen media is being used to shape thinking, evaluate the efficacy of the message, and the ability to publish original digital products to match the media to the intended message.
My question for instructors: How have you observed students acquiring these five fluencies when you have taught GIS? My question for students: How has using GIS enabled you to prepare for the world of work?
“I can’t do GIS.” It still stuns me when I hear that, especially from an intelligent adult. OK, geographic information systems are robust, can engage many sets of data, and are key for tackling complex problems like climate analysis, urban planning, routing school buses, or optimizing service locations. But, seriously … “can’t do”?
In recent weeks, I’ve visited various sites, including:
- an impoverished urban school with poor connectivity and blocks preventing signing in to ArcGIS Online, but, with encouragement from teachers, the kids were able to make maps and explore local data on a set of iPads brought in;
- an impoverished rural school with poor connectivity, and only one big monitor for projection and demo, as long as I could do it from an iPad;
- a conference center with modest internet, where 50kids from grades 3-12 doubled up on computers and eventually closed half of those to get enough bandwidth to practice, and some had only a once-cached image to provide geographic context onto which they dragged a table of lat/long data, which –bang! – hopped in place and permitted exploration and analysis.
In two decades at this job, I’ve watched teachers and kids with a dearth of resources produce results far beyond those from some schools with all the resources, talent, and opportunity desired. GIS takes two key capacities: (a) the ability to think geographically, grasp differences between here and there, and understand patterns and relationships; and (b) the willingness to use various tools to explore, analyze, and present data.
As a test, I decided to make a simple map in ArcGIS Online, using just my iPhone. If you have the ArcGIS app on a smartphone, the system defaults into that app, which facilitates viewing. But I used the browser to access the regular starting page.
Then it was just a matter of sliding the screen here and there to access the items I needed to make, save, and share a basic map. Not the easiest way to make this map, and not the ideal way to learn the technology, but quite doable, and really the only way to author and share from a phone.
Recently, the US Dept of Education published a research paper on grit, tenacity, and perseverance. Outstanding! Education is vastly more than the accumulation of standard facts for regurgitation. I have watched and listened to enough teachers and students who succeed with GIS to know that anyone can, but some folks struggle with the opportunity (need) to make choices, and the need to learn by doing. Getting students to move beyond “paint by numbers” requires attempting, stumbling, trying again, and repeating. I’m not sure this is in any formal education standard, but every teacher and parent knows it’s true. And, boy, are employers ever looking for this.
- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager
Recently I taught a class for http://www.arts-street.org, a visionary organization that cultivates low-income and under-served youth into a creative and culturally competent workforce. They “use the power of the arts and arts professionals to nurture leadership and engage youth in learning.” I and my colleague at Esri have been working with Arts Street for years and it is quite exciting to see what they are now doing with ArcGIS Online. The participants in the class will continue working over the next few months on a project for Grand County Colorado Economic Development. A win-win situation has emerged: The Arts Street participants gain key career skills by having Grand County as their clients, who in turn get work done that will meet their goal of mapping their county assets. Taking the torch from here are colleagues of ours from GeoWize, with the two groups that we formed: The Mountain Info Squad from Grand County, and the Urban Data Geeks from Denver.
The project includes the use of ArcGIS Online, Esri Story Maps, and Community Analyst.
During the class, we used, both in the classroom and in the field, a variety of devices from Android and iPhone smartphone to GPS receivers and Mac and PC-based laptops and tablets. Not only did the class exhibit a diversity of devices, but the participants in the class were also diverse in terms of backgrounds, ethnicity, and age (ages 15 to 81 represented). It was clear evidence of the unifying power that GIS has. One of the high school students in the class is the webmaster for the Arts Street web resources! We created multimedia maps, presentations, and map-embedded web pages, and created a tree inventory of the neighborhood in ArcGIS Online. The fact that they are a creative group of people was evident first thing in the morning when some of them showed up wearing bracelets that they made out of topographic maps!
What project have you been involved with that really displayed how GIS brings people together?
“Got anything for our Macs?” Many schools with collections of Macintosh computers still don’t know the powerful learning experiences available to them. GIS on the Mac is indeed doable, thanks to ArcGIS Online; its new tables and filters expand analytical capabilities for all users.
Additional power is available for Macs (and PCs) via Community Analyst, which includes access to thousands of variables about locations in the US. This app uses Flash technology and relies on a mouse, keyboard, and access to screen real estate, so it isn’t designed for tablets and smartphones. (Community Analyst also requires a subscription, available for instructional use in K12 education via state-wide, district-wide, and school-wide licenses.)
As a test, I did an analysis around a school I’m mentoring in Los Angeles. Community Analyst can import maps created in ArcGIS Online, so I imported a map of student locations, which had been built in Excel using Esri Maps for Office and published to ArcGIS Online. Focusing on these locations, I chose to map median household income, using an “index” (percent, where 100 = average) to classify income relative to US average. For a neutral background hiding location details, I switched to the grey basemap. Then I filtered out areas below 75% of the US average. Finally, I used the advanced capabilities of the “search for businesses” function and added locations of libraries and museums, to see what access low-income families might have to public education opportunities outside of schools.
Computers running just web browsers with appropriate plugins can engage powerful analytical applications like Community Analyst, Business Analyst Online, ChangeMatters, or other focused applications that rely on the ArcGIS Online platform. (Check browser and screen size requirements; apps vary.) Regardless of hardware, the process of geographic analysis makes GIS a powertool for education. Users must grasp how to use technology to foster thinking scientifically about all manner of data, designing thoughtful questions which generate informative results, and communicating these effectively. They can do this starting even at a young age … and should. GIS can help students “STEAM (= science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) forward” to college and career, even on a Mac.
- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager
“Please computer show me all features where…” I think this is the sweetest phrase in all of GIS. Why does GIS rock? Analysis! It’s technology’s marvelous ability to sift through a bunch of data, and show the answer to a compelling question. The user has to provide the data and craft a clear and meaningful question that the computer can answer. For an educator, this is magic! It is a wonderfully simple, clear, and potent demonstration of problem-solving. The guts of GIS is features and their attributes, but the brain of GIS is analysis.
The latest upgrade to ArcGIS Online now makes it easy to see and practice analysis, allowing educators to build problem-solving skills from even a young age. Any feature service can now display a table of attributes, where users can sort and select and see relationships even more clearly. And properly formatted data can be filtered with queries, sifting out features that meet specific criteria.
To demo, I downloaded some data about US states – four years of 8th grade math scores in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test. In Excel, I collected summary scores from 2011, 2009, 2007, and 2005, and calculated the difference between 2005 and 2011. (For such a demo, I could have used as few as three features and three attributes, but making it realistic adds power.) I used Esri Maps for Office to convert the spreadsheet into a map layer, and then shared that layer through my ArcGIS Online organization.
Back in a classroom, students on computers or iPads could practice analysis, using the map, table, and filter tools! This is a fabulous workflow for educators – build a simple data set, publish it to ArcGIS Online, let your students bang away on it! In addition to the classification and symbolization that is a hallmark of GIS, now students can explore that table and select features of special interest.
Students can then filter out according to carefully crafted criteria, with simple queries about a single thing to very complex and even parameterized queries! And users don’t even need to be signed in if the data is shared with the public! This is awesome!
Education policy leaders are yearning for analytical thinking. Employers seek workers who can analyze information. The new geography standards and next generation science standards both call for students to demonstrate analysis. The Common Core State Standards call for analysis. STEM fields require constant analysis. This is why I’m so excited about the powerful combination of ArcGIS Online as a critical thinking arena, especially when used in conjunction with Esri Maps for Office. Opportunities for students to build analytical power are endless!
- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager
In a recent essay, I asked “Is Everyone a Geographer?,”given the advent of easy-to-use geotechnologies that have enabled the general public to use many of the same tools and data that were formerly only used by GIS specialists and geographers. I received some intriguing responses as did a book in which my colleagues and I asked this same question, entitled Practicing Geography. In the essay I contended that geography is a three-legged stool, with supporting legs representing content knowledge, geographic skills, and the spatial perspective.
The advent of geotechnologies has elevated the importance of geography to a level unprecedented in the history of the discipline, reinvoking inherent tensions between the integrity of the field as a discrete academic discipline, on the one hand, and its generalist appeal on the other hand. Although this tension within geography is not new—William Morris Davis reacted to it over one hundred years ago—some say that geography has never been more prominent within the everyday human experience than it is today.
Personally, I’m not so sure about that. We spend so much time indoors these days. At one time we were all directly depending on the landscape for food, water, and shelter, we were very much attuned to local geography—where to plant, where not to plant, where the safe drinking water was, where we could set animal traps or fishing lures, and other actions that our very lives depended on. That has changed for many, though certainly not all, of the planet’s inhabitants. In the past, the ability to use “geographic data” depended on one’s five senses. I suppose we could have a lively debate on whether geography is more prominent in the human experience now or in the past. What is clear that the 21st Century certainly has seen society’s valuing geographic tools in everyday life. This is different in many ways from the previous 100 years, where the ability to use geographic data, in the form of increasingly sophisticated paper maps, and later, databases and software, did require extensive geographic training. Now, many of these tools are as common as the smartphone or the Internet itself.
The rise of geographic tools such as web GIS, GPS, data collection via smartphone, and easy-to-use GIS software means that we now have the capability of making decisions more rapidly and more wisely than ever before, and most importantly, use the spatial perspective in making those decisions. Geotechnologies have no curricular “home” in most educational systems at the present time. Thus, one challenge in education is convincing educational authorities and organizations, and even individual educators and parents, that these geographic tools enhance teaching and learning at all levels. They are valuable tools with which to learn history, earth and environmental science, biology, geography, mathematics, language arts, and many other subjects, encouraging holistic and critical thinking. However, they are also valuable to learn for their own sake, as technologies for an ever-expanding array of careers, from medicine to marketing, from engineering to ecology, from business to biology, from public safety to planning.
How can we connect the rise of geographic tools to the need to be using these tools throughout the educational system?
-Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager