MOOCs Offer Significant Value

Earth Imagery at Work

Occasionally I’m disheartened when I meet someone who isn’t familiar with the term massive open online course (MOOC). But then I realize that’s a teachable moment, and I explain what MOOCs are and why they’re relevant and valuable.

MOOCs matter to GIS professionals because they help generate that content but also because they enhance participants’ geospatial skillsets while adding substance to their resumes. That’s significant value, especially in the context of today’s flagging economy.

What’s a MOOC?

A MOOC is an online course offered by a company, university, non-profit, or other provider. MOOCs are typically open to large numbers of students and are nearly always free. Those with a fee typically have a “free option” that has fewer bells and whistles.

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Imagery has so many uses

Show me my home! The human era of GIS begins          

Little more than a decade ago, seemingly the whole world snapped awake to the power of imagery of the earth from above. We began by exploring a continuous, multiscale image map of the world provided online by Google and other mapping companies. A combination of satellite and aerial photography, these pictures of Earth helped us to experience the power of imagery, and people everywhere began to experience some of what GIS practitioners already knew. We immediately zoomed in on our neighborhoods and saw locational contexts for where we reside in the world. This emerging capability allowed us to see our local communities and neighborhoods through a marvelous new microscope. Eventually, naturally, we focused beyond that first local exploration to see anywhere in the world. What resulted was a whole new way to experience and think about the world.

Initially, we zoomed in on our homes and explored our neighborhoods through this new lens. This experience transformed how people everywhere began to more fully understand their place in the world. We immediately visited other places that we knew about. Today, we continue by traveling to faraway places we want to visit. Aerial photos provide a new context from the sky and have forever changed our human perspective. This map tour visits selected areas in several communities where ultra-high-resolution imagery is available.

These simple pictures captured people’s imagination, providing whole new perspectives, and inspired new possibilities. Today, virtually anyone with Internet access can zero in on their own neighborhood to see their day-to-day world in entirely new ways. In addition, people everywhere truly appreciate the power of combining all kinds of map layers with imagery for a richer, more significant understanding.

Almost overnight, everyone with access to a computer became a GIS user.

A range of applications

By now, it’s apparent that imagery enables whole new perspectives and insights into your world and the issues you want to address. Imagery also has numerous advantages and capabilities.

Almost daily access to new information

Image collection is rapid and increasing. And access to imagery is increasingly becoming more responsive. Many satellites and sensors are already deployed with more coming all the time, collecting new data, adding to a continuous collection effort—a time series of observations about our planet. These image collections are enabling us to map, measure, and monitor virtually everything on or near the earth’s surface. All of us can quite rapidly gather much of the data that we need for our work. Imagery has become our primary method for exploration when we “travel” to other planets and beyond. We send probes into space and receive returns primarily in the form of imagery that provides a continuous time series of information observations. And it enables us to derive new information in many interesting ways.

Looking back in time

The use of aerial imagery is still relatively young. While imagery only began to be used in the twentieth century, it is easy to compare observations for existing points in time that reside in our imagery collections. In addition, we can overlay imagery with historical maps, enabling us to compare the past with the present.

Imagery data collections are becoming richer every day

Imagery is creating an explosion of discovery. Many imagery initiatives are repetitive and growing, expanding and adding to image databases for our areas of interest. ArcGIS is scaling out, enabling the management of increasingly large, dynamically growing earth observations. This points to the immediacy of imagery and its capacity for easy integration, enabling all kinds of new applications and opportunities for use—things like before-and-after views for disaster response, rapid exploitation of newly collected imagery, image interpretation and classification, and the ability to derive intelligence. Over time, many of these techniques will grow in interesting new ways, enabling deeper learning about our communities, the problems and issues we face, and how we can use GIS to address these.

Imagery enables powerful analytic capabilities

Imagery and its general raster format enable rich analysis using ArcGIS. And, in turn, these enable more meaningful insights and perspectives about the problems we want to address.


This post is excerpted from The ArcGIS Imagery Book: New View, New Vision. Imagery is suddenly a big deal, and those who are adept at finding it, analyzing it, and understanding what it actually means are going to be in demand in the years ahead. The purpose of this book is to help everyone from GIS professionals to app developers, and web designers to virtually anyone how to become smarter, more skillful, and more powerful appliers of image data. The book is available through and other booksellers, and is also available at for free.

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Visualizing Data on Asian American and Pacific Islanders

The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI) will be celebrated on Friday, October 7, 2016. Earlier this year, the Department of Education and the University of California, Riverside launched the Elevate: AAPI Data Challenge, inviting the public to show new ways to analyze, interpret, and present data about Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs).

AAPIs are the fastest growing racial group in the USA, and the most diverse. Publicly available data sets include classification by national origin, such as Chinese, Filipino, Hmong, or Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander. Quality of life may be enhanced for communities when they know about and participate in federal programs, so this challenge is one way to generate new insights.

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The Second Sprint: Expanding the Opportunity Project

At the March launch of the opportunity Project, White House Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz said Monday, “ZIP code should not determine destiny.”

Personally, this is why I chose to work in public service and then Esri, a forward-leaning organization that supports civic innovation and community solutions through smart mapping.

Maps can highlight the inequality we face as a nation today, and also provide a guide to resources and solutions that can help expand economic opportunity to every American, regardless of geography.

We at Esri were excited to participate in the second sprint of the Opportunity Project, because maps and spatial analysis offer real solutions to problems that every American faces. This second sprint has allowed us to work closely with subject matter experts to understand more completely how to design tools for communities participating.

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Esri and Partners Demonstrating ArcGIS and Industry Solutions at GITEX 2016

By Richard Budden

With over 150,000 participants, GITEX is the largest technology event in the Middle East, and the third largest in the world. People attend the week long show to learn about the latest innovations, network with experts and decision makers, and discover the latest technologies being applied to every industry you can think of.

Esri will be attending the event again this year, from 16th to 20th October at Dubai’s World Trade Centre. As well as demonstrating the latest ArcGIS platform developments, this year we’ll be bringing some of our key regional partners and startups with us, all of which are leveraging ArcGIS in new and exciting ways.

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Open Data and GIS improve forest management


Open Data and GIS improve forest management in the Congo Basin By Thomas Maschler and Asa Strong from World Resources Institute Open data enables citizens and communities around the world to engage in important societal and environmental issues. Besides stimulating … Continue reading

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ArcGIS + Microsoft Power BI = More Bang for Your Buck

By Scott Ball

Starting today Microsoft will be providing a public preview of a free, powerful, Esri-built mapping visual inside Microsoft Power BI. The new visual, ArcGIS Maps for Power BI, will provide a focused set of ArcGIS capabilities in both the cloud and desktop Power BI offerings. With ArcGIS Maps for Power BI you can do more with maps in your BI than ever before:

  • Get your location data on the map in a snap using addresses, standard geographic boundaries (such as postal code, city, or state), or latitude and longitude values. Our industry leading geoenablement services have high accuracy and let you display your locations as points or boundaries (when possible).
  • Get serious with map visualizations. Use the best map visualizations possible to make your case and tell your story.
    • Make your maps easier to read with map themes such as heatmaps or clustering. In areas where you have many points on the map, aggregating the points helps you understand patterns at a glance.
    • View your locations by size, color, or both. Visualize sales data by size while using color to show which sales rep owns the account to quickly identify the rock stars.
    • Control the data classification used to display your points. You know your data, and you know how it should be displayed. Use common statistical classification methods such as natural breaks, equal interval, quantile, or standard deviation to show your data appropriately.
  • Use reference layers to spatially analyze relationships in your data and complement your tabular analysis. A reference layer can help you understand what’s going on in the areas that are important to you. The boundaries of these areas can be used to select your Power BI data and filter the other charts and graphs in your reports and dashboards.
    • Use a demographic reference map such as population growth, median household income, or median disposable income to identify interesting areas.
    • Use community-submitted ArcGIS reference maps to go beyond the basic standard geographies offered in demographic reference maps. A world of community-shared maps is at your fingertips.
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Alaska Revealed

Exciting news from the Arctic! Version 2 of the Arctic DEM has been released. Topographic elevation of the Arctic can now be viewed and analyzed like never before. This release extends the detailed 2 meter Alaska elevation data with additional 2m data for Novaya Zemlya and Franz Josef Land, as well as preliminary 8 meter data for the entire Arctic.  Additional detailed 2 meter elevation data will be released in quarterly installments over 2017 until the arctic data is complete.  This is the result of a partnership between Esri, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, the National Science Foundation, and the Polar Geospatial Center at the University of Minnesota.

In September 2016, the White House hosted an Arctic Ministerial meeting, with over 20 countries represented, where this data was showcased and new commitments on data provisions were sought.  The goal of the meeting and the function of the new data is to help people better understand, adapt to, and address the changing conditions in the Arctic.

The four key themes include:

  • Understanding Arctic-Science Challenges and their Regional and Global Implications.
  • Strengthening and Integrating Arctic Observations and Data Sharing.
  • Applying Expanded Scientific Understanding of the Arctic to Build Regional Resilience and Shape Global Responses.
  • Using Arctic Science as a Vehicle for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Education and Citizen Empowerment.

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Data Driven Citizenship

No one cares about a neighborhood more than the people who live there. People spend their days and evenings along the street, raise children, foster connections with neighbors, build businesses, grow gardens, bike, walk, and live. A few choose to engage with their civil organizations, advocating for positive change, or against negative impacts; they participate in civic meetings, and some even run for office in order to have a professional responsibility to their community. Our fundamental goal of democracy is to expand the engagement and active participation to every person.

Contemporaneously, the internet has provided a platform for immediate and global access to information and people. An increasing majority of people carry a web integrated, sensor laden, geolocated mobile computer that makes this access ubiquitous and pervasive. Whether merely reading or actively publishing information, we have an unprecedented ability to interact with both our physical and digital worlds in coordination – essentially integrating our neighborhoods with realtime and historical data about us and our communities.

One of the primary roles of government historically has been to gather resources in order to build physical infrastructure such as roads, parks, and buildings such that communities and commerce can grow and flourish. Increasingly, a new role is for government to provide a digital public infrastructure, one which supports access to information, in order to improve the efficiency of government operations as well as enable more meaningful decisions by constituents. More than just websites, new digital services are more responsive, scalable, and optimistically more effective in serving people’s needs. Combined with open data, information analysis tools, and online forums.

Cub Scout Joshua Perry prepares to collect sales information using Collector for ArcGIS.

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Crowd Sourcing Apps Whittle Away at Huge Data Projects

Dilapidated and vacant buildings in a city are a blight that not only distresses the urban landscape but causes health problems, decreases property values, and attracts criminal elements. Before managing urban blight, cities need to know where it is. Understanding a problem is half way to solving it. New Orleans is asking its community to participate in an urban blight data collection process by simply using an app that shows building photos and asks a few survey questions about the condition of the property.

New Orleans is using the app to collect data about the status of the city’s 150,000 properties. To get started, staff drove every street of the city capturing photos of each building with two consumer grade cameras with wide angle lenses, which they bought from the local tech store. They also had an integrated GPS that tagged the location to each photo taken. They then uploaded the pictures to a data layer and joined them to corresponding parcel location data.

The city did not have the resources to actually complete the survey for these properties, so it asked Esri to build a crowd sourcing solution. Esri created the Photo Survey app, which any local government can use to publish street-level photo collections. Now citizens can become involved in the community project by accessing the app, answering the questions, and clicking send to add the information to the Photo Survey data layer on the server.

In just one month people had joined in the project and completed 16,000 surveys. The simple 10 second survey is easy.  Answer these six questions: 1) Is there a structure on the property? 2) Is the lot overgrown? 3) Is there apparent damage to the siding or walls? 4) is there apparent damage to the windows or doors? 5) Is there damage to the roof? 6) What’s the foundation type?

Very easy to use crowd sourcing apps encourage citizens to participate in a community project

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