Finding Map Content and Understanding What You’ve Found

Finding map content can often be a challenge, even nowadays when so much content is available in ArcGIS Online.  Recently, Charlie Fitzpatrick and I taught a a workshop entitled “Key Strategies for Finding Content and Understanding What You’ve Found.”   The goal of this activity was to enable GIS-using educators and their students to understand what spatial analysis is, effectively find spatial data, use spatial data, and become familiar with the ArcGIS platform in the process.  Based on discussions that take place in GeoNet and elsewhere about this topic, we would like to share it with the broader GIS community.  The document is located here.

The document makes it clear that we are still in a hybrid world, where people still need to download data for some work in GIS, but increasingly they are can stream data from cloud-based data services such as those in ArcGIS Online.  But these concepts make much more sense when one actually practices doing this–hence the activity.

In the activity, we ask the user to first practice search strategies in ArcGIS Online, using tags and keywords. Then, we guide the user through the process of downloading and using a CSV file with real-time data.   After a brief review of data types and resources, we guide the user of the activity through the process of downloading data from a local government agency to solve a problem about flood hazards.  The next step asks users to compare this process of downloading data with streaming the same data from the same local government’s site (in this case, Boulder County, Colorado) in ArcGIS Online.  The activity concludes with resources to discover more about these methods of accessing data.

Other hands-on activities focused on this theme of finding and understanding data exist in the 10 activities included in the Esri Press book, The GIS Guide to Public Domain Datashown here, and in selected SpatiaLABS and LearnGIS lessons.  I look forward to hearing your comments and we hope the activity is useful.

Accessing data from the Boulder County local government GIS portal through the lesson described above.
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Fun with GIS204: Troubleshooting

Life online involves hiccups, from momentary to long-term. “My students are suddenly having intermittent ArcGIS Online issues,” a teacher recently told me. “Maps that some people made and saved are suddenly inaccessible. Their screens are just blank, but mine is not.”

Many educators have hit issues in online mapping. Identifying and addressing these involves multiple strategies. Troubleshooting is a critical thinking skill, with value far beyond simple comfort with any particular technology. I have posted on GeoNet a Troubleshooting document that educators may want to download and keep handy for when things go awry.

Frame from movie submitted by student as documentation.

The teacher and students above (11th graders from Roosevelt High School MSTMA in Los Angeles) had uncovered a bug in ArcGIS Online. Their unusual workflow led to dead ends in many maps when someone deleted a particular shared resource. Thanks to good documentation including a phone-shot video, technicians could isolate, replicate, and solve the problem. The next software release will not have this particular issue.

Most hiccup are not bugs. Troubleshooting is both science and art. Carefully iterating variables helps, but perception and situational awareness matter too. Educators and students alike need to practice troubleshooting, to solve what they can and be better prepared for the unexpected, whether it appears on a web page, walks in a door, or falls from the sky. This is what employers seek today — someone who can identify a problem, isolate it, clarify it, and come up with situationally appropriate strategies for coping.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Why Data Quality Matters – Now More Than Ever

Not long ago, obtaining data for a GIS-based project was an arduous task. Because great time and effort was involved with either creating your own data or obtaining data that someone else created, you had to think carefully about the quality of the data that would go into your project. While it can still be cumbersome to obtain data at specific scales for specific areas, cloud-based data services, crowdsourced maps and databases and real-time streaming make it easy for anyone to obtain vast amounts of data in a short amount of time.

In such an environment where so much data is available, is data quality still of concern? I believe that yes, data quality does matter. In fact, because data is so easy to obtain data nowadays, and with the advent of crowdsourcing and cloud-based GIS such as ArcGIS Online, I submit that data quality considerations actually matter now more than ever. And as GIS, STEM, and geography educators, I believe this topic merits inclusion in many courses. In fact, I have found that discussing this topic connects well to critical thinking, spatial thinking, location privacy, and other relevant themes that we need to address in courses.  In these three examples I illustrate in an article I wrote for Directions Magazine, I focus on why data quality matters both now and in the future.

The first example describes my mapping of a GPS-collected track in ArcGIS Online.  The second example focuses on mapping health data for Rhode Island towns.  The last example is entitled “Walking on Water?” – and it has to do with resolution and scale.  But I won’t spoil it for you – read the article, and then below this essay, I look forward to hearing how YOU teach about data quality.

Why Data Quality Matters - Now More Than Ever

Why Data Quality Matters – Now More Than Ever. Examples.

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5 Practices That Make Life Easier in ArcGIS Online

ArcGIS Online is an easy-to-use cloud-based Software-As-A-Service (SaaS) Geographic Information System.  I have found that the following five practices have made my work in ArcGIS Online a bit easier, and I trust they will do so for you and your students, as well.  I named them practices to encourage you to practice using them.  If you do, I think that you–and your students–will have a better experience in using these tools, data sets, and maps that are now literally at your fingertips.

1. Use folders.  As I explain in this video, using folders is an excellent way for you to keep your projects organized in ArcGIS Online.  Don’t place everything in the “root” folder.  Make it a habit to store the results of your analysis, which are stored as map layers, in a folder that you have created for one single project.  Periodically go through your folders and delete maps, services, and layers that you no longer need.  Along these lines, be a good digital citizen and clean up after yourself, by unsharing anything that does not need to be shared, with the general public, and organization, or a group.

2.  Take a few seconds to name your data layers descriptively so that you can find them in the future.  This is particularly important when you are running the analysis tools and making many layers in the process.  For example, I include the value of my buffer in my proximity layers, such as “Buffer of Broad Street Well 500 meters”.  And don’t neglect populating your metadata with description and tags.  Spending a little time with these practices will save you hours in the future in finding your data quickly.  You will also help others to find your data if you are sharing, and thus encourage the use of your resources and foster collaboration.

3.  To transfer content between folders in your own ArcGIS Online organizational account, and between ArcGIS Online organizational accounts, or in Portal, use the ArcGIS Online Assistant.  It also allows you to view the underlying JSON for any item in ArcGIS Online or your Portal, and you can modify the URLs for services in web maps and registered applications.

4.  To more effectively manage your ArcGIS Online organizational account, use the Geo-Jobe tools.  The folks at Geo-Jobe offer severe educational discounts, as well.  You can copy groups, add multiple users, change permissions, view item dependencies, and do so much more, with these tools.

5.  Use the “My Stories” zone to manage your story maps. Yes, you can see your story maps while looking at “My Content” in ArcGIS Online, but “My Stories” allows you to see all of your story maps listed at once.  My Stories also contains tools for you to check any broken links or any other problems with the click of a mouse.

Note that the ArcGIS Online assistant and the Geo-Jobe assistant tech support is available through the organizations that create these tools, not Esri.

What useful practices would YOU add to this list?

5 Practices that Make Life Easier in ArcGIS Online

5 Practices that Make Life Easier in ArcGIS Online

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Fun with GIS 203: Index Grids Rule

Think back to your early map reading days. Do you remember using an index or reference grid — rows and columns of letters and numbers — to find a zone in which to look for something? These grids are really helpful for many learners and many purposes. Now there is an app (still beta, but robust) with which to generate such grids as needed.

It’s simple. Log in to the app with your ArcGIS Online credentials (publishing privileges are required), pan and zoom to the region of interest, set the desired number of rows and columns, click a button and drag a box, and a graphic grid appears. If you don’t like it, just hit the trash button and try it again. When happy, click the button, and the system generates a feature layer in your contents for you. It works at all scales I’ve wanted to try — from a parking lot to a continent. (Naturally, local level minimizes issues of cartographic distortion.)

Some educators have wanted a grid atop a portion of their school grounds in order to assign data collection tasks, or even to reference player positions on an athletic field. Others have wanted a grid atop a state map to support teaching about features and locations. The grids can be generated quickly for ad hoc processes, and can be labeled, symbolized, and filtered by attribute.

I like to put a grid atop just the topographic basemap, save the map, share it, and open the map in Explorer for ArcGIS. Try it, and I think you’ll agree: grids rule.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Schools Program Manager

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The Conservation Training Resource

With special thanks to Jamie Chesser, e-Learning Designer and Developer at The Nature Conservancy for this guest blog.

As I write this, I am reminded that today is the first day of Autumn or the Autumnal Equinox. How truly fast summer came and went! With the kids back to school and summer vacations over, you should have more time now right? Maybe a little more time to learn something new? Check out Have you visited before? If not, you should!

ConservationTraining is worth reviewing. Our site provides a plethora of conservation knowledge, from experts around the world to our learner community. All courses are free and available anytime from anywhere, as our mission is to share training with our conservation colleagues across the world. Some courses are even offered in multiple languages.

Numbers can be kind of boring; however, we are really excited about these numbers. ConservationTraining currently has 30,000+ users representing 200 countries. Since 2009, The Nature Conservancy along with several amazing partner organizations, like the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the IUCN, have created 400+ hours of content in more than 15 curriculums.

Our courses touch on a variety of science and technology including GIS, Climate Change – REDD+, and Protected Areas (and more). The Fundamentals of GIS for Conservation course uses ArcGIS and interesting and relevant data examples to paint a beautiful picture of how pertinent GIS is to the field of conservation. The curriculum, originally developed by The Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society, and the World Wildlife Fund, is comprised of six (6) courses that focus on the foundational concepts of GIS. The course has several learning components including podcasts, web-based, self-paced trainings, demonstrations, and more to help students gain knowledge on foundational GIS topics. Technology does change, we do our best to stay current with the technology. Our team is currently working on an update for this course – more details will be forthcoming.

Why not give it a look? You really won’t be sorry. Oh, and please know for the caretakers of ConservationTraining, this is just the beginning; there is much more work to be done. Happy learning!

Question or comments, we are happy to chat! Contact Jamie Chesser at

The Conservation Training Resource

The Conservation Training Resource

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New book released – STEM and GIS in Higher Education

The new e-book from Esri, STEM and GIS in Higher Education compiles 19 university case studies describing innovative ways faculty are incorporating GIS to advance STEM related activities in higher education. As a successor to the 2012 Advancing Stem Education with GIS this book explores how faculty, staff, and students are successfully using GIS to analyze and better understand data in their specific STEM fields. As a sequel, this book is designed to foster the expansion of spatial analysis throughout the sciences and engineering. The content highlights successful experiences that describe innovative approaches to the collection, analysis, and display of spatial data and the unique benefits of applying GIS methods.  The nineteen chapters are assembled into three sections.

Section 1: Campus Support for Spreading GIS into STEM Disciplines

Demonstrate how major universities have established technical and academic infrastructure to support the use of GIS across campuses. These institutions represent models of “Spatial Universities” that have committed to the establishment of infrastructure to foster multidisciplinary spatially oriented learning and research. The examples provide a glimpse of how these organizations are serving as catalysts to stimulate interdisciplinary collaboration. Specific examples demonstrate new approaches to data sharing through enhanced library functions, highlight new ways to utilize cloud based servers for realistic technical training, and preview cutting edge geodesign applications. They also illustrate ways to incorporate GIS to support campus facilities and foster interaction with local communities.

Section 2: Teaching and Learning about Spatial Analysis

Provide examples of ways that GIS and spatial analysis can serve as the focal point of courses in STEM disciplines. These examples should be useful to faculty in STEM disciplines who desire to incorporate innovative new activities for their students. The case studies demon-strate how GIS can be used to expand the technical abilities of stu-dents, helping to improve their understanding of real world problems while generating products that foster communication skills. It is significant that these experiences strongly suggest that the new breed of GIS software, such as ArcGIS Online and Esri Story Map app, will provide a fast track to curriculum deployment.

Section 3: GIS Applications in STEM disciplines

Describe research projects conducted by faculty and students in sci-ence and engineering that incorporate spatial analysis. These examples are designed to clearly demonstrate the value of GIS oriented research methods to traditional scientific investigations.

The contributions to this book were selected from submissions in response to a widely distributed call for chapters. These chapters cover activities at a wide range of institutions that include a cross section of Carnegie One private research universities, major state universities, smaller engineering colleges, and state supported regional campuses. The authors include biologists, engineers, physicians, environmental scientists, chemists, and psychologists. These lighthouse authors empower their students to discover, create, analyze, and display spatial data within the constraints of traditional university settings.

Explore the story map and no-cost e-book at

If you are interested in contributing your university’s STEM and GIS program to the map, see the geoform at .

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Landsat Thematic Bands Web Mapping Application Enhancement

Not long ago, I described the Landsat Thematic Bands Web Mapping Application, an easy-to-use but powerful teaching and research tool. It is a web mapping application with global coverage, with mapping services updated daily with new Landsat 8 scenes and access to selected bands that allows the user to visualize agriculture, rock formations, vegetation health, and more.  The Time tool allows for the examination of changes over years, over seasons, or before and after an event.  The Identify tool gives a spectral profile about each scene.  I have used this application dozens of times over the past year in remote sensing, geography, GIS, and other courses and workshops, and judging from the thousands of views that this blog has had, many others have done the same thing.

If that weren’t all, our Esri development team has recently made the tool even better–one can now save a time sequence or a band combination as a permanent URL that can be shared with others.  The flooding of 20 districts in August and September 2016 in Uttar Pradesh, India, for example, can be easily seen on this link that uses the application, with screenshots below.

Another example is the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire in Alberta, Canada  – the user can change the time to see the region’s vegetation cover before and after fire, and the extent of the smoke during the fire.  Or, you can analyze a different band combination, as is seen here.

To do this, open the application.  Note that this application’s URL has been updated over the one I referred to last year.  Move to an area of interest.  Select any one of the available thematic band renderers (such as agriculture, natural color, color infrared, and so on), or create your own band combination using build.  Then, turn on “time” to see your area of interest at different periods using your band combination.  Next, share this image with other people.   Simply click on any one of the social platforms (Facebook or Twitter) in the upper right, which will create a short link that can be shared.  When the person you send this link to opens it, the Landsat app will open in exactly the same state it was in before social platform tool was clicked.  This makes it a very convenient teaching, presentation, and research tool.  Give it a try!

Landsat 8 Image for Allahabad India on 31 May 2016

Landsat 8 Image for Allahabad India on 31 May 2016.

Landsat 8 Image for Allahabad India showing flooding on 19 August 2016.

Landsat 8 Image for Allahabad India showing flooding on 19 August 2016.

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How to Georeference a map and serve it in ArcGIS Online

In response to inquiries that educators and others have had recently, I created several videos explaining how to georeference a map and serve it in ArcGIS Online, beginning here and continuing here and here.  Georeferencing is the process of aligning spatial data in map form has no spatial information explicitly attached to it, usually because it has been scanned from film, paper, or another medium, and attaching spatial information to it.  By “spatial information” we mean a real-world map projection and coordinate system.  The process of georeferencing is powerful because it allows you to add historical or other documents to your GIS project, so that you can work with them just like you can with your other GIS maps and data.  You match your scanned aerial photo, map, or other document by creating a series of control points, which I explain here.  I did this using ArcGIS Desktop (ArcMap); soon you will be able to do this in ArcGIS Pro, and, I hope, someday in ArcGIS Online.

Georeferencing has been around for as long as GIS has existed–since the 1960s.  But more recently, with the advent of cloud based GIS platforms such as ArcGIS Online, you can now serve your newly georeferenced data to the cloud, as I demonstrate in the third video in the series.  Serving it in ArcGIS Online enables you to use it anywhere, on any device, at any time.  Then, if you share your data in ArcGIS Online, others can use it as well in their own maps and projects.

Let’s say you have georeferenced and uploaded a historical map, as I do in these videos with one of the wonderful historical Sanborn fire insurance maps, and now have published it to ArcGIS Online.  Now you want to create a Swipe story map web mapping application so that you can compare how a city changed over time.  I explain how to to do that in this video.  As with any GIS-based project, being organized about your work is crucial, and in this video I demonstrate how to effectively use folders in ArcGIS Online to support your organized work.

I hope these resources will be valuable to the community and I look forward to hearing your comments and how you have used georeferencing in your own work.

Georeferencing a historical map in ArcGIS.

Georeferencing a historical map in ArcGIS.

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Remembering 9/11

(Note: This was written for and posted on Sept 11 of 2011, the tenth anniversary. The memories, and need for learning, remain as strong as ever. Never give up. -Charlie)

On that dreadful day in 2001, under the “severe clear” September sky, in those thunderbolts of inhumanity that cost so dearly, we lost two friends from National Geographic who, with students and teachers in tow, had embarked on a mission full of hope.

The roots of that ghastly day snake back to and reach full stop at a scandalously inadequate geographic understanding, even among the ranks of those who influence the planet. The world is stunningly complex, with visible influence and hidden links far and wide. How can anyone hope to make good decisions about complex matters while ignoring the matrix of connections?

We need to see the broad patterns and fractal fabrics around us, grasp the relationships between conditions here and those over there, envision from all sides the Mobius strip connecting yesteryear and tomorrow. Without this holistic view, without comprehending the tyranny of distance yet still the web of connections over space and time, the road ahead is perilous, for each of us, and the world in which we live. Ignoring the lessons of geography, we become a braided stream of humanity, tumbling inexorably toward a cliff.

Ann and Joe lost their lives while working to build geographic understanding for all … young or old, teacher or student, rural or urban, American or global. It remains for us truly a mission in which failure is not an option. For those who live in anonymity on up to those whose decisions shape us all, understanding the power of place and past, and the gravity of patterns and relationships, is vital for navigating safely between the shoals of ignorance and apathy, toward a secure and sustainable world. Let us resolve to ensure that all gain experience in thinking geographically, and hail the disposition to do so about matters large and small.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Schools Program Manager
Link to Facebook group remembering Ann and Joe

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