Comparing Tracks between Smartphone Apps and Survey Grade GPS Receivers

We have compared different field data collection devices and apps in this blog over the years, including between smartphones and recreational-grade GPS receivers here and here,  and between two smartphone apps.  We have also discussed Esri field apps such as Survey 123 and Collector for ArcGIS.   How do tracks collected with smartphone apps compare to those with a survey grade GPS receiver?

I was recently in the field collecting the rim and the bottom of gullies incised through head cut erosion with some excellent high school students and their instructor from the Santa Fe Indian School.  The instructor brings his students to the same site each year, and over time, it is evident that some of these gullies are very actively eroding.  In a semi-arid region where topsoil is one of the primary natural resources, erosion is a very serious matter.  I like the project because it incorporates time, space, fieldwork, GIS, and GPS, and real-world issues, but most of all because the students are active in experimenting with solutions to the problem, such as the construction of “Zuni Bowls” which can slow erosion rates.

I mapped the tracks that I had collected with 2 smartphone apps (RunKeeper and Motion X GPS) and the tracks collected by students using Trimble GPS receivers running Pathfinder Office.  It was easy to bring the data into ArcGIS Online for comparison purposes from the original GPX and shapefiles.  As you might expect, the tracks from my smartphone apps are quite angular compared to that collected with the Trimble, which have sub-meter spatial accuracy capability.  By contrast, the geo-tagged photographs that I typically use in creating campus story maps, such as this one of New Mexico State University, over the past year,  even though they were collected with a smartphone, have been steadily improving in spatial accuracy.  They are now usually less than one meter away from where I actually took them, as measured on a satellite image base map.  Therefore, point data from a smartphone is often better than line (track) data.  But the track collected on a smartphone with Collector for ArcGIS will be much more accurate than that from my non-GIS smartphone fitness and GPS apps.

As we have mentioned many times in this blog, using geotechnologies in instruction comes down to:  Use the most appropriate tool for the job.  The gullies measured by the students in this study have intricate perimeters, and thus, the higher end GPS receivers were essential.  For collecting water quality in streams or trees on your school campus, a recreational grade GPS receiver or a smartphone app might be the most appropriate solution.

Results of comparison of field methods and devices in ArcGIS Online

Results of comparison of field methods and devices in ArcGIS Online.

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GeoInspirations: People Making a Positive Difference in Geography and Geotechnologies

GeoInspirations is my column in Directions Magazine where we are sharing the stories of innovative people for the purpose of inspiring Directions readers to pursue their own dreams.  In the column, I interview some of those men and women who have changed the face of the geospatial industry, shining a light on the importance of geography. It is my hope and the hope of Directions Magazine that you are inspired to make a difference with geography in your corner of the world.

We have featured people of a variety of backgrounds, interests, ages, and skills.  Dr Lesley-Ann Dupigny Giroux is the climatologist for the state of Vermont, professor at the University of Vermont, and is an active leader in the K-12 education community.  Madison Vorva is a student at Pomona College who has been working since age 11 as a “voice for change” in the areas of environmental science and deforestation.  Robert Saveland is a lifelong learner, war hero, and geography educator.  Dorothy Drummond is a writer, traveler, and educator.  Grant Ian Thrall’s work has been bridging the fields of economics, business, and geography.  Bob Dulli has influenced thousands of geography educators through his work at National Geographic Education.

You can use this column to inspire your students, and to encourage them to think about the types of career pathways that are possible. What sort of risks did these people take in their careers?  How did mentors help them along the way?  If you know someone that should be highlighted as a GeoInspiration in this column, please let me or the Directions editors know at jkerski @ esri.com or editors @ directionsmag.com.

Some of the GeoInspirations featured in Directions Magazine.

Some of the GeoInspirations who have been featured in Directions Magazine.  Clockwise from top left:  Lesley-Ann Dupigny-Giroux, Madison Vorva, Robert Saveland, Dorothy Drummond, Grant Ian Thrall, and Bob Dulli.

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Fun with GIS 207: Competition!

In spring of 2016, Minnesota announced an ArcGIS Online competition for high school and middle school students across the state. From initial discussion to completion was barely three months, but they had over 200 entries from 25 schools across the state. Hearing Minnesota’s initial announcement, Arkansas created a twin event. On the strength of these successes, it’s time to take the idea up a notch.


Esri invites all U.S. states to conduct a state-based ArcGIS Online competition in 2017.
For each state formally participating, students can submit to their school an ArcGIS Online presentation, web app, or story map about something inside the state borders. Schools can submit up to five projects to the state. Esri will provide each state ten prizes of $100, to go to five high school and five middle school projects. These ten awardees per state will get national recognition, with one each high school and middle school entry advancing to a top level competition. The best high school and middle school projects will earn trips to the 2017 Esri Education Conference in San Diego, CA.

ArcGIS Online maps and apps help users of any age discover/ explore/ display data, show analyses, and present interpretations. Project-based learning experiences such as these help students build the essential problem-solving skills and in-depth background content knowledge needed for college, career, and civic life.

GIS professionals abound across the country (Map#4 above)! They can help educators present ideas and strategies, establish an Organization account, and help students grasp the deeper learning available with GIS. Keep an eye out for opportunities to connect these valuable community resources to learners. Check out the competition!

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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What did YOU do for GIS Day?

GIS Day events were held on or around 16 November 2016 in hundreds of locations and in dozens of countries around the world, including primary and secondary schools, universities, community colleges, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and businesses.  Hosting organizations conducted hands-on workshops, field experiences, map-a-thons, geo-quizzes, and presentations focused on how and why they are using Geographic Information Systems technologies to benefit their communities and the planet.

What did you do for GIS Day?  Use this crowdsource story map to tell your story, here.

A sample of these inspirational GIS Day events included the following: Cartegraph wrote an article on the “Top 5 Ways to Celebrate GIS Day”, geography educator Raphael Heath in England created a global collaborative mapping event “Mapoff” about climate change, the California Natural Resources Agency hosted professional development events for GIS Users, Clemson University hosted a series of contests, and IFAL school in Angola conducted hands-on workshops that introduced students to GIS applications. AssetWorks LLC created a video called “4 benefits of GIS for Public Works.”   Hundreds participated in Lakeland Community College’s GIS Day, attracting the attention of the regional newspaper. Joseph Kerski, geographer, encouraged everyone to “Make Every Day GIS Day.”]

Need another activity that uses spatial thinking, story maps, and GIS?  Participate in the “Power of Parks” story map, share a picture of your favorite park, and explain why it is special.

100 students participated in a GIS Day event in Belize.

100 students participated in a GIS Day event in Belize.

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Fun with GIS 206: Community Round Mile

Want to do a simple crowdsourcing activity? Want to engage students in an exploration of areas around school, across the state, or spanning the country, using both demographic and landscape data? Want to make it an activity based on your students’ choices? Want to use the analysis powers in an ArcGIS Online Organization? Try the “Community Round Mile.”

By dropping a point, creating a circle of a certain distance around it, and enriching that buffer with particular data, you can get some fascinating “apples to apples” comparisons. But it takes a little planning to do more than once. The Community Round Mile activity is a three-part process that walks you through creating some simple data, sharing that data, and then expanding.

This final part relies on Survey123, which just acquired some exciting new powers. Try this to “crowdsource data” among your classes. Enterprising states might even coordinate a state-specific effort emphasizing data of special interest. Check out the Community Round Mile!

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Teaching Students about the Societal Aspects of Technology using GIS

A recent article in eSchoolNews by Dianne Pappafotopoulos, school district instructional technology specialist, posed the question, “What should we teach students about the future of technology?”  She reflects about the ways that humans are increasingly relying on programmable devices and robots for their everyday lives, and in a sense “becoming” technology or at least a part of it.  Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is an important enabler of these technological changes as the “where” question becomes ever more important.  GIS has undergone a series of massive paradigm shifts in its 50 year existence, and with the advent of Web GIS, the rate of change not only is increasing, but is attracting applications for nearly every aspect of society, from health to business to engineering and beyond.

Beyond the technical innovations that technology brings to our world and the workforce skills to our students, teaching about technology offers many societal and life lessons.  I think that the points Ms. Pappafotopoulos raises in the article about critical thinking, safety, privacy, ethics, and copyright connect well to what I believe we should be incorporating into our GIS instruction.  In fact, many of these topics are central to the themes in the Spatial Reserves blog that Jill Clark and I have been writing for nearly 5 years, along with the book we wrote on the same subject for Esri Press.  It is also a topic that we frequently write about in this GIS education blog.

Geospatial data are often personal, because they reflect the locations where individuals live, work, and travel. Collecting spatial data and creating and analyzing maps requires students to ask questions such as:  Where did these map layers come from?  Who created the data, and can I trust it?  How does the scale of my analysis and the parameters I use for the buffer or intersect tools affect the results of my analysis?  Do I have permission to use this photograph in my story map?  Should I share the location of where I live or where I took my morning fitness run with the world on a map?  Will I compromise the privacy of individuals who participate in my crowdsource map?

The recommendations for educators in the article have natural connections to GIS.  The creation of required courses that focus on these issues, inviting guest speakers (who could be from the GIS community via the Geomentors program), and project-based learning activities (such as SpatiaLABS, the Learn GIS library, and GeoInquiries) are excellent starting points.

Teaching with GIS is an important component in teaching about technology and its implications.

Teaching with GIS is an important part of teaching about technology and its implications.
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GIS GIGO (Garbage In Garbage Out): 30 checks for data errors

Nathan Heazlewood of Eagle Technologies wrote a very useful essay about “garbage in, garbage out” in relation to geospatial data.  In it, he not only ties this oft-heard phrase to the importance of GIS data quality, but he also details the checks that GIS analysts should go through when they are assessing a data set.  I would argue that this checklist is also useful for educators and for students as they document their own work for two reasons:  (1)  Paying attention to data quality is even more important now than ever (as I described recently in this blog), and (2) nowadays, with the advent of Web GIS, everyone working in GIS is a potential data producer.

The list of 30 items is grouped under checks for positional accuracy, topological logic, geometric considerations, projections and coordinate systems, attribute and data structure checks, and attribute and data structure checks.  Extremely helpful are Nathan’s diagrams showing tables lacking null values for non-null attribute data, values outside permitted ranges, and orphan records in related tables.

Nathan includes many considerations that are not often discussed but can lead to enormous problems, such as the different standards and formats of dates being used around the world, from year-month-day to day-month-year to month-day-year (which Nathan dubs the “super dumb American date format”).  Another consideration is one I can identify with that was a significant challenge for me during a GIS workshop I taught in Turkey–the numbers in my data set were formatted such as 100,000 for one hundred thousand, but the software in the university lab, given its location, was naturally configured for one hundred thousand to be coded as 100.000.

How might you be able to use this data error checklist in your own instruction?  What checks would you consider adding to this list when you are teaching GIS?

A section of Nathan Heazlewood’s very useful 30 checks for data errors.

A section of Nathan Heazlewood’s very useful 30 checks for data errors.

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Interpreting Our World: New book on 100 Revolutions in Geography

Looking for a new way to teach and learn about geography?  I have written a new book entitled Interpreting Our World:  100 Discoveries that Revolutionized Geography, described in this video.  This book demonstrates why geography matters in the modern-day world through its examination of 100 moments throughout history that had a significant impact on the study of geography—which means, literally, “writing about the earth” or “describing the earth.”

Geography is not simply accounts of the lands of earth and their features; it’s about discovering everything there is to know about our planet. This book shows why geography is of critical importance to our world’s 21st-century inhabitants through an exploration of the past and present discoveries that have been made about the earth. It pinpoints 100 moments throughout history that had a significant impact on the study of geography and the understanding of our world, including widely accepted maps of the ancient world, writings and discoveries of key thinkers and philosophers, key exploration events and findings during the Age of Discovery, the foundations of important geographic organizations, and new inventions in digital mapping today.

The book begins with a clear explanation of geography as a discipline, a framework, and a way of viewing the world, followed by coverage of each of the 100 discoveries and innovations that provides sufficient background and content for readers to understand each topic. Students will gain a clear sense of what is truly revolutionary about geography, perhaps challenging their preconceived notion of what geography actually is, and grasp how important discoveries revolutionized not only the past but the present day as well.

It is my hope that the book clearly provides readers with an understanding of why geography matters to our 21st-century world and an awareness of how geography affects our everyday lives and is key to wise decision making. I have also ensured that the book addresses and explains key themes of geography, including scale, physical processes, cultural processes, patterns, relationships, models, and trends.  The book also integrates time, space, and place in geography, documenting how it is not only the study of spatial patterns, but also the fact that many discoveries in geography came about because of the particular time and place in which the discoverers lived.

The book was published by ABC-CLIO and is available from the publisher and via Amazon.

And yes, the book includes plenty about geotechnologies that we discuss in this blog, including GIS, GPS, remote sensing, web mapping, UAVs, and other technologies from astrolabes and compasses to theodolites and the Internet of Things.

Interpreting Our World:  100 Discoveries that Revolutionized Geography

Interpreting Our World: 100 Discoveries that Revolutionized Geography.

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Fun with GIS 205: Good Soil Yields Good Learning

Among the US 50 states, Nebraska ranks #37 in population, with about 1.9 million, or not quite 0.6%. But knowing about US population distribution and looking at the USK12GIS map, Nebraska stands out, with the sixth highest rate of “ArcGIS Online ConnectED Orgs per 100 schools.” How did this happen? Persons and policies matter, certainly, but so does timing, working along multiple fronts, and geography — matters of local significance.

Visionary educators had presented to colleagues about the potential of GIS in Nebraska since before 2000, but saw little yield before 2013. Then, longtime geography teacher Harris Payne became the state social studies coordinator, and collaborations with many (including Geography Alliance leader Randy Bertolas, GIS instructor Leslie Rawlings, and state GIS coordinator Nathan Watermeier) lit rockets. A year-long push yielded a K12 state license for Esri software. Payne participated in Esri’s T3G Institute for educators, immediately on the heels of Esri launching its ConnectED effort (providing free ArcGIS Online to any US K12 school). And the Nebraska Environmental Trust provided a 3-year grant supporting summer workshops for “Educating the Next Generation of Nebraskans About Soil Conservation Using the Power of GIS.”

Numerous teacher workshops later, the impact is clear. Concerned about its place in the world’s breadbasket, Nebraska recognizes the need for soil conservation. Today’s learners require a holistic understanding to avoid “treating the soil like dirt,” in Payne’s words. Two-day workshops involved instruction about soil, gathering data, and building Story Maps with which to teach. But the learning grew into other fields: career guidance, mapping 9-1-1 calls, fire station coverage and travel time, restaurant maps, daily traffic and that after “Big Red football games,” diseases, tourism, personal history, and beyond. “It’s not about clicking but about improving the community,” said Payne.

GIS can make its way into school instruction when savvy leaders identify good opportunities. Just as New Hampshire spread GIS through a coalition of tech-savvy leaders in multiple arenas, and Arkansas spread GIS through its tech-based service learning, and Virginia spread GIS through statewide and district efforts, Nebraska saw that fertile ground was its fertile ground. When educators and influencers identify missions of local importance, the synergy offered by the power and flexibility of GIS yields great results.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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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.

bouldercounty_data.png
Accessing data from the Boulder County local government GIS portal through the lesson described above.
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