Monthly Archives: December 2009

Useful Resource for GIS Career Information for Students, Faculty and Counselors

It isn’t quite as hard as it used to be to explain what GIS is or why it would be a good thing for students to know, but this new online resource makes it even easier. The National Science Foundation has funded a project called “Advanced Technology Education Television” (ATETV). This project produces videos on different occupations and career categories using examples from community colleges, their students and recent graduates and employers. These videos can be viewed from the site.

IF you need help in view them, click on the “About Tab for the ATETV Guide that will help you in accessing the videos. They even allow you to Download high resolution versions of these videos or imbed them in your website! Currently there are several dealing with GIS and Geospatial including a “What is GIS” episode. You can find these easily by picking the Watch Videos tab and clicking on Categories. You will find Geographic Information Science and Geospatial Technology as two of the categories with information about GIS and careers, but several of the other videos also include references to GIS and are listed as related videos when you view the geospatial videos.

The ATETV site also also seeks your comments and suggestions, so please contact them or participate in their Blog posts and comments. This site, while primarily focused on community colleges, also includes information useful to high school students and teachers. And, if you want more information about National Science Foundation Grants and the Advanced Technology Centers of Excellence, be sure and click on the Find ATE Centers and scroll down to the GeoTech – National Geospatial Technology Center of Excellence where you will learn about support for geospatial programs at community colleges as well as see an interactive map of all U.S. Colleges and the type of geospatial program they offer.

- Ann Johnson, Higher Education Manager

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Using Online Texts to Teach GIS

We have had discussion on the EdCommunity portal about the plethora of excellent GIS textbooks that have appeared in the past 25 years in print. A growing number of useful texts are now appearing online that are useful to teach GIS and learn about GIS.

I use sections of Penn State Professor David DiBiase’s online text, the Nature of Geographic Information: This text, continuously updated since 1997, begins with discussions on data, information, and database management systems before moving into a discussion of GIS. I especially like the geographic questions posed in the last chapter, and the fact that you can read comments posted by students who have used this text as part of their Penn State coursework.

I also make use of De Smith, Goodchild, and Longley’s Geospatial Analysis, because it fits in well with my own belief that the power of GIS lies in the analysis: Also available as a printed book, it discusses principles and techniques for spatial analysis, and I find the search tools especially useful.

One of my favorite people here in Colorado, Dr Joe Berry, has placed his Map Analysis book online on It is a treasure of interesting topics from landscape visualization even to shoppers’ movements in stores!

Interestingly, some of the online text resources I use are not new. This makes sense when one considers that issues of scale, accuracy, representing geographic information, and some others have been a part of GIS for decades. For example, the NCGIA Core Curriculum from 2000 still contains useful nuggets: Even the 1990 version, which was one of the most important items on my shelf for years at the USGS, contains useful sections, and is now online:

I also make use of the map projections and other sections from Dr. Ken Foote’s Geographer’s Craft project at the University of Colorado:

A dated but useful and extensive GIS book from Meaden and Kapetsky is hosted by FAO:

What online texts do you make use of when you teach GIS?

- Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager

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Investigating the Geology of the United Kingdom Using GIS

One of my favorite stories is that of William Smith, whose 20 years of labor resulted in the world’s first geologic map in 1815, chronicled in Winchester’s wonderful book The Map That Changed The World. After seeing his map of England and Wales while teaching GIS and GPS in the UK [PDF document], imagine my delight in reading the recent announcement that the British Geological Survey (BGS) launched an “OpenGeoscience” web site using ArcGIS online and JavaScript API. We in GIS know what a frequent challenge it is to obtain data where it has traditionally been offered for a fee and under strict licensure, so the availability of this data for educational purposes is a welcome part of a growing worldwide movement to release more data into the public sphere. My ESRI colleague Bernie Szukalski describes these BGS resources in his blog.

I first used the online geology viewer to explore. To dig deeper, I brought the fault lines into ArcGIS Explorer, and was immediately struck by their predominance in the north and west. Is this because the geologic layers are more exposed and observable there, or is it because the geologic layers in the south and east are younger with insufficient time to be faulted?

I then brought the data into ArcMap. The BGS layer file contains symbolized faults, dykes, surficial geology, and bedrock geology. I zoomed to one of my favorite places—Beachy Head, in East Sussex, the highest (162 m) chalk headland in England, inserted a hyperlink to a photograph I took there during a Geographical Association conference, added base imagery from ArcGIS Online, and bookmarked the area. What is the surficial and bedrock geology of the famous chalk cliffs?

I also examined a place I have always wanted to visit—the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, an area containing over 40,000 interlocking hexagonal columns of basalt. Sure enough, the rocks there are Palaeogene mafic lava and tuff, according to the bedrock geology, while surficial Quaternary till is absent. Why is this absence a good thing for the Causeway?

I encourage you to investigate these new BGS resources in your courses, via the new lesson in the ArcLessons library.

- Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager.

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GIS Is Enabling Rich Historical Investigations

One of my favorite types of books is those where the photographer visits the same spot a century after the original photograph was taken, such as John Fielder’s Colorado visits in 2000 to where William Henry Jackson had stood in 1879. In the same spirit, I created a movie in a West Virginia hardwood forest from the same point six months apart to document seasonal change. It is fascinating to compare the differences over a century, or a season, or just a day, as I did on the Maine coast.

The amount of traditionally non-georeferenced information now being placed into a GIS environment is rapidly increasing. Many of these new GIS databases are incredibly innovative, multi-disciplinary, and information-rich. One example is Giuseppe Vasi’s Grand Tour of Rome. It references the work of two 18th century cartographers, Nolli (who published the first accurate map of Rome in 1748) and his contemporary, Vasi. One described Rome through scientific measurements and a ground plan; the other through careful observation and sketches that relied on mathematics. The resulting geodatabase contains over 240 of Vasi’s detailed topographic prints georeferenced to Nolli’s map.

Modern photographs were taken at the same locations as Vasi’s prints, enabling the student, educator, and researcher to compare 260 years of landscape and urban change. Interestingly, many of the modern photographs were taken from an elevated height. Why do you think this was necessary? Investigate the website to find out!

The database was built using ArcGIS software. Data was fed into an inventory that recorded Vasi’s views and their spatial location on a georectified Nolli map, supplemented by historical and modern field notes. As described on the website, the geo-enabling of this data has “proven useful for interpreting the work of Nolli and Vasi. It has facilitated comparisons and enabled a means to discover connections between the two that had not been apparent beforehand.” By geo-enabling a large body of work, this illustrates the power that GIS: helping us see with fresh eyes. Old meets new!

–Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager

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2010 Cartography And Geographic Information Society (CaGIS) Scholarships

Each year, the Cartography and Geographic Information Society (CaGIS) sponsors two scholarships to students whose research and accomplishments support the mission of CaGIS. The scholarships recognize academic achievement and encourage the continuing success of outstanding cartography, geographic information systems (GIS), and geographic information science (GIScience) students. The scholarships also recognize achievement or potential for achievement in original research advancing the specific disciplines of cartography or GIScience. Winners are selected based on academic achievement, particularly in the calendar year prior to the award. Applications are reviewed by the CaGIS Scholarship Committee, and awards are announced in February or March. Information on other CaGIS-sponsored awards is available at


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2010 ESRI Education User Conference Registration Open

Put Critical Thinking
on the Map

Register today for the 2010 ESRI Education User Conference,
July 10–13, at the Hilton Bayfront in San Diego, California.

Share ideas with educators worldwide about using GIS technology to promote critical thinking and improve decision making in education.

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Making the season bright

With more than 300,000 lights, the Christmas & Holiday Traditions around the World exhibit at the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park definitely makes the season bright. Meijer Gardens plant records and irrigation specialist Scott Davidson uses ArcGIS to streamline planning for the exhibit, tracking the time and number of lights required to decorate each tree. Davidson also uses GIS throughout the year to maintain an inventory of plants, sculptures, donor tribute items (benches, trees, memorials) and the Garden’s irrigation system. Learn more.

- Angela Lee, ESRI Education Programs

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Problem Solving: The Prime Benefit of GIS?

Over the past 20 years, I have had the privilege of visiting over 250 different primary and secondary schools and universities to teach classes on geography, Earth Science, cartography, and GIS. Those visits gave me immense respect for educators and the hard work it is to teach effectively. Back in 1990, I relied on topographic maps, paper stereo aerial photograph pairs, and scribecoat and scribers for the cartography lessons I taught. Technologies have changed but the central themes of scale, analyzing data, and spatial analysis remain the same. I and my Education Team colleagues at ESRI are routinely asked to serve as guest instructors. While we cannot visit every school we are invited to, we visit a few every year because it is instructive for us to see how students and educators are interacting with GIS.

This semester, I visited a high school and a middle school in Colorado. The high school students had just come back from mapping trees and plants on their campus and I led them through a plate tectonics activity. In the middle school, I led a short discussion on how and why GIS is used, but was largely an observer as students worked through an activity on regions from the Our World GIS Education book. I was impressed at the way these two teachers forced their students to be problem-solvers. To be sure, students solve problems every day in school through worksheets and tests, but when it comes to doing it through an open-ended, inquiry-driven framework, they often have difficulty. I admired the teachers for not allowing students to say, “I’m stuck” without trying to problem-solve on their own. For example, when asked to examine the Pyrenees, most didn’t know where France and Spain were. They were encouraged to figure out how to turn on the labels for the countries, use the Internet to look it up, or consult one of the atlases that were in the back of the classroom.

Beyond the software skills, spatial thinking, and content knowledge fostered by the use of GIS, to me, its number one benefit is to teach students how to solve problems, to investigate, and to think.

- Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager

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Empowering Students Using GIS

“ESRI has always invested heavily into GIS education. That has included both the toolset as well as the study of geographic information as a science.”

Read more at V1 Magazine.

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Fragments of the City: Stanford’s Digital Forma Urbis Romae Project

…in the Proceedings of the Third Williams Symposium on Classical Architecture, Journal of Roman Archaeology suppl., 2005…

David Koller, Jennifer Trimble, Tina Najbjerg, Natasha Gelfand, Marc Levoy

“In this article, we summarize the Stanford Digital Forma Urbis Project work since it began in 1999 and discuss its implications for representing and imaging Rome. First, we digitized the shape and surface of every known fragment of the Severan Marble Plan using laser range scanners and digital color cameras; the raw data collected consists of 8 billion polygons and 6 thousand color images, occupying 40 gigabytes. These range and color data have been assembled into a set of 3D computer models and high-resolution photographs – one for each of the 1,186 marble fragments. Second, this data has served in the development of fragment matching algorithms; to date, these have resulted in over a dozen highly probable, new matches. Third, we have gathered the Project’s 3D models and color photographs into a relational database and supported them with archaeological documentation and an up-to-date scholarly apparatus for each fragment. This database is intended to be a public, web-based, research and study tool for scholars, students and interested members of the general public alike. Fourth, these digital and archaeological data, and their availability in a hypertext format, have the potential to broaden the scope and type of research done on this ancient map by facilitating a range of typological, representational and urbanistic analyses of the map, some of which are proposed here. In these several ways, we hope that this Project will contribute to new ways of imaging Rome.”

Learn more at the “GIS and Science” blog.

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