Monthly Archives: September 2011

Creating and Conducting Guest Presentations for Students

A question that is raised frequently on blogs, forums, and listservs is from professionals who are asked to conduct a presentation for a group of students, in a colloquium, after-school program, or in a primary, secondary, or university level classroom. Some school districts and universities have a “visiting scientist program” that matches instructors with outside professionals, while elsewhere it is done more informally upon request. In the GIS field, GIS professionals are often asked to conduct presentations for students, and these requests often peak near GIS Day each November. Given the fact that GIS Day is approaching, I would like to give my philosophy on these presentations, and look forward to hearing your ideas and experiences. Over the course of my career, I have visited over 400 educational institutions to give guest presentations, but the following reflections are by no means “one size fits all”: I am continuously learning as I go.

First, move beyond the phrase “guest lecture” or “presentation.” Particularly in a visual and exciting field such as GIS, approaching it as “lecture” will severely limit your effectiveness. Yes, we have slides on and elsewhere. But you have wonderful GIS tools at your fingertips and complex, fascinating problems that you are grappling with on a daily basis. Therefore, show what you are working on! Bring your computer and a projector, showing your data or data you have made available to the public on the web. Make it as interactive as possible! Ask questions and show how you use GIS to solve problems. Don’t just show a bunch of slides if you really want to engage the students. If you’re in a lab, even better—have the students investigate your maps for themselves. Some students may consider geographic inquiry to be simply asking where something is. Therefore, you might have to provide some foundation about what spatial thinking and spatial analysis in a GIS is all about.

Second, think about the neighborhood and region where you are giving your presentation. What issues such as natural hazards, graffiti, rapid growth, traffic, or water quality are of concern? What makes this neighborhood unique? Think of the landscape, ecoregion, land use, river systems, climate, ethnicity, history, and other characteristics at work. Sometimes, students consider their neighborhood to be the most boring in the world, so help them consider what sets it apart, showing their neighborhood via GIS and another across town or in another city across the country or on another continent.

Use ArcGIS Online to compare earthquakes around the world to plate boundaries and cities. Examine median age by tract and block group and discuss the implications that the median age has on different service industries. Compare land use and ecoregions and ask why agriculture occurs where it does. Go for the unusual by examining this strange imagery collection. Show 10 satellite images of selected places around the world or around your state and have students guess as to where they are, why, and what the area is like. Investigate landforms or features and ask students to tell you what each one of them is, whether sand dunes, wetland, karst, a golf course, school, office building, or hospital. In ArcGIS Online, you can prepare this tour ahead of time or construct it while you are talking with the students.

Third, if you cannot show any of the data that you are working on for privacy reasons or because your data are too large to go mobile, then use GIS tools that work anywhere, such as ArcGIS Online. Display different satellite images taken in different years to compare land use change in the community, as I did when I was teaching in Nairobi last November. Use the “Change Matters” Landsat imagery to examine changes in the Aral Sea or along the Florida coast over the past 30 years. Choose at least one local issue and one global issue and discuss the “whys of where.”

Fourth, get outside on the school grounds with some cameras and GPS receivers, or with smartphones. Hyperlink the resulting photographs and videos to ArcGIS Online, and then help students tell their stories as I did in Amboseli National Park.

Fifth, tell your personal story about how you blazed your career path in GIS, touching on the importance of staying in school and pursuing a well-rounded education including courses in science, geography, mathematics, computers, and language arts.

Sixth, don’t forget to ask them questions as well. You will be inspired and energized! Seventh, leave a poster describing what you do or what GIS is behind. Other ideas abound on the Esri Edcommunity blog and on the GIS Day resource area.

If you can instill some curiosity about their world, and the value and power of real data, maps, and GIS technology, then you will have succeeded.

What presentation will you give to students this year?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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GIS Student Showcase and Prizes

Claremont Graduate University (CGU) and Esri invite students and recent graduates to participate in an exciting opportunity to showcase their work in GIS.

Grand prizes will be awarded in each of two Challenge Areas: (1) Public Health and Humanitarian Issues and (2) Transportation Safety. Each grand prize includes $1,000 cash, a trip to California for GIS Day, and a $35,000 Tuition Scholarship for Claremont Graduate University.

Suggested challenge topics include Visualization, Participatory Sensing, Creating Alerts, Building Qualitative Data/Narratives, Trandisciplinary Analysis. Applicants are welcome to suggest other topics as well.

The submission deadline is November 1, 2011. For more information about the contest, visit

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Fun with GIS #90: Table Time

Years ago, I wrote a lesson called “Table Time.” Though GIS technology has evolved, two fundamental capacities still distinguish those who can succeed with GIS: (1) ability to navigate drives and folders and deal with files of different types; (2) capacity to work with tables of information effectively.

GIS relies on features and attributes, or locations and characteristics. The characteristics can be best understood in the form of a table: “like things” presented in a fashion that permits comparing and other analyses. Locations and characteristics are warp and weft of GIS.

Tables sometimes present challenges to educators and youth, so “Table Time” demonstrates how useful tables are, but how fussy they can be as well. (For example, you can insert any contents wherever you want but, to be useful, tables need “a single variable” in any given column. And computerized tables are detail-oriented. Can you spot the “likely error of omission” in the table above?) Even with web-based GIS such as ArcGIS Online, tables are crucial. In fact, ArcGIS Online is a great way to see the power of data tables by building a simple table using some local GPS coordinates and some real or fictional data. “Table Time” walks a user through that process.

Students accustomed to “doing science” should have an easy time with tables. Educators who use GIS get the compound magic of location-based and table-based analyses … great for STEM fields. This is why there are so many careers using GIS: It is an analytical tool that can be used in all fields of work.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Enabling Those in the Business World to Value Geospatial Analysis

Financial analyst David Tiger wrote an article in the LBx Journal this year entitled Visual Financial Analysis documenting his discovery of a new approach to forecasting, business intelligence, and financial analysis. He said, “It’s not a data warehouse and not an elaborate business intelligence system. It’s a map.” Shocking! At Stubb’s BBQ, a small, premium barbeque sauce company based in Austin, David was introduced to business intelligence. Then he found that “those long, tedious spreadsheets of sales, inventory, and store-level data were suddenly fun to work with.”

And useful. David is part of a rapidly growing location-based services community. The subtitle of the journal where I found his article is “Location in the Language of Business,” and the community actively promotes and develops solutions for people to use GIS and maps to make effective business decisions. I believe there are several lessons from this field that are instructive to the GIS education community.

First, according to David, the consumer packaged goods industry “hasn’t even scratched the surface of the potential for using location intelligence to manage the business, but there are endless possibilities.” I think this is true for other business sectors as well. In his view, location intelligence is a “dream” business development, marketing, and management tool.” Who will help show business decision makers the potential of maps and GIS? You, the GIS education community. The need is enormous. Now more than ever, companies need to be competitive through smart delivery, marketing, and reducing costs. GIS can help them do that.

Second, David points out that maps show “patterns and connections revealed in data,” and maps are effective and engaging communication tools. The GIS and geography education community has long placed emphasis on these same principles; it has never been simply on the software tools. We need to hold to that course, but make this message attractive to the university and community college business programs. I know several business professors championing GIS, but they are, in my view, still too few in number to meet the needs of the business community. The demand of the business community is still small, and I believe part of the reason is that the business community literally doesn’t know what it is missing. I can’t fathom teaching a course in business marketing, for example, without GIS, but this happens all the time. Many in the Colleges of Business have either not heard of GIS, or if they have, think it is just something useful “over in the Geography Department.” But Business GIS courses cannot be offered if only one or two students are signed up for those courses. Therefore, we need more professors teaching with GIS and more students demanding the inclusion of GIS in business courses and programs. Books like The GIS Tutorial for Marketing from Esri Press and my business-focused colleagues at Esri and in academia have helped. But we have much work to do.

How can we more effectively promote GIS in university business programs?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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No-cost webinar: Analyzing Data Using Online Mapping

September 27, 2011

8pm Eastern/ 7pm Central/6pm Mountain/5pm Pacific

Charlie Fitzpatrick


The Esri Education team is joining up with NCGE to bring 
more classroom ideas for cool mapping tools. Maps don’t give up all their secrets
right away.  You often need to tease out info through analysis. Web-based mapping
tools, for both Windows and Macintosh, permit significant data analysis. See how
to analyze various types of data using just a web browser. Great ideas and
implementation strategies for many classes, including AP Human Geography!  Join
us for amazing tools at the perfect price…free!  Space is limited.  Sign up now.


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GIS and the Ill-Structured Problem

Educational research shows that students can learn both about content and about thinking strategies by working through what are known as “ill-structured” problems. The ill-structured problem is fundamental to problem-based learning (PBL), where students probe deeply into issues, searching for connections, grappling with uncertainty, and using knowledge to fashion solutions. As Stepien and Gallagher (1993) state, “As with real problems, students encountering ill-structured problems will not have most of the relevant information needed to solve the problem at the outset. Nor will they know exactly what actions are required for resolution. After they tackle the problem, the definition of the problem may change. And even after they propose a solution, the students will never be sure they have made the right decision. They will have had the experience of having to make the best possible decision based on the information at hand. They will also have had a stake in the problem.”

In my work with educators and students over the years, I have found that GIS is very well suited to the ill-structured problem. In fact, oftentimes, the best GIS problems are those that fit at least a few of the “ill-structured” criteria above. GIS was created to solve complex problems at multiple scales and from multiple viewpoints. Data in a GIS are imperfect, and are full of uncertainties, and students who work with them become critical consumers of data, an important 21st Century skill.

Students are often so used to a single “right” answer, and are initially baffled by PBL-based strategies and tools that engage those strategies such as GIS. Typically when I work with students using GIS, they ask me, “Is my map right?” In response, I ask them a question: “Does your map help you understand the problem or issue, and help you answer the questions being asked?” But, given time, they begin to understand that the issues they are grappling with are complex, and there might not be a single correct answer. Certainly, their final set of maps is not the end goal, but a means to an end in their inquiry-driven investigation.

For example, in the lesson that I created on analyzing the Hungary toxic flood of 2010 using ArcGIS Explorer, the environmental consequences of the flood are numerous, long-lasting, and occur at multiple scales. I ask the students to compare this incident with other toxic spills around the world, ending the lesson with asking students to analyze sources of toxins in their own community. Student answers will vary depending on where they live and how they judge the severity of different toxic spills around the world. If they can justify their answers, and back up their answers with data, including spatial data analyzed with their GIS tools, then I believe that their answers deserve high marks.

Stepien, William, and Shelagh Gallagher. 1993. Problem-based learning: As authentic as it gets. Authentic Learning 50(7): 25-28.

How can you design ill-structured problems using spatial analysis and GIS?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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New! Campus Basemap Template for ArcGIS 10

Campus Basemap template is an ArcGIS Map Document that can be used to
create a high-resolution, multi-scale basemap for a university or
business campus.

The Campus Basemap template is an ArcGIS Map Document that can be used to create a high-resolution, multi-scale basemap for a university or business campus. It can also be used by government agencies to produce a high-resolution basemap for a downtown, government complex, or military base. This basemap is the foundation for a variety of desktop, mobile and web mapping applications deployed to support facilities management, education, public works, planning, and military business needs.

Learn more about the Campus Map Template.

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2011 Esri Education User Conference Proceedings

The Esri Education User Conference (EdUC) provides a forum for members of the education community to come together and share their GIS experiences and knowledge. Here you will find copies of papers given by EdUC attendees on topics including administration and planning, designing curriculum and degree programs, using GIS in libraries and museums, community projects and partnerships, education research and teacher education, and teaching with GIS. We hope that you will benefit from reading these papers as you apply what you learned at the EdUC to your own work.


Go to the 2011 EdUC Plenary videos!



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In Memory

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
NGS Summer Geography Institute participant, 1987
Link to Facebook group remembering Ann and Joe

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Videos Document Best Practices in a GIS Professional Development Institute for Social Studies Educators

Over the past 20 years, the number of people engaged in conducting GIS-based professional development institutes for educators has expanded. There has also been an increased demand for such institutes from a widening array of disciplines, from geography and social studies, to Career Technical Education (CTE), earth science, business, environmental studies, mathematics, and beyond. As a result, we on the Esri education team receive frequent requests from those designing them. How should such institutes be structured? What content and skills should be emphasized?

One thing that has been clear from these professional development institutes is that no two of them have been alike. Educators and trainers who teach these institutes have taken care to tailor each of them to the audience, skill level, discipline, and goals of those receiving the instruction. Despite this diversity,

I recently co-taught a hands-on, multi-day institute with several colleagues at the University of Texas Arlington. The goal of the institute was to illustrate how spatial analysis and spatial thinking through GIS could and should be effectively used in social studies preservice and inservice education. Our audience was 90 social studies university faculty, K-12 teachers, and social studies coordinators from across the state. Given the large number of attendees, after an introduction by Dr. Andy Milson and a keynote address by Dr. Marsha Alibrandi on the social science underpinnings and connections of spatial analysis, we divided the attendees into three groups of 30. Each group rotated for half-day sessions in three different rooms while the institute’s lead instructors remained stationary in a single room. The content for these break-out sessions included population studies, natural hazards analysis, telling stories with maps, GPS activities for social studies education, and more. We based our GIS sessions entirely on ArcGIS Online, which fit in very well with goals of the institute. ArcGIS Online allowed us to explore a wide variety of content at a wide variety of scales, to map and analyze our field-collected data, to create, save, and share maps, and to create presentations for our multimedia-rich storytelling.

I have placed our syllabus for this institute into the ArcGIS Online library of lessons so that you can modify what we developed for ideas for your own professional development institutes. However, every educator knows that a description of the course as I have provided here, and even the syllabus, do not tell the whole story. I am pleased to report that much of this institute was recorded as video, so you can see how it was presented and received. Each of the major sessions has been uploaded to the video library  as a separate piece, so you can easily select and choose the ones that you are most interested in.

What do you think worked well in this institute, based on these video clips? How might you use video in your own institutes to provide access to professional development to those who cannot attend a face-to-face institute?

-Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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