Monthly Archives: January 2012

Fun with GIS #106: Data and Diplomas

Data and more data! It’s a challenge for today’s students, educators, administrators, and policy makers alike. The US Government just unveiled a new portal for education data. I spent some time browsing, and found a set of data I’d like to see in a map with a chart: high school graduation rates.

As an educator, I might push this data into a shapefile and post it for students to use, or ask them to go through the exercise. The first route maximizes time for analysis, the S and M elements in STEM; the second route maximizes development of the T and E in STEM. Either way, it’s a benefit.

I used the same data enhancement process described in a previous blog. There is a basic US states shapefile available online for enhancement. I downloaded the graduation data, and carefully pushed it into the basic shapefile. I signed onto ArcGIS Online, pushed up my new data, made a map, and customized the popup. Here’s the result, as displayed in my iPad.

Students today are facing exploding universes of data, and the need to learn how to make decisions about its quality, its relevance, the ways it can be employed, and what it means. They need frequent practice with these tasks. It needs to become second nature if they are going to be good problem solvers in the years ahead.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Fun with GIS #105: EcoRegions, Drought, and iPad

A year ago, I wrote a blog about using ArcGIS Online to explore ecoregions, and doing it on an iPad, in addition to a regular computer. I want to enhance the map by adding another key layer: drought status. I’m interested in learning which ecoregions face a near-term issue.

The U.S. government runs a portal about drought, with maps, data, news, and links. But what if you just want to see drought data added into your ecoregion map? Think back to another recent blog entry that walked through finding and adding special services. This time, we need to find some drought data. By searching the information, links, and applications at the drought portal, I found the National Climate Data Center’s web service for the Palmer Drought Severity Index. See the combined map.

Finally, since the two color layers compete, I used the idea from another blog entry to create a three-panel map, showing a location by terrain, drought, and ecoregion. And all of this can be done on an iPad, in addition to a regular computer.

Whether working with a regular computer or a mobile device, and long-term or short-term data, and cultural or physical data, making these analytical maps with disparate resources helps students build critical content knowledge and technical skills that they can use for solving problems. This is why GIS is important in STEM education and beyond.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) Report: Ties to GIS Education

Several documents over the past 20 years have played key roles in shaping GIS in education and remain excellent resources for making the case why the work of the GIS education community is necessary. One of the first and one of my personal favorites was the U.S. Secretary of Labor’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) report. This report identified that the “task of learning is the real work of today, whether at school, in the university, on the job…” (1991, page 5). SCANS then stated (1992) that core subjects must be taught and learned “in context.” “In context” means learning content while solving realistic problems. Students are learning software, cartography, and GIS skills while using GIS to study world biomes, a regional watershed, or local community traffic, but they are also learning content.

SCANS identified five competencies important for future work success: Resources, interpersonal, information, systems, and technology. “Resources” include identifying, organizing, planning, and allocating, while “interpersonal” means working with others in a diverse team. “Information” includes interpreting and communicating, and “systems” include understanding complex interrelationships. “Technology” is identified as working with, selecting, and applying technologies, and this too is fundamental to the work done with GIS. When we teach with GIS or about GIS, we typically use multimedia software and hardware, desktop and cloud tasks and data, smartphones and GPS, field probes and sensors, different operating systems, databases, data in many formats, spreadsheets, and scanners, just to name a few technologies, all in an applied fashion.

The SCANS report can be effectively used as a means of communicating why it is vital that GIS education must continue. Moreover, it can help justify the case why GIS in education must increase in the disciplines where it is already established and spread to those that are not fully engaging with it. The GIS education community must make clear and well known the ties between our work and the SCANS report. Given the escalation in the importance of such critical issues as food, natural hazards, population, biodiversity, water, and energy in our world, spatial analysis through GIS is even more relevant to education than when these reports were written 20 years ago.

How might you use the SCANS report to communicate the importance of your work in GIS education and gain support for that work?


U.S. Department of Labor Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills. 1991. What Work Requires of Schools. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Labor.

U.S. Department of Labor Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills. 1992. Learning a Living: A Blueprint for High Performance. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Labor.

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Fun with GIS #104: Building Data Inside ArcGIS Online

Need an easy way to make a point data file within ArcGIS Online, doing data entry within the map? This five-minute video (silent but annotated) shows how to turn a simple two-line text file into a way to add data points with attributes to your map.

Generally, mapping and classifying a set of points with attributes is easier to do by generating your complete data table as a spreadsheet first, and then mapping the completed spreadsheet, but sometimes you need a different workflow. (If you are reconstructing data from a field trip or outing after the fact, this is one way to do it.) The movie shows how you can start with a small data set, and expand the number of records over time, and classify them.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Open-Ended Tools, Open-Ended Curricula

I recently wrote about the connections between ePortfolios, innovative technologies, and the use of GIS in education, beginning with an interview with English professor and Executive Director of the Association for Authentic, Experiential, and Evidence-Based Learning (AAEEBL), Dr. Trent Batson. Besides believing in innovative technology as a vehicle for transforming how education is designed, Dr. Batson had these intriguing things to say about pedagogy:

“Pedagogy is the wrong term for educators to be using regarding higher education for two reasons: it refers to teaching and therefore implies a teaching-centered approach to education, and, secondly, it refers to teaching children, not adults. It’s also a loaded term, associated with the behaviorist model that education has unwittingly perpetuated long after it fell out of favor with learning researchers.“

Behaviorism is a developmental theory that measures observable behaviors produced by a learner’s response to stimuli, and one reason for Batson’s statement may be that behaviorism is often associated with rote memorization and drill-and-practice. While these methods have some utility in education, they are often cited as the least effective ways to teach and learn. By contrast, learner-centered approaches to education have gained favor following pioneering work from Rogers, Vygotsky, Piaget, and Bloom, who showed that students actively construct their own learning.

Because GIS was created to be a problem-solving toolkit, it meshes well with problem-based learning and experiential learning that adhere to the learner-centered model. How can we foster this in the GIS based curricula that we develop through such venues as Esri Press, ArcLessons, YouTube Channel, and in our blog posts? We seek to provide hands-on, engaging, sound content that fosters skills, that addresses important issues, and that adheres to curricular content standards at the primary and secondary level and the Geospatial Technology Competency Model and to other vetted higher education models. However, none of these curricular pieces are intended to be the final destination. Rather, we always aim for these curricular pieces to spark ideas, to foster inquiry, to spur further investigations. To be sure, it is often valuable to start one’s journey in GIS education or with a particular task such as geocoding with a lesson that someone else has written. However, don’t get stuck there. If you as the instructor or one of your students wants to change scales, regions, classification, variables, or analytical techniques in these lessons, by all means, change them. Because GIS is an open-ended tool, it would be a shame if the lessons or activities were looked upon as closed!

One of my all-time favorite moments as an educator came while I was examining ethnicity, median age, and other demographic variables by neighborhood in Denver with a classroom of middle school students using GIS. After a few students said, “what if we looked at New Mexico?” for the rest of the class period, the students were totally driving the inquiry, changing the location and next, even changing the variables! Curiously, since the students weren’t quite used to “driving”, they at first glanced at me often for approval. After I made certain that this was welcomed, the students blazed new ground. We were in terra incognita, outside the “box” of the lesson.

What are ways that you typically modify existing GIS-based curricula? What can we do on the Esri education team to provide you with the curricular pieces that would best foster a learner-centered approach?

-Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Fun with GIS #103: World Bank Data on ArcGIS Online

Great world-level maps. That’s what you’ll find in the package of maps on ArcGIS Online which feature World Bank data. Each map has hidden layers of content, and each map has time-series data that is great for supporting deep investigations.

If you want to add the data into your own map, though, it takes a little work to find the map services and engage them properly. A new ArcLesson video (silent, six minutes long) walks you through the process.

The procedure shown is also useful for accessing other jewels of data that you want to incorporate in your own maps. Look for opportunities to use in your own maps some of the great layers you see in maps featured on ArcGIS Online. Check it out!

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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GIS, Presentations, and the “Education Bubble”

Over the past year, several articles were written and presentations were given about the “education bubble.” Definitions of the bubble vary, but the articles made the case that unlike in the past, many of today’s students are not seeing a sufficient return on their university investment in terms of relevant workforce skills, to the extent that they were not being able to secure a job upon graduation or even to repay their student loans. One of the articles I found particularly interesting was an interview with English professor and Executive Director of the Association for Authentic, Experiential, and Evidence-Based Learning (AAEEBL), Dr. Trent Batson.

Dr. Batson has designed, implemented, and promoted instructional technology at the University of Rhode Island and at MIT. He believes that innovative uses of educational technology, such as electronic portfolios, or “ePortfolios” can contribute to the learning experience, may help students to consider the higher education investment worthwhile, and will help “keep education relevant.”

All of us on the Esri education team believe that teaching and learning with GIS is an innovative use of a technology that has already transformed decision-making and entire organizations over the past 40 years. GIS provides a context for critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and in-demand technical, discipline-specific, and organizational competencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor. Moreover, it also fits in well with Dr. Batson’s notions of effective ePortfolios. Batson states that ePortfolios contribute nothing by themselves—they only are worthwhile if their capabilities help faculty redesign their courses so that students can become active learners. Over the years, I have observed that it is very difficult to remain passive when using GIS in an educational setting. Furthermore, consider the following image, taken from a recent presentation I gave using ArcGIS Explorer Online:

Presentations using ArcGIS and ArcGIS Explorer Online help students tell stories, investigate, and explain. ArcGIS Explorer Online presentations can be saved, shared, and returned to later, taking advantage of the “elapsed” time that Dr. Batson claims is valuable. ArcGIS Online presentations are not static; if peers or the instructor ask questions during the presentation, the student can change symbology, scale, region, add or subtract variables, reclassify, and perform other tasks that make the presentation a learning experience for everyone. Indeed, the whole notion of presentation is transformed, becoming an interactive and creative experience, throwing into question even the appropriateness of the term “presentation.” These interactive experiences are therefore a redesign of instruction favored by Batson and others.

Do you agree that teaching and learning with GIS aligns well with innovative uses of technology as defined by Batson? Do you believe that educational GIS provides critically-needed skills for students while in school and upon graduation? How can we as a GIS community leverage research by Batson and others to promote and expand GIS throughout all levels of education?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Fun with GIS #102: Election Season Begins!

HNY! It’s election year! And there’s a fabulous new map story to explore!

For social studies educators, this is a huge opportunity to get your students working with online maps. Match the primary activities with what you can learn about each state through the “USA Demographics for Schools” map as well.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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