Monthly Archives: June 2012

Explore Locally with Your Senses, Curiosity, and the Spatial Perspective

Soccer fields and playgrounds provide some means of allowing youth to get outside. But, as Richard Louv so well stated in his book Last Child in the Woods, these adult-constructed environments are no substitutes for “wild places” – those places that are untouched or minimally touched by humans. “Wild places” could be a local ridge or hill, a stream or pond, or even a vacant lot.

For me growing up in western Colorado, I loved the riparian zones that were adjacent to local gullies, what the locals called “washes.” In this semiarid landscape, walking down into these riparian zones was like descending into another world. They were sometimes so much lower than the surrounding landscape that sharp cliffs in the shale enclosed them. A different and a greater abundance of vegetation added to their character—indeed, they were a mini-ecosystem, but to a child growing up, like a whole different world. They were filled with sage, willows, yucca, and tamarisk—some native species, some invasive, all fascinating and so different from the alfalfa, orchard fruit, and corn being grown in the fields above. Another adventure awaited every autumn after the irrigation canals were shut off and drained. All sorts of strange things that had been hidden all summer were now in view along the canal beds and underneath the bridges that spanned them. How our senses were awakened to every new sound, smell, and sight in these washes and dry canal beds.

Nowadays, we have a wide variety of electronic means at our disposal, from probes, GPS receivers, smartphones, to other devices, to record phenomena while in local wild places. The data can be easily mapped in ArcGIS Online. Yet I submit that before taking full advantage of learning with these means, three things must first be in place. The first is the ability to use one’s own senses and interpret the results of one’s own observations. The second is curiosity, and from curiosity comes asking questions. The third is the spatial perspective—seeing the world geographically.

These three things sometimes take years to cultivate, and one could argue that this cultivation is a lifelong endeavor. Yet I certainly don’t recommend that instructors wait until all students exhibit curiosity before embarking on a field-based experience. Being purposeful about using all five senses takes practice. In addition, most students will have no idea at first what it means to “think spatially.” And don’t be discouraged if despite your best laid plans, some students appear completely disengaged from your carefully designed field experiences. Go back to Richard Louv’s advice on outdoor education—start early, and do it often.

What are some of your methods of instilling curiosity about the world around us—beginning with your own local wild place?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Is Everyone a Geographer?

In my last column, I raised the question about whether a travel column would look different authored from the perspective of a geographer or geospatial professional versus a column authored from the perspective of a journalist. I stated that some similarities surely exist but there are likely to be some key differences. This discussion raises a larger issue: Are all travel writers really geographers? Are all travelers essentially geographers? And, more broadly: With the advent of easy to use geotechnologies that have enabled the general public to use many of the same tools and data that were formerly only used by GIS specialists, does that mean that everyone is now a geographer?

In the new book Practicing Geography , my colleagues and I wrote a chapter that asks this very question. These new capabilities reinvoke inherent tensions between the integrity of the field of geography as a discrete academic discipline, on the one hand, and its generalist appeal on the other hand. Although this tension within geography is not new—William Morris Davis reacted to it over one hundred years ago (Schulten 2001)—geography may have never been more prominent within the everyday human experience than it is today

I contend that geography is a three-legged stool. One of the legs of the stool represents deep and rich content knowledge that has accumulated across the millennia but also is forward-looking—envisioning how the world could and should be. The content knowledge includes that about specific places, processes, and phenomena. Another of the legs represents geographic skills—working with scale, maps, imagery, databases, graphs, space and time, movement, dispersion, fieldwork, regions from cultural regions to ecoregions, different perspectives, human-environment interaction, interpreting the past and present and planning for the future, and many more. The skills are used in low tech and high tech situations ranging from interpreting paper maps to operating field probes and performing geoprocessing operations within a GIS environment. The last leg represents the spatial perspective—the unique place-based framework that all geographers bring to any problem that they examine. The spatial perspective is holistic; it is systems-based.

What are your thoughts about this topic: Isn’t everyone a geographer? And, what about the increasing number of professionals outside who are incorporating spatial thinking and GIS into their work—in business, history, mathematics, design, biology, engineering and other fields. Are they geographers? Do they need to be geographers? If not, what geographic content knowledge, skills, and perspective do they need to have in order to be effective in their own fields?

-Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

Schulten, S. 2001. The Geographical Imagination in America, 1880-1950. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

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A Practical Approach to Mapping Job Growth in the GIS Industry

Note: This post is a guest contribution from the Department of Information Sciences & Technologies Rochester Institute of Technology.

The GIS field is emerging and creating new occupations across different industries. The United States Department of Labor has recognized GIS and broader geospatial technology as high growth industries with strong employment prospects. However, there currently is no model that can properly predict locations where GIS and geospatial technology occupations may become available. Thus, our research aims to develop a methodology for predicting GIS industry growth locations using ArcMap’s Model Builder. The result of our methodology will be validated for accuracy against the actual job offers to see if they are in locations predicted by our model.

Our project goals are two-fold. The first is to create a model which could predict geographic locations at the census tract level where job growth in the GIS field could occur. For our initial work, we have targeted New York and California. The second is to validate goal one results with geographic data of existing and past GIS job positions.

The base datasets that we used for our project are the 2010 Census Tracts provided by the United States Census Bureau for New York and California. By only using census tract-level data, we aimed to produce a fine-scale level of job predictability. The level of likelihood that a given location will have open positions in the GIS industry is summarized by a final score of a whole number value from 0 to 10, with 10 being the highest likelihood to have an open position, and 0 being the least likely to have an open position in the GIS industry.

Identifying growth in the GIS industry is difficult because the GIS industry as we define it today encompasses occupations in geology, cartography, and other fields which may be represented under different industry titles. To overcome this challenge, our team identified several indicators as contributors to GIS industry job growth. These indicators are educational attainment of the labor force, unemployment rate, previous job growth in technology industry, and proximity to transportation hubs. These indicators are processed by sub-models, which scale the individual indicators to a 0 to 10 range that then became part of the final score. Figure 1 shows an example of outputs produced by one of the sub-models.

Figure 1–Total Percentage of technology industry job growth 2000-2010 in the Rochester, New York region. Figure 2 (right) - Average percent of technology industry job growth per year 2000-2010 2010 in the Rochester, New York region.

Figure 2 shows an example of the final output for GIS job prediction in New York State. The green stars represent existing GIS jobs.

Figure 2 – Locations with potential high GIS job growth in upstate NY.

Future Work
The final model of this project has received much useful feedback from professors in the Information Sciences and Technologies (IST) Department of Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). From this feedback, our group recognizes that this model can be improved further to better predict the availability of GIS jobs within the United States. The first improvement is to include a variable that takes into account the proximity of universities in our model since firms usually establish their facilities near areas that have high number of colleges and/or universities. Second, we want to improve the model’s validation by including more actual GIS job offers from different job posting websites. Finally, we want our model to be able to predict not only at the census tract level but also from other level of administrative areas (for example, county level or block group level).

A video overview with more information about this work can be found at YouTube.

- Minh Quang Vo, Beau Bouchard, & Brian Tomaszewski, Ph.D.

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Travel with a Geographic Perspective

Like many of you, we on the Esri education team spend a lot of time on airplanes. I’ve been intrigued by the geographic themes in travel columns appearing inside in-flight magazines. I find myself wondering what the columns would look like from the perspective of a geographer. For example, the long-running column in the United Hemispheres in-flight magazine is entitled Three Perfect Days. What would a geographer consider to be three perfect days in Singapore, in New York City, in Malta? Would your choices on how to spend those three days as a geospatial educator be the same as those chosen by the travel column writers?

I suspect that there are some key differences. The general public may not be interested some topics that have traditionally intrigued geographers, such as the structure and form of barns, the spread of invasive weeds, or evidence of neighborhood change. On the other hand, we do share with authors of these columns that we aren’t content merely to study a place virtually—we want to visit it. Perhaps you prefer a mixture of “touristy” and “non-touristy” stops. Perhaps you include places of historical or cultural significance as well as places significant in terms of physical geography. Perhaps you visit a local geocache as a good excuse to see an out of the way place?

I don’t frequent the expensive restaurants and hotels mentioned in most travel columns, and those who know me know that I don’t even seek out local food. What I almost always do first is to seek a high place with a view. This sets the tone for my visit and gives me a literal overview that supplements the virtual overview done beforehand in my office using GIS. In New York City during the AAG annual meeting this year, I bicycled to the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson River for a spectacular vista. Another high favorite was atop one of the small volcanoes around Auckland, New Zealand, before teaching GIS there. I am also a big fan of wandering through ordinary neighborhoods, parks, and commercial and industrial districts. I always get out of the city to see at least some of the surrounding terrain if time allows. Before and during a trip, I make use of GIS and GPS technologies. I use the ArcGIS Online app on my cell phone. The historical walking trail in Malta is one of hundreds of new local landmark maps that appear weekly in ArcGIS Online.

What would you consider to be “three perfect days” in the destination of your choice? What is one of your travels that you could showcase in ArcGIS Online?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Fun with GIS 122: 20 Years

Monday, June 1, 1992, changed my life. I had grown up a biologist, became a geographer in college, and spent 15 years teaching social studies in grades 7-12. Apple’s 1982 launch of the IIe began my enduring marriage to digital exploration and analysis of data about places. At the AAG conference in spring of 1992, I saw the beta of ArcView 1. Six weeks later, I began at Esri.

Charlie on June 1, 1992

Charlie on June 1, 1992

I struggled with my first task: week-long Unix-based ARC/INFO class. But I had seen ArcView for Windows and Macintosh, and knew what they meant: Anyone could analyze geographic data, see the relationships between things in different places, and investigate the interplay of multiple factors. It was only a matter of time before this would sweep education. My teaching brethren, I was sure, would embrace such powerful critical thinking tools with open arms. I figured it would take four years.

Seasons passed, elections came and went, technology zoomed, the World Wide Web arrived, data moved up a J-curve, and educational standards were born. With the latter came the powerful but sadly misguided vision of standardization, as if learning were neither art nor even science but simply “one size fits all” delivery. Booms and busts in economy, technology, and geopolitical stability caused some to hunker down, others to pinball to the latest idea.

Across this span, Esri’s Education Industry Team grew with a constant focus: To help all the world grasp the geographic nature of any situation, question, or problem; and to foster the ability of educators and students to examine anything with powerful tools, skills, and understanding, in order to make good decisions.

It has taken longer than I first reckoned to get the message out. But the rise of web-based and mobile-based geographic analysis through ArcGIS Online, with its ready access to vast banks of data and easy investigation, blows open the doors. A broad spectrum of ArcGIS tools means anyone can build capacity incrementally. And the expanding commentary that critical thinking and problem solving, effective communication and collaboration skills, and a sense of ethics and responsibility are more important than Pavlovian accumulation and regurgitation of bubble-ready facts gives hope for a more sensible pedagogical tomorrow.

The planet is in greater jeopardy on more fronts than it was 20 years ago. The mission to save the world through education continues, stronger than ever.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Teaching Geography with ArcGIS Online: New Video Series

I have just created 7 videos totaling 90 minutes of content in a series entitled “Teaching Geography with ArcGIS Online” on the Esri Education Team’s channel, beginning here.

This series began with a workshop I taught at the Geographical Association conference. One goal I had in creating the videos is to model how ArcGIS can be used in an instructional setting. The first 3 parts in the series focus on why and how web-based GIS can be used to teach geography, specifically, ArcGIS
. One reason I chose ArcGIS Online as the main tool is because it allows students, using only a web browser and an internet connection, to quickly investigate real world issues in real places, from local to global scale, developing spatial thinking, critical thinking, and GIS skills and “habits of mind” in the process. These maps can be customized, saved, edited, and shared with others.

While each of the first three parts provides practical examples, parts 4 through 7 in the series delve deeply in problem solving with specific issues and themes. Part 4 uses World Bank data and maps to investigate global demographic variables, including birth rate, life expectancy, and population change, by country, from 1960 to the present. Part 5 analyzes the pattern of neighborhood deprivation and poverty, and lack thereof, using the UK as an example. Part 6 asks questions about plate tectonics , including earthquakes, plates, volcanoes, on a global scale, and then analyzes seismic and volcanic activity on a local scale in Texas and on Mount Etna, Italy. This video also shows how to bring in real-time data into the analysis to compare the difference between the last 30 days of earthquakes versus earthquakes dating back hundreds of years. Part 7 discusses three ways to map data that students have collected, by directly adding points, lines, and areas, from data from the field via GPS and smartphones, and from multimedia sources, including video, photographs, sketches, and text onto maps and presentations that tell the story of their project.

How could you and your students make use of these videos, and how could you use ArcGIS Online in the classroom?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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