Monthly Archives: November 2012

Walking On Water? Reflections on Resolution and Scale

I recently gave presentations at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee for GIS Day, and took the opportunity,  as most geographers would, to get out onto the landscape.  I walked on the Lake Michigan pier at Manitowoc, enjoying a stroll in the brisk wind to and from the lighthouse there, recording my track on my smartphone in an application called Runkeeper.  When my track had finished and been mapped, it appeared as though I had been walking on the water!

Map of my walk from

Photograph of my destination:  The lighthouse at the North Pier, Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

According to my map, I walked on water.  Funny, but I don’t recall even getting wet!  It all comes down to paying close attention to your data, and knowing its sources.  Showing these images provides a teachable moment in a larger discussion on the importance of scale and resolution in any project involving maps or GIS.  In my case, even if I scrolled in to a larger scale, the pier did not appear on the Runkeeper’s application’s base map.  It does, however, appear in the base map in ArcGIS Online.  In the book that Jill Clark and I wrote entitled The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data, we discuss how scale and resolution can be conceptualized and put into practice in both the raster and vector worlds.  We cite examples where neglecting these important concepts have led not only to bad decisions, but have cost people their property and even their lives.   Today, while GIS tools allow us to instantly zoom to a large scale, the data being examined might have been collected at a much smaller scale.  Much caution therefore needs to be used when making decisions when the analysis scale is larger than the collection scale.

What example have you used in class that well illustrates the importance of scale and resolution?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Tech in Education: Microsoft Surface

Take-away: The new Microsoft Surface with Windows 8 makes an interesting choice for educational organizations engaging GIS in instruction.

Two weeks ago, I had the good fortune to attend EduCause, an educational organization focusing on higher education IT.  Among the many interesting technology and pedagogy conversations occurring there, one technology stood out: the new Microsoft Surface with Windows 8.  The Surface is a touch-tablet device recently released by Microsoft and runs either 1.) a new operating system, Windows 8 RT or 2.) Windows 8 Pro (compare RT versus Pro).  While Windows 8 RT isn’t backwards compatible with your old software, new applications are available in the Windows Store.  C-Net has reported that websites running Flash must pass a safety check of sorts, before Windows RT will properly display the websites with Flash content.

Microsoft Surface devices running Windows 8 Pro are to be released in the January 2013, also according to C-Net.  The Surface with Windows 8 Pro runs on an Intel chip (rather than an ARM-based processor found in Surface devices with Windows 8 RT) and should run traditional desktop software.  Esri has already released the ArcGIS preview app, available in the Windows Store. “The ArcGIS app provides a preview of features that integrate the new touch-centric view of Windows 8 and Windows RT with the ArcGIS Online mapping platform” (Esri blog).

As a long-time  iPad user, I find the Surface interesting as it combines the capabilities of both a touch-tablet and traditional laptop.  While an iPad puts me in a wonderful place to consume content and rich media, the Surface seems to bridge the need between content creation and content consumption – a fine balance that educators and students must constantly mind. Perhaps this ability is largely due to Surface running Windows 8 Pro, a descendent from a long-line of very popular Microsoft desktop operating systems, rather than a smartphone OS.  In either event, with keyboard, USB, micro SDXC, and Wi-Fi the Surface certainly has the ability to feel more like a laptop, when it needs to.

With holidays just around the corner, it might be time to take a closer look.  Should you decide to take the leap, let us know how touch-tablets change the way you teach or learn with GIS.  We’d really like to hear from you.

- Tom Baker, Esri Education Manager

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Fun with GIS 134: iPad GIS

Once upon a time, computers were huge and slow. Now? I’m typing this and snagging screenshots on an iPad. These devices rock for reading and writing. But can they do GIS? It depends on what you want to do. Visualization? Analysis? Data creation? All doable. OK, an iPad running ArcGIS Online does not have the horsepower of a robust workstation running ArcGIS Desktop, but it’s easier to tote around and use anywhere there’s connectivity.

With the ArcGIS for iOS app, one can open any number of pre-created maps, and use them largely as the designer intended for a laptop and larger. Here’s a screenshot from a popular resource, “USA Demographics for Schools,” accessible without being signed in, simply by typing the title in the “search for map” box in the ArcGIS for iOS app. Open it up, zoom in to the region of interest, and explore the layers. (See other US maps at

Since 2002, a favorite resource for educators working with GIS has been “Mapping Our World.” It was created for ArcView 3, then for ArcGIS 9, then for ArcGIS 10, and is now available for free, engaging ArcGIS Online. Here’s a screenshot of the most commonly used lesson, exploring earthquakes around the world, and the map it uses. I floated back and forth between the doc and the map easily on my iPad.

The earthquake map above uses native ArcGIS Online and the iPad’s native browser, which means users can have a more or less similar experience as on a computer, just with finger-work on a touch-screen instead of mouse-clicks on the desk. This can take a little getting used to, and some activities call for two-handed work even on a computer, but many of the basic activities are just as easy on an iPad. So you can do some basic classification of layers, tweak the symbols, play with the transparency, do an identify, and so forth. Here’s a map built from scratch on iPad, using the “election2012″ layer from “Map the Vote“, showing the added layer classified (electoral votes available in 2012) and symbolized, and a feature identified.

Another blog included a lesson using editable feature services with smartphones. As long as your iPad has connectivity in the field, it’s just another field data collection device, with the benefits of portability, screen size, GPS, and camera. This is why many organizations are turning to tablets in the field for on-site data collection and integration. Here, I’m adding a data point with my favorite breakfast beverage (OJ, of course).

As with any technology in the hands of any user, the key is what’s going on in the user’s head. It’s vastly more exciting seeing people do powerful work with basic tools than do basic work with powerful tools. Even such an elegant tool as the iPad has limits, but with ArcGIS Online, users who engage vigorously have access to galaxies of data and an array of capacities that would have made GIS users a decade ago gape. “Explore, analyze, solve, communicate” is as relevant to an iPad-based user of ArcGIS Online as a workstation-based user of desktop GIS.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Biggest City That Never Was: Cairo, Illinois

I recently created a map in ArcGIS Online and a series of videos that shows the location of what may be the biggest city that never was:  Cairo, Illinois.  During the mid-1800s, many believed that this city, founded on the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, gateways to settlement of the central and western United States, could someday surpass Philadelphia or even New York City.

I created the map for several reasons.  First, like many of you, I am fascinated by maps.  Mapping is a natural way to tell a story, and Cairo has a very interesting story to tell.  For several geographic reasons, Cairo not only didn’t live up to its expectations, and has been declining by 10% to 20% per decade for the past 70 years (2010 population, 2,831).  While Cairo has a good situation on the point of land divided by the rivers, the site is flood-prone.  In addition, the rise of St Louis upstream on the Mississippi River also posed challenges for Cairo.  In fact, socioeconomically, Cairo remains one of the poorest communities in the region, which you can investigate for yourself by pulling up the “USA Demographics for Schools” layer in ArcGIS Online and investigating median income and median home value.  It nevertheless has a fascinating and unique character steeped in history and geography.

The second reason I created the map was because ArcGIS Online allows for the easy integration of multimedia elements to tell a story.  In my case, I created the map only after having the opportunity to visit Cairo this year en route to Murray State University, taking videos and photographs to be sure, but also getting a “sense of place” for Cairo.  During my visit, my discovery of a tiny community just north of Cairo dubbing itself “Future City” seemed to fit perfectly with the above themes.  At the river confluence, a weathered monument in the shape of Lewis and Clark’s boat the Merrimack standing in a rather forlorn state park seemed to reinforce the fact that this was the Biggest City That Never Was.  The photographs and videos I took there were easily integrated into my ArcGIS Online map.

What important places on the landscape have you visited or read about, and how might you create stories about them using ArcGIS Online?

–Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Fun With GIS 133: Capacity and Change

Change races at us. New cars emerge annually, new gadgets seasonally, new software daily. In a blink, a storm juggled life for millions. Yet some phenomena persist. Educational progress for many remains stuck in a time capsule, pushing victims toward a future long past. Fortunately, this is not true for all; flashes of capacity sparkle even in regions off the beaten track.

Recently, I visited a tiny elementary school in a tiny community in Costa Rica. Electricity was sometimes down, occasionally for weeks; internet access was erratic at best. But the school’s leaders and key teachers share a vision of the future and the power of education that reaches toward tomorrow. Children from very different backgrounds learn together, bilingually, integrating subjects, exploring the rich natural realm outside and diverse heritages indoors, understanding their world, building geoliteracy.

From a young age, kids learn to use GPS units, cameras, and the power of maps for integrating data. While the electricity is on (or as long as batteries last), the grade 1-2 teacher uses ArcGIS Desktop on a modest laptop to help students learn the continents; zoom in to navigate the rivers, volcanoes, and cities of Costa Rica; and wander the roads and trails of the community. When internet is available, the grade 3-4-5 teacher uses ArcGIS Online to help students assemble maps, points, and pictures, translating hardcopy assemblages into digital views that help them place their local experiences within a context.

The educators talk about the future for their kids, about the skills they want to ensure, about the values of thinking, learning, doing, and communicating. Here at the end of the dirt road, in a building where insects and geckos carry on an ancient battle, and modern scoundrels make off with key resources, one can see hope for the future. Kids are learning about the layers of their world; grasping the patterns and relationships that weave together sky, land, and sea around them; understanding the influences large and small, near and far, with which they already cope.

In town at a discussion one eve, as we watched, a honey bee too weak to reach the hive wriggled its last on an outdoor tiled floor and expired. Moments later, ants found it; in a few minutes, scores of the tiny ants were tugging the bee and literally carrying it off the floor, somehow unified in understanding a powerful mission, working together to improve their world. This tiny town in Costa Rica has discovered the richness of geospatial technology and realized that adults and kids can improve their world, as individuals, as a group, and beyond. They have the basic tools and, most important, the vision, focus, and commitment, to steer toward the future, today.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Interested in integrating remote sensing into your GIS instruction?

Interested in integrating remote sensing into your GIS instruction? Don’t miss this professional development opportunity!
The National Council for Geographic Education is partnering with the US Geological Survey EROS Center, the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and West Valley College (in Saratoga CA) to offer professional development for GIS instructors at two-year colleges and at high schools and universities interested in collaborating with geospatial programs at two-year colleges.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the program builds on the very successful iGETT project (Integrated Geospatial Education and Technical Training). The new program, iGETT–Remote Sensing, focuses on enabling its participants to teach workforce skills that integrate remote sensing data with GIS.

iGETT – Remote Sensing is currently recruiting the first of two cohorts. Cohort 1 will join the project in February 2012; Cohort 2 in February 2013. Each will participate in monthly webinars and two summer institutes, held at the USGS EROS Center and/or the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, over an 18-month period. More information about the project and Cohort 1 applications (due December 20, 2012) are available at

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Election, ArcGIS Online, History and GIS, webmapping, curriculum, ArcLessons

I have created a data set containing electoral history for the past 56 years in ArcGIS Online, so you and your students can interact with it, teach with it, and explore patterns. To accompany the data set, I wrote a lesson entitled, “Which states went for which candidate? Elections” is in the ArcLessons library.

What is the difference between the popular vote and the electoral vote? What influences voting patterns at present and what influenced the patterns in the past? Why do electoral votes sometimes exhibit a regional or national pattern and sometimes exhibit no pattern? After examining the maps dating back to 1956, which election years would you say were the closest in terms of the electoral vote, and which were the most one-sided? Which states voted consistently Republican, or Democratic, in the past? When have third-party candidates been a factor? When did the candidate lose his “home state?” Which states change back and forth in terms of political party over time, and do these correspond to what are referred to as “swing states”? How does population distribution influence the electoral vote and where candidates spend their time and money?

These questions and many more can be effectively analyzed by using the above maps and lesson. ArcGIS Online provides an excellent platform for learning about issues, patterns, and phenomena. Because elections data in the USA are tied to administrative boundaries, elections maps can be easily created. Examining election data in ArcGIS Online allows the data to be effectively and easily used by educators, students, and others, anywhere around the world.

Another map and data set containing electoral votes by state for the upcoming election, along with demographic information and much more, was compiled by my colleague Charlie Fitzpatrick, and makes an excellent accompanying data set. These data sets can be used with an accompanying blog post describing what is there and how to use it.

It is my hope that these data sets and lessons will be helpful in teaching and learning in these next few weeks, and beyond.

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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