Monthly Archives: March 2013

Understanding the Digital Generation: Further Connections to GIS in Education

In my last post, I made the case that Jukes, McCain, Crocket, and Prensky’s book Understanding the Digital Generation holds key lessons for those of us who are involved in teaching with GIS and teaching about GIS.  Yet the characteristics of these digital learners that I described in that post are not the only instructive elements of the book.  The authors’ discussion of changes in the 21st Century world of work I believe are helpful for curriculum developers, instructors, and administrators who seek to embed the geographic perspective, spatial content, and geotechnology skills into instruction at all levels.

Jukes et al. say that to prepare for the 21st Century world of work, while we will continue to teach many traditional skills, there will be a shift in emphasis on the importance of those skills.   The authors go on to say that we must adjust teaching to match the new world of technology.  New skills must be considered as part of the basic literacy skills of any student.  Why have these skills received a promotion? Quite simply, because of technology.

Student discussing GIS based project

Student discussing GIS based project.

The authors prefer the word “fluency” over literacy because for them it conveys a sense of lifelong learning, such as becoming fluent in a language–in this case, the language of technology.  There are five types of fluencies that are important:  (1) Solution fluency:  This is whole brain thinking, including creativity and problem solving applied in real time.  (2)  Information fluency:  The ability to access digital information sources to retrieve desired information and assess and critically evaluate the quality of information.  (3)  Collaboration fluency:   This “teamworking proficiency” is the “ability to work cooperatively with virtual and real partners in an online environment to create original digital products.”  (4)  Creativity fluency:  The “process by which artistic proficiency adds meaning through design, art, and storytelling.”  (5)  Media fluency:  The ability to look analytically at any communication media to interpret the real message, determine how the chosen media is being used to shape thinking, evaluate the efficacy of the message, and the ability to publish original digital products to match the media to the intended message.

Space does not permit me to make all of the connections between these fluencies and what students do when they use GIS and geographic inquiry to grapple with problems.  However, in short, I have witnessed thousands of times over the past 20 years that students doing so engage in all five of these fluencies.  Using GIS has never “just been about the tools” but rather engages and depends upon creativity, collaborative problem-solving, accessing and using data online and in the field, working with a wide variety of media from spreadsheets to geodatabases to image files to HTML and JavaScript, assessing an increasing array of spatial data sources, and communicating process and results.  Jukes et al.’s statement that “Students must be able to artistically create stories using technology” seems to capture a large part of what students do with GIS.  The communication may include verbal and written descriptions of the problem tackled, the creation of a story map, ArcGIS Online presentations, embedding a map as part of a descriptive web page, and a myriad of other methods.  All of this prepares students well for the 21st Century world of work.

My question for instructors:  How have you observed students acquiring these five fluencies when you have taught GIS?  My question for students:  How has using GIS enabled you to prepare for the world of work?

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2013 SpatiaLABS Update

Supplement your college-level physical, social, and applied sciences courses with relevant, modern day investigations such as customer profiling and sea level rise with SpatiaLABS 2013 Edition. SpatiaLABS are a set of computer lab activities that utilize mapping technology and visualization tools to help students see the concepts and skills they are studying in action.

The SpatiaLABS collection has grown in number to 64 labs since its first release in 2012 and all lessons are compatible with Esri’s ArcGIS software. In addition, these lessons complement Esri’s Educational Site License Program, which provides geospatial software and training to colleges and universities.

Each lab has been written with skill prerequisites in mind—from no GIS exposure to advanced projects.

Examples of SpatiaLABS topics:

  • Impacts of Sea Level Rise and Storms on Manhattan
  • Customer Profiling: Demographic and lifestyle segmentation
  • Evaluating Maple Sap Production Potential
  • High School Dropouts: The effect of neighborhood characteristics

Delivered on DVD, the 64 labs are uploaded to the school’s server for all campus faculty to access.

Each instructor can then download the lessons—which are provided in editable file formats—and easily customize each lesson, if desired. SpatiaLABS 2013 Edition is available for an annual license fee.

Learn more about SpatiaLABS 2013 Edition.

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Understanding the Digital Generation: Connections to GIS in Education

I recently read the book Understanding the Digital Generation by Ian Jukes, Ted McCain, Lee Crockett, and Mark Prensky.  I found it to be insightful but also quite appropriate for those involved with GIS in education.

Understanding the Digital Generation

Understanding the Digital Generation book.

What are the characteristics of digital learners according to these authors?  Digital learners prefer receiving information quickly from multiple multimedia sources, not a slow and controlled release of information from limited sources.  GIS has always been about layering of information from a variety of sources, from satellite imagery to stream gauges, from traffic cams to ecological monitoring stations, and more.  Digital learners prefer processing pictures, sounds, color, and video before text.  Digital learners prefer random access to hyperlinked multimedia information, rather than receiving information linearly, logically, and sequentially.  GIS easily incorporates audio, video, photographs, links, and text.   Furthermore, GIS has become a platform, accessible from a variety of devices–tablets, laptops, smartphones–and the maps and data sets created within a GIS are shareable.

Digital learners refer to network simultaneously with others, rather than working independently first before they network and interact with each other.  Whether in education, health, natural resource management, planning, or in other fields, success with GIS is greatly enhanced by networking with peers.

Jukes et al. say that while many educators prefer teaching “just in case”, digital learners prefer learning “just in time.”  We in GIS in education have always emphasized using the most appropriate tools for the job, and learning GIS functions in the context of solving specific problems.

Digital learners prefer instant gratification and immediate rewards.  Those of us who labored through the early days of GIS marvel at how easy-to-use modern GIS has become.  From creating spatial statistics to georegistering historical imagery, the modern GIS toolkit is vast and varied, accompanied by graphics, videos, and other resources designed to aid beginner and advanced users alike.    Finally, digital learners prefer learning that is relevant, active, instantly useful, and fun.  How can GIS, which was created to analyze 21st Century issues from energy to water to migration to natural hazards and more, not be relevant and useful?  Teaching and learning with GIS is active, engaging, and yes, fun.

In short, I firmly believe that teaching and learning with GIS appeals to and is relevant to today’s digital learners.  Can you find additional connect points between these authors’ statements and GIS in education?

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You Have the Best – Nominate Them by April 15 to Present at the Plenary

Nominate an Outstanding Learner to Be a Presenter at the 2013 Esri Education GIS Conference

The Esri education team is looking for outstanding students and graduates to participate in the 2013 Esri Education GIS Conference Plenary Session. The session will celebrate student success by showcasing best practices in GIS education from learners’ perspectives.
Please visit the Student Success page for details on nominating a learner to be a featured presenter in this special session.  Nominations should include the following:

  • Letter of recommendation attesting to the learner’s success
  • Five-minute video created by the student or alumnus explaining how GIS education made a difference in his or her life or career

Selected learners and the educators who recommend them will receive a stipend and complimentary registration to both the Esri Education GIS Conference (July 6-9) and opening Plenary Session of the Esri International User Conference (July 8).

Nominations must be received by April 15, 2013.
Selected applicants and educators will be notified by May 15, 2013.

Nominate a Learner

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Using Topographic Maps to Study Landforms in ArcGIS Online

Using topographic maps to study landforms has been a key part of Geography and Earth Science instruction for over a century. It has never been easier to do, thanks to the seamless USGS topographic maps for the USA and the base topographic map for  the world available in ArcGIS Online. I have created a set of 12 questions and a map containing 20 landforms as a starting point for these investigations.

Topographic Map Activity

Topographic Map Activity in ArcGIS Online.

Remember the old days when the landform you were seeking to analyze seemed to inevitably fall across corners of 4 topographic paper map sheets?  The USGS maps, originally published at 1:24,000, 1:100,000, and 1:250,000 scales, display seamlessly in ArcGIS Online – no more corners!  The map above opens to the Ennis, Montana area, on the classic alluvial fan that has long been a staple with these sorts of investigations.

Questions include the following, which can be used as is or as a springboard for your own questions.

Use the bookmarks to zoom to the 1:24,000-scale map. Measure the distance between each contour line. Determine the contour interval by reading the numbers on the contours. Calculate the slope in percentage and in degrees.  Calculate the slope of the fan again using the 1:100,000 scale map. Is this measurement different than the measurement you calculated using the 1:24,000 scale map? Explain a few reasons for possible differences.  Calculate the slope in another location on the fan. Is the slope similar to your other reading? Why are slopes so constant on an alluvial fan?

Calculate the area of the alluvial fan using the square mile grid shown on the topographic map as a guide, and the scale bar in the lower left of your ArcGIS Online map window. Then compare this measurement against what you get by using the measure tool above the map. Be sure to indicate the units you are using.  Name 3 differences in the type and number of features shown on USGS maps at the 3 different scales. Why do these differences exist?

Examine the following features, each of which is accessible through the Bookmarks above the map. For each landform, indicate:   What is the name of the landform?  What is the location of the landform?  How did the landform form?  What did the landform and area look like 100 years ago? 1000 years ago? Why? What will the landfrom and area look like 100 years from now? 1000 years from now? Why?  Would you classify the landform as rapidly changing or slowly changing? Why?   How has the landform influenced human activity and settlement in this area?  How have humans modified the landform, if at all, in this area?   What is the climate and vegetation like in this area?  Can you find the same landforms in other areas? If so, where are they?

The 20 landforms included in the map and lesson are a tombolo, a col, a salt dome, lava beds, marine terraces, the Llano Estacado, sand hills, drumlins, moraines, a caldera, an estuary, karst, a water gap, a tarn, an arete, a structural dome, a slow moving landslide, trellis drainage, an oxbow lake, and an inselberg.   The lesson also includes comparison of landscapes shaped by the public land survey system, long lots, and metes and bounds.

You can use ArcGIS Online to draw your own points, lines, and areas on the topographic map using “Add” and “Create Editable Layer.” Link your features to text, photos, and videos. Save your map (requires either a personal or an organizational ArcGIS Online account).  You can also add USGS topographic maps to any ArcGIS Online map through the “Add” function by searching for “USA Topo.”   You can also use the Add tool to add climate, weather, ecoregions, and other layers to help you understand the interaction between climate and landforms.

Working outside the USA? Then make sure your base map is set to “Topographic” and you can explore landforms using a topographic map base all around the world!

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Comparing the spatial accuracy of field data collected with smartphones and GPS receivers

Technologies that enable educators and students to map their field-collected data are rapidly evolving.  A few years ago I wrote several reports of my field test that compared the spatial accuracy of collecting tracks and waypoints with a recreational grade GPS versus a smartphone.  I decided it was time to revisit that research and recently while working with faculty at the Mt Evans Outdoor Education Lab School in Colorado, the opportunity arose.
While on the school’s grounds I collected data simultaneously with three methods and two devices:  (1) As a track using an app called RunKeeper on my smartphone (an iPhone 4 in my case), (2) As a track and waypoints using an app called Motion X GPS on my smartphone, (3) As a track and waypoints using my Garmin 76 GPS receiver.  In order to keep my footing on the steep terrain, I simply held these devices in front of me; I did not hold them above my head or in any way enhance the reception.  After the collection was completed, I emailed the smartphone data as GPX files to myself and uploaded them into ArcGIS Online.  I cabled the points from my GPS device to my computer using the free Minnesota DNR GPS program and mapped them as a zipped shapefile.  I saved the results in ArcGIS Online as a web map.
Comparing smartphone and GPS tracks and waypoints

Comparing smartphone and GPS tracks and waypoints.

As expected, the RunKeeper track, shown in pale blue, was highly generalized.  RunKeeper is a fitness app that I use daily with excellent accuracy, but I suspect the generalization here occurred in the step when I downloaded the track to a GPX file and mapped the GPX.   However, both the Motion X GPS track collected with the  smartphone and the track collected with the GPS receiver were only 1 to 2 meters off from where the satellite image showed the trails to be.  And keep in mind that this model of GPS is already a decade old; the chips in the newer models can even detect GPS signals inside certain types of buildings.  In addition, my smartphone is nearly three years old.
Interestingly, at certain places, such as just west of where the popup graphic is located, the smartphone results were better, but south of the graphic, where I left the trail to photograph a bench, the GPS detected my side journey but not the smartphone.  I also took photographs in the field with my smartphone and uploaded them to Picasaweb.  I then accessed the photos in Picasaweb and captured the latitude-longitude coordinates, and used those coordinates to map them in ArcGIS Online.  The photographs also were no more than 1 meter off of the location I had taken them according to the satellite image.
I was very pleased with the smartphone and GPS results, particularly because the school lies in steep and heavily forested terrain in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.  If I achieved good results here, the results should be even better in flat terrain and with fewer trees.   And while there are still some advantages for using GPS receivers in education, the smartphones are a viable technology for doing so, and they too offer advantages.  I will expand on the advantages of both in future blog essays, and keep in mind that smartphone location services can use GPS, cellular triangulation, and geo-wifi, or a combination thereof, and you as the user typically do not know which one(s) it is using at any particular moment.  The takeaway here is that GPS and smartphones both do a fine job in terms of spatial accuracy.  True, I wasn’t mapping fiber optic cables, but for marking trees, bird’s nests, trails, and a host of other items that educators and students want to map, they are quite suitable.
How do you use GPS receivers and smartphones in your educational work?  How might you use this type of spatial accuracy comparison as part of your math, science, or geography-based curriculum?
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Fun with GIS 139: True Grit

“I can’t do GIS.” It still stuns me when I hear that, especially from an intelligent adult. OK, geographic information systems are robust, can engage many sets of data, and are key for tackling complex problems like climate analysis, urban planning, routing school buses, or optimizing service locations. But, seriously … “can’t do”?

In recent weeks, I’ve visited various sites, including:

  • an impoverished urban school with poor connectivity and blocks preventing signing in to ArcGIS Online, but, with encouragement from teachers, the kids were able to make maps and explore local data on a set of iPads brought in;
  • an impoverished rural school with poor connectivity, and only one big monitor for projection and demo, as long as I could do it from an iPad;
  • a conference center with modest internet, where 50kids from grades 3-12 doubled up on computers and eventually closed half of those to get enough bandwidth to practice, and some had only a once-cached image to provide geographic context onto which they dragged a table of lat/long data, which –bang! – hopped in place and permitted exploration and analysis.

In two decades at this job, I’ve watched teachers and kids with a dearth of resources produce results far beyond those from some schools with all the resources, talent, and opportunity desired. GIS takes two key capacities: (a) the ability to think geographically, grasp differences between here and there, and understand patterns and relationships; and (b) the willingness to use various tools to explore, analyze, and present data.

iPhone screenshot

As a test, I decided to make a simple map in ArcGIS Online, using just my iPhone. If you have the ArcGIS app on a smartphone, the system defaults into that app, which facilitates viewing. But I used the browser to access the regular starting page.

Then it was just a matter of sliding the screen here and there to access the items I needed to make, save, and share a basic map. Not the easiest way to make this map, and not the ideal way to learn the technology, but quite doable, and really the only way to author and share from a phone.

Recently, the US Dept of Education published a research paper on grit, tenacity, and perseverance. Outstanding! Education is vastly more than the accumulation of standard facts for regurgitation. I have watched and listened to enough teachers and students who succeed with GIS to know that anyone can, but some folks struggle with the opportunity (need) to make choices, and the need to learn by doing. Getting students to move beyond “paint by numbers” requires attempting, stumbling, trying again, and repeating. I’m not sure this is in any formal education standard, but every teacher and parent knows it’s true. And, boy, are employers ever looking for this.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Bringing People Together: Geotechnology and Arts Street Denver

Recently I taught a class for,  a visionary organization that cultivates low-income and under-served youth into a creative and culturally competent workforce.  They “use the power of the arts and arts professionals to nurture leadership and engage youth in learning.”  I and my colleague at Esri have been working with Arts Street for years and it is quite exciting to see what they are now doing with ArcGIS Online.  The participants in the class will continue working over the next few months on a project for  Grand County Colorado Economic Development.  A win-win situation has emerged:  The Arts Street participants gain key career skills by having Grand County as their clients, who in turn  get work done that will meet their goal of mapping their county assets.  Taking the torch from here are colleagues of ours from GeoWize, with the two groups that we formed:  The Mountain Info Squad from Grand County, and the Urban Data Geeks from Denver.

The project includes the use of ArcGIS Online, Esri Story Maps, and Community Analyst.

Arts Street webpage

Arts Street

During the class, we used, both in the classroom and in the field, a variety of devices from Android and iPhone smartphone to GPS receivers and Mac and PC-based laptops and tablets.  Not only did the class exhibit a diversity of devices, but the participants in the class were also diverse in terms of backgrounds, ethnicity, and age (ages 15 to 81 represented).   It was clear evidence of the unifying power that GIS has.  One of the high school students in the class is the webmaster for the Arts Street web resources!  We created multimedia maps, presentations, and map-embedded web pages, and created a tree inventory of the neighborhood in ArcGIS Online.  The fact that they are a creative group of people was evident first thing in the morning when some of them showed up wearing bracelets that they made out of topographic maps!

What project have you been involved with that really displayed how GIS brings people together?

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