Monthly Archives: April 2013

Is your data “CRAAP”?

Is your data any good or is it “CRAAP”? Assessing spatial data quality grows in importance as it grows in volume and diversity and as it becomes easier to access. Research and development on metrics and standards to measure data quality took off during the mid-1990s, and thus there is no shortage of evaluation instruments to choose from. Even so, it often is difficult to evaluate the quality of a data set you are considering using.

How good is your data?

How good is your data?

People in library science really understand data and their implications, and some of the metrics I find most useful come from the library and information science community. My colleague Linda Zellmer, Government Information and Data Services Librarian at Western Illinois University, uses a “CRAAP” test, originally from CSU Chico and based on the CRAP test from LOEX. This is a schema to evaluate information: Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose. When I teach with or about GIS, to get across the point that assessing data quality ultimately depends on metadata, I frequently refer to the FGDC’s “top 10 metadata errors” document. The document’s number one identified error is “not doing it!”: ”If you think the cost of metadata production is too high, you haven’t compiled the costs of not creating metadata, including loss of information with staff changes, data redundancy, conflicts, liability, misapplications, and decisions based upon poorly documented data.” Ouch!

One of my favorite papers examining measurement standards comes from Dr Jingfeng Xia of Indiana University, who, in his research published in Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship, proposed a set of dimensions for data quality measurement. He discusses measures such as accuracy, consistency, completeness, and integrity, but also accessibility, validity, timeliness, currency, conformance, uniqueness, and others. One of his main points is that both quantitative and qualitative metrics are essential for determining the quality of geospatial data.

As my co-author Jill Clark and I point out in the book The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data, it is more important than ever before to document your data, and understand what you are using, because with each passing day it becomes easier to combine data from an amazing array of sources. With opportunity comes responsibility!

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Maps and the Geospatial Revolution MOOC

Wouldn’t it be amazing if thousands of people could learn about the power of mapping, start making their own web maps, and begin thinking spatially in new ways?  MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) make it possible for universities to open higher education to many more students than was previously possible.  Beginning 17 July 2013, Dr. Anthony C. Robinson, Geography Professor at The Pennsylvania State University, will offer a MOOC entitled “Maps and the Geospatial Revolution.”  This MOOC uses the Coursera platform, which Penn State will be using for 4 other courses as well.  Since Coursera launched in April 2012,  1.45 million students are enrolling in courses each month on their platform.  Other platforms such as Udacity and EdX also attract large numbers.  Not only are these statistics revolutionary, but the idea of mapping as a platform for the efficient functioning of society is also revolutionary.  Why?

Maps and the Geospatial Revolution

Maps and the Geospatial Revolution

According to Robinson, this past decade has seen an explosion of  new mechanisms for understanding and using location information in widely-accessible technologies.  This Geospatial Revolution has resulted in the development of consumer GPS tools, interactive web maps, and location-aware mobile devices. These radical advances are making it possible for people from all walks of life to use, collect, and understand spatial information like never before.

This course is designed to help you rethink what maps are and what they can do, create your first map to tell a story, evaluate and critique the design of maps, explore what is revolutionary about Geography.  This course runs for 5 weeks and will have you making maps, analyzing issues and patterns from natural hazards to ecoregions to population change, using exciting new tools such as ArcGIS Online.

Interested?  Examine the excellent video series from Penn State on the geospatial revolution.  Follow @MapRevolution on Twitter for updates.  And most importantly, join the course!

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Maps, Math, and Learning: Webinar Tonight, 7 pm CDT

For this final TCEA GeoSIG  ”Tech in Twenty” webinar, Dr. Bob Coulter, is going to go through the following sequence of activities showing each step as a way of illustrating the integration of data, maps, science, mathematics and language. (Sound like STEM?)
1) Collect schoolground temp/precip data locally
2) Graph local official data relative to normal and last year
3) Do the same for an assigned “focus city” in a different ecoregion — Maintain a dual focus for a bit
4) Embedded in this are maps to see how your home ecoregion is similar to or different from your focus city on key factors
5) End with a sharing festival of sorts with maps, graphs, tables, pictures, etc of different places
Dr. Coulter, of the Litzsinger Ecology Center, is one of the top educators in the integration of math and technology into the curriculum. This presentation is geared toward elementary and middle but can be easily adapted to high school. You will not want to miss this final 2012/2013 Tech In Twenty Webinar offered by the TCEA GeoSIG. Free and open to all!
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Fun with GIS 143: Mapping Field Data

Earth Day invokes reflection. Earth Day #1 was 1970. Cars, computers, climate, education, population … much is different, some better, some more troubling. We dance along some very slippery slopes. We need more respect for our little spaceship and its layer upon layer of complex, interconnected, and powerful but by no means indestructible systems. Only education can save our planet, and education requires engagement. We can all live more sustainably. But educators bear extra responsibility, to involve youth in more activities embracing our world. Not through fragmenting knowledge but through integration … activities that engage youth with the richness of the planet, the wealth of subjects and senses, and the passion of a holistic experience.

Link to map application

It is easy to do, even with only a little bit of field data. Think about an activity you do, or what your students would like to do. Gather some data, take some photos, record the experience, construct a table, drop it on a map, and bring forth a simple story.

Drag and drop a table to map it

A simple video shows the process, from designing a table to moving data onto a map to saving and sharing the story. You will see how utterly simple it can be, and how engaging. (See the video via YouTube or DropBox.)

Try it. Better yet, share the video with kids and let them do it. Let them do projects that entice them to think holistically. We need young people to care enough about Earth to explore, learn, and make critical decisions, thinking holistically, not just about one single measure. Start small and build.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Mapping Your Educational Research

What is the average number of staff development hours per year for teachers within and across countries?   What is the association between student-teacher ratios and student achievement in a country or state’s primary schools?  How does instruction differ among teachers in a school district who receive different amounts of staff development? Why do teacher qualifications influence instruction?  These are examples of the types of questions that educational researchers ask.  The data that they gather usually include a locational component, and hence, mapping that data often provides insight and leads to new questions and lines of research.

GCSE results in England.

GCGE results using Esri Story Maps template.

In the past, the number of educational researchers engaged in mapping their data has been modest, in part perhaps because of the expertise required to do so.  But all of that is changing with the advent of easy-to-use yet powerful mapping tools.  One of them is ArcGIS Online, which allows for variables to be easily mapped from spreadsheets, analyzed, stored, and shared in the cloud. The number of ways to share the results includes Story Maps and web applications.  Another is Esri Maps for Office, which allows for data from Excel to be mapped and even embedded inside PowerPoint presentations.  None of these are static maps–they are live web maps that you or those you are communicating with can modify, add to, and change the scale in.

The above questions are examples of those asked in descriptive educational research.  Yet mapping holds value for some types of experimental research as well.  For example, a study that compares the achievement or attitudes of students before and after an educational intervention can be mapped and compared with the sociodemographics and even environmental variables of where they reside.

The Esri education team is keenly interested in serving the needs of educational researchers.  Esri regularly participates in the American Educational Research Association’s annual conference; come see us this year in San Francisco or in the future.

How are you mapping your educational research, or how would you like to do so?

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Update on Student Success Plenary at EduC 2013

We’ve received quite a few nominations for outstanding students to tell their story during the “Celebrating Student Success” plenary session at the 2013 Esri Education GIS Conference in San Diego. To give as many students and alumni as possible a chance to participate, we’re happy to extend the due date for submissions to Tuesday, April 30. Nomination guidelines are published at our “Share Your Story” web site.

Dr. Kim Kastens

Student success is the overarching goal of all educational activity. The goal of this plenary session is to inform and inspire by showcasing best practices in GIS education from learners’ perspectives. Following opening remarks by a distinguished speaker, exemplary students and educators from a variety of educational settings will share key factors that contributed to their success.

We’re delighted to announce that the opening speaker for our Student Success plenary will be Dr. Kim Kastens. Kim is Distinguished Scholar and Principal Scientist in the Learning and Teaching Division of Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC). She brings over 20 years of experience as a natural scientist and extensive expertise in deepening understanding of the Earth and environment through teaching, curriculum development, professional development, and research on learning.

Kim is a 2009 recipient of the American Geophysical Union’s national Award for Excellence in Geophysical Education. Her projects include the National Science Foundation initiative Making Meaning of Geoscience Data: A Challenge at the Intersection of Geosciences and Cognitive Sciences. Her books and journal articles address tectonic and sedimentary Earth processes and thinking and learning in science education.

Before joining EDC, Kim served as a Lamont Research Professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University. She received her BA in Geology & Geophysics from Yale University and her PhD in Oceanography from Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

EDC’s Learning and Teaching Division works in partnership with government agencies, foundations, districts, and community programs to expand opportunities for children, adolescents, and adults—at home, at school, and at work—and to improve the institutions that serve them.

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Fun with GIS 142: iPad GeoPower

Small but powerful, iPads have taken hold in many classrooms. With good connectivity, these tablets offer rich exploration, data gathering, analysis, and presentation, via ArcGIS Online. Lacking the horsepower, browser plugins, and multi-function mouse of a full computer, there are limits, but savvy users can still accomplish quite a lot.

The ArcGIS for iOS app opens existing projects containing modest data sets. With sustained wifi or cell connection, field data entry is a snap, including adding on-site photo/video and using GPS-based location. Swapping basemaps and turning layers on and off just requires accessing side panels. Shifting between multiple accounts is easy, as the app can store full connection info.

But I just use the iPad’s regular web browser, because it permits full access to authoring (including saving and sharing), layer controls like transparency, and the rich and growing body of ArcGIS Online data and analysis power, just like my computer. It takes only a few seconds to get used to tapping to focus the tablet’s attention and then tapping again to engage a control.

Even maps with data loads that overtax the ArcGIS for iOS app (such as “GLOBEdemo” above) often work inside the iPad’s web browser. This means that, if you can do it on a computer in a regular browser, including playing a presentation (such as “TX Demographics” below), you can usually do it on an iPad.

Many schools today are looking for reasons to use the banks of iPads they have acquired, particularly in activities that engage students in analysis and presentation. ArcGIS Online provides unlimited opportunity for educators who are willing to unleash students in exploring, creating, and analyzing data.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Learning, Unlearning, and Relearning

“The illiterate of the 21st century,” wrote Alvin Toffler, “will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Toffler’s words seem particularly appropriate to the GIS profession.  In 1983, I was among the last of students who for over 10 years were using the SYMAP program to create 3D mesh terrain surfaces.  My colleagues and I at the US Census Bureau used GIS to develop the TIGER system during the late 1980s.  I started using ArcInfo in 1989 at version 4 at the USGS.  Despite the huge changes that occurred in GIS at that time, I firmly believe that I have seen more change in the past 3 years than I did for the previous 30 years.  The open data movement, crowdsourcing, cloud computing, attention to spatial thinking, mobile apps, and SDKs are among the forces that are modifying huge portions of our profession, from the technology to the number and variety of people in it.

Changes in GIS and society are having an enormous impact on GIS education:  What must we teach to help learners update their current skills and prepare them for the future?  How must we as GIS educators most effectively educate ourselves?  To think about it as Toeffler might, think about all that you have learned, unlearned, and relearned in GIS over the years.  (I confess that I am still wondering about Toeffler’s “unlearning” process.  Do we really “unlearn” or do we just forget some of the details of what we no longer need to know?)   I remember the time I invested in learning how to download, format, and use SDTS-formatted spatial data, and then creating a 25 page document to help others do the same.  Is that document still needed?  Do most GIS folks today even know what SDTS is?  I had to learn how to use that type of data, and then relearn how to use spatial data when the formats and the software changed.  Today, with the coupling of desktop and web-based GIS, software updates no longer occur annually, but at least quarterly if not more often.  You cannot effectively use all of the ArcGIS Online resources if your version of ArcGIS for Desktop is a few versions behind.  New data, apps, and other resources appear daily.  GIS seems to me to be the perfect example of why lifelong learning is essential.

Furthermore, something common to every GIS professional is the experience of having difficulty with getting a task in GIS to work, modifying it, trying it again, and assessing the results.   I recently had difficulty matching an ArcGIS Online basemap with a set of data, because I had guessed incorrectly at the projection that the vector data was in.  While these experiences can be frustrating, we tend to more clearly remember their details than when our problem solving workflow is smooth and easy.  In short, the difficulties we experience in learning and relearning actually help us in the learning process.

I see Toffler’s point but I also think that reading and writing are important 21st Century skills, and are more critical now than ever before.  In my role on the Esri education team, I spend more time reading, writing, and communicating than I do on other tasks.   Yet even the bulk of time I spend reading, writing, and communicating is with the objective of learning and relearning, and teaching others.

How does GIS require and foster lifelong learning?  How can you model lifelong learning with GIS with your students?

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Fun with GIS 141: Analysis Puzzles

Everyone wants kids to be problem solvers. Developing this skill takes practice, just as do public speaking, dance, chess, programming, dish washing, or video games. Students crave puzzles to solve … interesting, meaningful puzzles. Not fake ones (“a train leaves Chicago at 8AM and averages 40 mph …”) but real-life puzzles. Geographic information systems like ArcGIS Online provide infinite opportunity.

Recent upgrades to ArcGIS Online added key analytical tools (see Fun with GIS 136 and Fun with GIS 140), some to all users, some just to Organization accounts. But analyses depend on data. The latest update has provided Organizations with easy access (see image at right) to powerful new data for analysis: not just more recent content, but rich attributes. And now the individual sub-layers of information can displayed as tables, sorted, queried, and even have their classification and symbolization schemes changed. This opens vast opportunity for analysis, in search of ever deeper grasp of patterns and relationships.

By giving students puzzles pertaining to their community, or comparing their broad region with a distant place, students can see more clearly the powerful forces influencing lives across the land. With improved access to authoritative data sets, students working in Organizations can focus on substantive questions about meaning, in search of solutions.

The puzzles of the world abound, and we need desperately for young people to develop both the skills to solve them and the disposition to seek them out. A mental diet rich in real-world puzzles like those visible on ArcGIS Online will help young people build a much more secure future for themselves … and for all of us as well.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Catch up with Esri at the AAG Annual Meeting

Each year, Esri has a major presence at the AAG annual meeting.  We firmly believe in the power of geographic thinking and applications, and many of us were trained as geographers.  It is one of our favorite networking times of the year.

Catch up with Esri at the AAG Annual Meeting.

Catch up with Esri at the AAG Annual Meeting.

Stop by the Esri exhibit and meet one-on-one with Esri staff.  We’ll have presentations highlighting new technologies (schedule here) and Office Hours where you can talk in-depth with staff from the Esri Software Development, Professional Services, and Educational Program teams.   We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and dig into your toughest technical  questions or talk through project ideas.

Have you always wanted to visit the Esri campus?  Your chance is on Tuesday afternoon on a field trip.  We will also be sponsoring numerous workshops, including map design with ArcGIS Online, creating surfaces and interpolation in ArcGIS, modeling spatial relationships using regression analysis, teaching ArcGIS Server using Amazon EC2, and Preparing Geography Students for the 21st Century workforce (joint workshop with AAG).  These and other field trips and workshops are described here.

Many Esri staff are presenting in paper sessions and panels.  Esri President Jack Dangermond will discuss the impact of the mobile web for making maps and GIS available anytime, anywhere, on any device and the opportunities that provides for improved understanding of our world in a lunchtime Plenary Session on Wednesday.  And Esri Education Director David DiBiase is chair and organizer of “Spatial Thinking Across the College Curriculum”  (session 4407), which explores the importance of spatiality as a unifier of academic disciplines and considers how a curriculum in spatial thinking can best be implemented at the college level.  In all, Esri staff will be involved in dozens of sessions and workshops – too many to list here!

We look forward to seeing you in Los Angeles!

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