Monthly Archives: December 2013

Live Maps, Live Cameras

If you are a reader of this blog and are an advocate of the use of GIS in education, it should be obvious by now that live web maps, many of which are powered by ArcGIS Online, are all around us.  They can be used in a variety of ways to enhance teaching and learning.  But did you also know that an expanding number of them are tied to live webcams?   The examples below represent a small fraction of these; I encourage you to share your own favorites by commenting on this blog.

I created storymaps of Bruges, Belgium, and the Front Range of Colorado.  In each map, select the webcams tab to examine such places as The Markt and the foothills near Golden to teach about current weather, landforms, land use, climate, cultural diversity, vegetation, and more.

The following maps were created by my colleague here at Esri, Matt Artz, who runs his own excellent blog on GIS and science.

You can use the Oregon State University’s Facilities Dashboard to see what’s happening on campus, but also for inspiration for the storymaps that you might build for your own campus.

Use the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Health Advisories by Country live web map as a useful resource in planning your next trip, but also for a good model on how to build a storymap with thumbnail maps and web sites instead of photographs.

Use the Owens Valley Live Dustcams storymap to teach about landforms, climate, current weather, and the influence of human activity and natural conditions on air quality.   You could do something similar for a larger region using The High Sierra web map, which features webcams pointing at highways and even ski runs!  Or, to examine ecoregions, vegetation, climate, land use, and landforms of some of the most spectacular areas of the entire USA, use this live web map of The National Parks (shown below).

Monitor headlines around the world with this storymap linked to current headlines of newspapers, and consider why certain regions’ newspapers have the headlines they do, and which stories are common to multiple locations.

One of my favorite maps gives you the ability to monitor current conditions of oceans and ports using the Our Oceans storymap.  Or, use the Volcanoes of the World story map as part of your unit on investigating different types of volcanoes, where they exist, and the threats they pose.

Colorado National Monument from The National Parks story map

The Colorado National Monument from The National Parks story map. One of my all time favorite parks.  OK, I’m biased–I spent a lot of time hiking here as a child.

What could you do with these and other live web maps linked to webcams?

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Considering Satellite Imagery Vintage while Investigating the Earth

Considering the vintage, or specific date, when satellite or aerial imagery was taken is an excellent first step in investigating the Earth using GIS.  It is also essential information for any professional using GIS to make decisions.  One of the imagery layers in ArcGIS Online makes it easy to find the dates and resolution for the imagery presented.

The image service shown on this map provides one meter or better satellite and aerial imagery in many parts of the world and lower resolution satellite imagery worldwide. The map includes NASA Blue Marble:  Next Generation 500m resolution imagery at small scales (above 1:1,000,000), i-cubed 15m eSAT imagery at medium-to-large scales (down to 1:70,000) for the world, and USGS 15 m Landsat imagery for Antarctica.  The map features 0.3m resolution imagery in the continental United States and parts of Western Europe from DigitalGlobe.  Additional DigitalGlobe sub-meter imagery is featured in many parts of the world, with concentrations in South America, Eastern Europe, India, Japan, the Middle East, and Northern Africa, Southern Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.  In other parts of the world, 1 meter resolution imagery is available from GeoEye IKONOS, Getmapping, AeroGRID, IGN Spain, and IGP Portugal.  Additionally, imagery at different resolutions has been contributed by the GIS User Community.

This map includes metadata containing the date the image was acquired as well as the source image resolution.  Simply click on the map to view this metadata, as I have done below, showing that the image on the west side of Denver, Colorado, USA, was acquired on 16 March 2012 at a resolution of 0.30 meters.

Satellite Imagery layer in ArcGIS Online showing date and resolution

Satellite Imagery layer in ArcGIS Online showing date and resolution

The imagery in ArcGIS Online is continually updated and as the above description shows, is a mosaic of a variety of images.  Therefore, this single map can be used to investigate changes on the landscape due to the time of day, the time of year, natural changes to the landscape, and changes to the landscape made by humans.  For example, search and zoom to the southwest side of Brandon, Manitoba, Canada, around latitude 49.837892 North and longitude 100.003871 West.  You can see on that map, shown below, a place where four different images have been stitched together, covering a span of 9 years.

Measure the difference in the length of the shadow between summer and winter.  Why do the rural roads appear light in the summer but dark in the winter?  How are the fields used during each season of the year?  What urban growth can you detect in Brandon by comparing the older versus the newer imagery?  What time of day were the images taken, and what clues help you determine your answer?  These and other questions can be investigated here or anywhere, using this image layer in ArcGIS Online.  I have used these techniques from university level down to the youngest of students–it gets them thinking spatially, and they enjoy being scientists in investigations such as this.

Satellite imagery mosaic near Brandon, Manitoba, Canada

Satellite imagery mosaic near Brandon, Manitoba, Canada

Look quickly though or capture the screen, because since the images are frequently updated, it won’t look this way for long.  How can you use these techniques in instruction?

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Fun with GIS 154: Lifelong Learning

“What did you learn today?” ought to be emblazoned on every computer, tablet, and phone. The evolution of technology means GIS users must adapt constantly. New tools and approaches mean important new opportunities, and the paths of yesterday may not work today.

College prof Karen Kemp recently said to me “These days I focus a lot on how to use ‘Help’ efficiently. Teaching about the available tools and steps in today’s version won’t help when new tools appear and software evolves. So we talk about the desired analysis and then they go to Help to find out how to do that now.”

That message is one that educators need to share and — most important — model for students. Teach thinking, learning, adapting. Teach big ideas; the big ideas of GIS are quite stable; the tools, steps, and data are quite dynamic.

The latest evolution of ArcGIS Online means key new capacities and workflows. How do we learn efficiently these changes? See the ArcGIS Online blog and the Help file’s “What’s New?” section, then sit down and play. Even the very beginning step is different now, with the addition of a new simpler starting interface. See the two graphics below and note the specific changes between newest (top) and previous (bottom, now available via the “Modify Map” button) interface.

Change is constant. Learning must be also. GIS is such an inclusive, integrative technology that one must learn constantly. Model what we need all learners to live — lifelong learning.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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This Dynamic Planet: Illustrating “Why GIS?”

One of my all time favorite maps is that from the USGS and the Smithsonian Institution entitled This Dynamic Planet, which shows the world’s major impact craters, volcanoes, earthquakes, and plate boundaries.  Not only is the content fascinating, but the forms that this map and data come in provide an excellent illustration for the advantage that a web-based GIS has over paper maps and static digital maps.

First, the data are available as a printed map.  While I worked at the USGS, I used to spend quality time poring over the huge printed paper edition of this map, which is still available from the USGS Store and I distributed it frequently at conferences and workshops.  You can use it to teach about the relationships between the types of plate boundaries and the depth and magnitude of earthquakes, the frequency and spatial pattern of historical and present-day volcanic eruptions, study the direction and amount of plate movement, the distribution impact craters on a global scale, and much more.

Second, the map is available in a digital version (PDF) version.  With this version, as with the paper map, you can study the above topics as well as examine the very helpful insets for the polar regions.  You can also study the extensive scientific information that was originally printed on the back of the map to supplement your instruction.

However, the paper map and the digital map are both static.  You cannot change the symbology or scale. You cannot select a subset of data or select map features and obtain more information about them.   That can only be done when the map is served in a web-based GIS environment.

Fortunately, this map is served in such an environment, supported by Esri’s ArcGIS Online platform. This interactive digital and dynamic version is here and pictured below, and I believe this version is much more useful for teaching and learning.  Why?  It offers the rich content of the paper and static digital versions, but now you can interact with it, ask questions of it, filter only the larger earthquakes or the most recent volcanoes, change the scale, and much more.

This Dynamic Planet interactive map service

This Dynamic Planet interactive map service.

Therefore, I believe this map is a perfect example of the power of placing maps and associated data into a GIS environment.  There’s nothing wrong with using the paper map or the static digital map in the classroom.  In fact, having the large map on the wall or on a table, or even on the floor (It is a large map!) provides a great starting place for the discussions and investigations.  But, as I explain above and in this video, having the data in a web-based GIS environment simply provides for a richer, deeper, and more interesting overall learning experience, the essence of scientific and geographic inquiry.

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New education research book: Teaching Science …. with Geospatial Technology

Teaching Science and Investigating Environmental Issues with Geospatial Technology: Designing Effective Professional Development for Educators

 Edited by James MaKinster, Nancy Trautmann, & Michael Barnett

“The emerging field of using geospatial technology to teach science and environmental education presents an excellent opportunity to discover the ways in which educators use research-grounded pedagogical commitments in combination with their practical experiences to design and implement effective teacher professional development projects. Often missing from the literature are in-depth, explicit discussions of why and how educators choose to provide certain experiences and resources for the teachers with whom they work, and the resulting outcomes.

The first half of this book will enable science and environmental educators to share the nature and structure of large scale professional development projects while discussing the theoretical commitments that undergird their work. Many chapters will include temporal aspects that present the ways in which projects change over time in response to evaluative research and practical experience.

In the second half of the book, faculty and others whose focus is on national and international scales will share the ways in which they are working to meet the growing needs of teachers across the globe to incorporate geospatial technology into their science teaching. These efforts reflect the ongoing conversations in science education, geography, and the geospatial industry in ways that embody the opportunities and challenges inherent to this field.” -

Find samples at Springer’s website below, including the Forward and Preface.

Book links at: and Springer Publisher

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Why ‘Where’ Matters: New Book

Just about everything my colleagues and I write in this blog has to do with why ‘where’ matters.  And now Dr Bob Ryerson and Dr Stan Aronoff have authored a book with this same title, focused on helping anyone who seeks to become successful with using geospatial information and tools in today’s economy.  After building a strong case for what they define as the “geo-economy”, the authors explain what the geotechnologies are, what geospatial knowledge is, and trends that these technologies are taking.  But even more important in my view is that they focus on why all of this is important, with a clear aim to enable the reader to take advantage of geotechnologies in his or her career and in society.  In fact, their goal, as they put it, is for the reader not to have to rely on “geo-luck” but rather to empower the reader to have the “geo-advantage.”

Why Where Matters book

Why Where Matters book, written by Dr Bob Ryerson and Dr Stan Aronoff.

As societies, economies, and geospatial technologies continue to rapidly evolve, a resource that helps students, faculty, and others gain key knowledge about this field but also the proper perspective on the broader issues is both welcomed and needed.  The book can also be used as an effective introductory GIS text and as essential reading for any student who will use geotechnologies on the job because while it provides an excellent overview, it also explains the relevance of key tools and the knowledge and skills necessary to use those tools.

On a personal note, the very first GIS textbook I ever used in graduate school was Dr Aronoff’s GIS:  A Management Perspective.   I have long had respect for him and for Dr Ryerson and I encourage you to investigate their new book.   How have you used the book?  Your reflections are encouraged here.

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