Monthly Archives: October 2016
Looking for a new way to teach and learn about geography? I have written a new book entitled Interpreting Our World: 100 Discoveries that Revolutionized Geography, described in this video. This book demonstrates why geography matters in the modern-day world through its examination of 100 moments throughout history that had a significant impact on the study of geography—which means, literally, “writing about the earth” or “describing the earth.”
Geography is not simply accounts of the lands of earth and their features; it’s about discovering everything there is to know about our planet. This book shows why geography is of critical importance to our world’s 21st-century inhabitants through an exploration of the past and present discoveries that have been made about the earth. It pinpoints 100 moments throughout history that had a significant impact on the study of geography and the understanding of our world, including widely accepted maps of the ancient world, writings and discoveries of key thinkers and philosophers, key exploration events and findings during the Age of Discovery, the foundations of important geographic organizations, and new inventions in digital mapping today.
The book begins with a clear explanation of geography as a discipline, a framework, and a way of viewing the world, followed by coverage of each of the 100 discoveries and innovations that provides sufficient background and content for readers to understand each topic. Students will gain a clear sense of what is truly revolutionary about geography, perhaps challenging their preconceived notion of what geography actually is, and grasp how important discoveries revolutionized not only the past but the present day as well.
It is my hope that the book clearly provides readers with an understanding of why geography matters to our 21st-century world and an awareness of how geography affects our everyday lives and is key to wise decision making. I have also ensured that the book addresses and explains key themes of geography, including scale, physical processes, cultural processes, patterns, relationships, models, and trends. The book also integrates time, space, and place in geography, documenting how it is not only the study of spatial patterns, but also the fact that many discoveries in geography came about because of the particular time and place in which the discoverers lived.
And yes, the book includes plenty about geotechnologies that we discuss in this blog, including GIS, GPS, remote sensing, web mapping, UAVs, and other technologies from astrolabes and compasses to theodolites and the Internet of Things.
Among the US 50 states, Nebraska ranks #37 in population, with about 1.9 million, or not quite 0.6%. But knowing about US population distribution and looking at the USK12GIS map, Nebraska stands out, with the sixth highest rate of “ArcGIS Online ConnectED Orgs per 100 schools.” How did this happen? Persons and policies matter, certainly, but so does timing, working along multiple fronts, and geography — matters of local significance.
Visionary educators had presented to colleagues about the potential of GIS in Nebraska since before 2000, but saw little yield before 2013. Then, longtime geography teacher Harris Payne became the state social studies coordinator, and collaborations with many (including Geography Alliance leader Randy Bertolas, GIS instructor Leslie Rawlings, and state GIS coordinator Nathan Watermeier) lit rockets. A year-long push yielded a K12 state license for Esri software. Payne participated in Esri’s T3G Institute for educators, immediately on the heels of Esri launching its ConnectED effort (providing free ArcGIS Online to any US K12 school). And the Nebraska Environmental Trust provided a 3-year grant supporting summer workshops for “Educating the Next Generation of Nebraskans About Soil Conservation Using the Power of GIS.”
Numerous teacher workshops later, the impact is clear. Concerned about its place in the world’s breadbasket, Nebraska recognizes the need for soil conservation. Today’s learners require a holistic understanding to avoid “treating the soil like dirt,” in Payne’s words. Two-day workshops involved instruction about soil, gathering data, and building Story Maps with which to teach. But the learning grew into other fields: career guidance, mapping 9-1-1 calls, fire station coverage and travel time, restaurant maps, daily traffic and that after “Big Red football games,” diseases, tourism, personal history, and beyond. “It’s not about clicking but about improving the community,” said Payne.
GIS can make its way into school instruction when savvy leaders identify good opportunities. Just as New Hampshire spread GIS through a coalition of tech-savvy leaders in multiple arenas, and Arkansas spread GIS through its tech-based service learning, and Virginia spread GIS through statewide and district efforts, Nebraska saw that fertile ground was its fertile ground. When educators and influencers identify missions of local importance, the synergy offered by the power and flexibility of GIS yields great results.
Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager
Finding map content can often be a challenge, even nowadays when so much content is available in ArcGIS Online. Recently, Charlie Fitzpatrick and I taught a a workshop entitled “Key Strategies for Finding Content and Understanding What You’ve Found.” The goal of this activity was to enable GIS-using educators and their students to understand what spatial analysis is, effectively find spatial data, use spatial data, and become familiar with the ArcGIS platform in the process. Based on discussions that take place in GeoNet and elsewhere about this topic, we would like to share it with the broader GIS community. The document is located here.
The document makes it clear that we are still in a hybrid world, where people still need to download data for some work in GIS, but increasingly they are can stream data from cloud-based data services such as those in ArcGIS Online. But these concepts make much more sense when one actually practices doing this–hence the activity.
In the activity, we ask the user to first practice search strategies in ArcGIS Online, using tags and keywords. Then, we guide the user through the process of downloading and using a CSV file with real-time data. After a brief review of data types and resources, we guide the user of the activity through the process of downloading data from a local government agency to solve a problem about flood hazards. The next step asks users to compare this process of downloading data with streaming the same data from the same local government’s site (in this case, Boulder County, Colorado) in ArcGIS Online. The activity concludes with resources to discover more about these methods of accessing data.
Other hands-on activities focused on this theme of finding and understanding data exist in the 10 activities included in the Esri Press book, The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data, shown here, and in selected SpatiaLABS and LearnGIS lessons. I look forward to hearing your comments and we hope the activity is useful.
- Accessing data from the Boulder County local government GIS portal through the lesson described above.
Life online involves hiccups, from momentary to long-term. “My students are suddenly having intermittent ArcGIS Online issues,” a teacher recently told me. “Maps that some people made and saved are suddenly inaccessible. Their screens are just blank, but mine is not.”
Many educators have hit issues in online mapping. Identifying and addressing these involves multiple strategies. Troubleshooting is a critical thinking skill, with value far beyond simple comfort with any particular technology. I have posted on GeoNet a Troubleshooting document that educators may want to download and keep handy for when things go awry.
The teacher and students above (11th graders from Roosevelt High School MSTMA in Los Angeles) had uncovered a bug in ArcGIS Online. Their unusual workflow led to dead ends in many maps when someone deleted a particular shared resource. Thanks to good documentation including a phone-shot video, technicians could isolate, replicate, and solve the problem. The next software release will not have this particular issue.
Most hiccup are not bugs. Troubleshooting is both science and art. Carefully iterating variables helps, but perception and situational awareness matter too. Educators and students alike need to practice troubleshooting, to solve what they can and be better prepared for the unexpected, whether it appears on a web page, walks in a door, or falls from the sky. This is what employers seek today — someone who can identify a problem, isolate it, clarify it, and come up with situationally appropriate strategies for coping.
Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager
Not long ago, obtaining data for a GIS-based project was an arduous task. Because great time and effort was involved with either creating your own data or obtaining data that someone else created, you had to think carefully about the quality of the data that would go into your project. While it can still be cumbersome to obtain data at specific scales for specific areas, cloud-based data services, crowdsourced maps and databases and real-time streaming make it easy for anyone to obtain vast amounts of data in a short amount of time.
In such an environment where so much data is available, is data quality still of concern? I believe that yes, data quality does matter. In fact, because data is so easy to obtain data nowadays, and with the advent of crowdsourcing and cloud-based GIS such as ArcGIS Online, I submit that data quality considerations actually matter now more than ever before. And for those of us who are GIS, STEM, and geography educators, I believe this topic merits inclusion in many courses. In fact, I have found that discussing this topic connects well to critical thinking, spatial thinking, location privacy, and other relevant themes that we need to address in our courses. In these three examples, I illustrate in an article I wrote for Directions Magazine, I focus on why data quality matters both now and in the future.
The first example describes my mapping of a GPS-collected track in ArcGIS Online. The second example focuses on mapping health data for Rhode Island towns. The last example is entitled “Walking on Water?” – and it has to do with resolution and scale. But I won’t spoil it for you – read the article, and then below this essay, I look forward to hearing how you teach about data quality.
ArcGIS Online is an easy-to-use cloud-based Software-As-A-Service (SaaS) Geographic Information System. I have found that the following five practices have made my work in ArcGIS Online a bit easier, and I trust they will do so for you and your students, as well. I named them practices to encourage you to practice using them. If you do, I think that you–and your students–will have a better experience in using these tools, data sets, and maps that are now literally at your fingertips.
1. Use folders. As I explain in this video, using folders is an excellent way for you to keep your projects organized in ArcGIS Online. Don’t place everything in the “root” folder. Make it a habit to store the results of your analysis, which are stored as map layers, in a folder that you have created for one single project. Periodically go through your folders and delete maps, services, and layers that you no longer need. Along these lines, be a good digital citizen and clean up after yourself, by unsharing anything that does not need to be shared, with the general public, and organization, or a group.
2. Take a few seconds to name your data layers descriptively so that you can find them in the future. This is particularly important when you are running the analysis tools and making many layers in the process. For example, I include the value of my buffer in my proximity layers, such as “Buffer of Broad Street Well 500 meters”. And don’t neglect populating your metadata with description and tags. Spending a little time with these practices will save you hours in the future in finding your data quickly. You will also help others to find your data if you are sharing, and thus encourage the use of your resources and foster collaboration.
3. To transfer content between folders in your own ArcGIS Online organizational account, and between ArcGIS Online organizational accounts, or in Portal, use the ArcGIS Online Assistant. It also allows you to view the underlying JSON for any item in ArcGIS Online or your Portal, and you can modify the URLs for services in web maps and registered applications.
4. To more effectively manage your ArcGIS Online organizational account, use the Geo-Jobe tools. The folks at Geo-Jobe offer severe educational discounts, as well. You can copy groups, add multiple users, change permissions, view item dependencies, and do so much more, with these tools.
5. Use the “My Stories” zone to manage your story maps. Yes, you can see your story maps while looking at “My Content” in ArcGIS Online, but “My Stories” allows you to see all of your story maps listed at once. My Stories also contains tools for you to check any broken links or any other problems with the click of a mouse.
Note that the ArcGIS Online assistant and the Geo-Jobe assistant tech support is available through the organizations that create these tools, not Esri.
What useful practices would YOU add to this list?
Think back to your early map reading days. Do you remember using an index or reference grid — rows and columns of letters and numbers — to find a zone in which to look for something? These grids are really helpful for many learners and many purposes. Now there is an app (still beta, but robust) with which to generate such grids as needed.
It’s simple. Log in to the app with your ArcGIS Online credentials (publishing privileges are required), pan and zoom to the region of interest, set the desired number of rows and columns, click a button and drag a box, and a graphic grid appears. If you don’t like it, just hit the trash button and try it again. When happy, click the button, and the system generates a feature layer in your contents for you. It works at all scales I’ve wanted to try — from a parking lot to a continent. (Naturally, local level minimizes issues of cartographic distortion.)
Some educators have wanted a grid atop a portion of their school grounds in order to assign data collection tasks, or even to reference player positions on an athletic field. Others have wanted a grid atop a state map to support teaching about features and locations. The grids can be generated quickly for ad hoc processes, and can be labeled, symbolized, and filtered by attribute.
I like to put a grid atop just the topographic basemap, save the map, share it, and open the map in Explorer for ArcGIS. Try it, and I think you’ll agree: grids rule.
Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Schools Program Manager