Monthly Archives: November 2016

GeoInspirations: People Making a Positive Difference in Geography and Geotechnologies

GeoInspirations is my column in Directions Magazine where we are sharing the stories of innovative people for the purpose of inspiring Directions readers to pursue their own dreams.  In the column, I interview some of those men and women who have changed the face of the geospatial industry, shining a light on the importance of geography. It is my hope and the hope of Directions Magazine that you are inspired to make a difference with geography in your corner of the world.

We have featured people of a variety of backgrounds, interests, ages, and skills.  Dr Lesley-Ann Dupigny Giroux is the climatologist for the state of Vermont, professor at the University of Vermont, and is an active leader in the K-12 education community.  Madison Vorva is a student at Pomona College who has been working since age 11 as a “voice for change” in the areas of environmental science and deforestation.  Robert Saveland is a lifelong learner, war hero, and geography educator.  Dorothy Drummond is a writer, traveler, and educator.  Grant Ian Thrall’s work has been bridging the fields of economics, business, and geography.  Bob Dulli has influenced thousands of geography educators through his work at National Geographic Education.

You can use this column to inspire your students, and to encourage them to think about the types of career pathways that are possible. What sort of risks did these people take in their careers?  How did mentors help them along the way?  If you know someone that should be highlighted as a GeoInspiration in this column, please let me or the Directions editors know at jkerski @ esri.com or editors @ directionsmag.com.

Some of the GeoInspirations featured in Directions Magazine.

Some of the GeoInspirations who have been featured in Directions Magazine.  Clockwise from top left:  Lesley-Ann Dupigny-Giroux, Madison Vorva, Robert Saveland, Dorothy Drummond, Grant Ian Thrall, and Bob Dulli.

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Fun with GIS 207: Competition!

In spring of 2016, Minnesota announced an ArcGIS Online competition for high school and middle school students across the state. From initial discussion to completion was barely three months, but they had over 200 entries from 25 schools across the state. Hearing Minnesota’s initial announcement, Arkansas created a twin event. On the strength of these successes, it’s time to take the idea up a notch.


Esri invites all U.S. states to conduct a state-based ArcGIS Online competition in 2017.
For each state formally participating, students can submit to their school an ArcGIS Online presentation, web app, or story map about something inside the state borders. Schools can submit up to five projects to the state. Esri will provide each state ten prizes of $100, to go to five high school and five middle school projects. These ten awardees per state will get national recognition, with one each high school and middle school entry advancing to a top level competition. The best high school and middle school projects will earn trips to the 2017 Esri Education Conference in San Diego, CA.

ArcGIS Online maps and apps help users of any age discover/ explore/ display data, show analyses, and present interpretations. Project-based learning experiences such as these help students build the essential problem-solving skills and in-depth background content knowledge needed for college, career, and civic life.

GIS professionals abound across the country (Map#4 above)! They can help educators present ideas and strategies, establish an Organization account, and help students grasp the deeper learning available with GIS. Keep an eye out for opportunities to connect these valuable community resources to learners. Check out the competition!

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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What did YOU do for GIS Day?

GIS Day events were held on or around 16 November 2016 in hundreds of locations and in dozens of countries around the world, including primary and secondary schools, universities, community colleges, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and businesses.  Hosting organizations conducted hands-on workshops, field experiences, map-a-thons, geo-quizzes, and presentations focused on how and why they are using Geographic Information Systems technologies to benefit their communities and the planet.

What did you do for GIS Day?  Use this crowdsource story map to tell your story, here.

A sample of these inspirational GIS Day events included the following: Cartegraph wrote an article on the “Top 5 Ways to Celebrate GIS Day”, geography educator Raphael Heath in England created a global collaborative mapping event “Mapoff” about climate change, the California Natural Resources Agency hosted professional development events for GIS Users, Clemson University hosted a series of contests, and IFAL school in Angola conducted hands-on workshops that introduced students to GIS applications. AssetWorks LLC created a video called “4 benefits of GIS for Public Works.”   Hundreds participated in Lakeland Community College’s GIS Day, attracting the attention of the regional newspaper. Joseph Kerski, geographer, encouraged everyone to “Make Every Day GIS Day.”]

Need another activity that uses spatial thinking, story maps, and GIS?  Participate in the “Power of Parks” story map, share a picture of your favorite park, and explain why it is special.

100 students participated in a GIS Day event in Belize.

100 students participated in a GIS Day event in Belize.

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Fun with GIS 206: Community Round Mile

Want to do a simple crowdsourcing activity? Want to engage students in an exploration of areas around school, across the state, or spanning the country, using both demographic and landscape data? Want to make it an activity based on your students’ choices? Want to use the analysis powers in an ArcGIS Online Organization? Try the “Community Round Mile.”

By dropping a point, creating a circle of a certain distance around it, and enriching that buffer with particular data, you can get some fascinating “apples to apples” comparisons. But it takes a little planning to do more than once. The Community Round Mile activity is a three-part process that walks you through creating some simple data, sharing that data, and then expanding.

This final part relies on Survey123, which just acquired some exciting new powers. Try this to “crowdsource data” among your classes. Enterprising states might even coordinate a state-specific effort emphasizing data of special interest. Check out the Community Round Mile!

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Teaching Students about the Societal Aspects of Technology using GIS

A recent article in eSchoolNews by Dianne Pappafotopoulos, school district instructional technology specialist, posed the question, “What should we teach students about the future of technology?”  She reflects about the ways that humans are increasingly relying on programmable devices and robots for their everyday lives, and in a sense “becoming” technology or at least a part of it.  Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is an important enabler of these technological changes as the “where” question becomes ever more important.  GIS has undergone a series of massive paradigm shifts in its 50 year existence, and with the advent of Web GIS, the rate of change not only is increasing, but is attracting applications for nearly every aspect of society, from health to business to engineering and beyond.

Beyond the technical innovations that technology brings to our world and the workforce skills to our students, teaching about technology offers many societal and life lessons.  I think that the points Ms. Pappafotopoulos raises in the article about critical thinking, safety, privacy, ethics, and copyright connect well to what I believe we should be incorporating into our GIS instruction.  In fact, many of these topics are central to the themes in the Spatial Reserves blog that Jill Clark and I have been writing for nearly 5 years, along with the book we wrote on the same subject for Esri Press.  It is also a topic that we frequently write about in this GIS education blog.

Geospatial data are often personal, because they reflect the locations where individuals live, work, and travel. Collecting spatial data and creating and analyzing maps requires students to ask questions such as:  Where did these map layers come from?  Who created the data, and can I trust it?  How does the scale of my analysis and the parameters I use for the buffer or intersect tools affect the results of my analysis?  Do I have permission to use this photograph in my story map?  Should I share the location of where I live or where I took my morning fitness run with the world on a map?  Will I compromise the privacy of individuals who participate in my crowdsource map?

The recommendations for educators in the article have natural connections to GIS.  The creation of required courses that focus on these issues, inviting guest speakers (who could be from the GIS community via the Geomentors program), and project-based learning activities (such as SpatiaLABS, the Learn GIS library, and GeoInquiries) are excellent starting points.

Teaching with GIS is an important component in teaching about technology and its implications.

Teaching with GIS is an important part of teaching about technology and its implications.
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GIS GIGO (Garbage In Garbage Out): 30 checks for data errors

Nathan Heazlewood of Eagle Technologies wrote a very useful essay about “garbage in, garbage out” in relation to geospatial data.  In it, he not only ties this oft-heard phrase to the importance of GIS data quality, but he also details the checks that GIS analysts should go through when they are assessing a data set.  I would argue that this checklist is also useful for educators and for students as they document their own work for two reasons:  (1)  Paying attention to data quality is even more important now than ever (as I described recently in this blog), and (2) nowadays, with the advent of Web GIS, everyone working in GIS is a potential data producer.

The list of 30 items is grouped under checks for positional accuracy, topological logic, geometric considerations, projections and coordinate systems, attribute and data structure checks, and attribute and data structure checks.  Extremely helpful are Nathan’s diagrams showing tables lacking null values for non-null attribute data, values outside permitted ranges, and orphan records in related tables.

Nathan includes many considerations that are not often discussed but can lead to enormous problems, such as the different standards and formats of dates being used around the world, from year-month-day to day-month-year to month-day-year (which Nathan dubs the “super dumb American date format”).  Another consideration is one I can identify with that was a significant challenge for me during a GIS workshop I taught in Turkey–the numbers in my data set were formatted such as 100,000 for one hundred thousand, but the software in the university lab, given its location, was naturally configured for one hundred thousand to be coded as 100.000.

How might you be able to use this data error checklist in your own instruction?  What checks would you consider adding to this list when you are teaching GIS?

A section of Nathan Heazlewood’s very useful 30 checks for data errors.

A section of Nathan Heazlewood’s very useful 30 checks for data errors.

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