Enabling Those in the Business World to Value Geospatial Analysis

Financial analyst David Tiger wrote an article in the LBx Journal this year entitled Visual Financial Analysis documenting his discovery of a new approach to forecasting, business intelligence, and financial analysis. He said, “It’s not a data warehouse and not an elaborate business intelligence system. It’s a map.” Shocking! At Stubb’s BBQ, a small, premium barbeque sauce company based in Austin, David was introduced to business intelligence. Then he found that “those long, tedious spreadsheets of sales, inventory, and store-level data were suddenly fun to work with.”

And useful. David is part of a rapidly growing location-based services community. The subtitle of the journal where I found his article is “Location in the Language of Business,” and the community actively promotes and develops solutions for people to use GIS and maps to make effective business decisions. I believe there are several lessons from this field that are instructive to the GIS education community.

First, according to David, the consumer packaged goods industry “hasn’t even scratched the surface of the potential for using location intelligence to manage the business, but there are endless possibilities.” I think this is true for other business sectors as well. In his view, location intelligence is a “dream” business development, marketing, and management tool.” Who will help show business decision makers the potential of maps and GIS? You, the GIS education community. The need is enormous. Now more than ever, companies need to be competitive through smart delivery, marketing, and reducing costs. GIS can help them do that.

Second, David points out that maps show “patterns and connections revealed in data,” and maps are effective and engaging communication tools. The GIS and geography education community has long placed emphasis on these same principles; it has never been simply on the software tools. We need to hold to that course, but make this message attractive to the university and community college business programs. I know several business professors championing GIS, but they are, in my view, still too few in number to meet the needs of the business community. The demand of the business community is still small, and I believe part of the reason is that the business community literally doesn’t know what it is missing. I can’t fathom teaching a course in business marketing, for example, without GIS, but this happens all the time. Many in the Colleges of Business have either not heard of GIS, or if they have, think it is just something useful “over in the Geography Department.” But Business GIS courses cannot be offered if only one or two students are signed up for those courses. Therefore, we need more professors teaching with GIS and more students demanding the inclusion of GIS in business courses and programs. Books like The GIS Tutorial for Marketing from Esri Press and my business-focused colleagues at Esri and in academia have helped. But we have much work to do.

How can we more effectively promote GIS in university business programs?

Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Creating and Conducting Guest Presentations for Students

A question that is raised frequently on blogs, forums, and listservs is from professionals who are asked to conduct a presentation for a group of students, in a colloquium, after-school program, or in a primary, secondary, or university level classroom. Some school districts and universities have a “visiting scientist program” that matches instructors with outside professionals, while elsewhere it is done more informally upon request. In the GIS field, GIS professionals are often asked to conduct presentations for students, and these requests often peak near GIS Day each November. Given the fact that GIS Day is approaching, I would like to give my philosophy on these presentations, and look forward to hearing your ideas and experiences. Over the course of my career, I have visited over 400 educational institutions to give guest presentations, but the following reflections are by no means “one size fits all”: I am continuously learning as I go.

First, move beyond the phrase “guest lecture” or “presentation.” Particularly in a visual and exciting field such as GIS, approaching it as “lecture” will severely limit your effectiveness. Yes, we have slides on http://edcommunity.esri.com/syfr and elsewhere. But you have wonderful GIS tools at your fingertips and complex, fascinating problems that you are grappling with on a daily basis. Therefore, show what you are working on! Bring your computer and a projector, showing your data or data you have made available to the public on the web. Make it as interactive as possible! Ask questions and show how you use GIS to solve problems. Don’t just show a bunch of slides if you really want to engage the students. If you’re in a lab, even better—have the students investigate your maps for themselves. Some students may consider geographic inquiry to be simply asking where something is. Therefore, you might have to provide some foundation about what spatial thinking and spatial analysis in a GIS is all about.

Second, think about the neighborhood and region where you are giving your presentation. What issues such as natural hazards, graffiti, rapid growth, traffic, or water quality are of concern? What makes this neighborhood unique? Think of the landscape, ecoregion, land use, river systems, climate, ethnicity, history, and other characteristics at work. Sometimes, students consider their neighborhood to be the most boring in the world, so help them consider what sets it apart, showing their neighborhood via GIS and another across town or in another city across the country or on another continent.

Use ArcGIS Online to compare earthquakes around the world to plate boundaries and cities. Examine median age by tract and block group and discuss the implications that the median age has on different service industries. Compare land use and ecoregions and ask why agriculture occurs where it does. Go for the unusual by examining this strange imagery collection. Show 10 satellite images of selected places around the world or around your state and have students guess as to where they are, why, and what the area is like. Investigate landforms or features and ask students to tell you what each one of them is, whether sand dunes, wetland, karst, a golf course, school, office building, or hospital. In ArcGIS Online, you can prepare this tour ahead of time or construct it while you are talking with the students.

Third, if you cannot show any of the data that you are working on for privacy reasons or because your data are too large to go mobile, then use GIS tools that work anywhere, such as ArcGIS Online. Display different satellite images taken in different years to compare land use change in the community, as I did when I was teaching in Nairobi last November. Use the http://www.esri.com/landsat “Change Matters” Landsat imagery to examine changes in the Aral Sea or along the Florida coast over the past 30 years. Choose at least one local issue and one global issue and discuss the “whys of where.”

Fourth, get outside on the school grounds with some cameras and GPS receivers, or with smartphones. Hyperlink the resulting photographs and videos to ArcGIS Online, and then help students tell their stories as I did in Amboseli National Park.

Fifth, tell your personal story about how you blazed your career path in GIS, touching on the importance of staying in school and pursuing a well-rounded education including courses in science, geography, mathematics, computers, and language arts.

Sixth, don’t forget to ask them questions as well. You will be inspired and energized! Seventh, leave a poster describing what you do or what GIS is behind. Other ideas abound on the Esri Edcommunity blog and on the GIS Day resource area.

If you can instill some curiosity about their world, and the value and power of real data, maps, and GIS technology, then you will have succeeded.

What presentation will you give to students this year?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Play Ball! Examining the World Series, Baseball, and Other Sports Using ArcGIS Online

I have created a new presentation using ArcGIS Online to invite exploration of the spatial aspects of baseball teams, players, stadiums, and the sport itself. The goal of the presentation is to use the familiar and interesting topic of baseball as a starting point for exploring spatial data at a variety of scales, to ask geographic questions, and to use WebGIS in the process.


Baseball is a spatial sport. The bases are a standard “space” or distance apart, the fielders are assigned certain locations on the field, the offense has a prescribed direction to tag and run the bases, and the players, umpires, coaches, and warm-up pitchers have prescribed areas in the stadium in which to work. Even the fans have certain areas in which they can sit, and the proximity to the field and other amenities determines the ticket price. Angles are of crucial importance as the ball is thrown, hit, and fielded.

In short, spatial considerations run throughout the sport of baseball. Baseball stadiums are constructed in certain locations and markets and affect local and regional transportation patterns, local economies, land use, and even local drainage and impervious surface. The birthplace of players and affiliated radio and TV stations also form regional and, these days, even international patterns.

The presentation includes discussion and data on the distribution of radio stations broadcasting major league baseball games, the distribution of the birthplaces of baseball players, population density and neighborhood characteristics, access to and proximity of stadiums, comparing stadiums in different cities, comparing different types of sports stadiums, and much more. A total of 7 videos linked to the presentation invite deeper reflection. Spatial questions are embedded throughout the presentation. Actually, the word “presentation” does not adequately fit the wonderful and powerful capabilities built into ArcGIS Online. This presentation includes 53 slides, but at any point, the user of these slides can exit the presentation mode, zoom and pan, add additional data, change symbology, change the base map, or examine a different issue. The presentation mode in ArcGIS Online can serve as an excellent storytelling tool for students studying biology, chemistry, geography, history, mathematics, as well as a convenient and authentic means for instructors to assess student work.

How might you use this activity, and ArcGIS Online, to promote spatial thinking through sports?

-Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Why is GIS Valuable?

The advent of another GIS Day provides a good opportunity to reflect upon the value of GIS. GIS is used, according to some estimates, by 1.5 million people each day, and by over 400,000 organizations. Even these estimates are a few years old. The point, though, is that to these people and organizations, GIS adds value. Otherwise, they wouldn’t use it. Why and how does GIS add value?

GIS technology adds value to everyday work because it makes that work more efficient. We can accomplish more in a given workday. This is true for those managing a city’s bus system to those managing wildlife habitats, and in thousands of other situations. It is also true in education. Back when I was an undergraduate student working in the cartography lab, it took me several days to make a dot density map for Iowa counties, inking, for example, one dot for every 1,000 hogs. I did so on a special large format plastic material using various thicknesses of Rapidograph pens and my Leroy lettering kit. Nowadays, with a GIS, creating this type of map takes only minutes. I can change the dot density map to a chart map or graduated color map of the same data. More importantly, I can look at related agricultural data, the same data for a different area, or trends in hog farming over time. But beyond gains in efficiency, GIS has also opened up new possibilities. Reducing the time spent making the map has allowed me and thousands of others to do what we always wanted to spend more time on—analyzing spatial data, examining patterns, relationships, and trends. Don’t get me wrong—we still like making maps, but I don’t relish those hours next to the sink adjacent to the cartography lab, blowing water and air through the 000 pen to get the ink flowing again.

GIS is also valuable because it is not one tool but a system containing hundreds of tools in a single environment. GIS also is valuable because it is an interdisciplinary toolkit. It is used to analyze social zones on a campus, the locations of hazardous chemicals or fiber optic cables, and species of plants in the gardens on that same campus. Globally, this same toolkit can be applied to subjects as diverse as urban planning, epidemiology, demography, wildlife management, and seismology. GIS is also valuable because it helps communicate complex ideas because it uses the powerful medium of the map, which for centuries has helped to explain connections. Today, the communications capabilities of GIS are enhanced with its close integration with other electronic multimedia. Through tools such as ArcGIS Online, it is easier than ever to tell a story through maps, and share that story easily with others. Finally, GIS is valuable because it enables critical thinking—about the data and the issues that the data uncover.


What other reasons why GIS adds value would you add to this list?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Strategic Directions for the Geographical Sciences: Connections to GIS Education

The National Research Council (NRC) has created a landmark report entitled Understanding the Changing Planet: Strategic Directions for the Geographical Sciences, which I believe has key implications for GIS education. Under the auspices of the NRC, the project was co-sponsored by the US National Science Foundation, National Geographic Society, the Association of American Geographers, and the US Geological Survey. Particularly insightful readings are Dr Michael Gould’s article about GIScience grand challengesand Dr Dawn Wright’s interview about the NRC report. The charge to the committee of geographers was to formulate a short list of high-priority research questions that are relevant to societal needs. The 11 resulting questions are squarely centered on many of the key issues of the 21st Century. I also believe that they fundamentally support what the GIS education community has been engaged in these past 20 years. The report can be effectively used as a means of communicating why it is vital that GIS education and GIS in education must be supported, nurtured, and strengthened throughout the educational system. But it is up to us, the GIS education community, to make the ties between our work and the NRC report clear and well known.

The 11 questions deemed “high priority” are as follows:

A. How to understand and respond to environmental change:
1. How are we changing the physical environment of Earth’s surface?
2. How can we best preserve biological diversity and protect endangered ecosystems?
3. How are climate and other environmental changes affecting the vulnerabilities of coupled human-environment systems?

B. How to promote sustainability:
4. Where and how will 10 billion people live?
5. How will we sustainably feed everyone in the coming decade and beyond?
6. How does where we live affect our health?

C. How to recognize and cope with the rapid spatial reorganization of economy and society:
7. How is the movement of people, goods, and ideas changing the world?
8. How is economic globalization affecting inequality?
9. How are geopolitical shifts influencing peace and stability?

D. How to leverage technological change for the benefit of society and environment:
10. How might we better observe, analyze, and visualize a changing world?
11. What are the societal implications of citizen mapping and mapping citizens?

Space does not permit me to discuss all of the linkages between this list and GIS education, but I submit that every one of these questions is tied to what and how we teach with GIS. In addition, the very reason GIS was created was to better observe, analyze, and visualize our world (question 10). Modeling, predicting, and managing change over time and space is what GIS enables people to do easily and effectively. Spatial analysis is critical to understanding environmental change, population and resource pressure, geopolitics and trade, and to promoting best practices and sustainable population, habitat, energy, and much more. As this list and report make clear, GIS is more relevant to society as never before.

How might you use the Understanding the Changing Planet report to communicate the importance of your work in GIS education?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Eight Big Ideas of the Constructionist Learning Lab: Connections to GIS Education, Part 1 of 2

Seymour Papert, considered by many to be one of the leading figures in the field of educational technology, outlined what he named “The Eight Big Ideas Behind the Constructionist Learning Laboratory.” This technology-rich center was housed at The Maine Youth Center.

The first big idea is learning by doing. Papert says, “We all learn better when learning is part of doing something we find really interesting, and when we learn to make something we really want.” That’s one of the things I like most about teaching and learning with GIS—it is action-oriented by its very nature. One has to sort, select, organize, digitize, add fields, overlay, run spatial statistics, investigate, symbolize, and a myriad of other activities, when using GIS. Take a look at this video of the activity in a typical GIS lab as evidence of the active nature of using this technology.

The second big idea is “technology as building material.” Papert says, “If you can use technology to make things you can make a lot more interesting things.” I think of the countless times that educators and students have beamed when pointing at their GIS output—it is a map that they made, and they are rightly proud of it! But they don’t rest there—they are usually soon building on that map to make others, or to apply what they learned to another problem.

The third big idea is “hard fun.” “We learn best and we work best if we enjoy what we are doing. But fun and enjoying doesn’t mean “easy.” The best fun is hard fun.” None of us in the GIS education field sugar-coat GIS by saying every part of spatial analysis is easy. It often is quite difficult. We say to educators, “allow yourself to walk before you run” when learning GIS. That’s one reason the network of people in the GIS field is so important—we need each other to help us through the difficulties of grappling with putting what we want to do into the language that a GIS can understand.

I will reflect on the connections to GIS of the rest of Papert’s ideas in my next blog entry.

Do you model these ideas in your own GIS instruction?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Eight Big Ideas of the Constructionist Learning Lab: Connections to GIS Education, Part 1 of 2

Seymour Papert, considered by many to be one of the leading figures in the field of educational technology, outlined what he named “The Eight Big Ideas Behind the Constructionist Learning Laboratory.” This technology-rich center was housed at The Maine Youth Center.

The first big idea is learning by doing. Papert says, “We all learn better when learning is part of doing something we find really interesting, and when we learn to make something we really want.” That’s one of the things I like most about teaching and learning with GIS—it is action-oriented by its very nature. One has to sort, select, organize, digitize, add fields, overlay, run spatial statistics, investigate, symbolize, and a myriad of other activities, when using GIS. Take a look at this video of the activity in a typical GIS lab as evidence of the active nature of using this technology.

The second big idea is “technology as building material.” Papert says, “If you can use technology to make things you can make a lot more interesting things.” I think of the countless times that educators and students have beamed when pointing at their GIS output—it is a map that they made, and they are rightly proud of it! But they don’t rest there—they are usually soon building on that map to make others, or to apply what they learned to another problem.

The third big idea is “hard fun.” “We learn best and we work best if we enjoy what we are doing. But fun and enjoying doesn’t mean “easy.” The best fun is hard fun.” None of us in the GIS education field sugar-coat GIS by saying every part of spatial analysis is easy. It often is quite difficult. We say to educators, “allow yourself to walk before you run” when learning GIS. That’s one reason the network of people in the GIS field is so important—we need each other to help us through the difficulties of grappling with putting what we want to do into the language that a GIS can understand.

I will reflect on the connections to GIS of the rest of Papert’s ideas in my next blog entry.

Do you model these ideas in your own GIS instruction?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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GIS, Presentations, and the “Education Bubble”

Over the past year, several articles were written and presentations were given about the “education bubble.” Definitions of the bubble vary, but the articles made the case that unlike in the past, many of today’s students are not seeing a sufficient return on their university investment in terms of relevant workforce skills, to the extent that they were not being able to secure a job upon graduation or even to repay their student loans. One of the articles I found particularly interesting was an interview with English professor and Executive Director of the Association for Authentic, Experiential, and Evidence-Based Learning (AAEEBL), Dr. Trent Batson.

Dr. Batson has designed, implemented, and promoted instructional technology at the University of Rhode Island and at MIT. He believes that innovative uses of educational technology, such as electronic portfolios, or “ePortfolios” can contribute to the learning experience, may help students to consider the higher education investment worthwhile, and will help “keep education relevant.”

All of us on the Esri education team believe that teaching and learning with GIS is an innovative use of a technology that has already transformed decision-making and entire organizations over the past 40 years. GIS provides a context for critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and in-demand technical, discipline-specific, and organizational competencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor. Moreover, it also fits in well with Dr. Batson’s notions of effective ePortfolios. Batson states that ePortfolios contribute nothing by themselves—they only are worthwhile if their capabilities help faculty redesign their courses so that students can become active learners. Over the years, I have observed that it is very difficult to remain passive when using GIS in an educational setting. Furthermore, consider the following image, taken from a recent presentation I gave using ArcGIS Explorer Online:

Presentations using ArcGIS and ArcGIS Explorer Online help students tell stories, investigate, and explain. ArcGIS Explorer Online presentations can be saved, shared, and returned to later, taking advantage of the “elapsed” time that Dr. Batson claims is valuable. ArcGIS Online presentations are not static; if peers or the instructor ask questions during the presentation, the student can change symbology, scale, region, add or subtract variables, reclassify, and perform other tasks that make the presentation a learning experience for everyone. Indeed, the whole notion of presentation is transformed, becoming an interactive and creative experience, throwing into question even the appropriateness of the term “presentation.” These interactive experiences are therefore a redesign of instruction favored by Batson and others.

Do you agree that teaching and learning with GIS aligns well with innovative uses of technology as defined by Batson? Do you believe that educational GIS provides critically-needed skills for students while in school and upon graduation? How can we as a GIS community leverage research by Batson and others to promote and expand GIS throughout all levels of education?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Open-Ended Tools, Open-Ended Curricula

I recently wrote about the connections between ePortfolios, innovative technologies, and the use of GIS in education, beginning with an interview with English professor and Executive Director of the Association for Authentic, Experiential, and Evidence-Based Learning (AAEEBL), Dr. Trent Batson. Besides believing in innovative technology as a vehicle for transforming how education is designed, Dr. Batson had these intriguing things to say about pedagogy:

“Pedagogy is the wrong term for educators to be using regarding higher education for two reasons: it refers to teaching and therefore implies a teaching-centered approach to education, and, secondly, it refers to teaching children, not adults. It’s also a loaded term, associated with the behaviorist model that education has unwittingly perpetuated long after it fell out of favor with learning researchers.“

Behaviorism is a developmental theory that measures observable behaviors produced by a learner’s response to stimuli, and one reason for Batson’s statement may be that behaviorism is often associated with rote memorization and drill-and-practice. While these methods have some utility in education, they are often cited as the least effective ways to teach and learn. By contrast, learner-centered approaches to education have gained favor following pioneering work from Rogers, Vygotsky, Piaget, and Bloom, who showed that students actively construct their own learning.

Because GIS was created to be a problem-solving toolkit, it meshes well with problem-based learning and experiential learning that adhere to the learner-centered model. How can we foster this in the GIS based curricula that we develop through such venues as Esri Press, ArcLessonsYouTube Channel, and in our blog posts? We seek to provide hands-on, engaging, sound content that fosters skills, that addresses important issues, and that adheres to curricular content standards at the primary and secondary level and the Geospatial Technology Competency Model and to other vetted higher education models. However, none of these curricular pieces are intended to be the final destination. Rather, we always aim for these curricular pieces to spark ideas, to foster inquiry, to spur further investigations. To be sure, it is often valuable to start one’s journey in GIS education or with a particular task such as geocoding with a lesson that someone else has written. However, don’t get stuck there. If you as the instructor or one of your students wants to change scales, regions, classification, variables, or analytical techniques in these lessons, by all means, change them. Because GIS is an open-ended tool, it would be a shame if the lessons or activities were looked upon as closed!

One of my all-time favorite moments as an educator came while I was examining ethnicity, median age, and other demographic variables by neighborhood in Denver with a classroom of middle school students using GIS. After a few students said, “what if we looked at New Mexico?” for the rest of the class period, the students were totally driving the inquiry, changing the location and next, even changing the variables! Curiously, since the students weren’t quite used to “driving”, they at first glanced at me often for approval. After I made certain that this was welcomed, the students blazed new ground. We were in terra incognita, outside the “box” of the lesson.

What are ways that you typically modify existing GIS-based curricula? What can we do on the Esri education team to provide you with the curricular pieces that would best foster a learner-centered approach?

-Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) Report: Ties to GIS Education

Several documents over the past 20 years have played key roles in shaping GIS in education and remain excellent resources for making the case why the work of the GIS education community is necessary. One of the first and one of my personal favorites was the U.S. Secretary of Labor’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) report. This report identified that the “task of learning is the real work of today, whether at school, in the university, on the job…” (1991, page 5). SCANS then stated (1992) that core subjects must be taught and learned “in context.” “In context” means learning content while solving realistic problems. Students are learning software, cartography, and GIS skills while using GIS to study world biomes, a regional watershed, or local community traffic, but they are also learning content.

SCANS identified five competencies important for future work success: Resources, interpersonal, information, systems, and technology. “Resources” include identifying, organizing, planning, and allocating, while “interpersonal” means working with others in a diverse team. “Information” includes interpreting and communicating, and “systems” include understanding complex interrelationships. “Technology” is identified as working with, selecting, and applying technologies, and this too is fundamental to the work done with GIS. When we teach with GIS or about GIS, we typically use multimedia software and hardware, desktop and cloud tasks and data, smartphones and GPS, field probes and sensors, different operating systems, databases, data in many formats, spreadsheets, and scanners, just to name a few technologies, all in an applied fashion.

The SCANS report can be effectively used as a means of communicating why it is vital that GIS education must continue. Moreover, it can help justify the case why GIS in education must increase in the disciplines where it is already established and spread to those that are not fully engaging with it. The GIS education community must make clear and well known the ties between our work and the SCANS report. Given the escalation in the importance of such critical issues as food, natural hazards, population, biodiversity, water, and energy in our world, spatial analysis through GIS is even more relevant to education than when these reports were written 20 years ago.

How might you use the SCANS report to communicate the importance of your work in GIS education and gain support for that work?

Bibliography

U.S. Department of Labor Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills. 1991. What Work Requires of Schools. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Labor.

U.S. Department of Labor Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills. 1992. Learning a Living: A Blueprint for High Performance. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Labor.

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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