Tag Archives: Data & Maps

Comparing Tracks between Smartphone Apps and Survey Grade GPS Receivers

We have compared different field data collection devices and apps in this blog over the years, including between smartphones and recreational-grade GPS receivers here and here,  and between two smartphone apps.  We have also discussed Esri field apps such as Survey 123 and Collector for ArcGIS.   How do tracks collected with smartphone apps compare to those with a survey grade GPS receiver?

I was recently in the field collecting the rim and the bottom of gullies incised through head cut erosion with some excellent high school students and their instructor from the Santa Fe Indian School.  The instructor brings his students to the same site each year, and over time, it is evident that some of these gullies are very actively eroding.  In a semi-arid region where topsoil is one of the primary natural resources, erosion is a very serious matter.  I like the project because it incorporates time, space, fieldwork, GIS, and GPS, and real-world issues, but most of all because the students are active in experimenting with solutions to the problem, such as the construction of “Zuni Bowls” which can slow erosion rates.

I mapped the tracks that I had collected with 2 smartphone apps (RunKeeper and Motion X GPS) and the tracks collected by students using Trimble GPS receivers running Pathfinder Office.  It was easy to bring the data into ArcGIS Online for comparison purposes from the original GPX and shapefiles.  As you might expect, the tracks from my smartphone apps are quite angular compared to that collected with the Trimble, which have sub-meter spatial accuracy capability.  By contrast, the geo-tagged photographs that I typically use in creating campus story maps, such as this one of New Mexico State University, over the past year,  even though they were collected with a smartphone, have been steadily improving in spatial accuracy.  They are now usually less than one meter away from where I actually took them, as measured on a satellite image base map.  Therefore, point data from a smartphone is often better than line (track) data.  But the track collected on a smartphone with Collector for ArcGIS will be much more accurate than that from my non-GIS smartphone fitness and GPS apps.

But note that I used 2 low-end apps on my smartphone to collect the tracks.  What if I had used Collector for ArcGIS?  As is explained here in these slides, Collector allows collection of data with extremely high accuracy.  Here is an example of Collector being used by a water district with excellent results, and in this video from the field, I explain how educators are using it to collect trees, light poles, curbs, and other information in a city.

As we have mentioned many times in this blog, using geotechnologies in instruction comes down to:  Use the most appropriate tool for the job.  The gullies measured by the students in this study have intricate perimeters, and thus, the higher end GPS receivers were essential. Or, they could have used the Collector for ArcGIS app.  For collecting water quality in streams or trees on your school campus, a recreational grade GPS receiver or a smartphone app might be the most appropriate solution.

Results of comparison of field methods and devices in ArcGIS Online

Results of comparison of field methods and devices in ArcGIS Online.

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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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Finding Map Content and Understanding What You’ve Found

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 Datashown here, and in selected SpatiaLABS and LearnGIS lessons.  I look forward to hearing your comments and we hope the activity is useful.

bouldercounty_data.png
Accessing data from the Boulder County local government GIS portal through the lesson described above.
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Why Data Quality Matters – Now More Than Ever

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.

Why Data Quality Matters - Now More Than Ever

Why Data Quality Matters – Now More Than Ever. Examples.

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How to Georeference a map and serve it in ArcGIS Online

In response to inquiries that educators and others have had recently, I created several videos explaining how to georeference a map and serve it in ArcGIS Online, beginning here and continuing here and here.  Georeferencing is the process of aligning spatial data in map form has no spatial information explicitly attached to it, usually because it has been scanned from film, paper, or another medium, and attaching spatial information to it.  By “spatial information” we mean a real-world map projection and coordinate system.  The process of georeferencing is powerful because it allows you to add historical or other documents to your GIS project, so that you can work with them just like you can with your other GIS maps and data.  You match your scanned aerial photo, map, or other document by creating a series of control points, which I explain here.  I did this using ArcGIS Desktop (ArcMap); soon you will be able to do this in ArcGIS Pro, and, I hope, someday in ArcGIS Online.

Georeferencing has been around for as long as GIS has existed–since the 1960s.  But more recently, with the advent of cloud based GIS platforms such as ArcGIS Online, you can now serve your newly georeferenced data to the cloud, as I demonstrate in the third video in the series.  Serving it in ArcGIS Online enables you to use it anywhere, on any device, at any time.  Then, if you share your data in ArcGIS Online, others can use it as well in their own maps and projects.

Let’s say you have georeferenced and uploaded a historical map, as I do in these videos with one of the wonderful historical Sanborn fire insurance maps, and now have published it to ArcGIS Online.  Now you want to create a Swipe story map web mapping application so that you can compare how a city changed over time.  I explain how to to do that in this video.  As with any GIS-based project, being organized about your work is crucial, and in this video I demonstrate how to effectively use folders in ArcGIS Online to support your organized work.

I hope these resources will be valuable to the community and I look forward to hearing your comments and how you have used georeferencing in your own work.

Georeferencing a historical map in ArcGIS.

Georeferencing a historical map in ArcGIS.

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Analyzing Real-Time Weather and Maps

A new activity based on ArcGIS Online invites students to analyze real-time weather data. I wrote the activity for university students but upper secondary students with some GIS background could use it as well, particularly if beforehand they work through the How’s the Weather? Geoinquiry.

Using real-time weather feeds from NOAA, the activity asks students to note the relationships between pressure, temperature, wind speed, wind direction, proximity to coasts, latitude, and elevation.  Students also create interpolated surfaces from the real time weather station data, classify and symbolize data in a number of ways, and predict upcoming weather at specific locations.  ArcGIS Online enables students to quickly and easily analyze spatial data such as this.  Weather is an engaging topic, and the activity connects to geography, earth science, and meteorology courses and curricula, and in the process, fosters skills in critical thinking, GIS, spatial analysis, and spatial data.

Analyzing current weather data and maps in ArcGIS Online.

Analyzing current weather data and maps in ArcGIS Online.

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Why GIS in Education Matters: 3 Videos

Recently I posted a document that I have been curating for quite a few years now, one explaining why GIS in education matters.  This content is also posted with graphics on the Esri Insider newsletter.  To provide another way of communicating this information, I have created a series of videos on this same theme, in three parts–Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

The reasons why GIS in education matters include critical thinking, career pathways, spatial thinking, understanding how to work with data and the limitations of data, building media fluency, focusing on the whys of where, asking good questions, solving problems, sustainability and green technology, and understanding changes over space and time.

I am interested in your reactions to these videos:  What is missing from this message? What is useful about these videos?  In what settings could you use them in your own work with fellow faculty, with faculty from other disciplines, with administrators, with parents, and with students?  What do you include in your own messages about the reasons for GIS in education?

Why GIS in Education:  Series of Videos

Why GIS in Education: Series of videos.

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Educating about GIS for the General Public: 20 Ideas and Strategies

We write frequently in this blog about educating students and professional development for educators.  But, could the general public also benefit from GIS education?  I contend that not only can the general public benefit, but it is part of our responsibility as GIS professionals to seek out opportunities to do so.  And, when we find an opportunity, what are some tried-and-tested strategies for educating the general public about GIS?   In this essay I present 20 ideas that I have used in many different venues for general-public GIS outreach, and I would like to hear about your ideas and strategies as well.

1.  Sometimes, a one page information sheet about “Why GIS in education (and society) matters” is what is needed.  Here is my document on this theme.

2.   You may have the opportunity to teach a workshop or a short course for the general public.  I recently taught a course for the general public and titled it, “Why Maps Still Matter”, at the University of Denver.

3.  Need an example of an elevator speech?  I have a series of them, filmed in actual elevators, here.

4.   I created a series of “Why geography matters” videos in this playlist.

5.  Events such as the one I describe here at a local history museum are sometimes effective ways.   Note that “G-Harmony” was the message here!

6.  Geocaching provides a good way of outreaching to the general public.  I have created a set of geocaching courses that I have set up and run at events, parks, and other locations.  I favor “virtual geocaching” where the course still takes place outdoors, but rather than planting plastic or other containers, I use objects already on the landscape, such as light poles, trees, and so on.  Some of these geocaching courses are listed here; all contain a story “theme” to spark interest, such as “aliens land at city park!”

7.  Messaging.  For some events, consider not leading with the term “GIS” or “spatial analysis” might puzzle or alienate some.  Consider “Mapping” or “Spatial Thinking” or “Geo-enabling your …” or Telling Your Story through Maps.  I realize that “mapping” is not the end goal – it is admittedly an oversimplification, but it in one word at least gets to some of our message that is at least understandable to someone browsing an event program.

8.  Spreadsheets to Maps.  If you only have a short time, show (1) a table / spreadsheet; demonstrating attempting to understand it as is, but then show (2) a map of that same spreadsheets’ data.  The spreadsheet could be earthquake epicenters, location of hydroelectric dams, countries with high birth rates, or another topic that would resonate with your audience.

9.  Create story Maps to help people understand what GIS is – such as the Titanic with spatial distribution and graphs showing quantitative data.  Create story maps for campuses, events, or convention centers where you will be presenting.  The message is, if you create a story map in the day or hour before the event, so can your audience!  They are easy to create and yet powerful.

10. Incorporate Spatial Analysis.  Show, in ArcGIS Online, simple but powerful examples of spatial analysis, including the use of the Esri spatial analysis poster:  My live examples in ArcGIS Online usually include mapping earthquakes or some other natural hazard, some current event, John Snow’s cholera points, wells, and city streets, or mapping a specific business in a metro area, and creating a hot spot analysis, route, spatial interpolation, or heat map from it.

11.  Show current, real world events using multimedia and ArcGIS Online, making a Geo-News out of it and encouraging your audience to do the same.

12.  Use Simple but effective web maps to demonstrate and discuss:  600 world cities, plate tectonics with earthquakes, tornadoes, watersheds (drop pin and trace downstream), Starbucks locations, compare locations of two different types of businesses in your community; population change, median age, diversity, and tapestry segmentation. All of these activities are searchable in this blog.

13.  Show web mapping applications, including:  Landsat Change Viewer, and the Urban Observatory and invite conversation on the patterns and issues that you are showing.

14.  Core Messages:  Use Dr Charles Gritzner’s “What’s Where, Why There, and Why Care?” document as a memorable “core message.”  Also consider using my own Working Definition of Spatial Thinking.

15.  Presentations versus Live Demos and Stories.  Limit the number of slides you show; it is much better usually to give live demos of GIS in action and tell stories about what you do with GIS, how you entered the field, and what interested you growing up and in school.   Ask questions during your presentation and foster inquiry!

16.  Paper map and satellite image or aerial photo activity:  Create a map from an aerial photograph activity, discuss map elements such as TODALSIGS.  Print aerial or satellite image, put in plastic sleeve, use markers to make thematic map on top of aerial.

17.  Landforms and land use quiz using satellite imagery:  Land use:  schools, hospitals, churches, shopping centers, golf courses, malls, apartments vs houses, railroads vs light rail, streets vs freeways, etc.  Landforms:  Karst, lava, grasslands, sand dunes, barrier islands, glacial terrain, ice fields, mesas and buttes, oxbow lakes, alluvial fans, deltas, wetlands, sinkholes.   Weird Earth QuizOdd natural and human-built things on the landscape using satellite imagery.  Provide multiple choice questions.    Along these lines:  Other Quizzes:  Use Street View images to determine what city or country the image was taken; provide multiple choice questions.

18.  Think outside the Box:  Tap into community events and make a geo-something out of them.  I did this at History Colorado Museum’s “date night” and created an interactive Colorado geography quiz on the large terrazzo map on the floor, dubbing it “G-Harmony.

19.  Don’t be afraid to use some paper maps and aerials/satellite imagery, and thematic maps to foster inquiry and a roll-up-your sleeves conversation around a table.  Obtain USGS and other large thematic sheets from www.omnimaps.com, ODT Maps, or other map dealers.

20.  Involve the audience in a crowdsourced map that you set up yourself, in answering a quiz, or something else map-related with their cell phones.

Additional Resources include this GIS education blog, GIS Day, and this set of 2,700 videos.

What are your ideas to reach out to the general public?

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Mapping Weather Balloon Data in 2D and 3D

The Cherry Creek School District in Colorado has been using GIS in the curriculum and in administration for many years now.  When the STEM coordinators of the district told me recently that their students were launching weather balloons and recording atmospheric data from them, I jumped at the opportunity to show them how easy and powerful it is to map the data in ArcGIS Online.  The data from just one of the many balloons they had launched was stored in a standard spreadsheet and contained latitude and longitude coordinates, and therefore was a snap to map in ArcGIS Online.  This particular balloon, launched on 1 May 2015, flew over 56 miles (100 km) in 3 hours and 6 minutes, reaching a maximum altitude of 30.7 km, recording a minimum temperature of -59.3 C and achieving a maximum speed of 114 km/hour. I mapped the balloon based on its height on a satellite image base, which you can examine in ArcGIS Online by clicking on the map below.

2D map of weather balloon mapped by speed in ArcGIS Online

2D map of weather balloon mapped by speed in ArcGIS Online.

Since balloons fly in 3D space, a natural next step was to map the data as a 3D scene.  I used ArcGIS Pro to extrude selected attributes, such as height, and published the scene to ArcGIS Online, shown in two views and symbologies, below:

3D map of weather balloon mapped by height in ArcGIS Online

3D scene of weather balloon at its launch point mapped in ArcGIS Online.

The track of this particular balloon followed the typical west-to-east prevailing winds, but as it neared the tropopause, it encountered stronger winds from the southeast, that not only blew it in the opposite direction, but also blew it higher in the atmosphere.

3D map of weather balloon mapped by height in ArcGIS Online, looking southeast.

3D scene of weather balloon mapped by height in ArcGIS Online, looking southeast.

What excites me not only is the ability of these tools to map the data that the students are collecting, but the power that they offer in terms of helping students understand the relationships among all of these variables.  The variables in this case included altitude, speed, heading, and temperature, but other data that the students have collected include atmospheric quality characteristics.  GIS provides a fundamental component of the district’s STEM goals, perspectives, content knowledge, and skills.  Another thing about this project that excites me is that — Grade 5 students are the ones engaged in this project–yes, 11 years olds, collecting and analyzing data!

Think about the kinds of data that you and your students work with.  It may not be weather balloon data, but it occurs over space and time.  How could you use ArcGIS Online and the 3D scene viewer to map and understand your data?

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Do Some Hands-On Mapping and Analysis at the National Conference on Geography Education!

Esri is pleased to offer three days of hands-on workshops as part of a Mapping Lab at the upcoming 100th National Conference on Geography Education.  Staff from the Esri education group as well as some of our dear friends in geography education will be on hand to teach a series of first-come, first-served free 75-minute workshops!   These workshops will demonstrate the ease and power of spatial analysis that is possible on the web within ArcGIS Online.  The workshops will be held in the Justice Room of the JW Marriott Hotel in Washington DC on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, 6, 7, and 8 August 2015; for more details see the online program.

Never used ArcGIS Online?  We’d love to see you.  Experienced with ArcGIS Online? We promise something for you, too!

Why are we doing this?  Because we firmly believe in the connections between web mapping and rigorous geography education, and its connections to inquiry, fieldwork, community, 21st Century skills, STEM.  Furthermore, we believe that a hands-on approach is the best way to engage in these tools and methods.  The contents of the workshops will include mapping your own data, creating multimedia story maps, GeoInquiries, examining AP Human Geography themes such as land use and population change using live web mapping tools, investigating physical geography such as natural hazards and ocean processes, using ArcGIS Online for citizen science field activities, and much more.  We will have computers there but you are welcome to bring your own device.  We will also be hosting an exhibit at the conference that will be perfect for longer discussions about the mapping tools and activities.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Roll up your sleeves for hands-on work with web mapping tools, data, and spatial analysis at the National Conference on Geography Education!

Roll up your sleeves for hands-on work with web mapping tools, data, and spatial analysis at the National Conference on Geography Education!

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