Tag Archives: fieldwork

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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Fun with GIS 203: Index Grids Rule

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

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Fun with GIS 202: Roots & Shoots

Jane Goodall. The name conjures images of science, documentaries, jungles, crowded auditoriums, and visions for a better world. Jane’s work and passion have captured minds and hearts across the globe. For 25 years, young people have engaged in community projects through her “Roots & Shoots” organization, learning that they can make a difference, at home and across the globe.

Roots & Shoots makes it easy to start, with a 4-step formula: Get engaged, make a map, take action, and celebrate. This year, Roots & Shoots added ArcGIS Online to the mapping alternatives, so now projects can combine digital mapping, collaboration, and analysis. Is it powerful? See the video featuring teachers and students of the Math, Science, & Technology Magnet Academy of Roosevelt High School (Los Angeles, CA). See also the youth leader blog on the Jane Goodall Institute page; leaders from across USA visited Esri and learned about adding ArcGIS Online in their work and outreach.

Projects are not just the most powerful way for people to learn GIS. They are also the best way for people to see that they can make a difference in the world, no matter their age. Roots & Shoots projects epitomize “service” — something done for the benefit of another. Roots and shoots help plants spread out and grow, and Roots & Shoots projects can allow young people to shape their world and their future.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri education manager

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New crowdsourcing story map application is here

We have had the capability to create story maps (multimedia-rich, live web maps) for a few years now, and also the capability to collect data via crowdsourcing and citizen science methods using a variety of methods in the field or in the classroom.  But now the capability exists for both to be used at the same time!  That is because the crowdsourcing story map app is here!

The crowdsource story map app joins the other story map apps that are listed here.  To get familiar with this new app, read this explanation.  Also, you might explore a new crowdsourced story map that asks for your location, photograph, and a sentence or two about why you are excited to attend the Esri User Conference.  If you are attending the UC, feel free to post your name, your location, and why you are excited about attending.  If you are not attending, examining the application will give you a good sense for what this new app can do.

It’s not just this story map that has me interested.  It is that this long-awaited capability is now at our fingertips, where you can, with this same app, create crowdsourced story maps for gathering data on such things as tree cover, historic buildings, noisy places, litter, weird architecture, or something else, on your school campus or in your community.  It is in beta, but feel free to give the crowdsourcing story map app a try!

The new Crowdsource story map app is here!

The new Crowdsource story map app is here!

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Fun with GIS 191: Survey123

Gathering great field data can be a challenge. A new Esri tool makes it much easier. Survey123 is robust and easy for educators to begin using.

Survey123 relies on a carefully crafted spreadsheet to define the data elements and parameters. The power and familiarity of a spreadsheet make the task manageable even for non-data-wonks. A simple survey can be built and published in a minute (watch the video!), and tested and expanded iteratively. The result is a powerful survey for deployment in the Survey123 app on iOS and Android tablets and smartphones, online or offline, supporting picture attachments, with a map. And anyone in an Org can use it.

Android tablet and iPhone view of same survey

The short intro video (on YouTube) shows the guts. The browser approach is very simple, but the more powerful spreadsheet process takes a little getting used to, and an example helps. I have built a spreadsheet that anyone can download and use inside their Org (as is or customized) to gather some non-invasive personal data, in English or Spanish. Watch the video, download the spreadsheet, and examine how it was built. Publish it once as is, and have students create data on mobile devices, populating the feature service you’ve published. Then look at the data in ArcGIS Online, and finish by dreaming aloud about the data you could gather to amplify learning.

This is a great tool for getting students actively engaged in generating data. The whole class could collaborate on design of a survey, or teams could build their own on different topics — about wildlife in the community, local water quality, visitors to a regional attraction, nearby historic sites, features along routes to school, locations that could support butterfly gardens, and so on. Check out the sample spreadsheet and Survey123!

Charlie Fitzpatrick
Esri Education Manager

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Mapillary: Capturing, Sharing, and Exploring Street Level Photos

Mapillary is a tool that allows anyone to create their own street level photographs, map them, and share them via web GIS technology.  The idea behind Mapillary is a simple but powerful one:  Take photos of a place of interest as you walk along using the Mapillary mobile app.  Next, upload the photos to Mapillary again using the app. They will be connected with others’ and combined into a street level photo view.  Then, explore your places and those from thousands of other users around the world.

Mapillary is part of the rapidly growing crowdsourcing movement, also known as citizen science, which seeks to generate “volunteered geographic information” content from ordinary citizens.  Mapillary is therefore more than a set of tools–it is a community, with its own MeetUps and ambassadors.  Mapillary is also a new Esri partner, and through an ArcGIS integration, local governments and other organizations can understand their communities in real-time, and “the projects they’re working on that either require a quick turnaround or frequent updates, can be more streamlined.”  These include managing inventory and city assets, monitoring repairs, inspecting pavement or sign quality, and assessing sites for new train tracks.   Other organizations are also using Mapillary:  For example, the Missing Maps Project is a collaboration between the American Red Cross, British Red Cross, Médecins Sans Frontières-UK (MSF-UK, or Doctors Without Borders-UK), and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team. The project aims to map the most vulnerable places in the developing world so that NGOs and individuals can use the maps and data to better respond to crises affecting these areas.

On the discovery section of Mapillary, you can take a tour through the ancient city Teotihuacán in Mexico, Astypalaia, one of the Dodecanese Islands in Greece, Pompeii, or Antarctica.  But if you create an account and join the Mapillary community, you can access the live web map and click on any of the mapped tracks.

Mapillary can serve as an excellent way to help your students get outside, think spatially, use mobile apps, and use geotechnologies.  Why stop at streets?  You or your students could map trails, as I have done while hiking or biking, or  map rivers and lakes from a kayak or canoe.  There is much to be mapped, explored, studied, and enjoyed.  If you’d like extra help in mapping your campus, town, or field trip with Mapillary, send an email to Mapillary and let the team know what you have in mind.  They can help you and your students get started with ideas and tips (and bike mounts, if you need them).

For about 18 months, I have been using Mapillary to map trails and streets.  I used the Mapillary app on my smartphone, generating photographs and locations as I hiked along. One of the trails that I mapped is shown below and also on the global map that everyone in the Mapillary community can access.  I have spoken with the Mapillary staff and salute their efforts.

I look forward to hearing your reactions and how you use this tool.

Mapillary tool for generating and sharing street level photos and maps

Mapillary tool for generating and sharing street level photos and maps.

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Fun with GIS 188: Carpe Diem

Global and federal agreements now scream “Let’s get cracking!” Two major accomplishments this week — the Climate Change agreement and the Every Student Succeeds Act — have opened the door and challenged us all to push hard on changing the status quo.

Young people are inheriting a panoply of threats. Their one hope for survival rests with being able to comprehend challenges, identify relevant influences and their genesis, amass/ sift/ analyze complex data, interpret and share sometimes conflicting results, integrate feedback, and act. These skills can be fostered by caring adults, even with youngsters.

GIS lets users interact with data, explore patterns, ask “Why?”, seek relationships, share discoveries, and generate strategies. Whether about foot and vehicle traffic around the school, characteristics of the watershed, changing employment across the nation, or four-dimensional global biodiversity, students can use all their prodigious talents and passions, and develop more. Given permission to dig into situations without prescribed “single approaches and right answers,” they can engage deeply and build the disposition to do so habitually.

Any US K12 school can acquire an ArcGIS Online Organization account for instruction for free to support this. Any educator lacking background or skills can start easily, without risk, in a few minutes, with focused lessons and project-based resources. Teachers whose kids go the farthest the fastest tend not to know GIS software beyond the basics; what these teachers do know is how to introduce something, then get out of the way and let the students show what they can do.

There is at last uncommon opportunity for educators. Seize the day!

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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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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Over 2,600 videos on GIS and related topics online

One of the resources that I frequently use in instruction, and make publicly available in the hopes that it will be useful to other teachers and learners of GIS, remote sensing, geography, STEM, field methods, environmental studies, and related fields is my video channel, Geographyuberalles, or “geography is all”.  I started the channel in 2008, and due to its current size, the best way to find something on it is to use the channel’s search tool to search on terms such as Esri Maps for Office, ArcGIS Online, rivers, transportation, deserts, smartphones, geocaching, weather, population, professional development, or something else.  I also have provided an index of some of the most popular titles under categories such as “why geography matters”, “oceans”, and many more.

Another way to find categories of videos there is to browse the channel’s playlists.  The channel’s playlists include a series on GPS-to-GIS, several courses I teach such as GIS and Public Domain Data, Creating Story Maps for education, Scale Matters, A Day in the Life of a Spatial Thinker, and A Deeper Dive into ArcGIS Online. There is even a series of geo-related song parodies that are truly awful, just for fun.  Some of these videos are mirrored on the Esri Education Team’s video channel.  Keep in mind that a much more comprehensive and professional set of videos exists on the Esri Video Channel.  The Esri video channel includes new developments in Esri’s technologies, the complete plenary presentations at each year’s Esri User Conference, and much more.

Give some of these videos a try and let me know what has worked for your instructional goals.  Also, if there are videos that you are particularly in need of that I might be able to create, I am happy to consider doing so.

Over 2,600 GIS, GPS, STEM, Geography, Place, videos now online

Over 2,600 GIS, GPS, STEM, Geography, Place, videos now online.  This series of GPS to GIS is one of the many series’ of videos available on the channel Geographyuberalles.

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Walking on Water? Revisiting Reflections on Resolution and Scale

A few years ago, I walked on the pier at Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and after mapping my route, reflected on issues of resolution of scale in this blog.  After recording my track on my smartphone in an application called RunKeeper, it appeared on the map as though I had been walking on the water!  This, of course, was because the basemap did not show the pier.  Recently, following the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers, I had the opportunity to retrace my steps and revisit my study.  What has changed in the past 2 1/2 years?  Much.

As shown below, the basemap used by RunKeeper  has vastly improved in that short amount of time.  The pier is now on the map, and note the other difference between the new map and the one from 2012 below it–schools, trails, contour lines, and other features are now available.  A 3-D profile is available now as well.  Why?  The continued improvement of maps and geospatial data from local, regional, federal, and international government agencies plays a role.  We have a plethora of data sources to choose from, as is evident in Dr Karen Payne’s list of geospatial data and the development of Esri’s Living Atlas of the World.  The variety and resolution of base maps in ArcGIS Online continues to expand and improve at an rapid pace.  Equally significant, and some might argue more significant, is the role that crowdsourcing is having on the improvement of maps and services (such as traffic and weather feeds).  In fact, even in this example, note the “improve this map” text that appears in the lower right of the map, allowing everyday fitness app users the ability to submit changes that will be reviewed and added to RunKeeper’s basemap.

What does all of this mean for the educator and student using geospatial technologies? Maps are improving due to efforts by government agencies, nonprofit organizations, academia, private companies, and the ordinary citizen.  Yet, scale and resolution still matter.  Critically thinking about data and where it comes from still matters.  Fieldwork with ordinary apps can serve as an effective teaching technique.  It is indeed an exciting time to be in the field of geotechnologies.

Walking on Water?  Reflections on Resolution and Scale, Part 2

Walking on Water? Reflections on Resolution and Scale, Part 2. My walk on the north pier at Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

The map from 2012 is below.

Map from 2012 of my same route on the pier.

Map from 2012 of my same route on the pier.

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