Tag Archives: Out And About

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 205: Good Soil Yields Good Learning

Among the US 50 states, Nebraska ranks #37 in population, with about 1.9 million, or not quite 0.6%. But knowing about US population distribution and looking at the USK12GIS map, Nebraska stands out, with the sixth highest rate of “ArcGIS Online ConnectED Orgs per 100 schools.” How did this happen? Persons and policies matter, certainly, but so does timing, working along multiple fronts, and geography — matters of local significance.

Visionary educators had presented to colleagues about the potential of GIS in Nebraska since before 2000, but saw little yield before 2013. Then, longtime geography teacher Harris Payne became the state social studies coordinator, and collaborations with many (including Geography Alliance leader Randy Bertolas, GIS instructor Leslie Rawlings, and state GIS coordinator Nathan Watermeier) lit rockets. A year-long push yielded a K12 state license for Esri software. Payne participated in Esri’s T3G Institute for educators, immediately on the heels of Esri launching its ConnectED effort (providing free ArcGIS Online to any US K12 school). And the Nebraska Environmental Trust provided a 3-year grant supporting summer workshops for “Educating the Next Generation of Nebraskans About Soil Conservation Using the Power of GIS.”

Numerous teacher workshops later, the impact is clear. Concerned about its place in the world’s breadbasket, Nebraska recognizes the need for soil conservation. Today’s learners require a holistic understanding to avoid “treating the soil like dirt,” in Payne’s words. Two-day workshops involved instruction about soil, gathering data, and building Story Maps with which to teach. But the learning grew into other fields: career guidance, mapping 9-1-1 calls, fire station coverage and travel time, restaurant maps, daily traffic and that after “Big Red football games,” diseases, tourism, personal history, and beyond. “It’s not about clicking but about improving the community,” said Payne.

GIS can make its way into school instruction when savvy leaders identify good opportunities. Just as New Hampshire spread GIS through a coalition of tech-savvy leaders in multiple arenas, and Arkansas spread GIS through its tech-based service learning, and Virginia spread GIS through statewide and district efforts, Nebraska saw that fertile ground was its fertile ground. When educators and influencers identify missions of local importance, the synergy offered by the power and flexibility of GIS yields great results.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Sharing Data through Story Maps

Many methods of sharing mapped data are now available and easy to use. Using these methods can foster critical and spatial thinking by engaging the ArcGIS platform.  We have written about a variety of ways to share mapped data in this blog.  One method is to create a spreadsheet, publish it to ArcGIS Online, and making it editable in the field to enable your students to do citizen science-based mapping.  Another idea we wrote about is to crowdsource your photographs that can be used in multimedia maps.  We have also written about the many ways that you and your students can map their field data.  With increasing interest in story maps, how can data from more than one student be shown in a story map?

Several methods exist for educators and students to create data in the field or in the classroom and map it via a story map, with more on the way.  One way is to create a map in ArcGIS Online that includes an editable feature service, as shown in this example where I invite educators to map tree species on their campuses.  You can then create a story map, such as the one shown below.  Here, I chose the “basic story map” when I shared my map to a web mapping application.  The story map updates each time tree data is added.  Data can be added in the field using the Collector for ArcGIS app if the map has been shared with a group and the user has been invited to that group.  Data can also be added via a web browser on a laptop or tablet computer, and if the map has been shared publicly, with no log in required.

While you cannot have multiple editors work on a single story map, one method for instruction is to designate a person in your class whose ArcGIS Online account keeps the “master” story map.  Other students develop content in ArcGIS Desktop, Pro, or Online that they upload and share that content with their peers within their Group in ArcGIS Online.  Then, the person responsible for the master map searches for that content and adds it to their ArcGIS Online map.   The story map, as in the example I show below, automatically updates because it is pointing to the original editable map.

I mentioned above that “more methods are on the way.”  These include the upcoming crowdsourcing story map application, so keep an eye on this blog for further updates.

Crowdsourced Tree Mapping Project in a Story Map.

Crowdsourced Tree Mapping Project in a Story Map.

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Fun with GIS 195: Map Contest!

Nifty idea, Minnesota! They are running a map competition for the state’s middle school and high school students! Build a “finished product map” — a presentation, app, or Story Map — using ArcGIS Online. Five entries each for the two divisions (grades 6-8 and 9-12) will receive equal awards.

Mapped content must be inside the borders of the state — perhaps a region, a watershed, a city, a neighborhood. This limits the students’ possible content to a somewhat “known universe,” while permitting an unlimited array of topics from which to choose.

This is a nice model for states or even school districts that want to nudge students toward thinking of geography as more than “states and capitals,” and promoting futures in the geospatial tech arena. In fact, students in MN must have a “personal learning plan,” so building maps into their future is a good strategy.

Since any US K12 school can acquire an ArcGIS Online Organization account for instruction for free, and since many classes suffer from spring fever as the weather warms, this new opportunity to acquire and apply skills may spark some extra focus. (The judges may have their hands full!) Kudos, Minnesota!

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Integrating Arts into STEM: Cowboy Boots of Wimberley, Texas

Recently I created a “Famous Boots of Wimberley, Texas” story map for four reasons:  First, I wanted to show educators and the general public how to integrate art, history, science, technology, geography, and GIS.  My colleagues and I receive frequent inquiries from people asking how to integrate art into STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) educational programs, and Wimberley’s giant boots are a good illustration of this integration.  Second, I wanted to test the new capabilities of the side accordion story map configurable app.  This app is an easy and compelling way to tell a story.

Third, I wanted to demonstrate that every community has a story, and story maps are a visually compelling, easy-to-create way of telling that story.  When I visited the town for the first time after a series of presentations I gave at the geography department of nearby Texas State University, I learned about the boot project from my town walkabout.  It was so interesting to me that I began collecting information, photographs, and video, and a short time later, I had created the story map that integrates all of these types of multimedia.  The boot project brought together local artists, the Chamber of Commerce, local businesses, and the entire community, and serves as a source of city pride as well as a tourist attraction.  Fourth, it is my hope that my brief story map (see my video) can in some small way inspire people in another location to think creatively about a place-based arts project that can help build pride in their own community.

If I can do this for a community that I had just learned about, how much more can you and your students tell a story for which you conduct more in-depth research and may even have local knowledge about!

Cowboy Boots of Wimberley Texas story map

Cowboy Boots of Wimberley Texas story map.

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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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New Geocaching, GPS, and Related Geo-Activities

I recently created a presentation on geocaching, GPS, and related geo-activities.  The live webinar from NCGE is here; use the password geocaching to access, and the presentation including all links to the activities and maps is here.  Other geocaching, GPS, and related resources are located in the Esri K12 GIS Organization (despite the name, note that most activities are suitable for higher education as well), under 03:  Blogs, Lessons, & Other Docs, under 05:  GPS Resources.

The objectives of the presentation are to define geocaching and other GPS-related activities, explain reasons for teaching with these, and discuss specific example activities that I and other educators have tested successfully in classrooms from primary to university and adult learning.  Example activities include earthcaching, waymarking, Mapillary, mathematics-driven activities including the calculation of the Earth’s circumference, mass, and volume, GPS drawing, tracking movements over a week’s time, my “Get outside with GPS” set of activities, geocaching events and themes, setting up geocaching courses in ArcGIS Online, and using spatial accuracy and precision as teachable moments.

I also describe other outdoor-related geography apps, such as the creation of storymaps on a phone with Snap2Map, exploring and comparing places on Earth with Field Notes, and citizen science using Collector for ArcGIS.  I also discuss the use of GPS receivers versus GPS apps on smartphones, essential GPS functions for educators, and smartphone GPS apps.  I finish the presentation with activities, books, and other ways to learn more about the subjects presented.

Recording attributes of trees and field notes while marking waypoint with GPS receiver.

Recording attributes of trees and field notes while marking waypoint with GPS receiver.

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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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GIS Brings Value to Community Based Projects

One of the ways that spatial thinking with geotechnologies is being incorporated into teaching and learning is through relevant community-based projects and settings.  One of the most compelling ones I have seen recently is the South Platte River Project at Englewood Public Schools in Colorado.  As illustrated by the graphic below, the project brings together content and skills in mathematics, science, reading, writing, communications, and social studies.  It engages students in piecing together the geography and history of their own local watershed in order to better understand the political, scientific, economic, and social impacts of water.  The South Platte River runs through Englewood, but its small size makes it easily overlooked in the importance it has for the entire region.  Water is a relevant issue not only to Colorado and many other semi-arid regions, but water quality and quantity are critical topics for the 21st Century, globally.

Ten 21st Century skills will be intentionally taught and practiced through this project, including critical thinking and problem solving, initiative and self direction, communication, collaboration, creativity and innovation, productivity and accountability, managing complexity, social and cross-cultural skills, prioritizing, planning, and managing for results, and leadership and responsibility.  A motivation for the district in this effort is to replace the age old question asked by students, “Why do I need to know this?” with “How can I generate the information required to help me figure this out?”

The project is aligned to Colorado Academic Standards, and is designed to be used across all courses, grade levels, and content areas within the district’s schools.  GIS and GPS will be used as key tools with the spatial thinking framework to examine and map water rights, identification of river basins, credible sources for research, interactions of organisms in a riparian ecosystem, chemical energy transfer, claim, evidence, and reasoning, argumentative writing, modeling population growth, collecting, organizing, and interpreting data, sustainable uses of water, river morphology, and living organisms.  Students will be able to take advantage of new watershed and river trace data and tools in ArcGIS Online, but more importantly, consider economic, scientific, political, and geographic implications of water in their own community and around the world.

How might you use  a local physical feature or issue to foster interdisciplinary education using geotechnologies?

Disciplines and skills addressed by the South Platte River project, Englewood Public Schools.

Disciplines and skills addressed by the South Platte River project, Englewood Public Schools.

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