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One of the challenges to working effectively in GIS has been the difficulty of importing certain spatial data formats into a GIS.  To meet this challenge, Esri's Data Interoperability Extension has been a longstanding and useful set of tools that enables a wide variety of spatial data formats to be imported for use in a GIS.  It is an integrated spatial ETL (extract, transform, and load) toolset that runs within the geoprocessing framework using Safe Software's FME technology. It enables you to integrate data from multiple sources and formats, use that data with geoprocessing tools, and even publish it with ArcGIS Server.


I recently tested the Data Interoperability Extension in ArcGIS Pro and was thrilled with the results.  Read about how to install and authorize the extension here.  The extension does many things, but one that is particularly useful is that the extension creates a toolbox directly in ArcGIS Pro (graphic below).  I used this toolbox's Quick Import tool to import a SDTS Format DLG (USGS Digital Line Graph) file directly to a file geodatabase.  The tool, like other ArcGIS Pro geoprocessing tools, walked me right through the process:  I used Data Interoperability > Quick Import > pointed to my DLG files > named the resulting gdb (file geodatabase).  Once imported, I was then able to work with my hydrography, hypsography, roads, boundaries, and other data.


DLG files have existed since the early 1990s.  Why are we still working with them?  The reasons include that (1) they are dated but still useful vector data sets; (2) many geospatial data portals still host data only in this format, such as the USGS Earth Explorer.  See below for step-by-step instructions with screen shots.



1. Use Toolboxes > Data Interoperability Tools > Quick Import, as shown above.



2.  Using QuickImport pulls up a "specify data source" dialog box, as shown above.



3.  In the specify data source dialog box, use "find other source" and then specify SDTS format.



4.  Selecting SDTS format.



5.  Pointing to the SDTS file (after it has been unzipped and un-TAR'd) and saving it into a geodatabase.



6. Once the file has been imported into a geodatabase, it can be added to a new map in ArcGIS Pro.  The data is now ready for use, as shown for this hydrography example, above. 

[Originally published in Esri Insider, June 22, 2015]

By Jim Baumann


Looking into the Future                             


David DiBiase is Director of Esri’s Education Outreach team and former Director of the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute at Pennsylvania State University. I recently had the opportunity to chat with David about the importance of offering Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) as part of Esri’s well-established education program. In the third and final part of our discussion, David talks about the future of the MOOC program at Esri. [Read the first and second parts of our discussion.]


Baumann: What’s in the future for MOOCs at Esri?


DiBiase: Many students express excitement about the capabilities of ArcGIS Online, and appreciation to Esri for offering the course. Many are experienced ArcGIS users. Many others are new to Esri. The company is pleased with the response. We plan to offer Going Places with Spatial Analysis two or three times in 2015, depending on demand.


Summarizing data in ArcGIS Online

By summarizing data in different ways you can reveal patterns, answers questions and support further analysis.


We’ve also designed a second MOOC. Course design begins with a target audience, which in this case is current students and recent graduates of business schools, both bachelor’s and MBAs. We assembled a team of Esri people with recent business degrees to advise us, and we have a small group of GIS-savvy B-school faculty members who are eager to help. We want to help folks coming out of B-schools see how location analytics can give them a competitive edge in a tough job market. We’ve titled the MOOC The Location Advantage. We offered it for the first time in May and it is now in progress.


Based on the reception of Going Places with Spatial Analysis within and beyond the company, I expect Esri will develop a suite of MOOCs to help expose our technology and outlook beyond our existing user base. We’re already discussing the possibility of a third MOOC to be developed in late 2015, but we haven’t settled on an audience or topic yet. Meanwhile, we’re mindful that free, large-scale online courses are expensive to build, maintain, promote, and run. Whether Esri will be able to sustain this effort remains to be seen. But I like to think that if we continue to attract both the large numbers of enrollees and positive reviews, we’ll be able to grow our MOOC portfolio in years to come.


Density surface in ArcGIS Online

Creating density surfaces can simplify complex data and bring new insights to support decision making.


Baumann: What sort of educational opportunities are available from Esri for those students that have taken the MOOC and want to continue learning GIS?


DiBiase: We define success in part by the number of MOOC students who seek to learn more about GIS and Esri. At the conclusion of each MOOC offering we suggest a number of next steps. Students can seek out further training opportunities provided by Esri’s Training Services group (, including self-paced web courses and seminars. They may also move on to Learn GIS (, Esri’s newest education destination, where they can join an ArcGIS Online organization for free and access additional case-based self-study exercises. We also encourage students to check out Esri’s ArcGIS for Home Use license, which enables anyone to run ArcGIS for Desktop on their personal computer for noncommercial use. The Home Use license also includes an ArcGIS Online subscription account. Finally, we’re happy to discuss formal education opportunities at leading institutions, both online and on campus.


Baumann:  How important do you believe MOOCS are in educating people about the power of GIS?


DiBiase:  Back in 2003, the US Department of Labor identified “geospatial technology” as a high growth tech industry, along with biotech and nanotech. At the same time, however, they pointed out that awareness of the industry remained low. We’re still struggling to achieve mainstream awareness of our technology and our field. MOOCs may be helping.

Esri has a loyal and energetic following among its customers and friends. You can think of that as a kind of constellation of individuals and organizations that orbit Esri. However, business-to-business companies like Esri struggle mightily to reach people beyond their orbit.


Population Exposures in ArcGIS Online

Students explore population exposures: locating the nearest monitoring stations or, finding the predicted exposure.


Our goal is to reach people who may not know what GIS is or haven’t heard of Esri. In the context of higher education, we want to reach beyond the traditional map-conscious disciplines like geography to others such as health, business, engineering, computer science, and even the humanities. Attracting the interest and participation of these disciplines has always been a challenge for my team. I personally am not aware of any strategy for broadening our reach beyond our own constellation than MOOCs, because MOOCs are an opportunity for people to exercise their curiosity and expand their horizons. MOOCS are a low-cost, low-risk means to explore things about the world that you might not encounter otherwise.


I think there are a lot more people who would be interested in GIS if we expose it in a way that is not only challenging, but also supportive and fun, and that’s what we try to do with these MOOCs. I believe this is one of the best strategies we have for helping the wider world understand the power of the geographic perspective and the effectiveness of geospatial technologies to bring geography to life. Time will tell if that hunch is right, but from this early vantage point I’m optimistic.


About Jim Baumann

Jim Baumann is a longtime employee at Esri. He has written articles on GIS technology and the computer graphics industry for more than 30 years.

[Originally published in Esri Insider, June 15, 2015]

By Jim Baumann


Developing Support for the Program         


David DiBiase is Director of Esri’s Education Outreach team and former Director of the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute at Pennsylvania State University. I recently had the opportunity to chat with David about the importance of offering Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) as part of Esri’s well-established education program. In part II of our discussion, David talks about developing support for the program. [You can read the first part of our discussion here.]


Baumann: Did you have any difficulty getting the project approved and pulling together the Esri team to create and manage the MOOC?


DiBiase: No, it was really just a matter of timing. I met with Esri president Jack Dangermond and Education Services division director Nick Frunzi early in 2014. I presented the idea that we could create a free online course that would enable thousands of learners to “test-drive” the spatial analysis tools in ArcGIS Online. They agreed to support it on the spot.


David and Linda in a course Video

David DiBiase and Linda Beale are faculty members for Esri’s “Going Places with Spatial Analysis” MOOC.


We went right to work and built a fabulous team. Our “MOOC team” includes members of my own Education Outreach group in Marketing, the Training Services group in Education Services, and Geoprocessing team members from our Products division. In addition, a number of employees from across the company have stepped up to volunteer as teaching assistants who answer questions and give advice to our online students. It’s really been a great collaborative effort.


Baumann: Why did you decide to offer an intermediate level MOOC on GIS, rather than an introductory class?


DiBiase: We want to create large-scale online courses that complement offerings by colleges and universities, not compete with them. Providing no-cost access to the analytic capabilities of ArcGIS Online is not something that a higher education institution can do without our help. Our hope is that educators will use our non-credit MOOCs as assignments or supplementary activities in their own for-credit courses. We also provide technology and staff support to institutions that request it for their own MOOCs. Whether it’s ours or an education partner’s MOOC, the key is to reach a mass audience that is, to some extent, new to GIS.


Using ArcGIS Online in Going Places with Spatial Analysis

In the “Going Places with Spatial Analysis” MOOC, each week students have the opportunity to explore problems through spatial analysis using ArcGIS Online.


Baumann: What were the results of your initial offering of the MOOC?


DiBiase: Our pilot offering of Going Places with Spatial Analysis opened in September 2014. It’s a six-week online course that includes free access to ArcGIS Online. We chose to limit enrollment for the first offering because everything about the course was new. So, we invited the first 1,200 students who expressed interest in participating. We offered the course again this March and the registration was nearly 22,000, so the program is building.


In Part III of our discussion, David talks about the future of the MOOC program at Esri.


About Jim Baumann

Jim Baumann is a longtime employee at Esri. He has written articles on GIS technology and the computer graphics industry for more than 30 years.

[Originally published in Esri Insider, June 8, 2015]

By Jim Baumann


Recognizing the Potential for Implementing a MOOC Program at Esri


David DiBiase is Director of Esri’s Education Outreach team and former Director of the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute at Pennsylvania State University. I recently had the opportunity to chat with David about the importance of offering Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) as part of Esri’s well-established education program. In part I of our discussion, David talks about first recognizing the potential for implementing a MOOC program at Esri.


Baumann: You recently introduced MOOCs to Esri’s education program. Tell me how this came about.


DiBiase: Well, it wasn’t just me. I had the idea, but nothing would have come of it without the cooperation of leaders and staff members across the company.


We’ve followed the lead of several higher education institutions that introduced MOOCs about maps and GIS. The largest of those so far is “Maps and the Geospatial Revolution” offered by Penn State through Coursera. Students in that MOOC indicated that they wanted to learn more about this subject, and that spatial analysis was the topic they most wanted to explore. The primary audience we had in mind was tech-savvy young professionals who are familiar with data analysis and want to learn more about the special capabilities of spatial data analysis.


David DiBiase

David DiBiase.


I joined Esri three years ago as leader of the Education Outreach team. The strategy I proposed for higher education was to complement our long-time efforts to support educators with new kinds of support provided directly to students.


I believed then and still believe now that we need to spark a grass roots interest in and demand for not just our technologies, but for the fundamental geographic approach that our technologies bring to life.


When I arrived at Esri in 2011, it wasn’t clear how we could do that. Then MOOCs came along in 2012 and revealed a global mass market for free online education. This phenomenon provided the channel we needed to reach learners beyond the disciplines that traditionally include mapping and GIS in their curricula. I had a lot of experience in online teaching and learning from my years at Penn State, and Esri too had experience with web courses since the 1990s, so MOOCs seemed like a natural next step.


Baumann: How did you determine that a MOOC would fit into Esri’s existing education program?


DiBiase: Esri’s education enterprise is diverse, and is spread across the entire company. For the most part, however, our education offerings serve people who already use our technology. What’s new about MOOCs is that they provide a way to engage with people who are curious about the power of spatial thinking and geospatial technologies, but who may not be GIS users or even have heard of Esri.


Most higher education institutions use our ArcGIS platform to some extent. In fact, 70 percent of the top 400 universities in the world (as ranked by the Times of London) maintain Esri education site licenses. However, in many institutions, GIS is concentrated in a few academic departments and administrative units. Most college students never encounter GIS during their prescribed courses of study. My team has struggled for years to encourage adoption of the geographic approach across the college curriculum. MOOCs provide a way to engage thousands of current students and recent graduates across a broad spectrum of disciplines who seek a competitive edge in the job market, or who are simply curious about the technology. This is a new channel for Esri.


In Part II of our interview, David discusses how he developed the support he needed to implement the MOOC program at Esri. In Part III, he talks about the future of the MOOC program at Esri.


About Jim Baumann

Jim Baumann is a longtime employee at Esri. He has written articles on GIS technology and the computer graphics industry for more than 30 years.

ArcGIS Online presentations rock! They present viewers with an interactive set of content, in a linear fashion, all in a single map or scene, with minimal tools. Story Maps have taken the world by storm, but anything beyond the very simplest take significant time and "another app" to build. Presentations, however, are just customized views of a single map or scene, and a total novice with a saved map can build a reasonable presentation in just a few minutes.

Earthquake presentation


See this simple 2D presentation about earthquakes (from Row 5 of the ArcGIS Online Skillbuilder). Note the navigation tools, top left and bottom center: pan/zoom or choose your slide, and that's it ("identify feature" works too). Header text doubles as slide name. The creator gets to emphasize his/her info, sequencing the exposed and highlighted content, and the viewer gets to follow or explore but only as the creator permits. (For another example, see a presentation embedded in a web page, as the second graphic in the ArcGIS Online HS+MS Competition info page .)


Presentation setup


To build a presentation, one must be logged in (both Organization-based and public logins work) and have a saved map to work with. Let's try an example, using a specific GeoInquiry.

  1. Go to and click the "Elementary" icon.
  2. Scroll down to "08 - Where does the water go?" and click the lesson icon.
  3. Open the Map URL: (it's OK to use the current tab.)
  4. Notice that you cannot create a presentation until you own the map. Sign in, and then immediately choose to save the map in your contents.
  5. Once signed in and with map saved, "Create Presentation" appears next to your login. Click it.
  6. Click the green "+" button to begin creating a slide. From here on, it just takes deciding what you want to show, in what sequence.
  7. In the title box near the top, type some text, such as "My Watershed Presentation;" it shows atop the map.
  8. Pan & zoom to adjust the map extent as desired, then click the green "SET TO CURRENT" button to lock in the current map extent as the starting point for this slide.
  9. Turn layers on/off, and/or change the basemap as desired.
  10. Open a popup, and click the checkbox if you want it to open with the slide.
  11. You've completed a slide! Now just repeat steps 6-10 as desired. You can shuffle the slide sequence, and edit existing slides. Remember to SAVE your presentation, and hit the PLAY button to test it.


Presentation interface


It takes some experience to get good at building just the right presentation in the 2D Map Viewer, and the 3D Scene Viewer takes more, but they are very powerful for instruction. Using just a single map, a presentation forces the map creator to think critically about the design of their map, and about the user experience. There's no option for external media to complicate things. This is crucial, focusing the learner on the contents, how they are represented, and what are the most significant lessons … making presentations a nice little performance task for teachers who crave these.


Consider having your students build presentations using a GeoInquiry. In a 40-minute period, you could spend 15 minutes going through the lesson, then ask students to spend 15 minutes creating a 3-slide presentation, then have them spend 10 minutes sharing their creation with someone else, before wrapping up. The "tedious and time-consuming part" (creating the map) is already done, so teachers and students can focus on the most critical part -- what does it all mean? -- in the precious few minutes available in class.

The number of mapping and analysis tools that are built on web-based GIS tools and data services continues to expand, offering educators exciting and innovative ways to teach core concepts, skills, and spatial thinking.  The EPA EnviroAtlas is an excellent example of this.  Its goal, according to ASPPH Environmental Health Fellow Jenna Hartley, who creates educational materials using EnviroAtlas, is to develop highly informed local decision-makers by equipping users with data and information to answer many environmental questions.  The Atlas can be used in geography, environmental science, hydrology, economics, and other courses, from middle school through high school, and in my view, makes an excellent resource for instructing at the university level as well. According to Hartley, the educational resources have been used with success in multiple university classrooms.


I found the atlas to be easy to use.  It is based on the ArcGIS platform, so its navigation and list of data layers will be familiar to users of ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Pro.  The EnviroAtlas contains over 100 layers for the USA covering three main themes--ecosystems and biodiversity, people and built spaces, and boundaries and natural features.  These layers cover a wide range of topics, from water use to people commuting by bicycle, from protected lands to at-risk species, and much more.  Each layer can be toggled on and off.  What's more, the working map session can be saved for later use. The "save session widget" saves the EnviroAtlas data layers that you are working with locally to your browser cache. You can even save the session to a file that you can share with others as well. 


As one of my main concerns in education is to have students be critical of data, including mapped information, I was very pleased to see that the metadata on the EnviroAtlas is plentiful and easy to understand--the sources, scale, date, and other information about each of the map layers.  Using the atlas, I was quickly able to make maps, for example, fruit yields in thousands of tons per year, and was fascinated by the patterns, noting my homeland in western Colorado stood out with its magnificent orchard lands (below).


Fruit crops in the EnviroAtlas

Fruit crops in the EnviroAtlas legend

A few of the layers I was curious to explore were not available during my last session with the atlas, and I was surprised and impressed to see a message indicating that an email was being automatically sent to the EnviroAtlas administrators about those very layers I was trying to access.  That's a great service that I wish more web mapping apps had!


Thanks to educator Jenna Hartley, a multitude of educational materials can also be used to teach with the EnviroAtlas. In these lessons, students engage in highly interactive hands-on learning where they are introduced to data visualization and can build their analytical, geospatial and decision-making skills. The lessons can also be recreated for classrooms without access to computers or the internet.  Concepts the lessons address include ecosystem services, watershed geography and management, the water cycle, air quality, urban planning, biodiversity, and decision-making.  All lesson plans include an outdoor portion and align with both the NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) and individual state Science Standards.


A university professor had this to say about the atlas: "Promotes critical thinking, uses actual data and students can ask many types of environmental questions and explore the tool in search of answers.”  A high school AP environmental science teacher said, "Where do I start? Learning about EnviroAtlas with the EPA will truly have an impact on not only student learning, but engagement into environmental subject matter. Using this data as a case study will allow teachers to bring a strong, in-depth perspective to learning.” 


One of the most exciting things about many of today's web mapping applications, including the EnviroAtlas, is that the data layers can be used inside ArcGIS Online and even inside ArcGIS Pro.  This greatly expands the utility of the EnviroAtlas to the ArcGIS Online environment where spatial analysis tools such as routing and overlay can be performed on the data.  To do this in ArcGIS Online, select one of the layers, go to the layer list, and "access web service."  Copy the URL, go to ArcGIS Online, modify the map, Add data from Web, and paste the layer there. I did this for workers who bike or walk to work, focusing on the walk and bike-friendly community of Portland, Oregon, below.  This is really quite exciting and has enormous implications, because the hundreds of layers from the EPA EnviroAtlas can be used inside a GIS environment for further analysis!  For a list of all of the data available in this manner with their REST endpoints, access this URL:  


EnviroAtlas data in ArcGIS Online

One of the EnviroAtlas layers--percent of workers who bike or walk to work--shown in ArcGIS Online.


For more information about how to use the Atlas, see these tutorials and videos.

My colleague Jill Clark and I frequently write about the need to teach about and be aware of location privacy with the rapid advancement and web-enablement of GIS on our data blog in conjunction with our Esri Press book The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data.  Thus it wasn’t a surprise when recent concerns arose over an amazing map from Strava Labs.  Maps generated from GPS-enabled fitness devices and other recreational uses of GPS such as GPS Drawing, as well as those from the fitness tracker market such as Fitbit and Garmin, have for several years been sharable and viewable.  Strava has been one of the leaders in helping people stay motivated to meet their fitness goals by providing tools such as apps and maps.  But perhaps the Strava map attracted more attention than others because it contains an amazing “over 1 billion activities and 13 trillion data points”, or perhaps because the map is so responsive and contains some stunning cartography that the web map user can customize.  Yes, billion and trillion - "b" and "t" - truly big data.

Whatever the reason, as reported in USA Today Popular MechanicsWired, and elsewhere, location privacy concerns have arisen recently over the new Strava map.  Specifically, “Security experts over the weekend questioned whether the user-generated map could not only show the locations of military bases, but specific routes most heavily traveled as military personnel unintentionally shared their jogging paths and other routes.”  Some of the posts have reported that it may even be possible to scrape the data to discover the person behind each of the tracks, and the Strava CEO has responded to these and other concerns.  Any GIS user knows that much can be discovered through mapped layers and satellite imagery these days, shedding new light on what is really “secret” in our 21st Century world, but maps aimed at the recreational user are bringing these discussions to the general public. The particular concern with the Strava data is not so much just the location information, but the temporal data tied to the location, and potential identification of individuals.

Much of it comes down to what we have been saying in our writings:  Help your students to be critical consumers and creators of data.  Help them understand the pros and cons of sharing, what to share, and how to share, geospatial information--whether for a GIS project or for fun and recreation.  Help them to investigate and understand the defaults for whatever they are doing in GIS, whether it is the projection of their geospatial data or the location-based app on their phone.  Encourage them to ask, “What is the default–is my data public by default? What is the default projection?  Where is my default location for saving my geodatabase or map project?  Can I override these defaults, and if so, how?  What is the best way to represent my spatial information?  Do I need to share this information?  If I need to share the information, how should I do it?”  and then act accordingly.   For more on this topic, I encourage you to read some of our short but pointed essays, such as Why Does a Calculator App need to know my location?, Making the Most of Our Personal Location Dataposting cat pictures and The Invasion of the Data Snatchers.


Strava fitness map

A section of the Strava heat map, showing the results of people who have recorded and shared their fitness walks and runs.  As one might expect, city park and a high school track stand out as places where more people conduct these activities.  As with other maps showing locations where people are now or where they have been, location privacy concerns have been raised. 

Can you make sense of this table?


Fieldwork is a crucial student experience. Students need to gather data about situations with which they have personal experience, and explore that data in some depth, to understand issues of data quality: relevance, accuracy, precision, fidelity, resolution, currency, and so on. When students design the collection process, gather the data, analyze it, interpret it, and present it, they build the data literacy so essential today. But with instructional time limited, teachers sometimes shortcut the design/discovery and collection/assembly phases, at the cost of student comprehension. The ArcGIS School Bundle includes tools that can help students experience the full range of data work with nothing more than a web browser. Using multiple tools shows how technology can multiply (rather than just add) capacity.


Various technologies help educators and students design surveys to gather data (including photos or other attached files), but Survey123 adds the great power of geography: What is the location about which the user is gathering data? Then, what patterns differ between here and there? The data collector can rely on a mobile device’s GPS or choose the location on a map. However, K12 student data collection often needs to be done offline (out of wifi coverage, without consuming cell data; think “airplane mode”), and Survey123 does not currently include an easy, browser-only mechanism for acquiring and using a high resolution basemap offline ... but Collector does!


Survey123 and Collector


Survey123 and Collector are not identical in the data they handle and ways they do it, so a survey being planned for use with Collector needs careful attention to design. Collector handles well the most critical field types for surveys in schools: text fields, numbers (both integer and floating point), single choice (radio button or pull-down), file attachments, and point location. Any ArcGIS Online Org login with publishing privilege may use Survey123 to design a survey with these components, publish it (which creates an editable feature service offering attachments), set the layer permissions for syncing, create a map with that service as a layer, and share the layer and map with a group. Group members with Collector on their mobile devices can access the map, download a relevant basemap, and be ready to use the survey offline.


Afterward, the collected data can be a layer in any number of maps in ArcGIS Online. Single choice and numeric items can be labeled, inspected, classified, filtered, symbolized, and analyzed, while open text items provide essential context.


Important considerations for schools in this workflow include:

  • Only the survey creator needs to be a publisher and familiar with Survey123, but building the survey with students as a group process helps them see why and how choices get made
  • All survey users need the Collector app on their mobile device
  • The map with the editable feature service must be shared to a group in the ArcGIS Online Org, and all survey users must use a login that is a member of that group
  • The survey form should focus on the basic question types noted above, and flow through all questions from beginning to end without “branching”, so “required” questions and question sequence need to be considered and designed carefully
  • Question formats, hints, and defaults need to be planned and tested carefully so each question operates as expected
  • Downloading the basemap in Collector requires attention to map extent and zoom scale, to optimize utility while minimizing bandwidth consumed and storage space required
  • Uploading from Collector the collected data needs planning to minimize network strain (lots of people uploading lots of points with lots of high res images can tax even strong networks)
  • Careful testing and piloting of the entire process (even going through a complete but very small practice activity with students) is advised before embarking on a large project. Best-laid plans can be tripped up by a tiny mistake or overlooked element.
  • For examples of exploring data skills and the power of geography, see the ArcGIS Online Skillbuilder (row46)


The process above can begin in Survey123 with just a browser on a laptop or tablet, for use in the Collector app on tablet or smartphone. Using ArcGIS Desktop to build a high quality data collection form for use with Collector is the focus of Teaching with GIS: Field Data Collection Using ArcGIS, an excellent course designed for educators, on Esri’s Training site. That course is free to anyone with a maintained Esri license, such as the ArcGIS School Bundle. The workflow in this blog is a more “minimalist” approach for the educator who wants to stay just within a web browser and mobile apps.


GIS Today

Posted by geri_miller-esristaff Employee Jan 17, 2018

As educators, we are always faced with challenges on how we structure our curriculum activities to ensure that we are in line with modern industry practices. This is easier said than done—for one, there is likely no consensus on what a "modern geographic information system (GIS)" means; and two, it takes a tremendous amount of time to do curricula updates. As an instructor of a variety of courses on Web GIS, programming, and spatial analytics at Johns Hopkins University, I am relentlessly faced with course updates. However, my being a Solutions Engineer at Esri as well provides me with a unique perspective into the technology and helps me stay focused on what is important in the geospatial industry.


What will the next generation GIS curriculum look like? We may call it Web GIS or something else, but we will have to address the need for this forward-looking curriculum and embrace it as educators. GIS graduates are telling us this, as seen in this Esri Young Professionals Network (YPN) survey.


Below is an attempt to outline a few important topics amid the massive digital transformation we have experienced. For now, these topics are meant to serve as points of discussion—a means for self-assessment and reflection—to make us think about what we teach today and what tomorrow will bring. Yes, it is a bit IT heavy, but in today's GIS environment, IT is much needed. These topics come from feedback we received from students and graduates, who pointed out that we may not be placing a strong enough emphasis on the software and application development competency of the Geospatial Technology Competency Model (GTCM).


  • GIS Today—GIS is not just a desktop technology anymore. We need to think about the trends that have influenced GIS evolution, such as cloud computing, mobile devices, big data, the Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning and others. An important point to discuss here is the use of the technology to solve problems as well as facilitate access to information—anywhere, anytime, on any device.


  • GIS as a Service—The industry is shifting rapidly from specific software implementations to services in which the underlying technology is less visible–and probably less important—to the user of this technology. While the enterprise deployments providing some of these services will be important to understand, we probably need not focus on that in these early stages. Information products are fueled by services—ready-to-use services or those we can create—and there are different protocols and capabilities we can expose through these services, which would be important concepts to discuss. Understanding the notion of hosting, whether through the cloud or on-premises infrastructure, and demonstrating how GIS is web-oriented architecture (without necessarily calling it that) are key.


  • GIS in Your Apps—People use simple, focused apps to access information at home, and this same trend is now in the workplace. The industry is moving away from long development cycles to the use of apps that are easily configured, which allows organizations to stay current with technology. How people experience GIS through apps that are ready to use, configurable, native, web based, etc., also emphasizes the notion that information can be made available in many possible ways to those who need it. These apps are fueled by underlying maps, layers, and services provided by server technology, access to which is facilitated through a portal. Access, of course, could be dictated by identity and credentials.


  • GIS APIs and SDKs—GIS, as an information system, is built with SDKs and APIs. As GIS has become embedded into all aspects of business, the need for developers has grown. Understanding that GIS capabilities can be extended and having knowledge and experience with software libraries, APIs, and SDKs will afford students opportunities to grow into their careers. Graduates have expressed a strong desire and employers have expressed a strong need for this programming knowledge, whether it is Python, JavaScript, or any other language that emerges in the future.


  • GIS in Your IT—This also falls under the “software and application development” competency of the GTCM, specifically, to design a geospatial system architecture that responds to user needs, including desktop, server, and mobile applications. Understanding what it means to architect and manage a GIS, using an organization's infrastructure, whether in the cloud or on-premises, is a must. The focus is on the management of the networks, portals, map servers, web servers, databases, and data stores and on the understanding of how these components work together. Graduates entering today's workforce will be needing these skills.


  • GIS in the Field—Organizations are employing field GIS workflows, whether through crowdsourcing, citizen science, secure data collection, or maintenance. Content can be delivered in many ways in the field, such as via a public-facing, highly available app or by supporting an internal-facing, intermittently connected, field collection app. Teaching a variety of approaches is important.


  • More Types of Services—Other services provide additional capabilities—whether through client- and server-rendered services or by simply enabling users to access specific functionality, such as real-time GIS capabilities, to solve a problem.


  • GIS as Geospatial Data Science—Careers that include data science have exploded. Geospatial technology curricula ought to better mesh with data science/analytics curricula, infusing traditional geospatial technology topics with data science methods. This should include big data analytics platforms/databases, machine learning, Python and R data scientific libraries, business intelligence (BI) technologies, NoSQL databases, and mapping APIs. A program might promote these as data analytics, data engineering, machine learning, artificial intelligence, or in other ways.


  • And, of course, one should not neglect traditional topics, such as mapping and visualization, spatial analytics, and data management, being infused with the above.


Now how do we learn and how do we teach GIS? GIS is a changing field, and change is accelerating. Transformation is occurring not just in the curriculum but also in how we learn, the resources we use to teach, and pedagogic approaches. The way one learns GIS in class should probably equate with how one learns it in the workplace. We ought to be considering a shift in the traditional resources we've used so far in our classrooms; a single book that covers a whole class may not be enough anymore. Also, a book that was written six months ago may likely be outdated.


Modernized Curriculum = Shift in Resources Used and Pedagogy


Classes need to be agile, which means that writing and following cookbook exercises are not sustainable ways to teach rapidly changing technology. The Internet and the wealth of information available provide ways for users to find answers fast. Relying on recently updated online documentation, blogs, and other freely available web-based resources and channels is key.


An important concern persists, though—how do we know what information is good to include (i.e., truly current and worthy material)? There is a lot of information to weed out. "Less is more" is a generally appropriate approach; when in doubt, leave it out. A less desirable approach is a disclaimer of "keep in mind that . . . " or "use at your own discretion." In the workplace, students will also come across a staggering amount of information, so it is important to learn how to discern what is quality content (with guidance, if need be) and applicable to solving a problem.


At Johns Hopkins, we follow some of the above approaches to keep content current and foster a culture of collaboration and peer-to-peer interaction among students, which, in turn, encourages community building; this is particularly important for fully online courses. Challenging students to take more responsibility for their learning when solving a problem, is crucial.


There certainly are many other approaches to handling some of the challenges in teaching modern GIS – feel free to share yours! The AAG Annual Meeting and the Education Summit @ Esri User Conference (Esri UC) sessions on "Modern GIS Practices in Your Curriculum," could be great venues for continuing this discussion.

In this essay, I will share how to access, use, and analyze Lidar data from The National Map in ArcGIS Pro.  By extension it could be applied to Lidar data from other sites as well, but the USGS data portal NationalMap remains an excellent resource for spatial data, and why I focus on it here.  For videos of these procedures, go to the YouTube Channel geographyuberalles and search on Lidar.  For an entire book with exercises on using Lidar in ArcGIS Pro, see the Esri Press book from two of my favorite colleagues Kathryn Keranen and Bob Kolvoord. 

From a user perspective, in my view the National Map site is still a bit challenging, where the user encounters moments in the access and download process where it is not clear how to proceed.  However, (1) the site is slowly improving; (2) the site is worth investigating chiefly because of its wealth of data holdings:  It is simply too rich of a resource to ignore.  One challenging thing about using NationalMap is, like many other data portals, how to effectively narrow the search from the thousands of search results.  This in part reflects the open data movement that I have been writing about on the Spatial Reserves data blog, so this is a good problem to have, albeit still cumbersome in this portal.  Here are the procedures to access and download the Lidar data from the site:

  1. To begin:  Visit the National Map: > Select “Elevation” from this page.
  2. Select “Get Elevation Data” from the bottom of the Elevation page.  This is one of several quirks about the site – why isn’t this link in a more prominent position or in a bolder font?
  3. From the Data Elevation Products page left hand column:   Select “1 meter DEM.”
  4. Select the desired format.  Select “Show Availability”.   Zoom to the desired area using a variety of tools to do so.  In my example, I was interested in Lidar data for Grand Junction, in western Colorado.
  5. Note that the list of  available products will appear in the left hand column.  Lidar is provided in 10000 x 10000 meter tiles.  In my example, 108 products exist for the Grand Junction Lidar dataset.  Use “Footprint” to help you identify areas in which you need data–the footprints appear as helpful polygon outlines.  At this point, you could save your results as text or CSV, which I found to be quite handy.
  6. You can select the tiles needed one by one to add to your cart or select “Page” to select all items.  Select the Cart where you can download the tiles manually or select the “uGet Instructions” for details about downloading multiple files.  Your data will be delivered in a zip format right away, though Lidar files are large and may require some time to download.



The National Map interface as it appeared when I was selecting my desired area for Lidar data.

Unzip the LAS data for use in your chosen GIS package.  To bring the data into ArcGIS Pro, create a new blank project and name it.  Then, Go to Analysis > Tools > Create LAS dataset from your unzipped .las file, noting the projection (in this case, UTM) and other metadata.  Sometimes you can bring .las files directly into Pro without creating a LAS dataset, but with this NationalMap Lidar data, I found that I needed to create a LAS dataset first.

Then > Insert:  New Map > add your LAS dataset to the new map. Zoom in to see the lidar points.  View your Lidar data in different ways using the Appearance tab to see it as elevation, slope, aspect (shown below), and contours.  Use LAS dataset to raster to convert the Lidar data to a raster.  In a similar way, I added the World Hydro layer so I could see the watersheds in this area, and USA detailed streams for the rivers.


Aspect view generated from Lidar data in ArcGIS Pro.

There are many things you can do with your newly downloaded Lidar data:  Let’s explore just a few of those.  First, create a Digital Elevation Model (DEM) and a Digital Surface Model (DSM).  To do this, in your .lasd LAS dataset > LAS Filters > Filter to ground, and visualize the results, and then use LAS Dataset to Raster, using the Elevation as the value field.  Your resulting raster is your digital elevation model (DEM).  Next, Filter to first return, and then convert this to a raster:  This is your digital surface model (DSM).  After clicking on sections of each raster to compare them visually, go one step further and use the Raster Calculator to create a comparison raster:  Use the formula:  1streturn_raster – (subtract) the ground_raster.  The first return result is essentially showing the objects or features on the surface of the Earth–the difference between “bare earth” elevation and the “first return”–in other words, the buildings, trees, shrubs, and other things human built and natural.  Symbolize and classify this comparison surface to more fully understand your vegetation and structures.  In my study area, the difference between the DEM and the DSM was much more pronounced on the north (northeast, actually) facing slope, which is where the pinon and juniper trees are growing, as opposed to the barren south (southwest) facing slope which is underlain by Mancos Shale (shown below).


Comparison of DEM and DSM as a “ground cover” raster in ArcGIS Pro.


My photograph of the ridgeline, from just east of the study area, looking northwest.  Note the piñon and juniper ground cover on the northeast-facing slopes as opposed to the barren southwest facing slope.

Next, create a Hillshade from your ground raster (DEM) using the hillshade tool.   Next, create a slope map and an aspect map using tools of these respective names.  The easiest way to find the tools in Pro is just to perform a search.  The hillshade, slope, and aspect are now all separate raster files that you can work with later.  Once the tools are run, these are now saved as datasets inside your geodatabase as opposed to earlier—when you were simply visualizing your Lidar data as slope and aspect, you were not making separate data files.

Next, create contours, a vector file, from your ground raster (DEM), using the create contours tool.  Change the basemap to imagery to visualize the contours against a satellite image.  To create index contours, use the Contour with Barriers tool.  To do this, do not actually indicate a “barriers” layer but rather use the contour with barrier tool to achieve an “index” contour, as I did, shown below.  I used 5 for the contour interval and 25 (every fifth contour) for the index contour interval.  This results in a polyline feature class with a field called “type”.  This field receives the value of 2 for the index contours and 1 for all other contours.  Now, simply symbolize the lines as unique value on the type field, specifying a thicker line for the index contours (type 2) and a thinner line for all the other contours.


Next, convert your 2D map to a 3D scene using the Catalog pane.  If you wish, undock the 3D scene and drag it to the right side of your 2D map so that your 2D map and 3D scene are side by side.  Use View > Link Views to synchronize the two.  Experiment with changing the base map to topographic or terrain with labels.  Or, if your area is in the USA like mine is, use the Add Data > USA topographic > add the USGS topographic maps as another layer.  The topographic maps are at 1:24,000 scale in the most detailed view, and then 1:100,000 and 1:250,000 for smaller scales.



2D and 3D synced views of the contours symbolized with the Contours with Barriers tool in ArcGIS Pro. 

At this point, the sky’s the limit for you to conduct any other type of raster-based analysis, or combine it with vector analysis.  For example, you could run the profile tool to generate a profile graph of a drawn line (as I did, shown below) or an imported shapefile or line feature class, create a viewshed from your specified point(s), trace downstream from specific points, determine which areas in your study site have slopes over a certain degree, or use the Lidar and derived products in conjunction with vector layers to determine the optimal site for a wildfire observation tower or cache for firefighters.


Profile graph of the cyan polyline that I created from the Lidar data from the National Map in ArcGIS Pro.


Tracing downstream using the rasters derived from the lidar data in ArcGIS Pro.


Slopes over 40 degrees using the slope raster derived from the lidar data in ArcGIS Pro.

I hope these procedures will be helpful to you.


Stop Teaching GIS

Posted by DDiBiase-esristaff Employee Jan 10, 2018

Teach how to learn GIS instead.


That was a guiding principle as I recently redesigned the gateway course to the Penn State Online certificate and masters degree programs in GIS.


I began developing "Nature of Geographic Information" in 1998, at the outset of the Penn State Online program. I designed the course to serve adult students who sought to start or advance careers using GIS. The online course consisted of an open-access textbook ( and associated courseware for registered students. The courseware included ungraded and graded quizzes meant to ensure students' engagement with the text, as well as discussion forums and prescribed projects that required students to practice working with, and writing about, key concepts and technologies. 


Over 10,000 students have taken the course through the years, and most have expressed satisfaction with their experiences. Penn State colleagues and students helped me update the course incrementally. But the geospatial field has changed fundamentally since the late 1990s, and the Penn State Online program that the course was designed to introduce has evolved and expanded along with it. Equally important, our understanding of how people learn (and in particular, how they learn online) has advanced considerably. Nearly 20 years on, "Nature of Geographic Information" was overdue for a complete makeover. 


Although I began working with Esri full-time in 2011, I continued to lead online classes and workshops part-time for Penn State. I was thrilled and a bit overawed when program director Anthony Robinson invited me to create and lead a new version of the course. I accepted the challenge in the summer of 2016, and worked on the revision for over a year. The result, now known as "Making Maps that Matter with GIS," differs from its predecessor in scope, objectives, content, and user experience. Regarding content, the main difference is that I stopped assigning a textbook (though several texts are suggested options). It seems to me that today's next-generation GIS text is the World Wide Web itself.


The user experience in the new course is markedly different as well – for instructors as well as students. As the syllabus states, "students are expected to investigate assigned topics independently and to share findings within study groups to collaboratively construct understandings of these topics." The course introduction goes on to state that “The best employers in this field are looking for GIS pros who know how to discover, evaluate, and use information needed for the task at hand. This course is designed to help you strengthen those skills. The course establishes educational objectives, but does not spoon-feed the information needed to achieve them. We expect you to find and discuss the required information yourself, using the web, libraries, and your own personal experience." Instructors spend considerably more time evaluating student discussion posts and web mapping projects using rubrics like the one illustrated here, and proportionately less time updating exercise instructions and other course content.


Rubric used to score students’ contributions to discussions in Penn State’s GEOG 482: Making Maps that Matter with GIS.

Rubric used to score students’ contributions to discussions in Penn State’s GEOG 482: Making Maps that Matter with GIS.


The notion that people learn best when they actively construct knowledge in relation to what they already know is not a new idea, of course. Neither am I alone in believing that students - particularly adult students - should be challenged to take more responsibility for their own learning. For example, Karen Kemp, Professor of Practice at the University of Southern California and co-editor of the original NCGIA Core Curriculum in GIS, says "my goal in teaching now in our field is simply to teach students how to learn." Don Boyes of the University of Toronto reports that "Where it makes sense, I am encouraging students to learn how to find their own data … I provide some guidance about where to look for data and how to evaluate it, but I want them to be in charge of their own work as much as possible. " At Minnesota State University Moorhead, David Kramar “generally begin[s] the semester with some cookbook/step-by-step exercises that are intended to get the students familiar with the software interface and basic functionality. However, my ‘true’ labs require them to think critically, use the help and search functionality, and (frankly) figure it out for themselves (with my guidance and assistance as needed).”And in their 2017 International Journal of Geographical Information Science article "Critical GIS pedagogies beyond 'Week 10: Ethics", Sarah Elwood of the University of Washington and Matthew Wilson at the University of Kentucky state that "our approach to skill-building now involves students in learning new interfaces or platforms through individual and collaborative exploration without detailed step-by-step instructions, but with instructions for how to identify and productively engage online user forums, help files, etc."


There are many ways to get students more actively involved in learning. The right strategy depends on your educational objectives, your students’ ages and experience, and your instructional context. For instance, Robert Rose at the College of William and Mary directs a support unit that offers GIS classes to students in Geology, Environmental Studies, Government, and other undergraduate programs. They’ve adopted a "laddered approach" to GIS instruction that begins with scripted GIS activities, followed by "add-on" exercises with less detailed guidance, culminating in a final project in which students create “habitat suitability models for mythical beasts” with no step-by-step instructions. At San Diego Mesa College, Michele Kinzel uses “backwards design and constructivist approaches. I also reach out to multiple learning styles and combine individual hands-on GIS lessons with small group work and other types of exploration.” Boris Mericskay at Université Rennes2 developed an “inverted approach” in which he “poses a problem to students and leaves it to them to find the right tools and how to combine them.” “At the beginning the students are a little lost,” Boris admits, “but eventually they figure out how to apply GIS to solve the problem I posed.” Like Don Boyes and others, Bob Kolvoord of James Madison University has taken a “flipped classroom” approach, in which “students have various work they need to do to prepare for class and then class time is spent working on largely open-ended exercises to bolster their spatial thinking and GIS skills.” Some strategies involve more elaborate educational technology than others: Geographer Ashley Ward and GIS Librarian Amanda Henley at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill challenge small groups of students to select 8-10 socioeconomic variables from the Atlas of Human Development in Brazil, map the variables using ArcGIS Online, and then, prompted by patterns they discover in the maps, embark on self-guided explorations of on-ground landscapes using Google StreetView in a Liquid Galaxy immersive virtual reality display.


Don Boyes’s YouTube channel, where he shares self-produced video demonstrations to support his “flipped classroom” approach.

Don Boyes’s YouTube channel, where he shares self-produced video demonstrations to support his “flipped classroom” approach.


Requiring students to take greater responsibility for their learning isn’t easy, and it’s not for everyone. Vince DiNoto of Jefferson Community and Technical College in Louisville, Kentucky says that while he’s a "firm believer in less lecturing and more personal assistance,” he finds that “students directly out of high school really struggle with open ended case studies. They email me constantly, imploring me to tell them what I want.” Aaron Addison of Washington University in St. Louis reports that “I’ve tried the ‘guide on the side’ rather than ‘sage on the stage’ approach at the graduate student level, and to a lesser extent at the undergraduate level. My experience (unfortunately) is that it may work on a 1:1 basis, but does not appear to result in successful outcomes in a classroom setting with 15-20 students.” Bob Kolvoord relates that “on the whole, the flipped classroom approach works well, but it can be a challenge for students who aren’t motivated or that have poor task/time management skills.”


What about the students in my new course? A formal evaluation of student outcomes and preferences is underway, but anecdotal data is the best I have to share at this point. I found feedback from one student – an accomplished young woman who is new to GIS but previously earned a PhD in Marine Geochemistry – particularly enlightening. Early in the first offering of the course, she wrote me privately to express frustration. She wrote, "I (and probably most students) signed up to learn from an expert (and you are, according to your credentials, an expert!). But in the discussion forums, we’re learning from our peers, and most of us are hardly experts." She felt cheated. Rather than waiting to submit an anonymous evaluation at the end of the course, she asked permission to create a forum in which students could share critiques and suggestions about the course. Later in the course I took her advice, and invited all 53 students to post in a Course Commentary discussion. By this time, students had about six weeks of experience with the new course format. On reflection, the same student wrote this:


… after my first exchange with David a few weeks back about my frustrations with this class … I dug up an interesting article in Harvard Magazine1 about how interactive learning is much more successful than traditional (lecture) teaching and learning methods, although it meets with a lot of resistance. I was skeptical then, but the more time passes, the more I find this active learning class engaging, the more I enjoy what I’m learning, and the more I agree that, overall, this pedagogical method has been a success with me.


Other students complained that researching unfamiliar topics independently, and reading their peers’ many posts, was too time-consuming. Fellow instructor Adrienne Goldsberry and I streamlined that aspect of the course for the second offering, and fewer complaints about excessive workloads followed. However, it remains true that students who are unfamiliar with the subject matter, or who prefer their accustomed roles as consumers of instructor-produced content, are uncomfortable with the level of responsibility that the course demands.


At this point it should be clear that the call to action in the title of this short article is purposefully provocative. Naturally, every college and university educator wants to help students learn to discover, evaluate, apply, and share knowledge independently and in groups. Even so, I believe it’s healthy for GIS educators to ask ourselves frankly whether we give our students enough responsibility for their own learning. The question and answer has been transformative for me.


1 Lambert, Craig (2012). Twilight of the Lecture. Harvard Magazine

My colleague Ridge Waddell and I are beginning to work with The School for International Training (, and as a part of that effort, we created this presentation focused on four key tools that the university is most interested to begin their GIS work in.  The University is interested in using the tools as key components of their African Americans Living Abroad Research and Education Program.  The tools featured in our presentation are ArcGIS (starting with ArcGIS Online), web mapping applications including story maps, Operations Dashboard, and Survey123.  Because we include many links in this presentation to tutorials and live interactive web maps, I wanted to share it with the broader community and I hope you find it useful for your own work in education and beyond. 

"How can my class collaborate in ArcGIS Online?" This is an inspiringly frequent question. The good news is that there are several key ways, but they need careful attention to process to work well.


The number one wrong expectation by ArcGIS Online novices is that the basic Map Viewer works just like a "collaborative word processor," with many people editing a single document at once. It doesn't, for good reason. So, just know that, if ten users log in and open the same map, each is working on his/her own version of that map, and saving happens only when a given user clicks "save," and saves a user-specific document in that user's contents. Now, here's how good collaboration can happen.


[1] Users can share documents they have created. OK, sharing is not the same as collaborating, unless thought of in sequential terms. User A can create a map and share with her Org, and/or Group(s) in the Org, and/or the Public. Others can use that as a starting point for their own custom work. (Caution: users planning to save modifications should keep good metadata.)


[2] "Ownership of an item" can be reassigned from one user to another, by an Org admin (or "custom helper" with the privilege to reassign). The admin can go into A's contents, and reassign ownership to B, and so on. (Caution: it passes in the condition last saved, so be sure all saving is completed, including metadata updates, and the current owner has closed the doc before reassigning.)

[2.1] A "shared public login" (Row 3 of allows users not in an Org to simulate the process above, but extreme caution and self-control must be exercised here, since everyone using the login has equal access to all items at all times. Strictly following a sequence (A starts a map, makes changes, saves it, then closes it; B opens the map, makes changes, saves it, then closes it; more users follow B's strict sequence) in which only one user at a time has the map open, and it is saved and exited before another person opens it, can work. (Having each user quit their browser immediately after saving will ensure there is no "residual version." Alert: Be sure to update and save the metadata before considering it ready to be passed to another user.)


[3] Users in an Org can create and share data layers as components for others to use in building their own map. User A can make a layer of neighborhood parks, B can do stores, C can do bus stops and bike racks, and so on, for sharing with the Group/Org/Public. Each user can then create their own maps. (Alert: If the layer owner changes the layer, those changes will be visible in every map using the layer, which can be in ways other map creator/s might not anticipate.)

[3.1] Even Map Note layers can be shared this way, if the creator of a given layer accesses the layer properties while in the map, and chooses "Save the layer," and then navigates to "My Content" and shares the layer with the Group/Org/Public. (In a "shared public account," since everyone is logged in as the same user, formal sharing is not required. See this document for a step-by-step process description.) Map Note layers shared this way are a "feature collection" (essentially "ad hoc geolocated graphics, each with custom attributes") and not a true "hosted feature service," so no filtering is possible.


[4] Users can collaborate on generating data, such as field data collection activities, via Survey123 or Collector creations. Here, process leaders can decide to share with only certain people (Group or Org) or open it up to the world. Data contributors in this process work according to the parameters set by the creator. This is a hugely powerful opportunity (explore the map app in Fun with GIS 223), which demands much forethought to capture the proper content easily, and to imagine all the conditions under which someone might contribute. The "farther" the contributor is from the collection instrument designer, the greater the chance for misperceptions, hiccups, and errors.

[4.1] Survey123 creators can also share the permission to analyze results from within the Survey123 dashboard.

[4.2] Survey123 creators can even share an entire survey form with someone else in the Org by doing "SAVE AS" in design, then having the admin reassign ownership of the newly created folder and contents.

[4.3] Collector requires an Org login and membership in a group which includes the specific Collector map.


[5] Multiple people can collaborate on a Story Map if, for instance, the group plans out a project, and each person or sub-group is responsible for some of the "raw materials" to be used in different portions of the content, and someone is responsible for pulling the disparate creations into a tidy and sensible whole. For instance, users A,B,C,D,E can collaborate if A,B,C,D each generate independent components and E assembles the final product. (In this case A,B,C,D need to set appropriate sharing, and recognize that any changes made in their contents will appear in E's final product.)


ArcGIS Online software evolves periodically, and collaboration options may change in the future. Be sure to examine the documentation for options. But, for now, focus on the powerful options above. Collaboration is possible, but groups must think through the workflow carefully, understand what is technically possible, and focus on what is good practice under a given situation. Emphasize the steps that will lead to a good result, not necessarily doing everything that is technically possible.

The Esri education outreach team and GLOBE have been working together for over 20 years.   It makes sense given the commitment that both organizations have for meaningful educational experiences, including the collection and analysis of field data.  I recently conducted a webinar for GLOBE educators--my presentation is here and the video is here.  In each, I focused on key ways that GLOBE data can be easily imported, mapped, and analyzed in ArcGIS Online, including the mapping of spreadsheets of student-collected data about weather, water, soils, and other phenomena downloaded from the GLOBE website. The latitude-longitude values along with the attributes are almost instantaneously able to be displayed on maps in ArcGIS Online.  I also discussed field apps such as Survey123, which can be used by GLOBE students and their instructors to gather data in the field in a survey form in citizen science mode, the results of which are instantly available on a web map. 


Once mapped, the data can be analyzed in many ways.  For example, statistically significant hot spots can be derived for specific variables describing soil chemistry in a field near a school campus, a surface can be derived from pH or dissolved oxygen from specific points in a river or lake, or a 3D map can be generated of snow depth over a region.  In another example, layers from the Living Atlas of the World such as land cover or average date of first frost can be brought into the map for comparison against the field-gathered data.  How does the dew point or date of first frost vary by latitude, altitude, or proximity to coasts?  Do north-facing vs. south-facing slopes differ in terms of vegetation height or soil moisture?


The data that students have gathered can be compared in map and table form to data gathered by other students halfway around the world.  Students can create multimedia web mapping applications such as story maps to present their data to their peers, teachers, or the community. 


More capabilities exist, but it is my hope that the presentation and video resource I am sharing here will inspire GLOBE teachers and others to get into the field, gather data, map it, analyze it, and communicate the results.


Mapping and analyzing GLOBE data

Mapping and analyzing GLOBE data. 

The inspiring stories about what people did for the most recent GIS Day and the positive difference their efforts are making in our world continue to flow in.  For example, see the essay I wrote recently highlighting some of these.  Did you host an event in 2017?  If so, feel free to add it to the "How did you celebrate GIS Day" story map.  


Did you miss out?  It is not too early to start planning for the next GIS Day, 14 November 2018.


Professor Vanya Stamenova at the Department of Remote Sensing and GIS organized an event held in conjunction with the Space Research and Technology Institute at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Since 1976, this department has accomplished more than 60 research projects using Earth observation technologies, GIS, and ground-based methods, including the validation of satellite data, development of aerospace test sties, geo-ecological study of hazardous materials and risk assessment, tourism, cultural and historical heritage, crop assessment, minerals, freshwater, and in other areas. This year marked their first GIS Day for Education on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the National High School of Mathematics and Sciences (NHSMS) in Sofia, Bulgaria, and held at the school organized under the Space School Educational Initiative.  I filmed a welcome video for the event, which was followed by presentations from Esri Bulgaria, DigitalGlobe, the European Association of Remote Sensing Laboratories, faculty, and students. 


Collage of Bulgaria GIS Day event.

Some scenes from the GIS Day event organized by the Space Research and Technology Institute at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and held at the National High School of Mathematics and Sciences (NHSMS) in Sofia, Bulgaria.


The City and County of Denver, Colorado, USA, has been hosting GIS Day events since GIS Day began, in 1999.  This year, more than 250 people attended their event, held on 6 December and organized by GIS analyst Doug Genzer.  It featured exhibits showing what planning, community resources, schools, police, and other departments in the city are doing with GIS, speeches by Denver Mayor Hancock and members of his GIS staff, and representatives from universities, the US Census Bureau, and other organizations.  I gave the keynote (available here) focused on key forces and trends in GIS, with recommendations on the most important skills for GIS professionals. 


Collage of Denver GIS Day photographs.

GIS Day has been celebrated at the City and County of Denver, Colorado, USA, since 1999.  Here are some highlights of this year's event. 


Chris Highfield, Amy Mathie, and their colleagues at the US Forest Service in Oregon organized an event that even attracted attendees from the Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service, Portland State University, and elsewhere, for lightning talks on publication mapping, aerial photography, Python and ArcPy scripting, climate change, mobile GIS, and the geospatial platform direction, plus a raffle drawing, cake, and even an appearance by Smoky the Bear!


Oregon USFS GIS Day collage of photographs.

Some scenes - including an appearance by Smoky the Bear - at the GIS Day event organized by the US Forest Service.


Lucie Kendall and her scientists at Halifax Water in Canada hosted an event at Halifax Water's facility.  Lucie wrote, "In honor of Geography Week and International GIS Day, GIS staff at Halifax Water hosted students from the Centre of Geographic Sciences (COGS) for a morning of presentations, breakout sessions, and cake (of course).  Students learned about the various GIS roles at Halifax Water; including Engineering Information Technicians and GIS Analysts, divided into Technical, Updating, and Product delivery teams.  Students walked through the GIS updating process using engineering record information.  Staff also presented hard copy mapping products and demonstrated custom built form and view/query applications, recent ventures into Cityworks, and some of the Utility’s latest ArcGIS Online solutions.  Additional Halifax Water GIS consumers joined in on the fun as the event was topped off with a GIS Day cake and GIS swag giveaways, generously sponsored by Esri’s GIS Day team.  Yet another great GIS Day at Halifax Water!" 


Halifax Water GIS Day collage of photographs.

Some highlights of Halifax Water's GIS Day event in Canada.


Professor of Urban Geography Nashwan S.H. Abdullah from the University of Duhok in Iraq sent these photographs in of their GIS Day event.  Their workshop featured theoretical foundations of GIS, elements of GIS, application areas of GIS, the potential of the GIS program, and projects that students have completed during their 2017 studies.  


Collage of Duhok Iraq University GIS Day event.

Some photographs from the University of Duhok in Iraq's GIS Day event.  I especially like their GIS shirts!