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Most users of Esri technology are familiar with the 10 or so base maps that are available through the Basemaps tool on - ArcGIS Online.  But did you know that there are many other wonderful basemaps available for your use and that these choices not only continue to expand, but are becoming more responsive to draw and are increasingly rich with content?  And probably the hottest topic in base mapping right now is the advent of vector basemap.  Vector basemaps have several benefits over their raster counterparts. One is their ability to customize the vector map style by changing colors, line attributes, and even fonts. Another benefit of vector maps is their ability to support updated data, such as the content contributed by communities through the Community Maps Program. 


The vector basemap group currently contains several dozen web maps and layers.  One of my favorites is the imagery hybrid, which shows satellite imagery and a vector layer with streets and other features; in other words, a best of both worlds, which is very useful when you are wanting a basemap underneath your field-collected data.  This layer even provides the date of the satellite image, the source, the resolution, and the accuracy.  The sample vector tile layers group in ArcGIS Online contains some interesting and different basemaps for you to try.  One of my favorites is the colored pencil basemap shown in the banner of this blog essay, which reminds me of the maps I made as a teenager using my own colored pencils.  I also like the Modern Antique map (shown below), the newspaper map, and the clever snow-filled Merry Christmas basemap shown below and described here.  Each can be added to your existing or new maps in ArcGIS Online simply by using the Add button and referencing the layer name.


The best way to keep up with these developments is to read the GeoNet blogs related to basemaps.  For example, a new basemap supporting the mapping of human geography themes was recently published, described here.


Consider examining these with your students in your cartography units, show them to your art teacher colleagues, and make use of them - they are all at your fingertips!


Modern Antique Basemap

Modern Antique Basemap


Merry Christmas basemap

Merry Christmas basemap

Today, many options exist for using images in ArcGIS Online, including web mapping applications such as story maps.  Choose a method that works best for your situation and needs. I have summarized some key methods in this document, which is a subset of the many methods that are valid.  I have included the use of images in ArcGIS Online, Flickr, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox, Google Plus, Google Photos, and Google Drive.


2 Rules of thumb:

  1. ArcGIS Online and apps (including story maps) are continually evolving. The photo sharing tools are likewise continually evolving.  These procedures are thus subject to change.
  2. To be successful with using photos in ArcGIS Online:

(1) Make sure they are your content, or are in Creative Commons or are not copyrighted, or you have permission to use them.

(2) That the photos are shared with the public. 

(3) That the photos are of modest size; i.e. not too large that they will slow down the browser; and not too small that they will be grainy.

(4) That you obtain a URL that can be opened in a separate tab in a web browser. If they can be opened in a separate web browser tab, then they will work in ArcGIS Online.

I have updated this set of guidelines in October 2019.  

I am asked by instructors sometimes about the questions I typically ask when I am teaching students while using Esri Story Maps.  One of the maps I most often use is the Story Map on the voyage of the Titanic, because of the richness of the data, the well-known nature of the story, and because it highlights so many interesting things you can do with story maps.  These include linking to a database, creating pie charts, using the oceans basemap, and incorporating tabs, for example.  After opening the Titanic story map, here are 20 questions I ask.  These questions are meant to encourage spatial and temporal thinking, and to integrate geography, history, mathematics, and GIS.  They could be given in a workshop orally, or the students could read them independently.  If desired, a rubric could be set up around these questions to assess student work.   It is my hope that these questions will encourage you and your students to ask these types of questions as you and they engage in the fascinating world of story maps.   In the comments section below, I encourage you to submit your own questions, and also consider sharing the questions you pose when you are teaching with other story maps.


Titanic story map

1.       Make 3 observations about the route that the Titanic took. 
2.       If you knew then what you know now about the icebergs in the way of the Titanic, describe the route that you would have taken, if you had been the ship’s captain.
3.       Identify the 3 countries visited by the Titanic along its route from Southampton.
4.       Before the Titanic sailed on its maiden voyage, it sailed from the shipyard where it was created in Belfast to Southampton.  Through which sea did it travel?
5.       What % of the way across the Atlantic do you estimate that the Titanic was when it sank?
6.       Which city was the Titanic bound for on its voyage?
7.       How many days did it take Titanic to sail from Southampton to the point where it sunk?
8.       If the ship traveled about 2,750 miles over those days, how many miles per day did it travel, on average?  How many miles per hour did it travel, on average?  Show your work.
9.       Icebergs typically flowed down from Greenland and Baffin Island through a specific sea before reaching the Atlantic Ocean.  Identify the name of this sea.
10.   What type of base map is used for this map?  Why was it chosen?
11.   Observe the pie charts for the First, Second, and Third Class in terms of the mortality rate on the Titanic.  Where were your chances of survival the best?  Where were your chances the worst?  Why?   Do some outside research if you need to.
12.   Make 3 observations about the spatial pattern of the passengers on the Titanic.
13.   Make 1 observation about the differences between the spatial pattern of the First Class, Second Class, and Third Class passengers. Why do you think these differences existed?
14.   You can see that not all of the passengers were from Europe and North America.  How many continents were represented as the “home continent” of the passengers on the Titanic?
15.   Which three countries would you say were the most represented by passengers in terms of their homes on the Titanic?
16.   From which country in Scandinavia would you say was the most represented by passengers on the Titanic?
17.   What was the home town of the passengers who were from the farthest west in the USA on the Titanic?
18.   Identify the 3 people on the ship from Madrid, Spain.  How many lived, and how many died of these 3 passengers?
19.   How many passengers on the ship were from India?
20.   How has this story map and the geographic perspective helped you understand the history and geography of the Titanic?  If time permits, give a short presentation to your classmates about the geography and history of the Titanic using this story map.

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