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Since we are getting ready to celebrate Earth Science Week, Geography Awareness Week, and GIS Day ( in the next two months, this seems like an appropriate time to mention the resources available through the Esri sciences portal in ArcGIS Online (  Teaching with and learning from the resources on the sciences portal is easily done with only a web browser required, yet the portal includes key themes in the sciences and offers an immersive, rich set of 2D and 3D maps and apps.  For example, the Drought Tracker allows you to examine drought since the year 2000 by region and by county, making it easy to combine themes of climate, weather, landforms, land use, and the disciplines of science, geography, and mathematics.  Other maps and data sets cover the topics of ocean currents, sea surface temperature, satellite image bands, and more.


Click on Gallery to see the full set of maps available here.  Click on Apps-> Web to see even more.  From the landing page URL above, click on “scene” for a gallery of 3D scenes, including visualizing typhoons, airline routes, and cities. My favorite of these scenes, though, is the “interesting places” set, which guides you to spectacular Earth landforms such as volcanic craters, incised river meanders, and others around the world This set can be used as an instructional aid in geomorphology, earth science, or physical geography courses.  The scene covers the entire Earth, so at any point you can zoom and pan to other landforms that you wish to examine and encourage your students to do the same.  And check back often because the science portal is refreshed often. 


Landing page for the Science Portal.

Landing page in the Esri Science Portal.


3D scenes available in the Science Portal.

3D Scenes in the Esri Science Portal.

Experienced GIS users (even K12 students) often speak in terms of custom projects. This is where GIS helps students be at their most powerful -- digging into a topic of one's choosing, allowing the user to explore, analyze, and customize at will. Tom Baker's blogpost on instructional materials and this Instructional Use of GIS document from Esri's T3G Institute show custom projects at the "high end" of learning activities. But it's tough to start there.


GeoInquiries let teachers and students jump into "core content" through maps. Their primary intent was as intro in situations where educators want quick nuggets and focused guidance. Some educators are going beyond the original purpose of GeoInquiries, enhancing and saving the maps as their own, but that takes some experience.


EarthXplorers was designed as a free, powerful guide along the path toward projects. Built by the Learning Technologies Media Lab at the University of Minnesota, with rich content support from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, this is a "scaffolded guide to learning the GIS project process." Six modules invite users to investigate historical sites and contexts, working with one's ArcGIS Online Organization account along the way. After walking through a carefully crafted activity with rich supports, students are challenged to turn around and apply the same tools and processes on a local project.






The best module for starting out is the "History of Cartography," which gives users interesting background about mapping and essential instruction about the ArcGIS Online environment. After that, users could do any of the other five projects in any order, as appropriate to time and interests: Elkhorn Ranch, Mississippi Delta, James River, Hinchliffe Stadium, and Manhattan Project. Through it all, a teacher management system helps teachers track and review student work. While big screens are always a help with GIS, EarthXplorers can work effectively in a 1024x768 environment like a tablet. (As always with online mapping, adequate bandwidth to handle each computer is a critical resource.)


GIS has unlimited capacity for instruction, but it takes experience to engage in the most powerful ways. Just as one doesn't start pole vaulting at 19 feet, projects require important skills that take time and experience to establish. The resources of EarthXplorers can help educators who want students to step into projects, but would like to provide students "project training wheels" to keep them upright at the beginning.

The human impact of the natural disasters occurring in North America in the last few weeks has been staggering – the result of a complex story of earth’s natural systems and human activities.  Independent of the subject you may teach, consider these pre-built activities, maps, and data to support your inquiry into earth’s systems with your students.


American Literature

Hurricane warning!



How much rain? Linear equations

Rates of population change

Perpendicular bisectors


Social studies

Exploring elevation with Lewis and Clark (elementary)

Climate (elementary)

USA demographics

M2L1 – The Earth moves

M7L2 – In the eye of the storm



Where does the water go?  (elementary)

Climate (elementary)

Weather forecasting  (elementary)

Seismic events: natural hazards (elementary)

Cracked plates

The Earth moves under our feet

Fluid Earth: winds and currents

Tropical storms

Climate change

Esri supported student work in remote sensing by donating ArcGIS software to each member of the winning team of the NASA DEVELOP video presentation contest.  NASA DEVELOP is a national program that fosters an interdisciplinary research environment where applied science research projects are conducted under the guidance of NASA and partner science advisors. The program is unique in that young professionals lead research projects that focus on using NASA Earth observations to address community concerns and public policy issues.  DEVELOP nurtures future science leaders, and therefore it was a pleasure to support NASA’s efforts in this way and to give students software that will enable them to continue working with GIS and remote sensing data.  We have supported the winners with software donations for many years and truly believe in the value of this program.  This year, the contest included 138 researchers conducting 30 projects across 12 DEVELOP locations.  

The virtual posters, featured on IEEE Earthzine, were scored by a 26-member panel based on content clarity (including community concern, project partner, NASA Earth observations, and products created), along with production quality, and professional communication.

Parts of the video from the winning project team.

Parts of the video from the winning project team.


The grand prize winner of the DEVELOP VPS video presentation was Say No to the Glow: Using NASA and NOAA’s Suomi NPP Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite to Model Artificial Sky Brightness, by a team of four participants at DEVELOP’s Wise County, Virginia location. Their study focused on this issue: "As more outdoor lighting is installed for safety and development, light pollution has become a growing problem that threatens the quality of life for humans and wildlife. The onset of light pollution in cities and dark sky areas hinders humans from seeing the stars and the Milky Way and has been linked to health disorders in humans and behavioral changes in flora and fauna. Park officials at Grand Teton National Park are concerned about light pollution’s impacts on visitor experience and the environment. Thus, in collaboration with the National Park Service and Wyoming Stargazing, our team created the Skyglow Estimation Toolbox (SET), a Python program that calculates images of artificial sky glow from the vantage point of a viewer on the ground."  See the project's highlights in this video.


Mentors and advisors included Dr. L. DeWayne Cecil (NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, Global Science & Technology), Dr. Kenton Ross (NASA Langley Research Center), and Bob VanGundy (The University of Virginia’s College at Wise).  


The People’s Choice Award for the most popular video this summer goes to “Tree Health Time Machine,” conducted by three participants at the NASA Ames Research Center DEVELOP node in Moffett Field, California.


Congratulations to all who participated in the NASA DEVELOP program.  By engaging in real-world issues with geospatial technologies, you are all winners!

Recently we have seen quite a few questions about ArcGIS and high performance computing (HPC), such as:


  •      I am part of a grant involving HPC – how do I run ArcGIS in HPC?
  •      What specific ArcGIS tools work in HPC environment?
  •      How do I license ArcGIS in a HPC environment?
  •      Where do I go for further questions?


Conceptual summary:


Some of the inquiries we’ve received do not distinguish between multicore computers and HPC. This could stem from general fuzziness about what some people mean by HPC, and how the term has evolved in recent years. Most modern desktop computers, including laptops, are “multicore” – meaning they have more than one CPU (central processing unit).


A lot of the tools in ArcGIS Desktop can take advantage of multicore hardware and parallel processing. Some tools do this automatically, some honor a geoprocessing environment, that allows one to specify how many processors one wants to use. Note that not all ArcGIS Desktop tools run parallel processing and these desktop tools do not run across multiple machines, therefore a user would need a beefy single machine to do a big job.


If there is an environment where multiple computers are connected together (and each of these may have multiple cores), then you have a compute cluster or distributed compute environment, which could be run in various infrastructures, commercial cloud being the likely place for such environment. Traditionally HPC, or a distributed compute environment, is described as multiple computers (hundreds) connected together and traditionally application software was specifically written for this compute environment. For a long time ArcGIS users have been asking about running ArcGIS on HPC computers, and now that is possible without additional coding and application writing.  


This is where ArcGIS Enterprise and specifically the GeoAnalytics Server and Image Server (Raster Analytics) server roles become useful because they are designed to run in such distributed compute environment, as well as run across multiples cores of a single machine. These roles are designed to take advantage of distributed storage (not all on one node/disk) and distributed computation (multiple computers).   


These roles are made available via ArcGIS Enterprise but can be accessed from a desktop application, such as ArcGIS Pro, or from a web browser (such as the Map Viewer). Running analysis tools utilizing these server roles can be much faster since the analysis tools have been optimized for the distributed computation across multiple nodes. Users utilizing these tools do not need to do anything additional (coding or writing an application) to take advantage of their distributed compute environment, the tools just know how to do it.


Bottom line: GeoAnalytics and Raster Analytics tools utilize distributed computing and can run across multiple machines, or multiple cores of a single machine. A base ArcGIS Enterprise deployment would need to be setup, and these additional server roles enabled.


Note: We also have heard some questions about ArcGIS Server clusters and associated confusion in HPC context. ArcGIS Server clusters are strongly discouraged and have been deprecated at 10.5.1. ArcGIS Server clusters were just a way to separate services, to run under a dedicated resource, i.e. “cluster”, which is different than the clustering we are talking about in HPC context.


Further questions:


As an academic user, please reach out to  with any Education-related questions.

GIS aids exploring complex situations and solving problems. Countless industry leaders, front-line analysts, behind-the-scenes developers, and in-the-trenches workers rely on it, for simple daily tasks on up to the biggest challenges. They seldom have step-by-step instruction, especially when venturing into new realms. They puzzle and explore, attempt and stumble, test alternatives, seek guidance from peers and public, encounter "Eureka moments," generate knowledge, and shed light. And students can do this, too!


For the 2017-18 school year, Esri challenges US high school (gr.9-12) and middle school (gr.4-8) students to explore something inside their state in a custom way, and present their results in an ArcGIS Online web app or story map. Teams of one or two students investigate their chosen topic and tell their story. The process can happen in or out of school (e.g. via clubs or even independently), but the channel for presentation is through school. In participating states, schools submit their top five entries to the state, and the top five HS projects and top five MS projects across the state each earn a $100 prize and national recognition, with 1-HS and 1-MS project from each state entered into a final national level competition.




Participation in a state requires application by and approval of a state leadership team. Information and guidelines are available online. Application deadline is Friday Sept 29, 2017. State teams can build out their "support crews" (publicity, judges, etc) down the road, but leaders need to move quickly so educators and students can know if they get to participate.


The 2017 results are visible online, and model well what students can do on their own. Creations by the HS and MS winners and runners-up, and all the other awardees in all the participating states, are viewable without login required. These students blazed the trail in Esri's first national student competition; returning students and educators alike are anxious to try again. This is what the millions of adult users of GIS do … explore, attempt, learn, repeat, and improve … building knowledge, making a difference, changing the world.

For over 25 years, the Esri Schools Program has created or collaborated on a variety of instructional materials.  Perhaps you recognize some of these. Maybe you've even used some of them.



Carl Rogers' Diffusion of Innovations is a theoretical model that describes how ideas (and technologies) can be spread over time in a social system. The innovation, communication channels, time, and a social system are all necessary to spread an idea according to the model. At some point, as an idea continues to diffuse it can reach “critical mass”. People in the social system are described based on their roles as either: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, or laggards. Each group of people have typical actions within the system – from the rate at which they adopt a new technology to how they share that adoption. In this way, each group has strengths and weaknesses that must be planned for. For the interested reader, there are several additional elements (e.g. Moore's Chasm, Maloney's Rule)  to be considered in the model; it is worth an extended read.


 Imagine this curve representing the population of all U.S. school teachers – and the major groups they might fall into with respect to technology adoption.  Historically, our materials have been great at supporting innovative teachers and early adopters of technology. Our materials were great at helping people learn our technology – especially useful for application in project focused learning.  Unfortunately, as many of us know, project based learning is not all that commonplace in U.S. schools.  It takes time, resources, an experienced educator – and sometimes even runs counter to a school’s standards-based priorities. This tends to relegate project based learning to the realm of innovative teachers.


 For this reason, in 2014, we began developing GeoInquiries™ - materials targeting the receptive mainstream (Early Majority) to support the Esri ConnectED Initiative - a part of the Obama White House ConnectED Initiative.  Representing nearly a third of the teaching population, the segment's use of GIS quickly surpassed the use of GIS in project focused applications in the classroom.


Mainstream materials are subject-focused and use GIS to help teachers with day-to-day instructional objectives, supporting a range of classroom technologies, pedagogies, and levels of expertise. These materials are free, fast, and open access.  To understand how these materials support a segment of the community, rotate the diffusion curve 90 degrees counter-clockwise.  In addition to visualizing the mainstream Early Majority, we can also see how Early Adopters and Innovators have commonly used GIS instructionally.   (Click the graphic to enlarge.)



While our mainstream solutions, like GeoInquiries and Mapping Our World directly serve the Early Majority of the receptive mainstream in the teaching community, more advanced users, namely the Early Adopters, tend to blend pre-built content with custom classroom activities, while the Innovators tend to work with local and custom  projects.  Keep in mind, these are generalizations about instructional behavior. They don't describe the whole story of GIS use in classrooms.


Today, we commonly see fifty-thousand web hits a month for these mainstream activities and maps. Moreover, with the release this past summer of three new collections (American Literature, Mathematics, and World History) we now offer mainstream materials for all core disciplinary areas taught in school - with added support in the science and social sciences.

Does it work?  We surveyed teachers six months after a short, regional workshop event last year and found that approximately 50% of teachers are teaching completely from or blended with pre-built materials like GeoInquiries.  A smaller group of Innovators (~18%) continues to blaze forward with customized curricula and local projects and other adaptations.  Ideally, we'd love to see everyone teaching around local project work, but in the meantime, a significant body of educators is now teaching with GIS in the standards-based, mainstream classroom.


The ArcGIS Developer Subscription is now available and it is a way to provide students (as well as faculty and staff) access to a variety of ArcGIS applications and capabilities, including their own dedicated ArcGIS Enterprise and ArcGIS Online portals, along with other developer tools.  


Of the following ArcGIS Developer Subscription plans, any student can sign up for the Essentials level, without going to a Site License Administrator, but that does not give them many options - it does not provide ArcGIS Enterprise licensing, dedicated ArcGIS Online organization (2,500 credits, 5 users), and more advanced capabilities. As part of a Site License, students, faculty and staff are eligible for the Enterprise level of the ArcGIS Developer subscription.


In this blog, we wanted to document a possible process for obtaining ArcGIS Developer subscriptions (Enterprise level) for students. Why do that? I’d like my students to:


  •       Have ArcGIS Enterprise licensing, including advanced Server roles and capabilities – get experience in setting up and managing ArcGIS Enterprise.
  •       Have their own ArcGIS Online organization (2,500 credits, 5 users).
  •       Experience Administrator role functions, such as setup a portal home page, add users, delete users, experience portal management through scripting, etc. (ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Enterprise).
  •       Transfer their content from university portals (ArcGIS Online or ArcGIS Enterprise) to their own portal (ArcGIS Online or ArcGIS Enterprise) – they can build and keep a portfolio of all projects they have worked on.
  •       Have access to many other ArcGIS tools and capabilities available with the ArcGIS Developer Subscription.


Steps to request ArcGIS Developer subscription for students are below – note that there could be variations in the assignment and management of ArcGIS Developer subscription codes, depending on the institution preferences. My Esri account access is used for distribution of licensing and executables, as part of the ArcGIS Developer Subscription.


The workflow outlined below could be appropriate for issuing subscriptions to many students (i.e. in a course setting), and assuming that the students will not be accessing the university’s My Esri account. For issuing ArcGIS Developer Subscriptions to faculty or students who have access to My Esri, the majority of these steps could be done by Site License Administrator or faculty/staff who has licensing privileges in My Esri.


Bottom line: The assumption is that students don’t have access to the university My Esri portal, hence they will need to create a new My Esri account, activate their code, and from their My Esri account, download any software executables and licensing.


  1.       Site License Administrator or authorized staff/faculty would email Esri Customer Service to request “X” amount of ArcGIS Developer Subscriptions (Enterprise level), to be used by students in “X” course.


  1.       Esri Customer Service will issue the codes – they will be emailed back in an Excel file, and will appear in My Esri, under “Manage Developer Subscriptions”. Each code will start with “ADS” plus a series of numbers.


  1.       Two options to share with students:


  • In the Excel file, assign your students to a specific code, then share that code assignment with your students. Instruct your students to go to and click on the “Create a new account” link. The ArcGIS Developer Subscription code will be activated in the student’s My Esri account.


  • Site License Administrator or authorized staff/faculty, using the university’s My Esri account, could manually “Send Developer Subscription Codes” to the student’s email (under “Licensing”, then “Manage Developer Subscriptions”). The student would get an email asking them to “Register your ArcGIS Developer Subscription”. They would need to follow the “Register Your Subscription” link, and given that they do not have access to the university’s My Esri account, they will need to “Create a new account”. The ArcGIS Developer Subscription code will be activated in the student’s My Esri account.


Both options will achieve the same – the issued ArcGIS Developer Subscriptions would be tracked under “Manage Developer Subscriptions” in My Esri – date of activation, name and email, to whoever they are issued to, will be visible.


  1.       Students would need to go to their My Esri account and register their code (sent to them in the Excel spreadsheet or emailed to them, depending which method above is used). Under “My Organizations”, they will see “Licensing Forms” section. They would need to click on “Developer Subscription Registration” and register the code.





  1.        Under the “Developer” Menu, they will need to click the “Activate” button to activate their Developer Subscription.


   6.   At this point, they can create their ArcGIS Online organization, which will give them 2,500 credits and (5) named users.


  1.       They will be able to download their install executables (under Downloads), and download licensing available with the ArcGIS Developer Subscription (Create New Provisioning File), depending on the capabilities that would be taught in the class. Alternatively, the executables could be provided by the university or instructor via a distribution method of choice, which is probably recommended.


  1.        Attached is a Word doc with possible instructions for students on how to Download executables and licensing for ArcGIS Enterprise or any tools provided with the ArcGIS Developer Subscription, and setup their own ArcGIS Online organization. Feel free to modify and reuse.


       Further items to consider:


  •      It would make sense that the ArcGIS Developer Subscription is issued per student. What if different instructors at a university decide to request ArcGIS Developer Subscriptions for students in different courses? How would one keep track of which students have been issued codes already?

       A: Regardless of the method used to register the codes, once the students activate their subscriptions, a Site        License Administrator would be able to see the name and email of the student that the license was issued to (Under        Manage Developer Subscription).


  •       ArcGIS Developer Subscription is active for (1) year – what happens after that?

       A: This is a university preference, licenses could be renewed upon request from Site License Administrator. An       option could be that the student purchases a student license and any ArcGIS Online or ArcGIS Enterprise content       be transferred into that organization.  


  •       If the students have an existing My Esri account, or a My Esri account associated with the university, could this be confusing?

       A: A student could potentially end up with multiple My Esri accounts. 


Please feel free to share any thoughts or experiences with the attached workflow.

About 50 of the most popular technical workshops from this year’s UC are now posted on YouTube for the public. Any organizations that wish to purchase the full technical workshop collection can do so from our recording vendor at

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