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Across USA, a committed crew is making waves. In 2009, Esri launched Teachers Teaching Teachers GIS (or "T3G"), an Institute for educators anxious to help other educators use GIS for instruction. In T3G, exploring the latest tools goes hand-in-hand with investigating classroom content, modeling instructional strategies, discussing professional development, and sharing stories of problem-solving. Participants commit to spreading to others the power of GIS and Esri's free tools and materials, through workshops, presentations, mentoring, and beyond.


Online institute plus educator graphics


2017 launched the "synchronous online instruction" era for T3G (above). The 2018 event will be similar, with eight hours of activity spread over two consecutive Saturdays (July 28 and August 4). Participants need foundational comfort with using ArcGIS Online, teaching with technology, and providing professional development. T3G 2018 will boost participants' capacity to meld the three. The information page links to key resources for building those critical foundations in advance.


Requirements and resources


T3G 2018 registration opens March 1, with 60 slots available. Participation is free, and expects commitment to share with others during the coming years. T3G grads have taught educators across the country, amplifying the rising tide of users visible on the map of "ArcGIS School Bundles," building a collection of teacher videos, and encouraging students to engage in local projects and competitions. If you're anxious to help other teachers use GIS to transform education and improve the world, join us in T3G 2018!

Because the problems that GIS analysts work on such as biodiversity loss and water quality do not stop at disciplinary or political boundaries, the ability to connect the map or attribute table that you are working on to another map or table in the same geodatabase or another geodatabase is powerful.  One way of doing this is to join features.  This has been a core function and a chief argument for the use of GIS for decades.  But with the advent of ArcGIS , including its Join Features tool along with data layers in the Living Atlas of the World, the ability that you have at your fingertips for joining features just became a lot more powerful.  I first saw a demonstration of this at the Esri User Conference from my colleague Jennifer Bell and I thought, "this is a fantastic capability for educators... and people in other sectors of society."


Why is this so incredible?  In the past, to join your data to another data set, you had to spend some time downloading and formatting that data set; sometimes you had to add additional fields and populate them, before that data set was usable in your GIS.  But the bottom line is that you now have access to data sets in the cloud, for example, in the Living Atlas of World.  And, similar to the capabilities included in the Enrichment tool, these data sets do not have to be on your own device or in your own geodatabase to use them!


Additionally, you now have the capability of making choropleth maps from tabular data using the Join Features option.  Let’s say you have a CSV (comma separated value) table containing data for a set of polygons, such as ZIP codes in a state, or US states, or world countries.  If you add that table to ArcGIS  and make a map out of it, your result will be a set of points, one for each record in your table.  If your table represents world countries, your map will show one point in each country.  This is a useful exercise if you are teaching about geocoding in a GIS course but not so useful if your goal is to obtain a choropleth map on specific variables for your desired set of polygons.  In the past, your choices at this stage would be to use Esri Maps for Office to turn your table into a set of polygons in ArcGIS , or to use ArcMap or ArcGIS Pro to join your table to a table associated with an existing shapefile or geodatabase.  But now you can also use ArcGIS  to create a choropleth map!  


How can you do this?  You can do this via the Join Tables tool and by accessing the Living Atlas of the World.  First, log into your account in ArcGIS .  Then > Map > Modify Map > Add Data.  Add your spreadsheet.  Need a spreadsheet?  The World Bank has a wide variety of data sets by country in tabular form.  Indicate the field (such as country code) for your place-based table, and the result will be a set of points, similar to that below (shown on the colored pencil base map, which I love):


Point map

That is all good, but now for the really exciting part:  To make a choropleth map by country of this same data: Perform Analysis > Join Features, on step 1, select Choose Living Atlas Analysis Layer, and for step 2, choose your table, which  now resides in ArcGIS  as a layer, and join on a common field. In this example, I had no common field, so I first had to add a field in Excel for the 2 digit ISO country code and populate that field with the code.  Why?  Because the ISO 2 digit code did not exist in the World Bank table.  This is a good example of knowing your data and what you need to sometimes do to enable joins to take place.  


Using the Join Features tool, 1

While running the Join Features tool, select the Living Atlas, search for World Countries, and choose World Countries, as shown below:


Using the Join Features tool, 2

Therefore, you are joining your agricultural land table (#2) to the World Countries (Generalized) from the Living Atlas, as shown below:


Using the Join Features tool, 3

Indicate the fields that will serve as your join fields, as I have done below.  I will be joining on the 2 digit ISO code.  When possible, join on a code rather than names (of cities, countries, and so on) due to spelling differences, which will adversely affect your match rate.


Using the Join Features tool, 4

The result is a map joined to your original table!  Now, with the map at your fingertips, you can map any of your table attributes, such as agricultural land by country for 2015, as I have done below. 

Resulting map

Now let's dig a little deeper.  Since we are working with agricultural land over time, we can create a custom Arcade expression that will allow us to visualize changes around the world.  I created a custom expression below, subtracting the 1980 percent agricultural land by country by the percent in 2015, as shown below.  Since the data are already in percent, there was no need to multiple by 100 (again, knowing your data is key!): 

Custom expression


I also want the popup to display the change over time, and so I will add the same expression shown above to the popup custom attribute display, as shown below:

Custom popup configuration


The resulting map and popup are shown here.  What patterns do you notice? Why the big increase in Saudi Arabia, for example?  You could zoom in, change the basemap to imagery, and investigate the new center pivot irrigated fields in the middle of that country.  You could pan over to Brazil and examine fields reclaimed from wetlands and rainforest.  You could examine urban spawl in the USA and elsewhere as part of your investigation into why agricultural land has declined in many areas of the world.  Because I believe a data set like this is valuable to teach many core themes in environmental science, economics, and physical and cultural geography, I have shared the table here. 

Map using custom expression for legend and for popup


For more information about the Living Atlas, explore it here.  For more information about the Join tool in ArcGIS , examine this document


I have created a video on this topic, here: While this is really a paradigm-changing workflow, I used a simple example to hopefully get the point across:


Joining data to ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World.

By Adena Schutzberg


The last blog post with this title, part III, was published in June 2015. In it, David DiBiase, Director of Esri’s Education Outreach team, addressed the future of Esri’s MOOC program. I’m going to pick up where David left off. 


The MOOC portfolio did grow, as David suggested it would. Still unsure what a MOOC is? At Esri, MOOCs are massive, open, online courses on GIS topics that:


  • Cover a single theme
  • Involve four to six weeks of instruction, with two-three hours per week of study
  • Require registration but are free to take
  • Run once or twice a year with firm start and end dates
  • Provide certificates to students who complete the course material
  • Introduce students to subject matter experts from across Esri and its community


By the time I joined the Education Outreach team in July 2016, Esri offered four different courses. David introduced the first two, Going Places with Spatial Analysis and The Location Advantage in the previous articles. Two others made their debut in 2016:  Do-It-Yourself Geo Apps and Earth Imagery at Work. Each of those courses brought new topics and teaching and learning techniques to our students.  


Do-it-Yourself Geo Apps Encourages Student Directed Projects


Do-It-Yourself Geo Apps introduces Esri tools to build geospatially focused apps without coding. The MOOC was a departure from the first two courses in a number of ways. First, Do-It-Yourself Geo Apps is only four weeks long and all the content is available when the course opens. Second, the course offers guided exercises as did the first two course, but also encourages students to apply what they learned to a topic of interest in “Do-It-Yourself” exercises. Finally, students are encouraged to share their apps with one another and to provide helpful suggestions and feedback. The course continues to draw more than 10,000 registrations for each offering. Some of the most active participants have been high school students and staff at New York City Parks.


A student project from Do-it-Yourself Geo Apps: Mapping Genomes using GIS - DNA Lung Cancer Map

A student project from Do-it-Yourself Geo Apps: Mapping Genomes using GIS - DNA Lung Cancer Map


Earth Imagery at Work Lets Students Drive ArcGIS Pro, Interact More with Instructors


Earth Imagery at Work introduces students to the power of imagery in agriculture, utilities, disaster response and other disciplines. The exercises highlight imagery tools in ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Pro. While we were excited to show off the imagery capabilities of ArcGIS Pro, we knew it added a layer of complexity for students. We were concerned that not all registrants would have access to computers that could run the software. Even if they could, they’d need to manage large downloads and navigate a named user license. We were very pleased that 70% of enrolled students successfully installed and gained hands-on experience with ArcGIS Pro that first time around. That percentage has remained steady in subsequent offerings. Many students worked with ArcGIS Pro for the first time during the initial offerings.


Instructor Kevin Butler interviews Susanna Crespo, Esri Agriculture Industry Manager in a video from Earth Imagery at Work.

Instructor Kevin Butler interviews Susanna Crespo, Esri Agriculture Industry Manager in a video from Earth Imagery at Work.


We added a new interactive elements to Earth Imagery at Work. Instead of lectures the instructor interviewed Esri staffers about how they use imagery. Further, we set aside an hour during the offering for an Ask Me Anything (AMA). During that time, Instructors and other guests are available, live, to answer student questions about anything! Participants type their questions and answers, so the event is easily accessible and completely self-documenting. You can see the topics covered in this AMA, hosted at GeoNet, from last October. Student feedback on the three AMAs held in recent courses has been very positive and we plan to offer them in all future MOOC offerings.


Cartography. Taps a Team of Mapmakers and the Creative Lab


As we launched Earth Imagery at Work we began exploring possible topics for the next MOOC. A few ideas came and went. One idea, a course on cartography, gained momentum. In time, key stakeholders were on board, and we started crafting exercises and videos. The Cartography. MOOC draws on the Do-It-Yourself Geo Apps idea of open ended exercises. It includes “stretch exercises” for those who want to see what they can do on their own. The course, unlike previous MOOCs, is team taught. Students will enjoy lively group discussions videos featuring five of Esri’s cartographers.


instructors Ken Field, Nathan Shephard, and John Nelson, three of the five-person teaching team, chat during a Cartography. video shoot. Esri’s Creative Lab, produced, directed and filmed each of the six course videos.

Instructors Ken Field, Nathan Shephard, and John Nelson, three of the five-person teaching team, chat during a Cartography. video shoot. Esri’s Creative Lab, produced, directed and filmed each of the six course videos.


As David noted in previous parts of this series, the MOOC program relies on the support of teams and resources across Esri. As we nailed down the vision for the discussion videos for Cartography., we were lucky to have the enthusiastic support of Esri’s Creative Lab. The Lab is responsible for Esri’s graphics and video productions. The producers, directors and editors contributed their talents to make the videos professional, entertaining and informative.


Growth Prompts a New Delivery Platform


With five MOOCs in our course catalog and more than 111,000 students enrolled, we took a hard look at the backend technology that powers our program. We’d partnered with a company called Udemy since the launch of the first Esri MOOC in 2014. Udemy provided our learning management system (LMS), which hosted the course content, kept track of student progress, and importantly, provided certificates of completion. As the number of courses and students increased, we were ready to explore a new delivery platform.


We turned to Esri’s Educational Services team and began imagining our dream LMS. We gathered input from students, instructors and other stakeholders to draft a specification. Programming began in 2017 and in February 2018 we offered Earth Imagery at Work directly from Esri’s training site.


Earth Imagery at Work was the first course to run on Esri’s own platform in Feb 2018. 

Earth Imagery at Work was the first course to run on Esri’s own platform in Feb 2018.


Hosting the MOOCs ourselves has several benefits. First, MOOC registration follows the same procedures as all other Esri training offerings. Students log into the training site, select a course, register, and see the course on their schedule. When they complete the course, their certificate is added to their dashboard. (A note for students who took MOOCs between 2014 and 2017: We are working to add past MOOC certificates from Udemy courses to each student dashboard this year. Udemy certificates have been updated to Esri certificates as of July 30.) Second, as MOOC students get familiar with the training site, they’ll see other seminars, courses and workshops of interest. Finally, we are looking forward to enhancing the platform to encourage more social learning.


Keeping MOOCs Fresh


We regularly review each course to keep it up-to-date as technology and student interests change. In some cases, courses refresh to highlight new features and options. The Location Advantage, for example, was updated in 2017 to show off new features in Business Analyst Web App. In other cases, we find demand for a “Season 2.” In a TV show, a second season means all new stories. In the case of our flagship course, Going Places with Spatial Analysis, Season 2 will include all new content, new exercises and new technology. In its first season, the course introduced spatial analysis using the core analysis tools of ArcGIS Online. In Season 2, coming in November  February 2019, it will maintain a focus on spatial analysis but use the new workflows of Insights for ArcGIS.


We invite those new to Esri MOOCs, as well as our returning students, to learn with us throughout 2018 and beyond.


[If you are unfamiliar with the entire Esri MOOC story, please read the firstsecond and third parts of this series.] 

Thanks to Josh Joyner (Esri) and Dr. Brian Hilton, Salem Alghamdi, Abdullah Alleisa and Mansour Alzahrani (Claremont Graduate University team) for sharing their knowledge and projects on GeoEvent Server. 


  • The recording and slides are located here


Other resources of interest:

  • GeoEvent Server tutorials - we ran out of time to mention these, but they could be used as a stepping stone to get familiar with the technology. At Johns Hopkins we've used a couple of them to teach Real Time GIS via GeoEvent Server, which worked well. Each student had their own deployment of ArcGIS Enterprise with GeoEvent Server running in AWS, and started with the "Introduction to GeoEvent Server" tutorial, which contains 6 modules and provides an initial overview of this powerful capability.
  • ArcGIS GeoEvent Server Gallery - lots of other resources for learning/teaching GeoEvent. 


Please post any questions or further follow up here. 

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 and I have created a video about this process here.



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. 


UPDATE JULY 2019:   I have created a video about this process here.

[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.


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. 

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