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319 Posts authored by: jkerski-esristaff Employee

Are you new to GIS, or spatial technology?  

Do you want to improve your spatial technology skills?

A new online course created by an educator FOR educators - and students - is now available online (click here for more)!


What is spatial technology?

Spatial technology is about measuring and representing the world using innovative and high-tech tools. Using spatial technology such as GPS, GIS and Remote Sensing, spatial information can be collected and analysed from the ground, the air, and from space. This information can be used in hundreds of different applications ranging from natural hazard mitigation to modelling the effects of climate change.  


What does this course offer?

This extensive course (Module 4: Spatial Technology) provides:

  • Professional learning on the use and application of spatial thinking and spatial technologies in Geography teaching and learning, including:  an in-depth study of key themes and issues of the 21st Century:
    • change over space and time, scale, coordinate systems, systems, spatial thinking.
    • ocean currents, ocean health, and ocean structure.
    • land use, land cover, ecoregions, and biomes.
    • human health, demographics, and population change.
    • energy sources and river systems
    • weather and climate.
    • natural hazards (wildfires, hurricanes, and tsunamis).
    • urban greenways, mapping your campus, field data collection.
  • Hands-on investigations, readings, 25 videos, quizzes.
  • Instructional material focused on the use and application of spatial technology tools, including:
  • Survey123 for field data collection,
  • Story Maps and other web mapping applications,
  • ArcGIS Online,
  • Google maps, NASA Earth Observatory, Gapminder, and other tools. 
  • with options for extensions and deeper learning.Collage of course quizzes, hands-on work, readings, and videos.Selection of course quizzes, hands-on work, readings, and videos.

Who should enroll?

The options provided in this course make it suitable for:

  • Geography teachers who require basic grounding in geography themes and foundations or who wish to improve their spatial technology skills.
  • Educators in earth and life sciences, environmental sciences, history, and computer technologies who seek to infuse spatial technology and spatial thinking into their courses. 

When is the course available?

This course can be completed at any time over any time period. There are a number of required tasks for satisfactory completion.  

Who created the course?

The course was created by Joseph Kerski, PhD GISP, a geographer with 30 years of experience in geography and GIS education, working in close collaboration with the Geography Teachers Association of Victoria.  While some of the places studied focus on Australia, many other areas of the world are examined, and you can use all of the ideas presented in the course to study your OWN community, region, and country.

Time and Price

Estimated 20–25 hours to complete the required tasks.   Price: Australian $250. 


A certificate is provided on completion of the formal assessment for this course.  This is module 4 in the Certificate of Geography Competency.  You can take Spatial Technology as a stand-alone course OR you can take this course along with the 4 others in the Geography Competency certificate.  But note that there is no requirement to complete the other modules.


Course Structure

1. An introduction to Geospatial technologies.

2. Using spatial technology in Geography.

3. Analysing change over space and time.

4. Exploring regions.

5. Mapping your own data.

6. Analysis and synthesis.

7. Formal assessment.

One of the videos in the course video playlist, describing what Spatial Technologies are and why they are relevant and exciting for educational use. 


Why the GTAV?

This course is offered through the Geography Teachers Association of Victoria, Australia (GTAV), one of the world's preeminent geography education professional societies.  Esri, Esri Australia, and GTAV have been partnering to further geographic content and skills for educators for a number of years.  By taking this course through GTAV, you have the advantage of networking with some truly inspiring educators, and you have the support of all of these organizations to provide you with advice and/or any technical support you might need along the way. 

For Further Information

See the information on, contact the author of this blog Joseph Kerski (,  peruse the set of videos here, comment below, or contact the GTAV office

GTAV course sequence

During 2017, I met with Michelle Ellington after hearing about her from my Esri colleague George “Geo” Dailey. Geo told me that Michelle was one of the most stellar campus facilities administrators he had ever met, but even this high praise did not prepare me for the amazing work that Michelle showed me when I visited her office at the University of Kentucky. Imagine having the job of managing the best way to create, maintain, and network all of the infrastructure on a major university campus — every light pole, water main, fiber optic cable, sidewalk, tree, exterior door, and much more. That’s what Michelle and her team do, day by day. Meeting her staff, it was immediately apparent that Michelle is one of those rare leaders who inspires everyone to be their absolute best, and no matter what their role, they feel that they are a critical part of the team. The innovative tools and methods they are using are helping make the university more efficient, cost-effective, and sustainable. Therefore, it is my great pleasure to introduce Michelle to you, and, through her story, inspire you to make a positive difference on your campus or wherever you happen to be. 

Michelle’s position is, in my view, one of those “unsung hero” types of positions on a campus.  How did she gain the knowledge and skills necessary to fulfill all of her responsibilities? Michelle said, “I’m currently the GIS coordinator for the University of Kentucky Facilities Information Services as well as the president for the Campus FM Technology Association. I worked in the private sector for seven years before coming to UK and am a past president of the Kentucky Association of Mapping Professionals. Folks in the campus GIS world or Kentucky mapping community are my people and we are a tight group. I enjoy serving in leadership positions for professional non-profit organizations because it connects me closer with people who are passionate about the work they do. I love the CFTA community specifically because everyone so freely exchanges information. There’s a like-minded viewpoint shared across CFTA where everyone wins if we all work together and collectively share our successful strategies and implementations.”

Michelle Ellington, Facilities Manager, University of Kentucky. 

What convinced Michelle to enter this field? “I was living in Alaska in my early 20’s (late 1990’s) in between college years, alpine trekking near Valdez,” she said. “We were using a GPS in whiteout conditions for wayfinding, and I just thought it was a powerful technology. When I went back to school at the University of Georgia, I asked my anthropology professor, Dr. Garrison, if he knew about GPS technology and had any recommendation on what I could do with it upon graduation. He steered me to the university’s Information Technology Outreach Services, and there I landed my first GIS job digitizing lakes to the Georgia base map for the Department of Transportation. Since then, I have worked for engineering and photogrammetry firms using GIS in a variety of applications until I found my home at the University of Kentucky in 2006.”

“A little over a year ago we hired a young woman and fellow alumni from UGA. She is an anthropology graduate, like me, and Dr. Garrison was an inspirational teacher to her as well. She is doing great work in our department and doesn’t have a GIS degree either. GIS is an over-arching technology with unlimited potential and I believe it could be taught across multiple college curriculums. As a hiring official, I’m typically not swayed to hire someone with a GIS degree over someone without. I seek individuals who are technical, methodical, see relationships and patterns, spot anomalies, as well as those who are flexible to adapt to the ever-changing advancements in geospatial technologies.”

I asked Michelle, “What one person, class, or topic most inspired you during your career?” She said, “Without question, my supervisor, Andrew Blues, FIS associate director, is my biggest professional inspiration. I feel fortunate that Andrew has been my mentor for over 10 years. He inspires me to believe that I am the “best in the world” as the GIS coordinator for the University of Kentucky ([see the] Hedgehog Concept from the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins). He brought lean management principles into my life, which is the foundation of how our department works and why I believe FIS has received several local and international awards. He is a gifted mentor and continues to support me immensely with all I do. A great mentor does not tell you what you want to hear; they see your potential, sharpen you, and encourage you to find your best and work to achieve it. I’m very thankful for Andrew in my life and hope he will continue to mentor me for many more years to come.”

What project is Michelle the proudest of being a part? “There was one significant project that put us on the map as a leader in GIS floor plan mapping. In 2008, we partnered with a contractor to develop the UK GIS Facilities Management System for a new UK hospital, Pavilion A. We went from a vision to successful deployment of an enterprise GIS interior space mapping application used to facilitate the occupancy of a 16-floor 1.2 million square foot Level 1 Trauma Center. The GISFMS had an interactive map interface and dynamically generated Room Data Sheets used to track move-in. The RDS showed where the space was in the building and listed all technologies, furniture, and equipment present in each room. Each RDS was posted to the door of its associated room and assets were checked off in the system until occupancy was complete. This application was well received within the GIS community and in 2011 we received an Esri Vision Award at the Esri Health Conference followed by the Esri Special Achievement in GIS Award in 2012.”

“GIS floor plan mapping wasn’t as pervasive in 2008 as it is now, so we were definitely a leader in this new space. Our application was built off the Flex API so, unfortunately, the GISFMS application died off once Apple’s iOS took hold of the mobile market, but that’s just the price of being on the bleeding edge of technology. Back then, we could take these kinds of risks because it was pretty much just Andrew and me supporting a few projects while building a GIS service area, whereas today we have about 30 employees and three distinct teams in our department. FIS is now a recharge unit that services many customers across multiple UK areas so we have to be more selective when choosing large, high-risk project opportunities that come our way. The experience gained from the GISFMS project, along with Andrew’s leadership, has inspired a belief that we are successful innovators. This mindset has now become part of our department’s DNA.”

“The second project I’m extremely proud of is the Miller Fork rock climbing guidebook that my husband, Ray, and I self-published. We’ve both been rock climbing for over 20 years and Ray has authored many editions of the Red River Gorge Climbing guidebooks since 2005. In 2014, his publisher unexpectedly passed, so we decided to create an innovative guidebook for a new climbing area with a couple of friends. The book is filled with GPS surveyed 3D maps, analytical charts and graphs, eye candy illustrations, professional photography, and Ray’s reputable route descriptions. I developed much of the content and coordinated the entire project from beginning to end in under six months while working a full-time job. It was an extremely challenging and fulfilling project and I definitely think there will be more self-publishing in my future. My husband and I are outdoor enthusiasts with a passion for technology so documenting our recreational activity information in databases is a fun hobby.”

What does Michelle feel is the most important thing we, the geographic community, need to work on? “I think the most important thing every community needs to work on is learning how to be more efficient so we can use our time more wisely to accomplish great things and enjoy life to its fullest (work-life balance). Everyone is so busy! I don’t feel busy; I definitely have a lot of things in motion but I rely on the Lean strategies I’ve learned to create successful plans and accomplish goals. Being a student of Lean for many years has taught me to “be good to my future self” by documenting all my work and developing systems that are self-servicing so I don’t have to always be accountable for their upkeep. Nearly everything I do is standardized, documented, and taught to others with the hopes of growing them into future leaders. I welcome anyone to contact me to learn more about Lean and how it makes life easier, more rewarding, and promotes success.”

What is Michelle’s advice to a new geographer, surveyor, or GIS professional? “My advice would be to focus on the term “geospatial” instead of “GIS.” Our community and industry is not just one technology, tool, or software application. To be successful as a geospatial professional today you must be aware of all the many components and how they integrate. You also must be disciplined and flexible enough to learn new systems and quickly dive into new technologies instead of staying anchored into something just because you’re good at it. Also, join professional non-profit organizations and volunteer to help them meet their mission and goals. Through helping the industry in this way, you will exponentially grow as a professional and make meaningful relationships along the way.”

Michelle also shared this quote, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” – Thomas Edison

To read about more of these "geoinspirations", see my column in Directions Magazine.  This column is published every two months; some are in text format and others are in podcast format.  Enjoy and be inspired! 

I am pleased to announce that a new book that I am co-author and co-editor on has been published by CRC Press, entitled Spatial Thinking in Environmental Contexts--Maps, Archives, and Timelines.  My co-authors and I refer to it as "GeoMAT".  For a brief video about the book, see this link.  Spatial Thinking in Environmental Contexts: Maps, Archives, and Timelines cultivates the spatial thinking "habit of mind" as a critical geographical view of how the world works, including how environmental systems function, and how we can approach and solve environmental problems using maps, archives, and timelines. The work explains why spatial thinking matters as it helps readers to integrate a variety of methods to describe and analyze spatial/temporal events and phenomena in disparate environmental contexts. It weaves together maps, GIS, timelines, and storytelling as important strategies in examining concepts and procedures in analyzing real-world data and relationships. The work thus adds significant value to qualitative and quantitative research in environmental (and related) sciences.   

GeoMAT book cover.

Cover of book Spatial Thinking in Environmental Contexts: Maps, Archives, and Timelines.   


The book features:


    • Written by internationally renowned experts known for taking complex ideas and finding accessible ways to more broadly understand and communicate them.
    • Includes real-world studies explaining the merging of disparate data in a sensible manner, understandable across several disciplines.
    • Unique approach to spatial thinking involving animated maps, 3D maps, GEOMATs, and story maps to integrate maps, archives, and timelines—first across a single environmental example and then through varied examples.
    • Merges spatial and temporal views on a broad range of environmental issues from traditional environmental topics to more unusual ones involving urban studies, medicine, municipal/governmental application, and citizen-scientist topics.
    • Provides easy to follow step-by-step instructions to complete tasks; no prior experience in data processing is needed.


Here are more details:    Reference - 224 Pages - 271 B/W Illustrations | ISBN 9781138631854 - CAT# K32082


Who could benefit from this book?  Researchers in a wide variety of fields, but all of whom want to understand what spatio-temporal thinking is and how it can be incorporated, instructors who want to teach with the exciting tools and data sets available through the WebGIS paradigm (such as ArcGIS Online, story maps, Operations Dashboards, Survey123, and more), the "curious general public" who are intrigued by mapping tools and want to explore them, and finally, all who are keenly aware of the challenges we face as a 21st Century society and want to take positive steps to raise awareness of them and solve them.


I look forward to hearing your reactions to the book!  


--Joseph Kerski

Collage of GeoMAT book images.

A selection of images from the book.

I highly recommend investigating the amazing and beautiful new National Geographic map in teaching, learning, and beyond.  This is one of the rapidly expanding set of vector tile maps available to you, and this one presents different wonders and delights at different scales.  At smaller scales, a new cached base layer has been created, the National Geographic Style Base. It blends our multi-directional hillshade with a specially prepared version of the Esri/USGS Ecophysiographic Land Units Map. For more information on the science behind ELUs, see this link. At mid-scales, the ELUs give way to a single tone land color. The hillshade continues into large scale, matching the coverage seen on other basemaps such as Topographic.  To find out more about this map, see this essay from my colleague at Esri:  


To access the map, you have two options:


  1.  Later this year, the National Geographic basemap will be added to the basemaps default gallery.  At the moment, in ArcGIS Online or ArcGIS Pro, you need to add both the National Geographic STYLE and the National Geographic Style BASE from the Living Atlas (see graphic below).  Note that this map is different from the one that has existed for years in ArcGIS Online (which is the National Geographic World Map).   

 Using the National Geographic new basemap.

2.  Another option to use it is to open the following map in ArcGIS Online:

This map contains both of the above 2 map items in a combined format, and is shown below.

Using the National Geographic new basemap, 2.


--Joseph Kerski

3 new hands-on lessons are now available, designed to foster inquiry, spatial thinking, and work with real data to understand our world that you are welcome to use and modify.  I wrote these lessons specifically aimed at the secondary/university level students, as well as for faculty, but you can modify them for more advanced students and also for those at younger ages.   Note:  I improved the GIS for Beginners lesson September 2019 and the Living Atlas lesson March 2020.


In the first lesson, Change over Space and Time, you will explore themes that are near and dear to the heart of just about everyone who loves geography, history, earth and environmental science, and other disciplines, and examining change spatially and temporally is key to why GIS is such a powerful framework and toolkit.  In this lesson, you will explore Landsat imagery, Sentinel-2 satellite imagery, and historical imagery; you will study migration at different scales, the Human Development Index, create a swipe map, and create a time-enabled animation map.  All the while, you will build your GIS skills in querying, sorting tables, writing Arcade expressions, creating web mapping applications, and more.  


In the second lesson, GIS for Beginners, as the name implies, you will quickly, gently but powerfully, be immersed in 10 key tasks.  If you become familiar with these tasks, such as creating, saving, and sharing maps, opening tables, symbolizing, classifying, and adding data, you can do most anything in GIS.   This lesson provides you and your students with an opportunity to conduct spatial analysis, including summarizing data, buffering, creating walk times, and creating routes. 


In the third lesson, Teaching and Learning with the Esri Living Atlas of the World, you will dig deep into this rapidly expanding library of content, including its data layers, maps, and apps.  You will not only use political, population, environmental, and historical data, but you will also discover how to join your own content to the Living Atlas, which opens up innumerable new possibilities for spatial thinking, access to data, and analysis.  This lesson is a prelude to a more extensive set of courses that I am creating with my Esri colleague, of which 1 is already published via the Esri Training site, specifically, here.


I have provided these lessons as attachments to this essay in PDF format, but also as Word Documents so that you can modify these lessons to suit your own needs. I have also provided the introductory slides for your use as PDF files.  I will be teaching these lessons in hands-on mode (the best way to teach them!) at the 2019 Esri Education Summit, but you are welcome to use them anytime.  Have fun with them!  I look forward to your reactions. 



Just a few of the maps and data sets you can explore in these lessons.

Just a few of the maps and data sets you can explore through these lessons. 

I have created a new lesson in the exciting new story maps tools and have just updated it on 28 August 2019.  The lesson guides you through the creation of a map similar to the geomorphology field trip story map that I created and recently wrote about.  In the workshop, I made some enhancements to the original story map that use some tools that have been created since then, including the Express Map and the Sidecar.   The map you will create also includes links to videos and work with configuring layers in ArcGIS Online maps. The tools are described here.  The tools were fully released in July 2019.  The attached zip file contains the contents of the lesson in DOCX and PDF formats along with the images for the map.  These tools are rapidly evolving, so dip a toe into the waters today and get started!


I look forward to your comments.   Meanwhile, get out into the field, make maps, and do spatial analysis!


You need to get out into the field!

--Joseph Kerski

One of the most viewed blog essays I've ever written was entitled, What should I do for my GIS project?  While it certainly didn't go "viral", its theme seemed to strike a chord with many in education.   All of us in this field, at one time or another, whether at school, university, or even in certain workplace settings, have had to deal with this question, as I describe in this short introductory video and in this full length video. Let's discuss this topic from the student's perspective.  


I receive frequent inquiries about this topic, and when I do I encourage the student writing to me to discuss his or her thoughts with peers rather than simply focusing on my lists of what others have done.  Lists are fine for some inspiration, but if you are a student, I encourage you to start with issues that you are most passionate about.  Don't select something where you can easily find data, or even something your professor or co-workers or advisor is interested in; rather, pick something that you are interested in.  This will keep you interested, focused, and tenacious in learning new research methods, new tools, and investigating new data sets.  You'll need tenacity even for "small" projects, because the Earth is a complex place, and to investigate even a few of its processes requires focused attention. 

I wrote in 2011 that the United Nations Millennium Development Goals provide a good framework and starting point, and now here in 2019, I encourage you to look at the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  These goals that  address poverty, health, education, and other topics (1) can benefit by the spatial perspective and spatial analysis that GIS enables; and (2) provide one way for you to anchor your project in "what really matters."  Don't get discouraged and think that your project might not be "big picture enough", but may be focused on water quality in a very small part of a watershed, or about an urban greenway in one community.  It is my firm belief that thousands of these local projects are exactly what we need to build a better world.  


Another source of inspiration are the projects that the students winning the Esri Young Scholar challenge create each year, that I recently documented with an essay and story map.  Browse the posters linked to the story map to learn about the themes, the scales, the tools, and the methods that the students used to tackle the problems they identified, and consider how they could apply to what you are considering studying.  Another resource is the annual Esri Map Books that include problems addressed through the application of GIS in hundreds of disciplines from agriculture to zoology from many perspectives.  On that same theme, review the Esri industry pages, which give a good sense of the fields in which GIS is used.  While you are examining the pages in business, health, natural resources, utilities, and other fields, pay attention also to the organizations where the creators of these maps work, and think about which organizations sound interesting for you to work in someday.   Consider the societal implications of what you are studying including those discussed in our data blog, Spatial Reserves, such as data quality, copyright, citizen science, the Internet of Things, and location privacy.


I encourage you to read scholarly and trade journals, such as Transactions in GIS or xyHT, as well as Directions Magazine, Geospatial WorldGIS User, GIS Café, the Esri News, and other GIS news and research to understand how research with GIS is framed and conducted.  Follow those on Twitter or GeoNet from whom you can learn.  It may sound "old school" but one of my favorite sources of information are email listservs (though limit the number that you subscribe to so as not to get overwhelmed).  Keep current about Earth-related news to get a sense of issues of critical importance, from local to international.  Read about environmental issues or be inspired by innovations that have been achieved in the past and researchers who made those innovations happen.  In my state of Colorado, perennial issues include invasive species infestation, such as pine beetles, dealing with urban growth, planning greenways, wise energy use, and an issue that has been with us for 150 years—water quality and availability.  Look around you. These days, there are no shortage of Earth-based issues to address.  Current events from human health to political instability to natural disasters to economic inequality, energy, water, risk management, and many more are important issues that the spatial perspective and GIS tools can address. Consider also the type of research environment is most favorable to you:  Do you prefer working outside, in a lab or office, or a combination?  Does your preferred environment involve working in a team or alone? 


Allow me to back up what your professors are no doubt also telling you--one of the most important considerations on a GIS-based research project is doing something that is visionary, but yet is doable. To make it doable given your time and budget, you will need to limit your scope in several ways--reducing the number of variables or data sets, limiting the scale, limiting the number of research questions, and/or something else.  For example, for my PhD dissertation research, I originally wanted to examine GIS in education at all levels for the entire world. I eventually settled on the implementation and effectiveness of GIS in secondary education in the USA.  Keep a list of things that you are not addressing, and when this project is done, you can return to the most intriguing things on your list, for later. I have done this for my entire professional career and sometimes return to a project idea that I jotted down years ago.   For example, several years after my dissertation work was completed, colleagues and I collaborated on an international perspectives on GIS in education book published by Springer with inspiring stories from 33 countries.  


Finally, I encourage you to get involved in the GIS community--online via LinkedIn, GeoNet, or elsewhere, and/or face-to-face, at the Esri User Conference, a regional or national event such as the Applied Geography Conference, the IGU or ICA, or even a local MeetUp.  If you can make it to a face-to-face event, I encourage you to choose at least one track that is totally outside your own area of expertise--sometimes interacting with people with a different perspective and background can be the most inspiring and creative moments of all.  If time permits, don't just attend events, get involved in the organizations hosting them, such as the Society for Conservation GIS, the American Geophysical Union, or the Business Geographers, or another GIS or Earth related organization that you can contribute to in a leadership or other role.  Give back to the community through such initiatives as Geomentors or GIS Corps.


All best wishes to you in your project!  I welcome your reactions, below.  --Joseph Kerski


Researchers discussing a project.

Researchers discussing the scope and goals of a project. 

The title of this essay addresses a topic so wide in scope that a few paragraphs will not do it justice.  Yet is an important topic in which my colleagues and I on the Esri education sector team are deeply immersed and concerned.  Through campus visits and daily interaction with educators at all levels, we gain valuable insight on the challenges faced by and successes achieved by a wide variety of educational institutions, worldwide, and, with the community, cultivate what we believe to be best practices for course and program planning as we forge into the decade of the 2020s.  Why do we care?  First, we believe that the significant challenges our world is facing (energy, water, human health, natural hazards, climate, population change, biodiversity, sustainable agriculture) are all spatial in nature and can be understood and solved through the application of GIS.  Second, we believe that GIS is a key tool for 21st Century critical thinking, spatial thinking, and inquiry.  Our aim is to encourage educators, curriculum developers, and program planners to continually re-evaluate their programs and courses and to share best practices so that students in these programs will receive relevant and meaningful instruction and will become the leaders of tomorrow in business, government, nonprofits, and academia. 


As you are well aware from being someone interested in GIS in education and reading GeoNet essays, the combination of rapid change in the job market, student and societal expectations, goals and purposes of education, educational technology, and GIS itself, GIS courses and programs should naturally evolve as well to keep up with these changes. While some foundational tenets of GIS will always be with us (such as datums, data models, data quality), even these topics do not need to be taught, and I would argue should not be taught in the same way that they were 20 years ago, or indeed, even a few years ago.  We have summarized some of the conversations we have had with educators in a set of documents about "what constitutes a modern GIS curriculum" on GeoNet, which we intend to keep updating, that you are welcome to comment upon.  Core elements in this modern curriculum should include web GIS, GIS-as-a-service protocols and capabilities, APIs and SDKs, setting up and maintaining a GIS server including system architecture, field data collection and tools, 2D and 3D mapping, spatial analysis including big data analytics, using real-time services and the IoT, interior space mapping including BIM, visualization and cartography, web mapping applications (including configuring apps such as dashboards), communicating with GIS (including multimedia maps such as story maps and other means of geo-communications), and societal considerations (location privacy, data quality, ethics, crowdsourcing).  


One new program that I believe exemplifies these tenets is that of the Location Intelligence Program at North Park University.  Location Intelligence combines aspects of natural and technical sciences, along with business principles and the latest in spatial technology, with a focus on preparing students for a wide array of careers.  The program, as is evident in the images below, is forward-thinking in its courses such as business communications, developing web apps, and spatial programming.  The very title of the program, Location Intelligence, speaks to a focus of breaking out a traditional audience for GIS and appealing to a wider array of disciplines, including social work, health, and business.  I have been pleased to work with the program since 2018, and developed and am teaching a course entitled The Art and Science of Map Design:  Geo-Visualization.  To find out more about the LOCI program at North Park University, see these web resourcesthis official video from the university, and my video about the LOCI 3100 course along with a set of weekly course videos.  I look forward to reading your comments and I salute you instructors, deans, and provosts for thinking creatively about how to mold your program for the future.  And for you students reading this--use this essay as a springboard in your search for the type of geospatial program that will best meet your needs. 


Location Intelligence Program at North Park University

    Location Intelligence Program at North Park University

Location Intelligence Program at North Park University

  Location Intelligence Program at North Park University

Description of the Location Intelligence program at North Park University.

Esri and AAG hosted a poster contest entitled Innovative Applications of Esri GIS Technology at the recent American Association of Geographers (AAG) Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, in April 2019.   The goal of the competition was to encourage students to create their own creative application of Esri's GIS software to understand and resolve problems from the local to the global scale.  The AAG annual meeting, which attracted over 8,500 attendees from all over the world, was the perfect venue for these students to display the results of their research and development.

I had the honor of organizing this event with AAG and my Esri colleagues, and it was a pleasure to interact with the participants before the conference and to meet them during the poster session.  The session was held at the front of the exhibit hall, and I enjoyed watching the students interact with hundreds of people who toured the posters, including Jack Dangermond, Esri founder and president.  "It was wonderful to see the passion and creativity that people poured into their entry posters," said Jack. "I had the opportunity to have a few really illuminating conversations with the contestants, many of whom are students. It's truly exciting to see that the future development of GIS application is in such inspired hands."

The winners are listed below; they and the other posters illustrate the diversity of problems, issues, and scales that GIS is able to address.  Tools included 3D analysis, Python scripting, ArcGIS Dashboards, remote sensing analysis including with UAVs, spatial statistics and analysis, story maps, and much more.  

  • 1st Place: Nicholas Bogen, Central Michigan University; The US In 11 Zip Codes. Cash prize $500.00
  • 2nd Place: Carly Robbins, Clark University; Warming’s Impact on Bird Distributions. Cash prize $450.00
  • 3rd Place: Tetyana Pecherska, Tufts University; US Offshore Aquaculture Potential. Cash prize $350.00
  • 4th Place: Douglas Stow, San Diego State University; Remote Sensing-Wildfire. Cash prize $200.00
  • 5th Place: Yaping Xu, Louisiana State University; Stepwise Soil Moisture Data. Cash prize $200.00

To see a sample of the posters, visit the following links:  On traffic sign detection and extraction, on estimating wildfire rate of spread, on legislative districts, on assessing urban structures, and on blending 3D and story maps

To view the press release for this event, read this.  To explore additional ways that Esri uses GIS to support higher education, visit

Collage of Esri AAG poster competition

Photo collage of the wonderful participants of the Esri AAG GIS poster competition and their work.  I salute not only the winners, but all those who participated in the event, as well as all those who are using GIS in education and beyond to make a positive difference in our world.   --Joseph Kerski

I had two goals in creating this geomorphology story map:  (1) To illustrate how story maps can enhance field trips and investigations. I took the opportunity to test the new story maps 2019 tools. (2) To emphasize the importance of fieldwork in education.

Students in a geomorphology course took to the field to learn about drainage divides and landforms created by glacial processes, prevailing winds, rivers, and more. This particular field trip included 4 sites as described in the story map. The case study features Valparaiso University and northwest Indiana landforms, but story maps can enhance any field data gathering experience. Furthermore, I believe that fieldwork is important to many disciplines--geomorphology, geography, environmental studies, biology, engineering, planning, geology, anthropology, archaeology, meteorology, history, sociology, and many more.  Story maps can be used in a variety of ways, as I describe in the map.  The map includes interactive maps showing the study sites, watersheds and rivers, topographic maps, geologic maps, and more. Explore the story map, and I look forward to your comments below.   Then, go create your own story maps!


Geomorphology Field Trip story map

One of the interactive web maps I included in the story map.

One of the interactive maps that I included in the story map.

One of the images I included in the story map.

One of the images and descriptions I included in the story map.

Coordinated by Esri's international distributors and Esri's international and education teams, the Esri's Young Scholars Award program was launched in 2012.  Winners are honored each year at the Esri User Conference.   The program recognizes the exemplary work of current undergraduate and graduate majoring in geospatial science disciplines at international universities.  Winning entries are selected by a university panel formed by Esri's distributor in the recipient's respective country.  Award winners travel to San Diego to present their work and join nearly 20,000 GIS professionals in a week-long program of presentations, workshops, and social events.  This year, 31 Young Scholars were awarded from 6 continents, and their work spans covers topics ranging from transit, natural hazards, habitat, urban planning, historical monuments, and much more.  To accomplish their work, they performed some deeply insightful spatial analysis using Esri GIS software, examined existing and created their own spatial data sets, created web mapping applications, conducted a wide range of field work from noise monitoring to interviews, used UAV and other new tools, and more. The scholars honed their communication skills by creating graphs, charts, maps, story maps, and posters. 


See for yourself!  Use this story map that features the work that these fine Young Scholars have done that my colleague here at Esri and I created. See my video describing their work.  Explore their posters and show your students, colleagues, and others how GIS helps make wise decisions and build a better world.  Use the story map to get a sense for the diversity of scales, themes, and problems that can be addressed with GIS.  Use it to be inspired that the future of GIS work is in good hands!


Collage of a sample of the 2019 Esri Young Scholars fine work.

Collage of a sample of the exemplary work by the 2019 Esri Young Scholars. 

Congratulations to all the award winners and best wishes to you on your journey!

After over 8 wonderful years, the Change Matters viewer recently had to be sunsetted (it was using old technology).  After testing several equivalent data sets and tools for a suitable substitute for teaching change-over-time, I settled on the Landsat Lens for introductory investigations.  It is a wonderfully rich tool that covers the planet as a series of images covering over 40 years of change.  For a follow-on activity, you could use the swipe tools that exist on the Landsat Explorer Esri app where you can build your own swipe image for your own customized dates.  And, finally, in ArcGIS Pro, there is no shortage of change detection tools that more advanced students can use.


Attached is the lesson I created that uses the Landsat Lens.  In it, you will examine change from natural and human causes in Abu Dhabi, Mt St Helens, the Aral Sea, and in Melbourne, but the most amazing thing about this tool is that it works everywhere on the planet!  Hence, you can use it to investigate changes in water levels in reservoirs, extent of glaciers, coastal erosion, urban sprawl, deforestation and reforestation, agricultural expansion and contraction, and much more. 


--Joseph Kerski

Examining change in Abu Dhabi using the Landsat Lens

Using the Landsat Lens for examining changes in Abu Dhabi.

Effective teaching and learning about demography and population change is enriched through the use of web mapping tools and spatial data.  These tools and data sets foster critical thinking and spatial thinking, learning about content, scale, change, and systems. In the attached document, I describe 8 short activities: Comparison of urban areas around the world, exploring population change at multiple scales, and investigating community demographic characteristics using a variety of spatial analytical tools and interactive online maps and charts.  Feel free to use these tools in your own instruction from secondary to university level. These activities and a thorough description of each will soon be published in a special issues about the 2020 Census in The Geography Teacher journal.


These activities have 6 common themes:  They all use interactive maps; freely accessible with no log in via the web.  They all focus on real-world investigations, inquiry and problem solving, use a variety of themes and scales, highlight change over space and time, and foster learning about interconnected systems (the carbon cycle, weather and climate, population dynamics, commerce).  


--Joseph Kerski

I recently created or updated my activities for secondary and university students focused on the following themes, indicating starting point links for each.  It is my hope that these activities, data layers, and interactive maps are useful to many educators and students.  I have also compiled a "why and how to use GIS in education" set of slides to use as an introduction to these lessons and activities as an attachment to this blog essay.


I wrote the Foreword to this book, just published:


GIScience Teaching and Learning Perspectives (Advances in Geographic Information Science) 1st ed. 2019 Edition

The authors have done a stellar job of advancing GIS teaching and learning, and I highly recommend investigating this book.

Some of the chapters are in the graphic below.


--Joseph Kerski 

Selected chapters in the new GIScience teaching and learning book.

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