Skip navigation
All Places > Education > Blog
1 2 3 4 5 Previous Next


343 posts

I created a new lesson in the ArcGIS Learn Library focused on siting a wind farm using the analytical tools in ArcGIS Online:   

The lesson will help you or your students build skills in these areas:

  • Conducting a site suitability study
  • Conducting drive time analysis
  • Creating a web app

What you will need to run the lesson:   

  • Publisher or Administrator role in an ArcGIS organization (see this link to get a free trial)
  • Estimated time: 1 hour.  

The lesson uses tools including filter, overlay (union), proximity, find locations, routing, as well as examining symbology, classification, and tabular information.  The lesson uses some wonderfully rich wind power data from the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), as well as electrical lines data, population data, and other layers.  You could run the lesson as part of your course in GIS, but also in a course on geography, energy, sustainable development, demography, or environmental studies.


Because the lesson uses ArcGIS Online, you could expand the lesson by adding additional layers to consider in your site suitability analysis, and by using additional analysis tools.   The lesson uses Colorado as its case study, but you could modify it for another state by accessing another state's wind data from NREL.  I thank the Platts company for the use of their generalized electrical data and my colleague Colin Childs on the Esri Learn Team for his help getting the lesson into the Learn format.

Final result after analysis

Final result after analysis is performed showing some of the layers used in the lesson. 


Wind turbine

Wind turbine.  Photo credit:  Joseph Kerski.

Huge thanks to Eric Shook (University of Minnesota), Patricia Carbajales (Clemson University) and Blake Lytle (Clemson University) for their fantastic presentations and follow up discussions on CyberGIS/HPC. 


The recording and slides are located here.

GIS Professional Tripp Corbin's book, the "ArcGIS Pro 2.x Cookbook" (2018, Packt Publishing) is new but I believe will quickly become a valued and oft-used resource. Mr Corbin's goal in writing this extensive (694 pages) resource is to help GIS professionals "create, manage, and share geographic maps, data, and analytical models using ArcGIS Pro." The audience for this book includes all who are learning GIS, or learning Pro, as well as those migrating from ArcMap to Pro.


Tripp's "cookbook" theme is evident throughout the book's format, where in each section and problem to be solved, he shows how to get ready, how to do it, how it works, and ... "there's more" (additional resources). That the book is from Packt is excellent, because Packt ( offers eBook versions of every one of its books, and also offers newsletters and tech articles. That Tripp is a full time trainer and instructor is evident--he understands the challenges in learning a rapidly-changing and complex technology inherent in GIS with just enough tips to keep the reader engaged. He also encourages the reader to think about how to apply each tool and method to his or her own work. He offers the reader the ability to download the sample data for the book, and the data bundle is also on GitHub. He also includes PDFs of all images of screen shots and diagrams.


I like Tripp's approach because, similar to my own instruction, he starts with data. He's not hesitant to discuss the benefits but also the limitations of each data format such as shp, gdb, and CAD files. He spends quality time in the book helping the reader understand how to convert data to the format that best fits his or her needs. His sections on linking tables from outside sources to existing data, on editing (in particular, a focus on topologies to improve data accuracy and increasing editing efficiency), and on 2D and 3D analysis are very helpful. I was pleased to see much attention to what I consider to be a chief advantage of Pro--the ability to more easily share content from Pro to ArcGIS Online and hence the wider community. Another wonderful new function in ArcGIS Pro is also included in the book--writing and using Arcade scripts, applied to symbology, classification, and analysis.


As a GIS book author myself, I know the challenges faced in writing such a book--what should be included, and what should be left out? Tripp does a nice job here as well, including the fundamentals that most users will touch. The book's chapters include: 1: Capabilities and terminology. 2: Creating and storing data. 3: Linking data together. 4: Editing spatial and tabular data. 5: Validating and editing data with topologies. 6: Projections and coordinate systems. 7: Converting data from one format to another. 8: Proximity analysis. 9: Spatial statistics and hot spots. 10: 3D maps and 3D analyst. 11: Arcade, labeling and symbology expressions. 12: ArcGIS Online, 13: Publishing your own content to ArcGIS Online. 14: Creating web apps using ArcGIS Online.


These chapters cover a great deal of ground. In the editing chapter, for example (Chapter 4), configuring editing options, reshaping existing, splitting, merging, aligning, creating new point line polygon features, creating new polygon feature using autocomplete, and editing attributes using attribute pane and in the table view, are all examined. The examples in the book are interesting and relevant, and not without some humor (Trippville is a community that is often studied). In my view, the book contains just the right amount of graphics. Tripp provides answers to the questions he poses, and then gives the explanation for each answer. Despite the "recipes" provided in the cookbook, not all of them require the previous recipe to be used, which is excellent for all of us in GIS who have limited time and want to select sections in a non-sequential order.


I highly recommend using this book in conjunction with Tripp's other book on this topic, "Learning ArcGIS Pro." The Learning book focuses on installing, assigning licenses, navigating the interface, creating and managing projecrts, creating 2D and 3D maps, authoring map layouts, importing existing projects, creating standardized workflows using tasks, and automating analysis and processes using modelbuilder and python. The Learning ArcGIS Pro book ideally should be used first, before the ArcGIS Pro 2.x Cookbook, but if you are pressed for time, these two books could be used in tandem. Keep both of them handy--they will be very useful to you.


Tripp Corbin's GIS books.

The cover of Tripp Corbin's ArcGIS Pro Cookbook, left, along with his earlier book, Learning ArcGIS Pro.


Tripp Corbin's GIS book.

An example of the detailed screenshots that Tripp Corbin's ArcGIS Pro Cookbook contains. 


Tripp Corbin's GIS book.

Tripp Corbin's GIS book.

Additional examples of the details that Tripp Corbin's ArcGIS Pro Cookbook contains. 

The best teachers share a few characteristics. First and foremost, the students as individuals are more important than the subject, so you have to know and understand each kid deeply to help them. You need to know your subject matter intimately to engage different kids in different ways. You need to organize activities that challenge kids at a reasonable level, and kids don't handle all challenges equally. There are often ways to meet irksome rules while still meeting more important missions. And you must remain adaptable. In today's education parlance, the first three elements are generally called "differentiated instruction" or "whole child education." But the teachers who stand out grasp and implement the last two elements as well. And because of those, the teachers are sometimes called "mavericks." Retired but tireless teacher Randy Raymond, from Detroit, is a "maverick."


Randy got his BS and MS degrees in science in the early 70s, then did research on Isle Royale, the big island in Lake Superior. "We took the first boat out in May, and the last boat back in October." He did some teaching in northern Michigan, and ran a landscaping business. "But my first real teaching began in 1981, with 6th grade science in Detroit Country Day School, where I started addressing kids' needs, especially those needing something other than typical classes. I began an 'outdoor field study' program. All day every Friday, no matter the weather, every class period was outside field study for that hour. Kids liked coming to school." Prominent people liked the special projects underway, and found ways to support these with money or technology. And Randy made more connections with people in business, government, and nonprofits who could make things happen. "I saw GIS in 1987, ARC/Info on Unix, but didn't have the technology or time to cope with it, but knew it would be important."


With a reputation for success, Randy shifted to Cass Technical High School in 1991, teaching older kids. He earned more grants, and in early 1993, at the NSTA (National Science Teachers Assoc) Conference, Randy saw me in a booth, showing ArcView 1.0 for Windows. "I have money! I need to buy a school license!" It took Esri months to set up the mechanism, but Randy became the first teacher to buy this license, and his next 25 years became a blur.


With a special grant, "I got hardware and built a lab, and had students explore and tinker during the day, and taught adult ed classes in the evening." His students began doing projects. One group studied lead in the water in Detroit, mapping lead pipe water service; Randy had wondered if the problems some students exhibited with certain content, and thus on some critical tests, might be influenced by lead in the water. "Four good chemistry kids spent one year doing research, and the next year working out ways to relieve lead loading in the water that happens overnight." Available health data was not pinpoint geography, but showed over 6800 kids with blood lead poisoning. Randy and his students were set to present this at the opening of Esri's 1995 User Conference, but were diverted to the White House to receive the grand prize from the Seiko Environmental Youth Challenge.


GIS in K12 Education movie frames


Meanwhile, projects for Ford Motors and the City of Detroit earned even more attention, as seen in Esri's "GIS in K12 Education" video (1995) and Esri's book "Zeroing In" (1998). "Some kids and I worked on the city's $100m Empowerment Zone grant, downtown for four weeks every day after school, with our computer and printer there. On the day they had to submit it, I was putting the booklet together and they were holding a police car to get things to the airport and then to DC before the 5pm deadline. President Clinton said that, of all the proposals, ours was the most informative, especially in the first pages, with the maps."



Because of his GIS skills, Randy was moved in 1998 from Cass Tech to Detroit Public Schools Executive Services. "I did data and analysis, not politics." That made him extremely valuable, and students of any age with GIS skills very attractive. Randy taught GIS at colleges and Saturday academies at local high schools. "As a school administrator, I came with the background of a teacher who was accustomed to doing things that met needs, solved problems, and were possible even if not typical." Entrepreneurial associations grew, providing more kids experience with GIS, through collaborations between a mix of governmental, educational, non-profit, and private partners.


"In 2008, the city asked to collaborate on a lead study. We got 300,000 records from 1992-2008, with real addresses; 169,000 were really good, and 80,000 of those were currently in schools, across 13,000 blocks of the region. We published an article in 2013, showing 54% with lead damage when they were young. The results were so obvious that people asked if we rigged it, but we had a number of kids with tests from two or three different years, and we were clearly failing them. They were not being engaged in the special ways needed given the things that had happened to their bodies." (See Education Week's related article.) For publishing a study that exposed damage, Randy got in trouble, and retired in June of 2013.


For a quarter century, Randy has talked passionately, with anyone who would listen, about "purposeful applications of technology in school … It's what you do with the kids, that's more important than any subject you're teaching. Doing something good with them is always my goal… [GIS] is like a whirlwind, and some see the endless opportunities and dive in, while others just avoid it because they don't get it and just can't see the value … It's not magic. The longer they are involved with GIS in real world work, the more they get engaged in what they need to know and how interconnected things are, and they're iterating and editing constantly, making decisions to make something better. You don't just give an answer and have someone tell you that you got it right or wrong, you get the chance to investigate … Kids working with GIS get smarter even if you don't see it on a test … We want them to know that learning is a lifelong process and sometimes we stumble, and things change so we have to adapt … School is meant to be a 'terminal' thing, but learning is not; the more school is an end in itself, the less learning becomes the goal; we need to get people invested in learning rather than in school …"


And now? "The joy of retirement is that I'm only out of [a given project] if I want to be." His current mission is showing school and district administrators how to use GIS to enhance school safety. There are always new people waiting to be exposed and, fortunately, mavericks doing whatever they can to help people of all ages and roles grasp the power of GIS.

Randy with car and GISGUY license

Luc Anselin, a Fellow of the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science, recently remarked that "GIScience [is] morphing into spatial data science” (Anselin 1027).


Is it really?


Fresh from Harvard’s "Illuminating Space and Time with Data Science" conference, and thinking ahead to the upcoming CaGIS AutoCarto/UCGIS Symposium on "Frontiers of Geospatial Data Science", I aim to collect my thoughts about Luc's claim in this short article.


Depending on the origin stories you choose, both GIScience and Data Science began to take shape in the 1960s and 70s. Stanford professor David Donoho traces the origins of Data Science to the work of the maverick statistician John Tukey, then Donoho’s undergraduate thesis adviser at Princeton (and one of my own scholar-heroes; hence my choice of stories).


Donoho’s definition of data science as “a superset of the fields of statistics and machine learning which adds some technology for ‘scaling up’ to ‘big data’” belies his skepticism about the hype that surrounds the “contemplated field.” Indeed, Gartner reports that data science and machine learning began reaching the peak of their “hype cycle” in the past year. 


Concerns about predicted shortfalls of qualified practitioners have led organizations like the National Academies of Science, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health to charge distinguished panels to develop strategic plans for Data Science, including data science education. These reports barely mention geospatial data and methods, and certainly don’t recognize GIScience as an integral part of Data Science.


Anselin (2017) might attribute this to “space skepticism,” the tendency of mainstream scientists not to consider spatial thinking “fundamental to the scientific process itself.” In our own higher education outreach, my colleagues in Esri’s Education team and I have noted a widespread belief among scientists beyond GIScience that spatial data are “just another data type." 


Contrary to that academic culture trait, there is some evidence of GIScience's convergence with Data Science. For instance, The University of Oregon’s Department of Geography established an undergraduate degree program in Spatial Data Science and Technology in 2016. The University of Southern California’s Spatial Sciences Institute offers a new cross-disciplinary MS Degree in Spatial Data Science. And Anselin himself founded a Center for Spatial Data Science within the Division of Social Sciences at the University of Chicago.


Beyond the academy, there is evidence of convergence in the occupations as well. A search on “data scientist” at O*NET Online the U.S. Department of Labor’s database of occupationsproduces "Geospatial Information Scientists and Technologists" and "Remote Sensing Scientists and Technologists" among its top ten search results. 


First 20 occupations associated with the search term "data scientist" at the U.S. Department of Labor's O*Net OnLine web site.


(One might wonder, why does the Department of Labor database not include an occupation called "data scientist"? One explanation is that GIScience's hype cycle peaked much earlierarguably in 2003, when the U.S. Department of Labor highlighted “Geospatial Technology” as a high-growth technology industry. Advocacy for formal occupations crescendoed soon thereafter.)


The recent events hosted by Harvard's Center for Geographic Analysis, and soon by CaGIS and UCGIS, may reflect a widening interest in the intersection of GIScience and Data Science - among GIScientists, at least. Harvard's event attracted 26 presenters and panelists representing academic institutions, government agencies, and industry, and a record-high registration of over 250 participants in total. Organizers Matt Wilson (Professor Geography, University of Kentucky, and Visiting Scholar, Harvard), Wendy Guan (Executive Director, Harvard CGA), and I aimed to bring together mainstream data scientists and GIScientists, to review the status of both fields, and to explore commonalities.  


Here's a partial list of highlights of two keynote addresses and four panel sessions presented on Friday, April 27:


Keynoter Francesca Dominici (Professor Biostatistics, co-chair Harvard’s Data Science Initiative) described a research study that applied a neural network to predict a continuous, 1 km grid of daily air pollution levels across the continental U.S.. Fused with claims records for over 67 million Medicare patients, the research suggests that there is no “safe” level of fine particulate matter pollution (produced primarily by fossil-fueled power plants) for senior citizens. 


In a panel themed “Sensors, Smart Objects and Infrastructure for Data Science," Carlo Ratti (Director, SENSEable Cities Laboratory, MIT) focused his short presentation on a project called TrashTrack, which addresses the research question, “why do we know so much about the supply chain and so little about the ‘removal chain'?” The project mobilized volunteers in Seattle who attached small, cheap, location-aware sensors (designed in Ratti's Lab) to 3,000 trash objects. The visualized trajectories of tracked trash revealed far-flung, nationwide removal chains, and raised new questions about environmental justice. 


In the same session, Brendan Meade (Professor Earth & Planetary Sciences and Affiliate in Computer Science, Harvard), discussed how machine learning is changing the condition of possibility of earthquake prediction, and reported progress in using neural networks to predicting where aftershocks will occur.


A second panel titled "Crowdsourcing, Geocomputation, and Spatiotemporal Analysis" included Amen Mashariki (Urban Analytics program lead, Esri). Amen reflected on his former role as chief data scientist for the City of New York, and pointed out the prevalence of predictive policing in U.S. cities. Emphasizing the need for transparency in prediction algorithms, he described an outreach strategy to promote public understanding of algorithms in his new home, the City of Baltimore.


Alex Singleton (Professor of Geographic Information Science and Director of the University of Liverpool’s Geographic Data Science Lab) explained why traditional sources of social science data are under threat, including national censuses and large-scale social surveys. Emergent new data sources are challenging traditional modes of inquiry. 


In a third panel on "Data Science for Cities, Health and Environment," Björn Menze (Professor Computer Science, TU München) presented work on algorithm design for medical image processing, including CT Scans. Noting that hundreds of thousands of such images are available for analysis at national health information repositories, he demonstrated how machine learning enables new mappings of disease patterns. 


(Menze’s work came up earlier in the day, in a different context. Our host for the event, Jason Ur, (Professor Archeology and CGA Faculty Director) mentioned in his introductory remarks that Björn used similar algorithms to detect thousands of archaeological sites in remotely-sensing imagerydiscoveries that would have taken Jason years to uncover through traditional field methods.) 


Finally, in a fourth panel on "Geography, Civic Engagement, and the Future of Data Science," Robert Chen (Director CIESIN, Columbia University) described an effort to mobilize the "data revolution" to advance the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals.  


Michael Goodchild (Professor Emeritus Geography, UC Santa Barbara) offered a second keynote address entitled "The Landscape of GIScience." Goodchild, who coined the term “Geographic Information Science” in 1992, wondered if the name "Data Science" isn't "retrograde," given that "information is data fit for purpose." Still, he agreed that rise of data science does provide opportunities for GIScience. "Carpe diem," Mike concluded.


Should GIScience converge with Data Science?


Allowing that some evidence supports Anselin's claim that GIScience is morphing into spatial data science, a second question remains: should it? Answers will vary depending on one's viewpoint and values. I'm an educator first and foremost, and my primary sense of duty is for my students' successbefore and after they graduate. From that perspective I think about spatial data science in context of the evolution of work in an age of automation. 


I hear a growing chorus of economists, tech leaders, and forward-looking historians anticipate fundamental disruption of traditional employment by increasingly capable machines. Management consultants Richard and Daniel Susskind, authors of The Future of the Professions (2016, p), foresee that “in the long run, increasingly capable machines will transform the work of professionals … leaving most … to be replaced by less expert people and high-performing systems.” Kelleher and Tierney (2018, 67), for example, suggest that "data science is best understood as a partnership between a data scientist and a computer."


Recognizing that the outsourcing of work to machines is nothing new, and that observers are notoriously bad at anticipating the new jobs that disruptive technologies eventually create, the Susskinds don’t predict future occupations that may replace the traditional professions. Instead, they suggest twelve future roles for which education should help people prepare. Those roles are:
Future roles in a post-professional economy (Susskind and Susskind 2015)


As the search results of the Department of Labor's O*Net database (above) suggest, "data scientist" is a role that workers in many occupations will be expected to play. I, for one, am becoming convinced that graduates of GIS-related degree and certificate programs should be prepared to play that role, to a greater extent than their predecessors already do. 


One implication is that tomorrow’s spatial data scientists – professionals with specialized competence with georeferenced data “wrangling,” analysis, visualization, and story telling – will need skills and abilities that span all three industry sectors of the Department of Labor's Geospatial Technology Competency Model: positioning and data acquisition, analysis and modeling, and software and app development. A corollary to that point is the need for future revisions of the GTCM to incorporate data science skills and technologies, including machine learning techniques and greater emphases on statistics and programming. 


While GIScience may be "morphing into spatial data science," the fact remains that few data scientists recognize that spatial data are special, as Goodchild first argued in 1992. However, that "space skepticism" may yet be overcome by "successful use cases ... demonstrating indisputable business advantages" and "unequivocal evidence that the incorporation of an explicit spatial perspective leads to better solutions..." (Anselin 2017). 


Carpe diem indeed!



Anselin, Luc (2017) Space Skepticism. University Consortium for Geographic Information Science blog, October 24. 
Berman, Francine, Rob Rutenbar, Brent Hailpern, Henrik Christensen, Susan Davidson, Deborah Estrin, Michael Franklin, Margaret Martonosi, Padma Raghavan, Victoria Stodden, and Alexander S. Szalay (2018) Realizing the Potential of Data Science. Communications of the ACM, 61:4, 67-72. 
Donoho, David (2017). 50 Years of Data Science. Journal of Computational and Graphical Statistics, 26(4), 745-766.
Kelleher, John D., and Brendan Tierney (2018). Data Science. MIT Press Essential Knowledge series.
National Academies of Sciences (2018). Data Science for Undergraduates: Opportunities and Options
National Institutes for Health (2018) Strategic Plan for Data Science [draft].
Susskind, Richard E., and Daniel Susskind (2015). The Future of the Professions: How Technology will Transform the Work of Human Experts. Oxford University Press.


"Workforce" is a prominent topic for state governors; every state is concerned about employability of young people after school … and even during school. And, every year, at Esri's User Conference, some GIS-using professional at a business, non-profit group, or government agency will mention to me the challenge they face "finding people with the right skills … even the beginning skills needed …" to work for them. Digging deeper, with governors and with GIS professionals, two skill sets appear: (a) job-specific fundamentals, and (b) "soft skills" of being a reliable worker, collaborating, working independently, communicating, making decisions and solving problems, being adaptable, thinking creatively, and seeking help when needed. I smile because all of these can be developed with "long-term" experience with GIS.


How do you document these things? A lot of schools run "Career and Technical Education" (CTE) courses that help students learn fundamentals in a line of work … cosmetology, public safety, diesel engines, biomedicine, network administration, GIS. Many of these courses involve independent tests on established principles, latest patterns, and current technology.


Esri offers certification about Esri software. But even the most basic -- "ArcGIS Desktop Entry Level" -- is no slouch of an exam. It is designed for GIS users with up to two years of applied experience. I can vouch for the breadth of its coverage; I took the Desktop Entry 10.5 exam a couple of weeks ago. The published info shows that it includes content about ArcMap, ArcGIS Pro, ArcGIS Online, and even ArcGIS Enterprise. The Certification Team has presented enough for someone to do a critical self-check about their readiness. Given the $225 cost of each exam, scouring these materials is time well-spent.


Esri Desktop 10.5 Entry Level Certification web page


Desktop 10.5 Entry Level guidance


Should secondary students take this exam? It is absolutely not designed for them. There are significant legal and logistical challenges to overcome before one can take the exam. Minors must complete additional paperwork weeks ahead. Still, some educators have steered their students toward it. There is a frightfully low likelihood that a high school student even with two years of hour-per-day classes will pass. (Again, the course was designed for the entry-level professional with up to two years … 4000 hours … of applied experience.)


Should educators take the exam? This makes much more sense, especially in a CTE class. Just as high school teachers get "content certified," it makes sense to earn a software certification if one is teaching what would represent entry-level GIS jobs. It may help the educator (re-)discover the lightning pace of software evolution, the breadth of the ArcGIS platform, and the difference between "just a map" and "a tool for analysis, communication, and problem solving."


So, does GIS even belong in schools, and especially CTE? Absolutely. The combination of "job-specific fundamentals" and "soft skills" can be built starting even in elementary school. Developing capacity to understand maps, create and analyze data, communicate powerfully, collaborate, solve problems, and so on, cannot develop sufficiently high in a single year of hour-per-day class. GIS has a home in every situation involving data and locations, whether learning U.S. history, analyzing local community situations, or modeling global threats. Educators need always to design appropriate and realistic measures of student capacity and achievement, clarifying student responsibilities, and building in their students scholarship, artisanship, and citizenship. (Thank you, Michael Hartoonian.) Documenting this with a digital portfolio, perhaps via a Story Map Journal, might be a useful model.

Huge thanks to Marjean Pobuda (Esri), Product Engineer for Spatial Statistics and R-Bridge on the excellent presentation on R-ArcGIS integration!!!


  • The recording and slides are located here


Below are a couple of the resources we discussed - be on the lookout for a new Learn ArcGIS lesson!


Please post any questions or further follow up here. 

I recently gave a presentation focused on providing guidelines for those who are seeking a career in GIS or a related career that will include GIS in some significant way (such as in city planning, wildlife biology, health informatics, and so on), and have posted it here.  The guidelines includes strategies on networking, resumes vs. CVs, interviewing, writing a cover letter, online presence, creating a storymap of your CV, and much more.  I am grateful to my colleague Nick Kelch at Esri for some of his words of wisdom and slides as I prepared this presentation.  In the presentation, I include links to videos and other presentations I have created on this topic.  I am very excited about the future for anyone involved with geospatial technology, as it becomes a fundamental part of 21sdt Century decision making.


I hope it is helpful and I look forward to your feedback. 

The Esri Development Center (EDC) program confers special status and benefits upon a select few leading university departments that challenge their students to develop innovative applications based upon the ArcGIS platform and related elements of the geospatial technology ecosystem. One benefit of the program is a cash prize, certificate, and Esri Press book awarded to a Student of the Year named by each EDC. Here I’ll share brief profiles of 10 outstanding award winners, including the one student selected as Esri's 2018 International Student of the Year.


Susanna Ambondo Abraham, Technische Universität (TU) Dresden


Susanna is employed as a Cartographer at the Ministry of Mines and Energy in Namibia


For her International Master of Science in Cartography thesis “Historical Spatio-temporal data in current GIS, Case Study: German-Herero war of resistance 1904”, Susanna applied Natural Language Processing techniques to extract spatio-temporal data from unstructured historical text documents. Using the GATE text engineering architecture, Susanna developed tools to perform gazetteer matching and spatiotemporal relationship extraction, as well as pattern-based rules to recognize and annotate elements. She then used ArcGIS to analyze the extracted historical spatio-temporal data. Reviewers observed that “the project requires expertise in natural language processing, geographic positioning, spatio-temporal analysis, and history, and addresses a timeless issue – human conflict.” Her research will be reported in a special issue of the Transactions in GIS. Meanwhile, this story map summarizes Susanna's findings. 


Marlena Götza, University of Münster


Marlena’s masters project at the Institute for Geoinformatics (ifgi) involved a collaboration between 52° North, Esri, and the company CLAAS E-Systems. CLAAS’ Telematics system uses a big data infrastructure to delineate farm fields from the movements of agricultural vehicles. Farm field boundaries provide the basis for automated planning and control tasks for farmers. The problem is that CLAAS' infrastructure does not provide geo-functionalities that take into account the spatial context in managing and processing the data. The purpose of Marlena's study was therefore to determine how the existing Big Data infrastructure could be enhanced by Esri technology.


Overview of the extended system infrastructure Marlena Götza tested for CLAAS E-Systems.


For field boundary detection, the existing Hadoop infrastructure was extended through the ArcGIS Enterprise platform. In addition to the ArcGIS Enterprise Stack, the configuration also includes ArcGIS Pro, which allows to users to control processing on ArcGIS Enterprise and to define processing workflows. The project demonstrated the added value of ArcGIS for visualization and spatio-temporal data, and also identified potential improvements to GeoAnalytics Server and the Big Data Store for similar applications. 


Jan Jedersberger, Karlsruhe University of Applied Science


For his masters thesis "Conceptualizing and implementing mobile mapping tools to support cheetah monitoring in Kenya”, Jan used AppStudio for ArcGIS and Qt/QML to develop a suite of mobile field apps, a web app, and back-end capabilities. Reviewers noted that “Jan built a complex distributed system for a worthy cause."


Jan (left) confers with a staff member of the NGO Action for Cheetahs in Kenya (ACK) about usability of the mobile apps he developed. At right, an ACK staffer photographs and tags a cheetah track.


Relationships among components of the system Jan Jedersberger developed for Action for Cheetahs in Kenya.


Timo Staub, University of Applied Sciences Würzburg-Schweinfurt


Timo developed a 3D route planning system for the University’s Röntgenring campus information system. Users can search start and end points by room number. Options include avoiding elevators, stairs, and/or special lock authorizations, and specifying in-building routes. Timo used ArcGIS Desktop, ArcGIS Server, Network Analyst, and ArcGIS Online to create the 3D-Routeplanner app. 


Timo Staub’s 3D-Routeplanner app at the University of Applied Sciences Würzburg-Schweinfurt’s Röntgenring campus.


Nicole Helgeson, University of Minnesota


Nicole is a second-year student in the University of Minnesota’s Master of GIS program. She’s also a research assistant with the University’s Extension Center for Family Development. She earned the EDC Student of the Year award for her work in web mapping and web GIS—specifically related to health and nutrition. Nicole's nominators remarked that although Nicole “did not have a computer science or software engineering background … she has become our archetype for how a student can migrate from GIS applications into GIS development."



Nicole interns with a local county Public Health agency, volunteers for the Minnesota Food Charter, and has received funding from the university’s Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives Institute. The web mapping sites she’s developed for these agencies deal directly with food access or cataloging institutions concerned with food access. A common feature is the integration crowdsourced information, primarily using Survey123 for ArcGIS. One example is Ramsey County food resources.


Timothy Naegeli, Penn State University


For his Master of GIS capstone project, Tim collaborated with a plenary geologist at the U.S.Geological Survey to develop and test a new GIS-based tool for identifying and characterizing impact craters on Mars and the Moon. Planetary geologists study primary and secondary impact craters to determine the ages of celestial bodies. Tim developed an extension to the Large Crater Clustering (LCC) tool set that enables analysts to simulate impact trajectories and identify likely locations of primary and secondary craters. The extension – a Python script that levers ArcGIS’ ArcPy library – is described in Tim’s paper in Computers and Geosciences.


Simulated impact trajectories reveal likely locations of primary craters in the Lunae Pauls quadrangle on Mars.


Brian Ho, Harvard University 


Brian earned Harvard University’s EDC Student of the Year distinction for his project Making a New City Image


Brian Ho, Harvard Graduate School of Design and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences


Brian's project seeks nothing less than to to define a "new mode of geographic analysis" that "unites the [planimetric] view from above and the [street]view from the ground.” The project is grounded in Kevin Lynch’s Image of the City, a landmark study that relied on both systematic field reconnaissance and interviews with a small sample of city residents, all supported by photographs, hand-drawn maps and lengthy transcripts. Lynch’s five elements of the city image — the path, edge, district, node and landmark — led to a generalized theory of urban form. For his project, Brian geolocated some 2000 of Lynch’s original photos of Boston. He then used ArcGIS Pro to warp a scanned image of Lynch’s Boston city image diagram, digitized each city image element, then associated the geolocated photos with the elements. Finally, Brian developed a convolutional neural net to learn the relationship between the imagery and the city image elements. A reviewer noted that Brian’s project "requires expertise in disparate domains (AI, geographic analysis, perception) and addresses a timely issue as the world becomes increasingly urban.”


Stefan Zimmer, University of Salzburg


Department of Geoinformatics – Z_GIS – honors Stefan for his masters thesis "An Efficient Algorithm for Computing Space-Time-Linguistics Similarities and Labelling Social Media Posts.” Stefan's machine learning-based algorithm “TwEmLab" (Twitter Emo-tion Labeller) assigns emotion categories to social media posts like tweets. Nominators praised his success in implementing the complex algorithm in a way that outperforms comparable parallelized algorithms, both for CPU- and GPU-based operations.


Tweets in the Boston vicinity associated with anger/disgust (red), fear (blue), and sadness (yellow), according to Zimmer’s algorithm.



Stefan applied exceptional software development skills to develop and implement geospatial applications using a variety of software technologies, including extensive use of Esri technology for spatial data analysis and visualization. He conceived and implemented a location-based game, in which a spaceship can be controlled using a mobile EEG device and voice commands, and was a member of the successful team winning the first Copernicus Hackathon.


Abhinav Mehrotra, University College London



Abhinav earned his PhD with a dissertation titled “A framework for intelligent mobile notifications.” His work focuses on the collection and analysis of large-scale datasets from mobile and wearable devices. He is also interested in the analysis of mobile GPS traces to extract human mobility patterns and exploit this information to support innovative services. "My research,” Abhinav writes, "is driven by a strong desire to provide value to the smartphone users from the data generated by their phones.”


ArcGIS played an important role in his projects, especially for visualizing mobility trajectories and understanding the characteristics of the places visited by the users considered in his studies. For example, in a recent project that investigates the impact of places on users' mobile interaction behavior, ArcGIS has been a key tool for clustering places visited by users over time. Nominators remarked that “the results of this work could prove to be of key importance for the development of novel intelligent mobile applications and services and also for mobile application marketing purposes.” Abhinav’s co-authored paper "Understanding the Role of Places and Activities on Mobile Phone Interaction and Usage Patterns” is published in the Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies.


Nicholas Romano, University of Maryland


Nick is a second year student in Maryland’s Master of Professional Studies in Geospatial Information Sciences program. He currently serves as a Graduate Assistant within the Campus GIS Group in Facilities Management. His development portfolio focuses on web development using the ArcGIS for JavaScript API, and data management and interoperability utilizing Python and the ArcPy package. He has developed a tool that repairs CAD files to re-enable block attributes that can be read within ArcGIS 10.3 and above. His other tools automate the transformation of CAD building floorplan data into the Local Government Information Model (LGIM), allowing them to be utilized for visualization within 3D Web Scenes and for interior navigation. At the 2018 Esri Developers Summit in Palm Springs, Nick proposed new methods to organize and scale enterprise application code. Along with his colleagues and predecessors, Nick helps make the University of Maryland Campus Web Map one of the best of its kind. 


Nick Romano’s 3D Interior Navigation prototype app


Last but not least, we are pleased to announce our 2018 Esri Development Center International Student of the Year:


Ashwin Shashidharan North Carolina State University


Ashwin Shashidharan (center) with advisers Ross Meentemeyer (left) and Raju Vatsavai. 


Ashwin’s pathbreaking work in high performance computing for geosimulations earned first place in the student research competition at the 24th ACM SIGSPATIAL Conference. A PhD candidate in Computer Science, Ashwin is advised jointly by Ross Meentemeyer, director of NC State’s Center for Geospatial Analytics, and Faculty Fellow Raju Vatsavai.



During an earlier internship with Esri, Ashwin contributed to algorithm design and software development of a spatial indexing library for GPGPUs. This work involved C/C++ programming using the NVIDIA’s CUDA parallel computing platform and programming model for NVIDIA GPUs. This work was part of Esri’s GPU computing initiative to extend big data analysis with the ArcGIS GeoAnalytics software. Reviewers noted that "Ashwin is working on the bleeding edge of GPU-based geoanalytics within the ArcGIS platform."


As Esri’s 2018 EDC International Student of the Year, Ashwin is invited to attend the 2018 Education Summit @ Esri UC and Esri User Conference in San Diego, July 7-13.


Time, space and available documentation do not permit profiles of every Student of the Year. Congratulations to honorees at other Esri Development Centers:


Benjamin Acker, University of Texas at Dallas, for his project Spatiotemporal Risk Estimation of Traffic Accidents using Python.


Max Czapanskiy and Sally Shatford (co-winners), San Francisco State University


Cesar del Castillo, Arizona State University, for contributions to the From the Past a Sustainable Future project.    


Brian Everitt, University of Southern California, for his Earthquake Awareness, Response, and Recovery Web Mapping Application


Andrew Fleming, Texas A&M University


David Penn, Georgia Southern University


Nikhil Sangwan, Purdue University, for his project on validation of floodmaps at county resolution for the entire U.S.


Timothy Schempp, San Diego State University


Matthias Stein, Hochschule Bochum, for his master thesis project "Usability improvements for map content controls on mobile devices."  


Zachary Sutherby, Rochester Institute of Technology


Jorim Urner, Institute of Cartography and Geoinformation, ETH Zurich, for his thesis project Incorporating Spatio-Temporal Context for Predicting the Next Place Using Neural Networks and Random Forests and contributions to the GoEco project.


Some enhancements to ArcGIS Online are big and others are very small. My favorite one from the September update is very, very small. It’s a tiny checkbox that only ArcGIS Online administrators would ever see. Here it is in all its glory:



If you’ve not run into it yet, log in as an administrator of your organization, and have a look at Edit Settings, and choose the Credits tab. If checked, the "Show each member's available credits on their profile page" will allow users to see how many credits they have when they visit their profile page.


profile with credits


Sometimes, we ArcGIS Online administrators, who are often educators, want to be stealthy. We don't want students to know about or worry about credits. Most of the time in the Esri MOOC program, that's the case. But in The Location Advantage, when students have access to all the GeoEnrichment tools in ArcGIS Online and all of the wonders of ArcGIS Business Analyst Web App, they tend to get excited and run lots of analyses as they learn about location analytics. We want them to do that! But we also want them to understand what credits are and how they work. So, for that MOOC, we are enabling this feature for our students starting with the April 2018 offering.


What is GIS?

Posted by jkerski-esristaff Employee Apr 13, 2018

What is GIS?

It may seem odd to still be discussing “what is GIS” nowadays, given the fact that GIS has now passed its 50th birthday.  But, considering that GIS has evolved in many ways and will continue to do even more rapidly in terms of its functionality, platform, data, application areas, audience, and social context, perhaps we continually need to revisit what it is.   In addition, GIS is also at the same time, a set of tools, an approach to understanding the world, a discipline, and part of other disciplines such as geodesign and GIScience.  Furthermore, new audiences are continually discovering GIS and applying it to new fields and problems.  Yes, it does make sense that such a topic needs to be defined and understood.

As is most likely the case with you reading this essay, I so firmly believe in the power of GIS to make our world more efficient, healthier, and happier, and I never tire of talking with people about what GIS is.   I do so wherever I have the opportunity—in workshops, presentations, courses, books, and even in everyday life such as on airport shuttles, community functions, and on elevators.  I encourage you to work on your “elevator speech” if you don’t already have one, as I have here and here

Another way of introducing people to the definition of GIS is through a video.  These videos have been important teaching resources going back to Roger Tomlinson’s Data for Decisions films from 1967 through today.  Besides that of Dr. Tomlinson, some of my favorites are those from Esri, Rebekah Jones, GIS Videos TV, and Esri Ireland.  but I also recently created my own video on the topic with my own interpretation of what GIS is, and why it matters to education and society.

Many of us remember the core GIS definitions from our university textbooks, which usually included the following: GIS is composed of hardware, software, data, methods (tools, models, and procedures), and people.  Another useful and oft-cited definition is, “GIS is a system for collecting, management, manipulation, analysis, and presentation of spatially referenced data.”  Still another definition is that a GIS enables us to help capture, model, store, manage, and present complex systems.

Another way to conceptualize GIS—Geographic Information Systems—is to break apart its three words:  The “G” or “Geographic” component refers to the location-component that GIS has—everything in a GIS is referenced to real-world coordinates.  These coordinates can define a single point, or a line or polygon.  They can also define the starting point and extent of a grid, or image.  The “I” or “Information” component refers to the informational database behind the spatial data; a geo-database, usually stored as a table or set of related tables, containing spatial fields (such as latitude-longitude or street address or city names), and aspatial fields (such as housing type or number of people between 10 and 19 years old).  The “S” or “System” component ties the “G” and the “I” segments together—one can select a feature via using the map, or via a row in the data table.  The “S” component ensures that a GIS is not just a set of graphics floating around in cyberspace, but that the attributes are always linked to the mapped feature.

By combining the spatial with the aspatial data, we create a holistic view of the world.  GIS data are analyzed in layers, which can cover such themes as land use, land cover, hydrography, zoning, ecoregions, transportation, elevation, climate, and more.

The process-oriented definition of GIS is that:  A GIS is a computer-based system that provides for the collection, storage, analysis, and display of georeferenced data.  A problem-solving definition of GIS is:  A GIS is a decision support system involving the integration of spatially referenced data in a problem-solving environment.

GIS is sometimes defined in terms of the questions it can answer, including:
Location:  What is at………….?   This question seeks to find out what exists at a particular location. A location can be described in many ways, using, for example place name, post code, or geographic reference such as longitude/latitude.

Condition:   Where is it………….?   The second question is the converse of the first and requires spatial data to answer. Instead of identifying what exists at a given location, one may wish to find location(s) where certain conditions are satisfied (such as an unforested section of at-least 2000 square meters in size, within 100 meters of road, and with soils suitable for supporting buildings).

Aspatial Questions:  "What's the average number of people working with GIS in each location?" is an aspatial question - the answer to which does not require the stored value of latitude and longitude; nor does it describe where the places are in relation with each other.

Spatial Questions.  "How many people work with GIS in the major neighborhoods or centers of Delhi" OR " Which centers lie within 10 km of each other? ", OR " What is the shortest route passing through all these centers". These are spatial questions that can only be answered using latitude and longitude data and other information such as the radius of the Earth. GIS can answer such questions.

About five years ago, Esri and other organizations began focusing on a transformation in GIS from a set of tools that are changing into a platform, here, and here.

More recently, some presentations have focused on GIS moving from a system of record to a system of engagement.

Each of these definitions has its place—they all help us conceptualize what GIS is and contribute to the richness of its evolving nature.   My own definitions as I speak about in this video are as follows:

GIS is part of the geotechnologies.  Back in 2004, the US Department of Labor identified three hot, key, growing fields for the 21st Century:  Nanotechnologies, biotechnologies, and geotechnologies.  GIS, along with GPS, web mapping, and remote sensing, are part of the geotechnologies.  Some people and programs prefer the terms geodata, location analytics, geoinformatics, or geomatics.

GIS is all about solving spatial problems in our world from local to global scale.  Thus, it is an application of geography.  Spatial problems all have to do with the “where” question.  Where are the fire hydrants in my community? Where do natural hazards occur and how do they affect communities?  How could sea level rise impact coastal lands? Energy, water, migration, biodiversity loss, sustainable agriculture, human health, city planning, and other issues of our 21st Century world can be better understood and solved using GIS.  

GIS is composed of several key elements—hardware, software (which is increasingly on the web), spatial data (also increasingly on the web) including real-time feeds, tools, methods, and people.  People apply GIS in decision-making environments, in nonprofit organizations, private industry, academia, and government organizations to make a positive difference in our world by solving problems. 

GIS is a key technology for our world, as increasing pressure exists on the environment through resource use and population.  GIS is all about critical thinking, spatial thinking, and making our world more sustainable, healthier, and happier.

A few of my other videos about GIS include its application to education and geography,  and reflecting on GIS at a giant cube, why GIS is better than paper maps, my TED talk on mapping, and making every day GIS day.

What is the definition of GIS that you find to be most useful?  How do you think GIS will change in the coming years?

Some people are natural teachers. Kids (and even adults) flock to them because they are friendly, helpful, knowledgeable, hard workers, and effective communicators who deal with the people first and tasks second. They stand out like neon lights, and are found in all grade bands and subject areas. Science teacher Erika Klose, of Winfield (WV) Middle School, is one of those. But Friday was Erika's last day teaching her cherished kids. She is stepping up.


Erika and devices


As a middle school student, Erika became obsessed with the just-rediscovered Titanic, helped her father restore old houses, and expected to study art in college. After a geology course captivated her during first semester of college, she got a BA in earth science, then an MS in geology and geophysics … which included a class in GIS. That one GIS class (1999, command line ArcInfo) got her an internship at USGS Woods Hole. It was a "trial by fire" project on coastal vulnerability for the whole US, managing huge amounts of inconsistent data, with a presentation to give at a big international conference in just six weeks. It led to six years of seafloor mapping and data crunching. "I had two Macs, two PCs, and two Linux machines running constantly in my office … just me and six computers," she laughs.


"But one of my tasks was outreach, and I began going into middle schools … and LOVED it. I knew I had to make a change. I went to West Virginia, got my Masters in teaching, and the day I finished student teaching, my cooperating teacher resigned." She took over in January 2008, and has spent the last decade teaching science to students in grades 6-8, mostly 7th grade. "I have kids for a semester, about 160 per year. And last Thursday, I stood in the hall, and 147 kids got in a line one by one and hugged me. It was great, and awful, and I just came back in the room and cried." Because Erika is stepping up, for teachers across the state.


Periodic Table atop WV map


At an "Intro to ArcMap" training in 2010 for teachers exploring GIS, reluctant participant Erika was discovered in the back row quietly building the periodic table atop a map of West Virginia, in GIS. One of the leaders looked at her and asked "Who ARE you?" Since then, Erika has attended Esri's Teachers Teaching Teachers GIS Institute and led GIS instruction of teachers across WV (and other states), first in desktop and then online GIS. She has helped update some state standards to include use of GIS. She earned certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, is incoming president of the West Virginia Science Teachers Association, earned a $10,000 prize for her school via the Day of Code challenge, and was Esri Teacher Video Challenge awardee in September 2017. Then, in October 2017, she was a Milken Family Foundation award winner, one of 47 nationally (with a great surprise video).


So now? "Starting Monday, I am 'Coordinator for STEM and Computer Science' for the WV Dept of Education." She has to work on redesigning standards, upgrading current teaching, growing the pipeline of well-trained teachers, and bridging diverse communities. "I think my ability to solve problems is one of my greatest strengths. I'm not afraid of things, like breaking software (just uninstall it if you kill it), or building stuff, or getting dirty. My parents gave me that. They let me DO a lot of things … and, I'll have a lot to do here."


Geogeek Erika


So what of teachers and kids and GIS? "They are different as learners. Teachers come in with the idea they need to be expert to present it in their class, and that's a barrier that is really hard to break thru, because teachers are also coming at it from the logistical side … software, controls, data, institutional barriers. Really, they just have to learn just this much" [cupping her hands together as if to enclose a baseball] "and just let kids go. Kids just do it. They're not afraid. They focus on the contents and yell 'Look at this!', and don't care about the software. They just do it, and LOVE GIS!"


Will this new job be a challenge? "I'm ready for the challenge. I've said 'I'm a teacher' for so long that that's what I still am. My heart hurts leaving, but one of my friends said 'You're the one that should go and do this, for us, and for the kids.' So I'm ready. I'm there to make a difference, for all of 'em out there."

I recently wrote about my experience giving a TED talk about the Whys of Where--the importance of digital maps, GIS, and geography in education and society.  Let's say you want to use some of the text of my presentation in your own advocacy and promotion efforts, and let's say you also wanted that text in Spanish (El Por Qué de Dónde).  I have provided them both below and provided a video version in English and in Spanish.  The translation may not be perfect and certainly my narration es muy mal, but I hope they inspire you to be a champion for spatial thinking and GIS in education in a wide variety of settings. 


Slide Number

Slide Content

Narration in English

Narration in Spanish


Joseph Kerski appearing in front of a map

More than just about anything else in our modern world, maps are all around us.

Más que cualquier otra cosa en nuestro mundo moderno, los mapas están en todos sitios.


An airport map

Maps are something that people are willing to look at long enough…

Los mapas son algo que la gente está dispuesta a mirar por mucho tiempo...


A route to Vail map

… to learn something from …

...para aprender de ellos...


A bus system map

… and even prompt them to take action.

y hasta pueden incitarlos a tomar medidas.


Belize students research results on a map

Maps engage, maps inform, maps inspire. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, I submit that a map is worth 1,000 pictures.


Los mapas cautivan, los mapas informan, los mapas inspiran.  Si una imagen vale 1000 palabras, presento que un mapa vale 1000 imágenes.




Clay tablet map

Maps have always been rich sources of data, communicating a large amount of information in a small amount of space—whether that space was—in the past, stone tablets…

Los mapas siempre han sido una rica fuente de datos, comunicando una gran cantidad de información en un espacio pequeño---no importa si ese espacio fue---en el pasado, como tabletas de piedra... 


UK geologic map by William Smith

.. in the dirt, on wood blocks…

...en barro, o en bloques de madera...


Von Humboldt North American Map

… paper, film, and now, in digital form--on our tablets, laptops, phones, in our cars, on our buses, …

… en papel, en fotografia y hoy en día, en formato digital-- en nuestras tabletas, computadoras portátiles, teléfonos, o en nuestros automóviles y autobuses. 




Map on a streetside Kiosk

in our neighborhoods.

...en nuestras comunidades.



Joseph shows paper map and slide of paper map

How many of you have lots of paper maps at home?  I do.  Paper maps are useful, but limited.  We cannot easily update them, add information to them, or change their scale.  They aren’t easily transported.. or folded.

¿Cuántos de ustedes tienen muchos mapas de papel en sus casas? ¡Yo si! Los mapas de papel son útiles, pero tienen sus limitaciones.  No podemos actualizarlos fácilmente, o añadir información, o cambiar su escala.  Tampoco son fáciles de transportar. …  o doblado!


Show map on phone

Today’s digital maps are much more useful, mobile, and versatile.  They are revolutionizing how we navigate our world…

Los mapas de hoy en dia son mucho más útiles, móviles y versátiles. Están revolucionando cómo navegamos nuestro mundo...  


Map of airport

…how we understand our world…

...  cómo entendemos nuestro mundo...


3D terrain map

and how we can better enable our world for the future.

… y cómo podemos mejorar el futuro de nuestro planeta.


City of Rocks in New Mexico

Paper maps are still handy in the field, though, because technology can fail!

Sin embargo, los mapas de papel todavía son útiles en el campo, cuando la tecnología puede fallar. 


A Hurricane map

Maps don’t just tell us WHERE things are, but help us understand WHY they are where they are.   Why do hurricanes occur where they do?

Los mapas nos solo nos dice el DONDE están las cosas, pero también nos ayudan a entender la razón porque están donde están. ¿Por qué los huracanes ocurren donde ocurren? 


A flood swipe story map

Why do landslides occur more frequently along certain slopes?  How high are the floodwaters down the street from my home right now?

¿Por que los deslizamientos de tierra  ocurren más frecuentemente a lo largo de ciertas pendientes? ¿Como de alta están las aguas de una inundación en la calle próxima a mi casa en este momento?


A zebra mussels map

Why are invasive species like zebra mussels spreading in these directions?

¿Por que especies invasivas, como los mejillones cebra, se está extendiendo en estas direcciones. 


A geo-database.

Today’s maps are not just graphics floating in cyberspace—they are tied to a powerful computer database—a geodatabase—a Geographic Information SYSTEM.


Los mapas de hoy en día, no son solo gráficos flotantes en el espacio cibernético-- Están atados a poderosas computadoras--- base de datos--- a datos geoespaciales--- a un Sistema de Información Geográfico.




Bio-Nano-Geo Technology graphic

The US Department of Labor identified 3 fast-growing, key fields for the 21st Century:  Biotechnologies, nanotechnologies, and geotechnologies.   Today’s maps are part of geotechnologies.  Geotechnologies include GIS (Geographic Information Systems), GPS (Global Positioning Systems), Remote Sensing, and Web Mapping.

El Departamento del Trabajo de los Estados Unidos identificó las 3 áreas de más rápido crecimiento en el siglo 21: Biotecnologías, nanotecnologías, y geotecnologias.  Los mapas de hoy día son parte de la geotecnología. Geotecnologias  incluye: los sistemas de información geográfica (SIG o GIS por sus siglas en inglés), Sistemas de Posicionamiento Global (GPS por sus siglas en Inglés), teledetección, y mapas en el Web.     


GIS network graphic

GIS is like an elevator—it works behind the scenes -- you don’t think about it; you just use it.  GIS ensures that your phone got assembled with the right parts:  Supply Chain Management.   GIS enables your package to get delivered to you and millions of others today the safest, most fuel-efficient manner possible.  GIS allows you to pull up an app that says that Bus F will be at your stop in Vail in 4 Minutes 30 seconds.

GIS es como un elevador---funciona tras bastidores---usted nuncas piensa en el, solo lo usa.  GIS garantiza que su teléfono fue fabricado con las piezas correctas. Manejo de cadenas de distribución. GIS garantiza que sus paquetes sean entregados a usted y millones de otras personas a tiempo y de forma segura y de la forma más eficiente economizando combustible.  GIS le permite el uso de una aplicación que les dice que el autobús F llegará a su parada en Vail en 4 minutos y 30 segundos.   


Plate Tectonics 1

Let’s examine the world’s plate boundaries, volcanoes, and the last 30 days of earthquakes, asking the “whys of where” questions as we investigate.  What are the reasons for this pattern?  What is the relationship between earthquake locations and magnitude?

Vamos a examinar las localización de los límites de las placas en nuestro planeta, volcanes, y la localización de terremotos en los últimos 30 días, preguntándonos, “El por qué de donde” según investigamos. ¿Cual es la razón de este patrón? ¿Cuál es la relación entre la localización del terremoto y su magnitud?”  


Plate Tectonics 2

What is the relationship of earthquake locations and depth?

¿Cual es la relación entre la localización del terremoto y su profundidad?


Plate Tectonics 3

What is the relationship of earthquake locations to volcanoes and to plate boundaries?  How many major cities are within 50 km of these earthquakes?  How many occur in the oceans?  Why should we care?  Ah, tsumanis!

¿Cuál es la relación entre la localización de terremotos con volcanes y los límites de las  placas tectónicas?  ¿Cuantas ciudades estan a menos de 50 Km de estos terremotos?  ¿Cuántos terremotos ocurren en el océano?  ¿Por qué debemos preocuparnos? Por supuesto, Maremotos!


Plate Tectonics 4

We live in a 3D world so we have created 3D GIS tools, here, symbolizing magnitudes as cylinders.

Vivimos en un planeta tridimensional por lo que hemos creado herramientas de GIS tridimensionales, como en este mapa, simbolizando magnitudes como cilindros. 


Demographics 1

Let’s investigate population characteristics—demographics—at  scales from national to local.  Median age:  Blue, older.  Red, younger.  Why is Maine older than Texas?

Vamos a investigar características de la población---demografía a escalas representado desde naciones, a escala local.  Edad media: rojo para representar población adulta, azul para jóvenes. ¿Por qué el estado de Main tiene más población adulta que Texas?          


Demographics 2

Scale matters!  When we enlarge the scale, we see different patterns.  Why are the Great Plains older than the West?

La escala es importante!  Cuando aumentamos la escala, podemos apreciar diferentes patrones.  ¿Por qué en los Grandes Planos hay más población adulta que en el oeste de los Estados Unidos?


Demographics 3

.. and now at the census tract or neighborhood level.  Why is this neighborhood in Vail older than those to the north and west?

… y ahora mirando los datos del Censo de los Estados Unidos a nivel de distrito y a nivel de vecindario. ¿Por qué el vecindario de Vali tiene una población de adultos mayor que al norte y al oeste?


Demographics 4

We can add other variables including those that are crowd sourced - such as median income or commuting patterns – to plan effective services, housing, transportation.  The goal?  Sustainable communities.  We are asking a lot of questions, aren’t we?  Agood map teaches you to ask a better question.

Podemos añadir variable que pueden incluir las que provienen de fuentes múltiples como ingreso medio o los patrones de transportación para la efectiva planificación de servicios efectivos de alojamiento y transporte. ¿Cuál es la meta? Comunidades sostenibles. ¿No cree que estamos haciendo muchas preguntas?  Un buen mapa te enseña a hacer mejores preguntas. 


Map of TEDxVail attendees.

Let’s map where everyone attending this TED talk is from.  Is this the pattern you expected?


Thanks to a web GIS called ArcGIS Online, this took me all of 5 minutes to create AND share. 

Vamos a localizar en un mapa el lugar de procedencia de todos los participantes de TED Talk ¿Es este el patron que esperaba ver?


Gracias a un GIS en el Web llamado ArcGIS Online, solo me tardó 5 minutos el preparar Y compartir este mapa.


Discuss global challenges

What would be in your Top 10 list of serious challenges facing our world?  Water quality and quantity, Natural hazards, climate, crime

Energy, migration, Political instability  human health,

Economic inequality   biodiversity loss


They all have a geographic component.  Hence they can be understood using GIS.  We can use our “Whys of Where” investigations to solve these global problems that increasingly affect our everyday lives.

¿Cuál será la lista de los 10 retos más serios en nuestro planeta?  Cantidad y calidad de agua, Peligros naturales, clima, crimen, energía, migración, inestabilidad política, salud humana, desigualdad económica, pérdida de la biodiversidad.


Todos tienen un componente geográfico, por lo que pueden ser entendidos mediante el uso de GIS.  Podemos usar nuestro “Por qué de Dónde” para  investigar cómo resolver estos problemas globales que cada día afectan más nuestras vidas.     


A CDC map of disease patterns

Here, the CDC is using GIS to examine the pattern of health variables not just to treat patients, but to build wellness.

En este mapa, el Centro de Control de Enfermedades usa GIS para examinar patrones de variables de salud, no solo para tratar patrones, si no para fomentar salud.


GIS is becoming the  language of the planet

By applying GIS to solve problems in an ever-expanding number of disciplines, maps through GIS are becoming the common language of the planet.   Even in your local government! – Zoning working with assessors, transportation, parks and recreation – around a common set of mapped data. The goal?  A smart city.

El uso de GIS se está expandiendo a ser usado en un gran número de disciplinas para estudiar problemas.  Mapas creados mediante GIS se está convirtiendo en el lenguaje universal del planeta. Inclusive a nivel de gobiernos locales - Desde consultores trabajando en  zonificación, transportación, parques y recreación - Todo girando alrededor de datos en mapas. ¿Cuál es la meta? Una ciudad inteligente.


Web GIS platform-data-maps-but: -PEOPLE are most important component.

But data and technology are only 2 parts of it.  For PEOPLE to effectively use these tools – we need a population that can:


●     think spatially and critically,

●     that have been immersed in deep and rich field experiences,

●     that can think holistically and across disciplinary boundaries.

Sin embargo, los datos y la tecnología son solo 2 partes de todo esto.  Necesitamos una población que pueda:

●      Pensar espacial y críticamente,

●      Que han sido altamente expuestos a ricas experiencias de campo.

●      Que puedan pensar holísticamente a través de disciplinas.



Joseph teaching geography Class

Think of your last geography course.  It may bring memories of mind numbing memorization—what are the major exports of Peru?  The capital of North Dakota?   Conversely, it may have sparked your interest in our world.    I hope this was your experience.

Piensen en el último curso de geografía que ustedes tomaron. Puede traer recuerdos de muchas memorizaciones aburridas.  ¿Cuales son las mayores exportaciones de Perú?  ¿Cuál es la capital de Dakota del Norte? De alguna forma,  Por el contrario, puede haber despertado tu interés en nuestro mundo.  Espero que esta haya sido tu experiencia. 


Educators working with GIS.

But if geography is fundamental to understanding the world through these mapping tools, why is geography so neglected?

¿Pero si la geografía es tan fundamental para entender nuestro planeta a través de estas herramientas de mapeo, por que se descuida tanto la geografía? 


Students working with GIS/GPS outside.

Our high-stakes assessment-focused, subject-divided school system leaves little room for the type of problem-based learning that GIS is a part of.   That’s what these Native students and I were doing on the Santo Domingo Pueblo.  In a semiarid region where soil is a precious resource, they measured gully erosion rates with GIS and GPS.

Nuestro sistema escolar se basa en lo que consideran alta importancia  enfocado en la evaluación y dividido por materias lo que solo deja espacio limitado para este tipo de aprendizaje basado en problemas del que GIS forma parte.  Esto es lo que estábamos haciendo este grupo de estudiantes Nativos y yo en la región de Santo Domingo Pueblo en el estado de Nuevo Méjico, Estados Unidos.  Una región semiárida donde el suelo es un recurso preciado.  Ellos midieron erosión de cárcavas mediante GIS y GPS.   



Map of schools using GIS in USA.

But by working closely with faculty, students, parents, and administrators, schools are now using web-based mapping and field apps in history, geography, language arts, science, technology, engineering, and math classrooms.   

The education community needs your help in turning these thousands of schools using GIS mapped here into TENS of thousands of schools.

Sin embargo, trabajando en estrecha colaboración con los profesores, estudiantes y administradores, las escuelas están ahora usando mapas basados en el web y aplicaciones de campo en sus clases para estudiar historia, geografía, idiomas, ciencia, tecnología, ingeniería y matemáticas.  

La comunidad educativa necesita tu ayuda para convertir estos miles de escuelas utilizando GIS en este mapa en  decenas de miles de escuelas. 


Image:  A mentor with student.

Geomentoring is one way to assist a school in their use of mapping technologies.

Geomentoria es una forma de ayudar las escuelas en el uso de tecnología de mapas. 


Image:  Working together

Your expertise in advocating for and modelling deep learning in schools, after-school clubs, and universities is needed.

Necesitamos su experiencia como expertos en la materia para abogar y desarrollar modelos de aprendizaje en las escuelas, programas después de la escuela y universidades



Image – Joseph with question and map.

Maps are the WHYS of WHERE.

Maps are more relevant than ever before.

 Will you be a champion for mapping and spatial analysis in education and society?

How do I end this talk?  I don’t … you do.

Los mapas son el  “Por qué de Dónde”.

 Los mapas son más importantes que nunca antes.

¿Estará usted dispuesto a aceptar el reto de ser un líder en la educación usando mapas y análisis espaciales?

¿Como puedo terminar esta presentation?  Yo no lo hago, lo hace usted.



Huge thanks to our presenters, Orhun Aydin (Esri) and Kimani Mbugua and Brian Hilton (Claremont Graduate University) for sharing their knowledge, projects and examples of AI/ML.  



Below are a few other items we discussed:


Please post any questions or further follow up here. 

The evolution of geographic information system (GIS) technology to the web presents an excellent opportunity for the geography community to foster spatial thinking among colleagues, students, and administrators. The use of web maps, spatial data, and analysis tools to examine local to global issues has never been so powerful and easy to embrace. It also provides a means for the community to promote geography as an essential twenty-first-century subject to the general public.


With the upcoming 2018 AAG Annual Meeting in New Orleans in April, these web maps and analysis tools can be used by anyone to thoroughly explore the city in order to enhance the time spent there and in the surrounding area.  These same tools and maps can be used to explore any location around the globe.  This article also appeared in the AAG newsletter.


The following examples illustrate the use of geographic data and tools in an inquiry-driven environment. These maps cultivate the three legs holding a bench that I believe constitutes geographic literacy: content knowledge, skills, and the geographic perspective.
Bench of Geoliteracy
Figure 1: Geoliteracy can be conceptualized as being supported by content knowledge, skills, and the geographic perspective.

Teaching with these tools can foster students’ knowledge of core content, including concepts (scale, diffusion, patterns, relationships, systems), regions, and themes (geomorphology, watersheds, demographics, ecoregions). Skills include the use of maps, analyzing data, assessing data quality, charting, collecting and analyzing field data, symbolizing maps, and communicating geographic content. Through use of these tools, the geographic perspective—in which geographers see the world working through a series of interwoven, changing spatial relationships operating at a wide variety of scales—can be promoted.

These tools can also promote the idea that big data exists at our fingertips, but it is of varying quality. Mapped data is distorted due to its map projection and may have gaps in attributes or resolution and scale. Inquiring about the data’s origins, date, scale, and other characteristics and examining metadata are key to data’s effective use. Discussions about copyright, location privacy, data aggregation, interpretation, dissemination, and communication can be interwoven with the following maps and activities. Through each, students can see that every issue in our world and communities has a geographic component.

To start, let us focus on a few easy-to-use yet powerful tools, modeling how to use these resources in instruction. As an example, we will explore New Orleans and the surrounding region, but these tools can be used to study other regions as well.

Examining Change over Time Using Photographs and Satellite Imagery

The Esri ChangeMatters Viewer

Historical and current satellite images can be compared via the Esri ChangeMatters viewer. Its Landsat images are recorded in infrared wavelengths, providing a springboard for discussion about the electromagnetic spectrum and what different wavelengths reveal. Because the US Geological Survey (USGS) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have been operating the Landsat satellites since 1972, over 45 years of earth changes are viewable with this single tool. These images can be interacted with in a three-panel view with time period one on the left, time period two in the center, and the change detection image on the right.

Esri ChangeMatters
Figure 2: Shown above is New Orleans, from Landsat imagery in 1975 (left), in 2010 (center), and as a change detection image from 1975 to 2010.

What has changed, and why has it changed? What will this area look like in 10 years? Is it changing more quickly or more slowly than other parts of the world? Why? How does the land use here compare to elsewhere in the world? What influence does population, climate, or coastlines have on land use? Can you estimate the population in the area shown? What type of dwellings exist, and how do these dwellings compare in size and density to other regions?

As an example, the intersection of such issues as irrigation, politics, climate, and internal drainage can be discussed by examining the shrinking Aral Sea in Central Asia over the past 40 years. The physical characteristics of the eruption of Mount St. Helens, the regrowth of some surrounding vegetation, and the volcano’s proximity to Portland and other regional volcanoes can be examined with the same tool. The urban growth of Las Vegas or São Paulo, the construction of the Three Gorges Dam and other dams, the expansion of center-pivot irrigation in the United States and Saudi Arabia, agricultural and mining expansion and reclamation, and changes in coastlines and glaciers are just a few of the themes that can also be examined using the ChangeMatters viewer.

The USGS Esri Historical Topographic Map Explorer

Physical and human-induced land-use and land-cover changes can be examined at a variety of scales using tens of thousands of USGS maps stretching back 100 years with the USGS Esri Historical Topographic Map Explorer. Enter a US-based location, click on the map, and choose from the historical maps covering that area, comparing them to the present-day topographic basemap. Each map’s transparency can be adjusted, allowing changes to be investigated. In New Orleans, the construction of levees, the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, and draining of wetlands can be seen, along with below-sea-level contour lines that allow the physical setting of the city to be studied.  

Supplementing the topographic map viewer with historical ground photographs can be instructive. Ground photographs taken in the same location during two different time periods can be used to analyze changes in land use, land cover, transportation, styles of clothing, the things that society values, and much more. Sources and maps include SepiaTown, WhatWasThere, and Historypin. Some historical street images are embedded in Google Street View scenes via a slider.

USGS Esri Historical Topographic Map Explorer
Figure 3: Changes in New Orleans can be examined using the USGS Esri Historical Topographic Map Explorer, comparing the 1891 topographic maps (left) with the 2018 topographic basemap (right).

Urban Observatory

The Urban Observatory is a web-mapping application that allows 100 cities to be examined on dozens of variables. Created by Richard Saul Wurman, RadicalMedia, and Esri, the Urban Observatory provides a synchronized set of up to three maps, all showing the same theme and at the same scale. With this tool, you can analyze senior population, land use, current traffic, current weather, parks, and more. Up to three city maps can be viewed at once, and the maps are synchronized, making comparisons easy.

Urban Observatory
Figure 4: Users can compare city park scores (developed by The Trust for Public Land) using the Urban Observatory for New York, New Orleans, and Denver. ParkScore maps show which areas of a city lie within a short walk of a park, and areas that are not served by a park.


Demographic Analysis of New Orleans and Beyond

ArcGIS Online is a web-based mapping platform from Esri containing analytical tools, maps, data services, and databases, which are behind most of the mapping tools described in this article. Start with ArcGIS Online > Map > Modify Map, then search for and add data on median age and median income. In the resultant interactive web map, shown below, examine the spatial pattern at the city level, such as New Orleans, or at a regional or state level—with no login required. The transparency of any map can be adjusted; the basemap can be changed from the topographic map pictured to a satellite image, OpenStreetMap, or others. Layers such as hydrography, ecoregions, or land cover can also be added. The classification method, variable, number of classes, and symbology can all be changed to help students understand the relationships among various datasets. What patterns are evident, and why do they exist? How do the New Orleans patterns compare to those of other cities? How do the patterns change as the level of geography changes between block group, census tract, county, and state?

Median Age and Median IncomeFigure 5: ArcGIS Online can be used to examine median age (left) and median income (right) for New Orleans. For more census maps in ArcGIS Online, see this gallery.


Migration touches the themes of physical geography (such as climate and landforms), cultural geography (political systems, political instability, boundaries, demographic trends), sociology (perception, push-pull factors), and change. Migration causes deep and long-lasting changes in culture, language, urban forms, food, land use, social policy, and politics. Migration is a global issue that affects our everyday lives. It is also a personal issue, because we all have a migration story to tell about our own ancestors and families. Part of the Esri Cool Maps gallery, the Migration Trends map is an interactive 2D and 3D web mapping application running in a browser.International Migration

Using data from the United Nations (UN) Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Migration Trends displays out-migration and in-migration data for every country from the 1990s, 2000s, 2010, and 2013. Line thicknesses indicate the number of migrants, and the line endpoints indicate the countries sending people out or receiving people. The raw number and percentage of out- and in-migration for each country are indicated. After viewing the animation, you can select individual countries and time periods. Compelling cartography and the ability to switch between 2D and 3D make this a useful teaching and research tool.

Is climate-induced sea level rise the reason why a high percentage of Reunion Island’s population is moving to the United States? Why so much flow between Russia and the UK? Why does Australia have a high percentage of migrants, and how has in-migration to Australia changed recently? See my video for more questions to pose using this map. Explore the other maps in the Esri Cool Maps gallery; they change periodically, so check back often.

Migration Trends Tool
Figure 6: The Migration Trends 2D and 3D mapping and visualization tool.

Combining Fieldwork with Web Mapping

Survey123 for ArcGIS can be used on a mobile device to collect data quickly and easily in the field via a form that can be created using a web browser or an Excel spreadsheet. Students can collect information on tree height and species, water quality, pedestrian or vehicle counts, weather, graffiti, or anything else in the field. The results are immediately captured and displayed on interactive web maps, which can be symbolized, classified, and spatially analyzed. The maps can be crowdsourced so the public can add to the content.

Survey 123 app
Figure 7: Using ArcGIS Online and the Survey123 for ArcGIS app, citizen scientists can collaborate and use their smartphones to map trees. The interactive map is visible here.

Using and Creating Story Maps

People have told stories through maps for thousands of years, and the Esri Story Maps web mapping applications allow multimedia to be easily incorporated into mapping. A gallery of story maps includes New Orleans topics ranging from Hurricane Katrina, gauging US population change, sea level rise and storm surge effects on energy assets, and Alan Lomax’s video archive of the Deep South. Students can create their own story maps to present their own research through interactive maps, text, video, audio, and photographs. Story maps can be shared online and used on any device. Story maps can serve as assessment pieces in student portfolios; provide an alternative to PowerPoint or Prezi for students’ oral presentations; and be embedded in web pages, Sway presentations, or other types of media.

Hurricane Katrina Storymap
Figure 8: This story map shows one aspect of change in New Orleans more than 10 years after Hurricane Katrina.


Students who use web mapping in geography develop critical thinking skills and understand how to use and evaluate data. This is particularly important with geographic data due to its increasing volume and diversity and its often sensitive and politically charged nature. Students who are well-grounded in the spatial perspective through web mapping have the ability to use data at a variety of scales and contexts, think systematically and holistically, and use quantitative and qualitative approaches to solve problems and become better decision-makers. Students can use these tools to understand that the earth is changing and begin to think analytically about why it is changing. After using these web maps, students ask and grapple with value-based questions. Should the earth be changing in these ways? Is there anything I can and should do about it?

--Joseph J. Kerski, PhD, Instructor, University of Denver, and Education Manager, Esri


The Esri Education Community blog focuses on geotechnologies in education: tools, best practices, maps, and more.

The Spatial Reserves blog and the book The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data, offer essays and activities on data sources, data quality, crowdsourcing, location privacy, and related topics.