A complete first course in Modern Web-Based GIS

01-27-2021 08:42 AM
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Esri Frequent Contributor
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We have frequent discussions with the worldwide education community about the modern approach to teaching GIS.  By “modern”, I refer to GIS as a system which provides a foundation to build upon and a variety of points at which to access.  Items that you can build include technical components (such as web mapping applications, models, field surveys, dashboards, and more), and scaffolded instructional approaches (such as problem solving, critical thinking, and spatial thinking).  The "modern GIS" paradigm includes creating and using crowdsource-able field apps, rigorous consumption and creation of web maps and mapping applications such as story maps, coding and building expressions, performing spatial analysis, and other components of the web infrastructure as enabled by SaaS (Software as a Service) tools and data as services.  As part of this ongoing discussion, I would like to share a course that I created in geovisualization and cartography that serves as an introductory GIS course that embraces these elements. 

The entire contents of the course are available here.  The course could serve as one model for a first course in modern GIS in higher education and to foster conversation about approaches, tools, data, and hands-on problem-solving activities.   The course contents could also be considered an e-book, as over 350 pages of readings and hands-on activities are included, as described in this video.   A key advantage of serving this entire course is that the readings, activities, videos, and quizzes are all scaffolded; each builds on other components in a sequenced way designed in tandem with vetted learning theory.

My goals in creating and providing this course are so that (1) anyone can take it without the need to access a Learning Management System (LMS) or any other system; (2) instructors can use components of this course for their own instruction (or the entirety of the course) at their own college or university.  Feel free to use this course however you see fit under a Creative Commons CC by 4.0 license.

This course is aimed at university students who have not had prior experience using GIS.  This course is 7 weeks long, but enough content is included so that it could easily be taught during an entire 16-week semester.  Each week, students work through the following components:  Readings, videos, and hands-on activities using interactive GIS tools (ArcGIS Online, web mapping applications, field surveys, and selected other tools such as WorldMapper cartograms and ColorBrewer).  They take a short quiz, reflect upon their learning in discussions, and share the results of their investigations.  I also provide the quiz answers, although when I teach the course, the answers are not provided.  

This course has been successfully reviewed by Quality Matters, and I have successfully taught it with real students for 3 years; updating it each term. I migrated the course from a Learning Management System (LMS—in this case, Canvas) to the resources you see here so that everyone can view and access.  I created a story map for each of the four modules that comprise each week of the course:  (1) Readings and discussion, (2) hands-on activities, (3) quizzes, (4) the quiz answers, and (5) the final week contains one additional assignment where students are asked to outline an implementation plan.  This plan includes a description of how they will use data and GIS tools to address a problem, issue, or topic of concern to them.  The plan thus both personalizes the learning and is action-oriented. 

I then linked and organized all 32 story maps using the ArcGIS Experience Builder.    ArcGIS Story Maps and the Experience Builder are two ways to present web content and course materials.    Consider using Story Maps and Experience Builder for content that you would like to build in the future!

Front matter for first course in Modern Web-based GIS.Front matter for first course in Modern Web-based GIS.Weekly content in first course in Modern Web-based GIS.Weekly content in first course in Modern Web-based GIS.

I look forward to your comments about the effectiveness of Story Maps and the Experience Builder to present the content, and even more so, about the content itself:  What do you include in your introductory courses?  How have your courses changed recently with the emphasis on teaching online?  How do your courses change with the rapid evolution of modern GIS tools, data services, and workflows?


About the Author
I believe that spatial thinking can transform education and society through the application of Geographic Information Systems for instruction, research, administration, and policy. I hold 3 degrees in Geography, have served at NOAA, the US Census Bureau, and USGS as a cartographer and geographer, and teach a variety of F2F (Face to Face) (including T3G) and online courses. I have authored a variety of books and textbooks about the environment, STEM, GIS, and education. These include "Interpreting Our World", "Essentials of the Environment", "Tribal GIS", "The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data", "International Perspectives on Teaching and Learning with GIS In Secondary Education", "Spatial Mathematics" and others. I write for 2 blogs, 2 monthly podcasts, and a variety of journals, and have created over 5,000 videos on the Our Earth YouTube channel. Yet, as time passes, the more I realize my own limitations and that this is a lifelong learning endeavor and thus I actively seek mentors and collaborators.