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Esri Frequent Contributor

What did you do for GIS Day 2020?  I hope you had a spatial time.   Over 1,200 events were registered and hosted all over the world, by universities, schools, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and private industry.   In this article I list some of the events I was privileged to present in virtually, mention a few others, and ask you in the community what you were up to!   Many of these events used ArcGIS Hub and other innovative tools and ideas for advertizing and hosting their events. 


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Esri Frequent Contributor

An article in Nature magazine about the FAIR guiding principles for scientific data management  by Mark Wilkinson and about 25 other authors I believe has thoughtful implications for us as GIS practitioners–how should we manage and serve our GIS data. Here, I reflect upon those connections.


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Esri Frequent Contributor

In Part 1 of this series, I described how racial equity and social justice can be understood and engaged with using Geographic Information Systems (GIS).   In this “Part 2” essay, let’s dig deeper into practical ways of doing so and also discuss relevant issues that are inherent to using digital maps and data within a GIS environment.


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Esri Frequent Contributor

For centuries, maps have inspired people to explore and to investigate places of importance to them.  In our modern world, maps are still used for exploration—of issues and challenges that we face.  One group of relevant and serious issues are racial equity and social justice.   Nowadays, maps are made using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software and digital spatial data.


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Esri Frequent Contributor

A new series of videos focused on the theme of "GIS Helps" is now online in the following playlist: 

These videos have been created in time for you to show at your upcoming GIS Day event, or beyond GIS Day, in instruction, or to your colleagues or employees, or in other settings.  During these times of health, wildfire, and other challenges, GIS is more needed than ever before, and hence the message that "GIS Helps" seems especially relevant. 


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Esri Frequent Contributor

We are fortunate at Esri to have a wide array of business partners that are helping us achieve a more sustainable and resilient planet.  One of these business partners is EarthViews.  EarthViews vision is to connect people to critically important aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. EarthViews works with land, water managers and others to help achieve this mission.  To accomplish EarthViews' vision, they have developed technology to bring waterways to the desktop, mobile or VR device via easy-to-use, publicly available, 360 interactive virtual tours. These reality based maps have many uses for waterway safety, recreation, science, and conservation.


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Esri Frequent Contributor

Tripp Corbin’s new book Learning ArcGIS Pro 2, Second Edition, from Packt Publishing, is a resource that I will be using long into the future and I know many in the GIS professional community will be doing the same.  As ArcGIS Pro replaces ArcMap in government, nonprofit, academic, and private industry, and as ArcGIS Pro continues to evolve, this book is an extremely useful resource either to follow along in its entirety, or to tap into specific chapters to hone specific skills.  University and college professors and students will also find this book very useful. 

I have long been an admirer of the instructional style of Tripp’s books, and wrote a review of his ArcGIS Pro Cookbook here in our data blogLearning ArcGIS Pro 2 follows Tripp’s excellent balancing of theory and application and enables anyone regardless of how much background they have in GIS to be using this powerful set of geospatial tools quickly.  Tripp’s deep and rich background with the GIS community over many decades is manifest in the book’s careful attention to the things he knows will cause users the most difficulty. 

Tripp covers the spectrum from technical requirements, installing the software, managing licenses, starting projects, editing, performing analysis, creating maps, 3D scenes, and layouts, automating processes with ModelBuilder and Python, using Arcade scripts, and, appropriate to today’s cloud-based workflows, how to share results with others via layers and maps in ArcGIS Online.  Germane to this blog, Tripp also touches on data issues. Plus, the data for the hands-on activities in the book is easily accessed and interesting to use, covering parcels, floodplains, and much more, at a variety of scales.  

As a GIS instructor, I appreciate the graphics the author has included—they’re not in color, but they are large and legible, and that’s I think even more important.  He also has the right number of screen shots—not too many, but just enough to keep the learner moving forward.  In short, you won’t get “tripped up”—you will be able to keep making progress.  Packt does a very nice job with their digital editions, which for GIS professionals might be the most useful format, though the printed version is nicely laid out as well.   I salute Tripp Corbin and Packt Publishing for this excellent resource for the community.


A few pages from Tripp Corbin's new Learning ArcGIS Pro 2, Second Edition, book.

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Esri Frequent Contributor

I am frequently asked by the education community, "How can GIS be used to create quizzes that are interesting, that foster spatial thinking, that provide benefits to students and instructors?"


Let me begin by stating that I am especially keen on using quizzes if their primary benefit is to help students learn and provide students with a way to reflect upon their own progress.  I am less keen on quizzes that only benefit the instructor.  Research in a wide variety of disciplines from physiology to geography affirms the value of quizzes that enhance student learning as the objective.

The kind of teaching and learning that working with GIS fosters is best measured, I believe, by such means as (1) evaluating a portfolio of student work, which could include story maps, reports, and other documents that they assemble into a story map collection or other set of digital documents; (2) evaluating student asynchronous or synchronous presentations using a variety of media in a face-to-face or online course environment, where the student presentations may include you, the instructor, but also their peers, and even other students in a “colloquium” type of session; (3) map-based assessments that may or not include a rubric (such as these examples from the University of Minnesota).  

That said, quizzes still have their place in education.  Research affirms the value of quizzes that use interactive and engaging multimedia, which is exactly what GIS offers.  With some creative thinking, GIS tools and spatial data can be effectively used to create and administer quizzes.  These quizzes can be used in teaching about GIS, such as in a GIS, remote sensing, or GI Science course, or in teaching with GIS, in geography, sociology, environmental studies, history, mathematics, or other disciplines.  You can either screen shot specific map content and use those shots in your Learning Management System, PDF, PowerPoint, or other means, or you can create them in an interactive mode that takes advantage of web GIS technology such as ArcGIS Online.  In this essay, I provide examples of both.  I welcome your comments and look forward to seeing what you have created.

1.  Quizzes About Content and Skills.  The attached "week 3 quiz" document is an example of the type of quiz that I have found most effective over the years in instruction. In multi-week courses, I give one of these types of quizzes at the end of each week.  I have found such quizzes effective because (1) they are short, (2) they include a few questions on skills (GIS, presentation, data), a few questions on content (in this case, it is part of a cartography and geo-visualization course, so the content includes color theory, classification methods, and the like), and 1 question on "what was the most significant thing you learned this week, and why?", and (3) they are designed so that the student can focus on the important elements of that week and reflect on their own learning and progress. 

2.  Landforms Quiz using Esri Base Maps.
Let's a traditional quiz that is based on a resource that I and other earth science instructors used for decades, the Set of 100 Topographic Map Features.  See attached for this quiz.  Using the USA Topo maps layer in ArcGIS Online, which are derived from USGS topographic maps, you can capture any landforms that you wish to quiz students on.  See the attached matching exercise focused on some really fascinating landforms—tombolos, karst, drumlins, and more.   Another wonderful aspect about the topographic maps layer is that you have access to three scales:  1:24,000-scale, 1:100,000-scale, and 1:250,000-scale.  A natural extension of this activity is to use the 3D scene viewer in ArcGIS Online as you give a geomorphology quiz.  

3.  Imagery. Imagery captivates and inspires, and makes excellent basemaps from which you can create quizzes about issues, current events, phenomena, places, past processes, and current processes active on the landscape.   These include hurricanes, volcanism, fluvial processes, agricultural expansion, glacial retreat, urbanization and urban forms, coastal and soil erosion, and much more.  The ArcGIS platform, including the ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World, gives you access to a wide variety of imagery—UAV, Lidar, Sentinel-2, Landsat, high resolution current and historical visible imagery, and much more. 

4.  Pattern Recognition. Another type of quiz is to ask students to identify the pattern where they have to make a hypothesis of the variable that is being mapped.  I created the following choro-quiz (choropleth quiz) as an example:    Given the vast number of maps in ArcGIS Online, including, again, the ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World, there will be no shortage of maps you can use, for your country or for the world.  You can start with world countries and then include some choropleth maps on administrative units (states, provinces, regions) within your own country.  To make the quiz more challenging, consider zooming to your own city and mapping certain variables at the census tract, enumeration district, block group, or other statistical area appropriate for your part of the world.  Business Analyst Web, with its hundreds of variables including fascinating data on consumer behavior, makes another excellent source for such a quiz.  See if you can identify the variable among the three choices given in each; for example, the quiz begins with this question:The choro-quiz.

Part of the choro-quiz.  Do you know what the answer is?

5.  Using the ArcGIS Online Presentation Mode. ArcGIS Online includes a presentation mode that is simple and effective at creating quizzes.  In a matter of minutes, you can create your own, using your own maps, or maps already in ArcGIS Online, with text for the clues and answers.  Here are several examples that I created that I hope provide some ideas:  Name That Place includes natural places (such as famous waterfalls) and human-built places (such as cities with famous river and street patterns).   I created another quiz using this presentation mode focused on world islands, as well as this one focused on fun and interesting facts about 10 state capitals in the USA.    In each of them, I provide the answers.  A variation on this theme is my presentation quiz entitled Weird Earth, and as the name implies, it is designed to test student knowledge as well as foster curiosity about our amazing planet. Again, answers are provided.Quiz world islands

Part of the World Islands quiz, using the ArcGIS presentation mode.

6.  Use Multimedia! Today’s modern ArcGIS platform can incorporate multimedia, so don’t feel confined to maps and images only.  For example, my sounds of Planet Earth includes a quiz on 100 sounds, from pounding waves to crunching leaves, fr....  You could effectively use video, or images, as well!

Quiz sounds around the world.

Part of the 100 Sounds of Planet Earth story map.

7.  Photographs Tied To Maps. From time to time I create and use photographs tied to maps for quizzes to foster spatial thinking and considerations about landforms, vegetation, climate, and human impact, such as this Colorado Geography Quiz.    I embedded this quiz inside a story map.  Here is a similar one I created for a presentation I gave in California.  And another one with 8 points and photographs in Wyoming.

Quiz Wyoming

Part of a quiz asking participants to match the correct-photo to the correct location, in Wyoming, as part of a story map.

I occasionally use Street View images for these types of quizzes, asking students to identify the place based on what they can observe on the physical and cultural landscape.  However, I don’t have permission from Google for the images yet, and if I developed additional ones similar to this, I would seek permission or use Mapillary or my own images for the source.

8. The Platform Approach.  When you are using ArcGIS, you are using a platform.  Combine elements of that platform for some very creative quizzes.  As one example, you could create and use a Survey123 as a quiz, and you can embed that quiz inside a story map.  This is what the Port of Tacoma did for GIS Day 2018 – Survey, here.    My colleague Tom Baker used Survey123 and Google Forms for these quizzes, and also for this one on time zones, which are a part of a discussion on programmed instruction.   Along these lines, here is one of my own Google forms to test geography about coordinates and GIS

Quiz ports of the world.

A section of the Port of Tacoma’s quiz about famous ports of the world, with a survey embedded inside a story map.

9.  Treasure Hunts. As another example, with the help of the story maps team, I created a quiz on the pioneers of Geography and GIS, for GIS Day and beyond.  I provide the quiz here to spark ideas, but keep in mind that this was a custom application and is not replicable in exactly this same way.  Each question focuses on a geography or GIS pioneer and hints at a location somewhere in the world where the pioneer was born or worked.   To answer the question, you must frame the solution within the map viewfinder using the map's pan/zoom functions.

Intrigued?  Consider using these other quizzes in the “Treasure Hunts” theme.  Here is a collection of 10 treasure hunt quizzes … beaches, mountains, cities, places, foods, and more.  

Quiz pioneers of geography and GIS

Quiz pioneers of geography and GIS

Sections of the geography and GIS pioneers treasure hunt quiz.

Which type of quizzes do you think GIS is most effective for?  I look forward to your comments. 

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New Contributor III

Evolving GIS Architecture

Many of us have grown up thinking about GIS as a desktop software on our PC. (Ok, some of us remember farther back, to minicomputers and mainframes.) But as Roger Tomlinson taught during so many years, GIS is best thought of not as software for you but rather as a project among many. GIS is quite often a team activity, and frequently these days most of the team members are not sitting in a GIS lab or department.

Today it makes sense to think of what we might call “modern GIS”, which merges a powerful desktop system with mobile apps, web apps, enterprise server components, cloud mapping and data services, and developer tools to be able to provide the right functionality and the right user experience (UX) for experts to absolute novices. The proverbial GIS toolbox is distributed and now resides at many locations. The end user might be on fieldwork, collecting data and accessing the GIS via a mobile device; the data might be stored on a cloud server in another city or country; the processing routines might be running on another server; an external user might be watching the results on a dashboard in yet another location. This distributed system architecture has become a key part of the digital transformation of many organizations, the practical result of which is simply providing GIS-based analysis to many more employees or researchers.  

Learning about –and teaching-- modern GIS, what thousands of government and commercial organizations are using or are migrating to, opens the door to new collaboration and career opportunities. Let me be clear: traditional GIS users are seeking young graduates to help them move to, and scale-up, modern GIS architecture.


To get an idea of how Esri views modern GIS take a look at this video (or most any recent Esri conference video) outlining the evolving ArcGIS architecture, including but not limited to traditional GIS. These modern GIS components were not built by a speculative start-up, rather by a 50-plus year old technology company aiming to satisfy the day-to-day needs of organizations around the world. Who are these users? Let’s get specific. Esri’s Industries website provides a glimpse of what each of these professional communities does with and needs from a modern GIS.


Some instructors might think that this wider GIS architecture is too much to dominate, too much to keep up with. But no one person needs to be specialized in, nor teach, all of this. Each one of us chooses the tools and methods that are appropriate for the discipline, level and needs of user, and the tasks at hand. Are we interested in data collection? Then mobile apps are worth investing time in. Is data sharing a priority? Then online portals come into view. Do we need to extend the GIS to include external machine learning routines? Then developer tools come into play.

Understanding the options available, and what each component might be used for, moves GIS instruction further toward the industry and government workflows that students will encounter after graduation.

Many of these modern GIS components are available for free testing at the site. The Collector app is easily installed on mobile devices and allows field workers –from a utilities company or a science classroom—to collect and share geodata to an online, multiuser database. Survey123 is another mobile app, that allows users to create and run a geocoded survey in the field. You can watch in realtime as survey responses appear on the webmap: where do people feel unsafe, or want graffiti cleaned, or have seen a particular bird species? ArcGIS Online allows GIS users to create, analyze, visualize, organize, share, and discover geodata, from any web-connected device. StoryMaps and Dashboards provide many options for communicating GIS-based results to non-experts. Many students, non-expert GIS users, and also professional organizations can do most of their GIS work just with these web-enabled ArcGIS tools. The COVID-19 crisis has made it necessary for many people, including instructors and students, to brush up on these online solutions. In doing so they are discovering a whole new viewpoint on what is GIS is.

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Esri Frequent Contributor

How should remote sensing be taught in the decade of the 2020s?  Remote sensing is more relevant to society and to education than ever before:  (1)  Remote sensing data sources, from Lidar, UAS, small satellites, and beyond, are rapidly diversifying, providing rich resources from which we may better understand our planet; (2) Remote sensing applications have spread far beyond natural resource management and GIScience to city planning, health, natural hazards, engineering, transportation, and many other fields. Developing remote sensing skills can help students secure careers where they can make a meaningful contribution to their own communities, and far beyond.  A combination of GIS and remote sensing skills will continue to be in increasing demand in the workforce.  (3) Remote sensing tools are more accessible than ever before:  Image analysis, for example, can be done in a web browser through ArcGIS Online and in web mapping applications, and it can also be done in ArcGIS Pro.  Remote sensing tools are also increasingly intertwined with GIS tools and workflows through this same ArcGIS platformGIS and remote sensing are no longer two parallel communities as they were 30 years ago.  Additional good news for instructors is that the ArcGIS platform allows you to teach GIS and remote sensing in a single environment.  

No matter if you are beginning a new remote sensing course or program, or want to modernize your existing remote sensing curriculum, my view is that that the primary objectives should be:  (1) to get students excited about remote sensing so that they will want to make it a key part of their academic and career pathway, (2) to provide interesting, compelling activities that will enable students to begin hands-on investigations right away, (3) to provide students with scientific and geotechnical foundations of remote sensing, and (4) to keep moving students forward to advanced applications.


The following are some ideas for incorporating modern remote sensing tools, data, fundamentals, and activities.  This essay provides introductory guidance, while subsequent essays will provide guidance on digging deeper with the tools and data, including textbooks, advanced analytics, and additional resources. 

Imagery-based web mapping applications.  These applications provide easy-to-use browser-based tools with compelling data, and thus are perfect for introducing foundations and skills.  Consider using the following two applications to start:  (1) The Landsat Lens allows your students to examine changes from natural and human causes, all over the world.  These causes could include volcanism, agriculture, the construction of dams and reservoirs, coastal erosion, glacial retreat, urbanization, mining, the shrinkage of lakes such as Lake Chad and the Aral Sea, evidence of political boundaries and differing land use on either side of specific borders, and many more.   

The Landsat Lens application.

Examining change over space and time with the Landsat Lens.

(2)  The Landsat Explorer allows your students to deepen their understanding of changes over space and time, as well as concepts of spectral bands, image resolution, and creating web mapping applications such as swipe maps.  Guidance is provided for these techniques, and one of the advantages of the Landsat Lens and the Landsat Explorer is that they run in a standard web browser, with nothing to install or to sign into. But the logical next step is to ask the students to sign into the Landsat Explorer so they can save the layers that they generate, and be able to do further analysis on the images in ArcGIS Online, or in ArcGIS Pro.

Landsat Explorer

Creating a swipe map with the Landsat Explorer Web App.

Another popular remote sensing web application containing a vast amount of data is the Wayback image service.   You and your students can access 6 years of high resolution satellite imagery (and growing) for the entire planet.  Consider the themes you could teach using this resource--urban sprawl, agricultural expansion, deforestation and reforestation, mining and reclamation, the construction of dams, changing water levels in reservoirs due to droughts or heavy precipitation, glacial retreat, meandering river processes, and much more. Discuss differences in the spectral band and resolution between the Wayback images and the Landsat imagery you analyzed earlier.  You can even examine changes on your own school or university campus with the detail that is now at your fingertips.  Similar to the Landsat Explorer, you can use this application without being signed in to ArcGIS Online, but if you are signed in, you can save specific layers and bring them to ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Pro for further analysis.  

After students have used the above image applications, they should be ready to build one of their own.  This lesson guides them in the creation of an application focused on the devastating 2014 Oso, Washington landslide, using Web App Builder. Next, ask them to create a side-by-side 2D and 3D comparison app of any area on the planet that they choose.  Here is a sample that I built for one of my favorite areas on the planet--Mt Garfield, Colorado.

Mt Garfield 2D and 3D scene.

Mt Garfield, Colorado, 2D map and 3D scene.

Next, explore and teach with some of the image data sets available in the ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World.  This includes such imagery as Sentinel-2, NAIP, Landsat, Digital Orthophotos, Lidar, and much more. Bring the Sentinel-2 data into ArcGIS Online, filter it by date, and change the rendering to examine such phenomena as eruptions at Kilauea, as I provide guidance on here.  I compiled this list of additional Landsat image sites, which may be useful in having students practicing accessing different types of data from a variety of portals.  

Selected Activities.  Next, work through some hands-on activities, beginning with the above web mapping applications, continuing with ArcGIS Online, and then using ArcGIS Pro.  The Esri training site, or "Esri Academy" is one way to start.  Begin with an introduction to image classification with this web course, and continue with additional courses in this image classification learning plan.  Get started with Drone2Map using this web course, and with this learning plan, you will gain essential skills needed to monitor and analyze real-time data, and understand how to connect to real-time sensors, analyze and visualize a data feed, and send updates and alerts.

The Learn lesson library is another way to get hands-on experience.  One of my favorites in this library is the use of NASA GOES real-time weather imagery in conjunction with predicting the weather, using this Learn lesson.   Others in the Learn gallery include predicting coral bleaching, modeling landslide susceptibility, estimating solar potential, classifyi...

Poyang study.

What resources are you using?  I look forward to your comments. 

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