Fun with GIS 228: Marrying Survey123 and Collector

01-29-2018 06:05 AM
Esri Regular Contributor
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[[Updated at bottom, Sept.30, 2018]]

[[Updated again at bottom, April 28, 2020, recommending]]

Can you make sense of this table?

Fieldwork is a crucial student experience. Students need to gather data about situations with which they have personal experience, and explore that data in some depth, to understand issues of data quality: relevance, accuracy, precision, fidelity, resolution, currency, and so on. When students design the collection process, gather the data, analyze it, interpret it, and present it, they build the data literacy so essential today. But with instructional time limited, teachers sometimes shortcut the design/discovery and collection/assembly phases, at the cost of student comprehension. The ArcGIS School Bundle includes tools that can help students experience the full range of data work with nothing more than a web browser. Using multiple tools shows how technology can multiply (rather than just add) capacity.

Various technologies help educators and students design surveys to gather data (including photos or other attached files), but Survey123 adds the great power of geography: What is the location about which the user is gathering data? Then, what patterns differ between here and there? The data collector can rely on a mobile device’s GPS or choose the location on a map. However, K12 student data collection often needs to be done offline (out of wifi coverage, without consuming cell data; think “airplane mode”), and Survey123 does not currently include an easy, browser-only mechanism for acquiring and using a high resolution basemap offline ... but Collector does!

Survey123 and Collector

Survey123 and Collector are not identical in the data they handle and ways they do it, so a survey being planned for use with Collector needs careful attention to design. Collector handles well the most critical field types for surveys in schools: text fields, numbers (both integer and floating point), single choice (radio button or pull-down), file attachments, and point location. Any ArcGIS Org login with publishing privilege may use Survey123 to design a survey with these components, publish it (which creates an editable feature service offering attachments), set the layer permissions for syncing, create a map with that service as a layer, and share the layer and map with a group. Group members with Collector on their mobile devices can access the map, download a relevant basemap, and be ready to use the survey offline.

Afterward, the collected data can be a layer in any number of maps in ArcGIS . Single choice and numeric items can be labeled, inspected, classified, filtered, symbolized, and analyzed, while open text items provide essential context.

Important considerations for schools in this workflow include:

  • Only the survey creator needs to be a publisher and familiar with Survey123, but building the survey with students as a group process helps them see why and how choices get made
  • All survey users need the Collector app on their mobile device
  • The map with the editable feature service must be shared to a group in the ArcGIS  Org, and all survey users must use a login that is a member of that group
  • The survey form should focus on the basic question types noted above, and flow through all questions from beginning to end without “branching”, so “required” questions and question sequence need to be considered and designed carefully
  • Question formats, hints, and defaults need to be planned and tested carefully so each question operates as expected
  • Downloading the basemap in Collector requires attention to map extent and zoom scale, to optimize utility while minimizing bandwidth consumed and storage space required
  • Uploading from Collector the collected data needs planning to minimize network strain (lots of people uploading lots of points with lots of high res images can tax even strong networks)
  • Careful testing and piloting of the entire process (even going through a complete but very small practice activity with students) is advised before embarking on a large project. Best-laid plans can be tripped up by a tiny mistake or overlooked element.
  • For examples of exploring data skills and the power of geography, see the ArcGIS Skillbuilder (row46)

The process above can begin in Survey123 with just a browser on a laptop or tablet, for use in the Collector app on tablet or smartphone. Using ArcGIS Desktop to build a high quality data collection form for use with Collector is the focus of Teaching with GIS: Field Data Collection Using ArcGIS, an excellent course designed for educators, on Esri’s Training site. That course is free to anyone with a maintained Esri license, such as the ArcGIS School Bundle. The workflow in this blog is a more “minimalist” approach for the educator who wants to stay just within a web browser and mobile apps.

[[Update Sept.30, 2018: See also for more detailed descriptions, key updates, critical links, pre-built activities, and discussion.]]

[[Update April 28, 2020: The above shortURL 'survey123collector' has been redirected to This is a storymap that updates and improves on information from the original document.]]

About the Author
** Esri Education Mgr, 1992-today ** Esri T3G staff, 2009-present ** Social Studies teacher, grades 7-12, 1977-1992 (St. Paul, MN) ** NCGE Distinguished Teacher Award 1991, George J Miller Award 2016 ** ** ** ** Only education can save the world.