GIS and the Data Citizens Project

08-06-2021 02:45 PM
Esri Notable Contributor
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How can the spatial framework and geotechnologies be used to foster data literacy, and to teach and learn about water?  How can GIS be used to effectively engage students in such content and skills?  These were key questions that were a part of the Dyouville University's Data Citizens Western New York project , which brought together university instructors and researchers, community leaders, secondary social studies teachers, and project consultants to design, implement, and evaluate an innovative professional development model for Civics and Geography educators.  Its chief aim was to improve teacher competence and confidence in GIS, providing teachers with technological skills needed to prepare tomorrow’s spatial citizens.   It created a teacher professional development model designed to support geography, civics, and government teachers and students as they explore global historical questions using geospatial data to analyze and address civic issues.  One of the focal points was to use water as a theme to bind field data collection activities, the natural and social sciences, and to incorporate key community issues.  The project leaders chose storm drains as the study unit--objects so much a part of everyday life that we seldom think about them, yet they are fundamentally tied to the physical and human-built environment.

To support the project, I created a series of videos that walks an educator or student through the process of thinking about water from a spatial lens, to gathering resources, creating and deploying a field survey, creating 2D and 3D maps, performing spatial analysis, and creating a dashboard and a story map to communicate the results of the project.  I assembled the videos in the following playlist, in the hopes that they will spark some creative ideas for you and others who watch them: 

Teaching and Learning about Water with GIS - YouTube

The contents of the videos are as follows:

  1. Why teach with these approaches, tools, and data?
  2. How to teach with these approaches, tools, and data?
  3. Resources – data, tools, and methods.
  4. Resources:  Lessons.
  5. Creating a survey and a map from that survey.
  6. Adding relevant data to the map.
  7. Using Spatial Analysis to understand connections.
  8. Creating a 3D scene.  
  9. Creating a dashboard. 
  10. Creating a story map. 


Playlist of 10 videos that guide a person through the concept through the completed investigation.

This project took full advantage of "modern web GIS" components--Survey123, 2D maps and 3D scenes,  spatial analysis, dashboards, story maps, the Living Atlas of the World, and more.  In fact, one of my favorite parts of the project is that it began with "What is spatial thinking and GIS?", guiding the educators through short but insightful lessons so they could gain confidence in using the tools, data, and technology, and then a scaffolded approach to field data gathering > mapping > adding layers > doing spatial analysis (create watershed and trace downstream) > creating a 3D scene > creating a dashboard > creating a story map.

An example dashboard from this project is here:


One of the story maps is here:


The front part of one of the story maps communicating the project and its results.

This project also demonstrated how versatile GIS instruction is:  The spring 2021 cohort of educators were all online, and so was I and the entire instructional team of colleagues.  The summer 2021 cohort were together in a socially distanced large auditorium classroom on the Dyouville University campus, with some of the instructional team with face to face, but with 2 instructors, myself included, there virtually.  With GIS running in the cloud in ArcGIS Online, data as services from ArcGIS Online and local ArcGIS Hubs, lessons and supportive materials online, and the ability to share not just maps and apps, but best practices for instruction, all online, it was really the perfect convergence.  And for those of you reading this, this is the perfect time for you to start using GIS if you have not already.  The project used the ArcGIS system from Esri, the David Rumsey map collection, the National Geographic Map Maker, SketchUp, and a few others.  For the institute, a combination of existing Esri GeoInquiries lessons and lessons the instructional team wrote were used.   If you would like to watch the recordings and examine the resources that were created for this project, see this page.   

It has been an honor working with the innovative team at Dyouville University, with my colleague Anita Palmer of GISetc, and with the two cohorts of social studies secondary educators who have gone through the program thus far.   Many of us have been together from the project's inception, from the original letter of support for the project from Esri and others, to planning the content for the institutes, and delivering the content.  This was a dedicated team who planned things down to the finest details, and I must say that I love working with organized people!  I also salute the educators who, despite these disruptive times, were determined to effectively teach and learn with GIS and are now implementing those skills and content.  As is always the case in educator professional development, I learned a great deal from the educators.  The project will continue this summer with something wonderful--a teacher-and-student field trip to local water treatment facilities in Buffalo, and other places with a water theme, and the project will continue on into next year.  Therefore, expect to hear additional stories and results from this project demonstrating that it is creating positive change!  

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.