Teaching and learning about demographics and population change in an effective, engaging manner is enriched and enlivened through the use of web mapping tools and spatial data. These tools, enabled by the advent of cloud-based geographic information systems (GIS) technology, bring problem solving, critical thinking, and spatial analysis to every classroom instructor and student (Kerski 2003; Jo, Hong, and Verma 2016). Several developments make this the ideal time for educators to embrace these tools and data sets for teaching these topics. First, population patterns change over space and time, providing the perfect data and themes for investigation using 2D and 3D maps in a GIS environment. Second, modern GIS is a platform that enables maps and applications to be saved, shared, and embedded into presentations and multimedia, forming a collaborative learning environment. As analytical and cartographic tools have migrated to the web, they can be used on any device at any time using only a standard web browser (Manson et al. 2013). Third, the open data movement places an array of rich, varied demographic data sets from the local to global scales in the hands of educators and students. These data include those from the U.S. Census Bureau and other national statistics agencies. Fourth, GIS was created to be a tool to investigate real-world issues, and therefore teaching with GIS is conducive to a multidisciplinary, problem-solving learning environment using real data (Milson and Kerski 2012).
Why teach about population change, demographics, and lifestyles? These topics are multi-scale, multi-disciplinary, connected to content standards, and relevant to 21st Century issues. They are interesting, changing over space, time, and scale. They are tied to Problem-Based Learning (PBL), and are aligned with an inquiry-driven approach ("What if we change the classification method? Change the location? Add a variable?"). Teaching these topics with GIS offers the opportunity for fieldwork and collaboration, fostering skills in media fluency, scale, and systems thinking. On the research side, population's dynamic nature and its impact on culture, land use, and the environment make it a continually fascinating and important area of research. On the campus administration side, demographics affect alumni networks, future online and on-campus student number and background, funding sources, and much more.
Here, I describe 10 activities that can be used to teach about population, population change, demographics, and lifestyles. Each can be used in a variety of different courses including those in GIS, environmental science, geography, history, and even business and sociology as single activities or multi-day activities. These 10 activities all use the ArcGIS platform, from Esri, including ArcGIS Online, ArcGIS Pro, ArcGIS Insights, and Business Analyst Web. The advantage of the ArcGIS platform is that it includes (1) spatial data; (2) maps; (3) analysis, classification, symbology, and measurement tools; (4) field apps; (5) web mapping applications; (6) a community of users. Over 1 billion maps are accessed daily in this platform serving millions of data users.
(1) Examining global patterns using ArcGIS Online. The Living Atlas of the World is a curated and growing body of content covering a multitude of scales. Population growth, ethnicity, density, cities, and other themes can be quickly accessed, combined with other layers, queried, and used in presentations. Many of the layers contain data that extends back in time; others forecast into the future. Using this web map of a selected set of variables from the Living Atlas opens the door to investigating population growth rate, life expectancy, birth rate, and mobile phones and land lines for world countries. You might start by showing a more easily understood variable such as total population or population density. You might introduce the topic of population by showing these videos of an area with low population density vs. one with a high population density. Life expectancy can be analyzed over time, by opening the data table and by using the time animation slider bar. I almost always map the Human Development Index (HDI) over time, because it is an index that includes variables about health and education, fostering fruitful, interdisciplinary discussions. For additional analysis, sign in to your ArcGIS Online account, save the maps in your organization, change the symbology or variables mapped, and add other layers from your own tables, the Living Atlas, or from ArcGIS Online.
You must be a registered user to add a comment. If you've already registered, sign in. Otherwise, register and sign in.