Monthly Archives: July 2017

The Science of Where: Ideas for GIS Education

Damien Mansell, University of Exeter (an esri Story map version of this post is available here )

Damien Mansell’s Top 5 take home messages from 2017 esri User Conference

In the Geography department at The University of Exeter we adopt a research-led learning approach to teaching and assessment. Recent advances in the ArcGIS platform are not just changing the workflows of how we operate GIS, but how students are publishing, sharing and collecting data as well as creating work place relevant assessment. My story map: Learning & Assessment with Applied GIS sumarises my approach to GIS education and won the the 2017 esri UK Young Scholar Award. The prize involved the amazing opportunity to present a poster of the work at the esri annual conference in San Diego and collect the award. This story map reflects on some of the big ideas I picked up during the conference, including my top 5 take home messages.

The week involved attending the Education GIS Conference and the Esri User Conference. My top 5 take home messages come from both conferences and include educational focus as well as emerging capabilities of GIS. Since not all the emerging capabilities have made my top 5, first, here is a longer list of the rapidly expanding fields that provide opportunities for GIS users and fit with the conference theme of ‘The Science of Where:’

Integration of real-time data; Integration of big data processing and analysis capabilities; Virtual Reality and Spatial animation; Open GIS data and services; Geodesign and Planning; Management and Decision Making; Advanced Geospatial Analysis for Data Science; & Community Engagement.

My top 5 are introduced below in reverse order followed by the Big Ideas discussion created by Esri. View the trailer below for an introduction to the conference.

5: ArcGIS Education Resources

‘The Science of Where’ is about applying a data-driven approach that uses geography to unlock understanding. In this context, geography provides the science and framework for organising our knowledge and so GIS is deeply rooted in science as a platform for many applications, as well as an education tool in its own right. As an educator of Geographical Science, I both teach GIS and use it as a learning tool for Geographic learning and enquiry. I create bespoke practicals that link in with students own data and that from cutting edge research in the department. At the user conference I was made aware of the accelerating changes of GIS and how Esri are keeping up with these changes by providing increased resources for teaching and training and different learning environments including the Esri GeoInquiries collection and The ArcGIS Book.

All delegates received a copy of The ArcGIS Book second edition (Harder & Brown, 2017). It includes 250 new example applications but more noteworthy is that it has moved away from the traditional text book by being fully interactive with hands-on lessons, dynamic maps and story maps and links to demonstration and lecture videos. This interactive format of text books is an early example of what will no doubt become norm in the Education sector. Download the interactive pdf for free.

The GeoInquireis collection are instructional resources for educators that incorporate advanced web mapping. The resources provide a fast easy-to-use exercises that require no installation, fees or logins. For example see the Climate GeoINquiries activity  here). I have saved this as a web app for ease of integration into this blog, but it usually comes in a web map along with suggested questions and explore tasks. Use the web app to explore the long-term atmospheric factors that make up climate – you will need to show different layers.

The GeoInquiries resources are aimed at school students to bring GIS to the classroom. Whilst the exercises themselves are not directly applicable to my role in higher education, I can aim the resources at my students who currently go into classrooms to either develop teaching experience, promote widening participation or are ambassadors for organisations such as RGS. Quite often my students come to me looking for material they can present in these environments, so the GeoInquiries collection are great resource packages for such environments. I have also recently signed up to be a GeoMentor for schools, so the GeoInquiries resources will serve as a starting point I can direct teachers to, or serve as a template for creating material for the curriculum if required.

4: ArcPro 2.0

I was introduced to ArcPro at the Esri UK user conference in 2016, offering a new connected desktop, containing comprehensive GIS capability and access to online and enterprise capabilities. Whilst many Esri customers still require ArcMap capabilities due to the customised add-on tools, it is still easy to justify teaching the traditional ArcGIS desktop or ArcMAp. However, at the 2017 Esri UC ArcPro 2.0 was launched and the increasing functionality has made it much harder to justify only teaching ArcMap – the traditional desktop platform from Esri. ArcPro features the following improved functionality:

  • Faster & easier Geoprocessing
  • Context-sensitive ribbon interface
  • Smart editing
  • Simple data & map sharing
  • Simultaneous 2D and 3D windows
  • Multiple maps and layouts
  • 3D visualisations, editing and analysis
  • Dynamic charts
  • Smoother workflow integration with ArcGIS Online
  • Animations
  • Living Atlas of the World

Due to the capabilities of ArcPro I plan to re-write sections of the GIS course next year, to include training in ArcMap and ArcPro. The two biggest selling points for ArcPro in my work is the integration of 3D data and ease of publishing and sharing to ArcGIS online. In addition see my number 2 take home message about visualising and animating multidimensional data in ArcPro.

During the user conference Esri professionals presented live demonstrations of advances in ArcPro. 2.0 including the top 10 latest functionality. Below is the recording which also serves as an example of the well rehearsed and polished presentations that delegates have come to expect at Esri events.

3: ArcGIS Online & Enterprise Administration

In the opening plenary of the Education GIS conference Esri announced their Global programme for free GIS in all schools and clubs. This is fantastic for the future of GIS professionals and developing curriculum in schools. Web GIS has made it possible for school children to view, edit, create and publish GIS material. However for these schools and clubs there will need to be guidelines and workflows on WebGIS administration.

One such administrative task may be to set up accounts for users. For Enterprise accounts institutions can utilise existing single sign-on (SSO) by linking their institutional login to their enterprise accounts.  The GIF below shows the path to follow to access the tab to set up your organization account so that your users will be able to sign in to ArcGIS using the same username and password that they use with your existing on-premises systems.

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The Geography Department in The University of Exeter was an earlier adopter of ArcGIS online and have been grateful for the recent improvements in being able to manage the WeGIS licensees and users. During the conference I learnt about three tools that help with WebGIS administration. Below are some of the tools and some of my top tips for how they may help.

ArcGIS online assistant. This online tool is great for individuals to manage their own content. Users can copy items, view usage stats of published content and view and edit content in JSON (JavaScript Object Notation). One of the main benefits of this tool is the capability to copy content from different portals and different accounts. Below is an example benefits of this.

Managing student content when they graduate or when they are due to leave the organisation. At the University of Exeter we currently keep ArcGIS online accounts active for two years after graduating so students can showcase their web maps and apps to future employers and manage their online content. However, this may present problems for graduates when their account is removed after two years and problems for the University in terms of managing the number of licenses available to current students. With the ArcGIS online assistant tool students can transfer their content to a new account. The new workflow I now propose is as follows: Students create a new developer accountwith a personal email address (non-institution account). The developer account is free and allows user to access basic online apps and web maps. Students themselves then copy their content from their University ArcGIS online account to their non-institution account using ArcGIS online assistant. The student accounts and content can then be removed after graduation without the requirement to back up content.

GEOJobe is another Web GIS tool for managing ArcGIS online accounts. Possibly the most valuable set of tools from an education perspective is to manage user profiles and for administrating groups. Groups are really useful for delivering content to students in modules or classes. Content can be contained and shared within these groups. For individual assessment I do however tend not to use Groups, as members can view the entire content of the group which must be avoided for assessment.

In addition to the above two tools the new ArcGIS API for Python allows content management and administration of web GIS. The developers site for the Python API includes lots of sample code and notebooks for users to edit in order to make administration of web GIS even easier. Below is an example on how to batch create groups.

The Python API also allows developers, analysts and data scientists to automate scripts for performing data analysis. That is why the ArcGIS API for Python also features further up my list of take home messages…………

2: Visualising Multidimensional Data in ArcPro Range Slider

Geographic content often contains naturally embedded variables within it at multiple times or depths (ranges). Such multidimensional data is normally stored in netCDF, GRIB, or HDF format. Each file contains one or multiple variables, and each variable is a multidimensional array that represents data in a given time or at a given vertical dimension. For example an oceanographic netCDF dataset can contain ranges of salinity, wind speed and temperature at different times and at different depths.

In ArcPro 2.0 users can visualise such data as a dynamic range. Once the range properties are defined, an interactive, on-screen slider can be used to explore the data through a range which can be customised.  For example the user can view the first 100 m of the salinity and temperature in a multidimensional oceanographic water column. The GIF below shows an example of the range slider by viewing the different floor levels of a building.

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ArcPro 2.0 also includes an animation tool which can be used to export videos for sharing and showcasing the progression of variables through a specified range – how cool is that?!

1: ArcGIS API for Python, with Jupyter Notebook Integration

For the esri UK team who were sitting next to me in the plenary it will come as no surprise the ArcGIS API for Python is is my number one – the live demo had me bouncing in my seat with excitement.
I started using Jupyter notebooks last year when I introduced first year Geography students to coding for data analysis. Jupyter notebooks are an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) that operate through a browser which integrates code with visuals such as graphs and markdown text. For teaching it presents an unrivaled environment where single lines of code can be surround by text of either instructions, or space for learners to explain the outputs and workflow. Jupyter notebooks has allowed me to expose first year Geography students to python coding in an intuitive and  accessible environment where outputs are viewed in the same notebook under each cell of code that is run.

When I learnt the ArcGIS API for python could bring in ArcGIS online content I instantly recognised the benefits. Users will be able to create maps, perform spatial analysis, data analysis and create graphic outputs, tables and maps all in one notebook. For learning and assessment this will no doubt make python coding for GIS much more accessible and manageable.

The GIF below shows a live map of San Diego being brought into the notebook in just three lines of Python code!

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The additional benefits of the Python API with Jupyter integration is the beneift of being able to call in other functions for further analysis. Functions such as Pandas, Numpy, and Matplotlib for example mean the entire workflow for all outputs (cartographic and statistic) can be demonstrated in one notebook.

Esri User Conference: Big Ideas

My first Esri User conference was a fantastic experience with many more take home messages than I have listed here in my top-5. As well as developing my own knowledge of GIS, the ArcGIS platform and GIS education, it has been really inspiring for me and provided with me motivation to continue to develop the GIS curriculum in the Geography department at Exeter. It was a great chance to learn more about Esri UK and pathways for my graduates including internships and the graduate scheme, meeting the other Esri Young Scholars (full list of projects here) and connecting with many other GIS professionals in the Esri Young Professionals Network. For any Esri customer thinking of attending in the future I strongly recommend it. Below is the ‘Big Ideas’ summary notes from Esri about the user conference, some of my highlights which didn’t make my top-5 can also be seen below.

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This post was created by Damien Mansell from The University of Exeter. For more information, questions, or suggestions please get in touch. @DamienMansell

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