Professor Chris Bone from the Geography Department was our guest presenter at last Friday’s TEA Talks. He gave a very detailed demonstration on Geographic Information Systems, how the science of geography has changed over time, and then he showed us the up and coming tool created by ESRI (the maker of the software ArcGIS) known as “ArcGIS Online.” ArcGIS Online can be found at their website .
So, what exactly is ArcGIS Online? Simply, it is an online web based mapping tool. It is a tool that has a more robust feature set than simply Google Earth or Goolge Maps, though there are some similarities.
What exactly is GIS? Geographic Information Systems or GIS is all about the “where” and “what.” It is about something in place, as in both physical (Climatology for example) and human (cultural), and a sense of place is really the key element here.
GIS provides a set of tools to allow people to explore all of the many areas of geography: human, political, environmental, social, etc. It allows one to understand the information that exists in a particlar place or location.
Once information is known about a place, people can then make predictions about the variables that might influence that particular place. Variables such as people, data, animals, insects, traffic, etc.
Chris then shifted and began talking about the concept of GIS “in the cloud.” He shared an anecdote about discussing the concept of “the cloud” with a class and that the conversation took up all of the class period. There were a lot of ideas about what “the cloud” means amongst students!
“GIS in the cloud” can provide students with what Chris called a “digital Earth.” The globe is covered with data and with a system like cloud GIS many people can manipulate the data in real time and in collaboration.
An example that Chris shared was how, following the Haiti earthquake of 2010, people would text information about where help was needed and crowdsourced maps were created so that emergency services could be directed to the proper places.
Digital Earth is the name given to a concept by former US vice president Al Gore in 1998, describing a virtual representation of the Earth that is spatially referenced and interconnected with the world’s digital knowledge archives. (wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_Earth)
This next fall term, Chris will be teaching a course titled, “Our Digital Earth.” By using tools such as smart phones and accessing the geospatial data that they hold, he hopes to use this infrastructure to add data-rich layers to ArcGIS Online. This will provide students a way to learn using the web in ways that, perhaps, they haven’t done before.
A brief description of how this works is that you can literally drag and drop text files of geospatial data onto a map within a browser and see the data points show up. In addition, one can take a compressed file (.zip format), which holds many different files (or layers) and the system will uncompress the file and plot the points that have been uploaded.
One can also search the ESRI Cloud to add a basemap, add their own data, save the results and get a URL that can be shared with others.
This presentation was quite engaging and demonstrated how our current technologies directly influence teaching and learning.
Chris’s presentation can be found here ( PDF File): http://tep.uoregon.edu/pdf/ArcGIS_TEA_Talk_May182012.pdf