Esri Education GIS Conference 2013 Takeaways

By Adena Schutzberg

The Esri Education GIS Conference focuses on the needs of educators and students. It’s held the weekend preceding the Esri User Conference and runs through Tuesday. Directions Magazine was proud to be a Platinum Sponsor of the event. Detailed coverage is available at All Points Blog; below I share the key takeaways.

Students as Evangelists

Several educators shared stories of how, not they, but their students, acted directly or indirectly as GIS ambassadors on campus. How?

  • Discussions and “show and tell” of student work prompted deans to ask about maps of what property the college owns.
  • High school students were assigned to learn about ArcGIS Online, then to work with a non-GIS-savvy faculty member to build a lesson using the technology.
  • College students were given extra credit for tapping into peers to crowdsource geodata for mapping projects.

These are great ways to let the students show the value of the technology, taking some of the burden off a single faculty or staff champion or champions.

ArcGIS Online (AGOL) is Still in Development and a Moving Target

I have been waiting not so patiently for more guidance for educators on how to implement AGOL on campus and in the classroom. Despite two sessions that I hoped would address such concerns (one included “pioneers” and a second, “best practices” in the session title), it’s clear to me that such guidance will not be coming anytime soon. A first education case study is not expected to be published until this fall.

What to do? It’s time for educators and universities to embrace the uncertainty. I’m convinced AGOL will surely be a big part of GIS education worldwide in time. Don’t let the bumpy road prevent you, your school or your students from getting behind it. Get that first pilot project or course going now! Despite the challenges, educators and students are sold on AGOL for education. So am I.

AGOL is Answer to Getting Non-GIS People Involved in GIS

While Esri and others have tried to bring GIS to everyone since ArcView 1 debuted in the 1990s, AGOL is emerging as the best solution ever offered. The quick startup, cloud hosting, multi-platform support, available datasets, and direct geocoding for CSV formatted data have made it the way to bring GIS to an entire campus. Educators are encouraged to have new users “skip” over the desktop packages and go directly to AGOL. If you need an analogy: it’s like many developing countries skipping directly to wireless communications and never implementing land lines.

ArcGIS for Desktop: a “Premium App” for ArcGIS Online

What is the role of ArcGIS for Desktop on campus? I heard it referenced just once in a formal session during the opening weekend of the conference. Esri Product Business Manager Rich Turner described it as a “premium app for ArcGIS Online.” That speaks volumes to its new role in education (and elsewhere).

Esri Made the Decision to Go Native With ArcGIS Online on all Platforms

What does that mean? It means that Esri decided that performance overshadowed consistent workflows across platforms and browsers. So, ArcGIS should be relatively fast, but it might work differently on a tablet vs. a phone and from one browser to another. Knowing this fact and sharing it with student and faculty users should help set expectations.

Hands-on: Story Maps/Social Media Viewers

Hands-on product lessons are a big draw of the education event. Some attendees spend most of their time in those lab sessions. My informal survey suggests the story map templates are quite a draw for educators - either to use to build their own apps or for students to use to present their findings in stories. Another tool of particular interest and relevance for educators: social media map viewers. “It’s the world students live in,” I was told, so they get actively engaged with those data feeds.

Toward Authentic/Project-based Work

Because AGOL is all about sharing, GIS educators are leaving prepackaged lessons and datasets to gather dust. Project-based, real world activities are taking their place. Local agencies and organizations seem far more willing to engage a student project when the result is some HTML code that can be immediately embedded in a website. Past project-based GIS efforts that resulted in the creation of datasets or paper maps did not have the immediate impact. AGOL will push even more educators (at all levels) to seek out authentic learning opportunities.

Bait and Switch

While those of us in the industry want to tout geography, geospatial technology and GIS, several intrepid educators are doing so under a different guise. One GIS course is titled” marine ecology.” The massive open online course coming later this month is titled “Maps and the Geospatial Revolution.” The upcoming 4-H National Youth Science Day is about community development, not GIS. There is something to be said about “talking like they listen,” as a friend in advertising use to say. Go forth and use GIS, but consider calling it something else!

Published Monday, July 15th, 2013

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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