#EsriEdUC Plenary - The Big Ideas

This year’s Esri Education User Conference Plenary was not a handful of speakers, but rather a parade of Esri staffers (many newly minted) and partners touching on topics directly and not so directly related to teaching and learning. First up a run down of the speakers, then a summary of "the big ideas."


Esri’s Joseph Kerksi (and NCGE president) argued that there is indeed an international geospatial education community. He cited as evidence the 600 people in attendance, the Special Achievement in GIS Awards to educators/educational institutions, an upcoming GIScience volume, recent NSF award on geo education (press release, podcast), Digital Earth EU, new books include his upcoming GIS Guide to Public Domain Data, initiatives involving STEM and the work in informal/non-formal education.

Esri’s Charlie Fitzpatrick laid out a nice stepwise diagram of easiest to more challenging to use platforms for education. The best news, each one builds on the skills in the lowers ones. It reads:

  • ArcGIS Desktop
  • ArcGIS Explorer Desktop
  • ArcGIS Explorer Online
  • ArcGIS.com MapViewer

He noted too that they exist on many platforms: mobile, desktop and Web and highlighting now we work with “maps” and the technology, by design, is less visible and less of a barrier. Interestingly few in the audience had worked with ArcGIS for iOS, none on Windows Mobile and only a few were awaiting the Android version.

Allen Carroll who joined Esri from National Geographic observed there there are now no excuses to use GIS - technology/public awareness of tech and Esri are all “ready.” He also highlighted the idea of “maps” as the key component of GIS. He spoke of his work to enable a National Geographic Basemap for ArcGIS Online (coming in the next few months) and a canvas map (a map that is truly an outline canvas onto which to draw thematic maps). On the technology front, he demoed the GeoStory Player, and app that includes an interactive map window, a text window and a window for video or photos, etc. The idea of “map stories” or “geostories” is compelling but from an education standpoint they need to be more engaging than passive.

Kenneth Field who joined Esri from the Kingston University (announcement), UK showed how to use time within ArcGIS desktop and Web. He featured the use of the “player” to show other things than time - such as stepping through different intensities of earthquakes to find patterns. 

Bernie Szukalski introduced the new and improved ArcGIS Online garner “oos and ahhs” for its drag and drop support for text and csv/spreadsheets. He showed off using animaged gifs for symbols (erupting volcanos!) and highlighting the various ways to share content from ArcGIS Explorer Online. I think there is some confusion about what’s in ArcGIS Online vs. ArcGIS Explorer Online. The later includes new “dashboard” tools to help visualize data from the map in say pie graphs and the like and supports good old shapefiles. 

Later in the day he showed the ways to manage maps (note again maps as the unit of measure of GIS again!) for groups of students or classes. There was positive reaction to using a template like that for govmaps.org as a front end (veneer) for ArcGIS Online to create a custom “portal” for classes or organizations. Kentucky has already done this. He previewed the expected subscription service which allows organizations to manage accounts for users or in the case of education, students. The line: ArcGIS Online supports drag and drop for up to 1000 (updated 7/11/11; originally said 100, thanks Damian!) features. If there are more, an organizational subscription can enable the data to be published as a service and hosted by Esri.

Esri's Michael Gould offered a perspective on ArcGIS Server and its users including Fedex, an app to find schools in Singapore, and Recovery.gov. The big cloud education news, however was from Penn State which is building a Clould/Server GIS course expected under Penn State’s Open Education license (steal and re-use the course!) in November. Frank Hardisty from Penn State gave some great lists worth documenting:

The Core Characteristics of Cloud Implementations

  • network access
  • on demand service (each student can have admin authority)
  • real time (I might have that wrong, sorry)
  • elasticity
  • managed service (pay for what you use)

Three Cloud Models (I like this better than Scott Morehouse’s discussion from some years ago

  • IAAS - vendor manages infrastructure, but you manage OS, Software, data
  • PAAS - vendor manages infrastructure, OS/platform and you manage software and data
  • SAAS - vendor manages everything but the data, which you provide

While the course will cover ArcGIS Server and how to choose form different cloud implementations, Sterling Quinn (of both PSU and Esri) assured me afterward that open source cloud/server solutions would be covered as well.

David DiBiase who will lead the Esri education team after finishing his 20 year stint at Penn State argued “the GIS profession has come of age and you are a part of it.” He cited such things as the Geospatial Revolution Project, the recently completed competency model, the new Dept. of Labor geospatial career titles, the nearly 5000 GISPs and the new Esri technical certifications as proof. (He had a hand in nearly all of these coming about, which he chose not to mention, but I will.) Most interesting was his vision of the future of GIS education (which sounded familiar to me as I was until recently his colleague at Penn State; I have since left the university):

  • Education as a Service: Esri (and other) licensing might include cloud implementations with classes, open courseware, games and the like. Such a vision might usher in a new level of adaptive eduction - more appropriately geared to each student. It might allow instructors to do less tech support and more content (and I’d add “context”) support.
  • A portal where learners and educators might find one another
  • Geodesign as the impetus for a meta-university effort

Esri’s Tom Baker focused on the value of the edcommunity.esri.com page for communications year round. He noted new Virtual Campus courses (free) specifically for educators. First up: a best practices in education course.

Esri's Don Cooke, who joined from TomTom in the last year, spoke about the Community Maps program and how campuses can contribute using a special (more customizable) template. Harvard and Univ of Arkansas have already provided data with pretty trees and different colors than the traditional basemap.

Kevin Davis of Esri Partner PenBay Solutions made the argument to put buildings/facility details into not just GIS but also Community Maps.

The Big Ideas

  • The map as the unit of measure for GIS. This is a potentially huge step in making GIS use simpler for students and the public.
  • ArcGIS Online is the first answer to everything. I suggested that after reading the User Conference Q&A, and in education it seems to be the case.
  • ArcGIS is a system - one that offers products and platforms that educators can use to bring students through from less complex to more powerful options.
  • The cloud is now a small part and in the future will be a larger part of GIS education - both as platform for study and as a platform of study.

Published Sunday, July 10th, 2011

Written by Adena Schutzberg

Published in


Open Source

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