Education Opinion

Billion Dollar Pledge to Bring Sophisticated Geo-Maps to Classrooms

By Charles Taylor Kerchner — June 17, 2014 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Using the ArcGIS Online software available to schools, the author created a “diversity” index for California counties. It shows the chance that any two people picked at random would be from a different race or ethnicity. In San Mateo County the odds are over 79 percent. This map was created in one minute, the process can be taught in two minutes, and there is endless exploration possible since the data go from state to neighborhood level. (Anyone can learn to do this at http://esriurl.com/k12gis.)

By guest blogger Charlie Fitzpatrick

People love maps including kids, especially when they can tweak them. Mapping software connects the instinct for visual understanding with the capacity to explore and investigate questions.

But the world of digital learning is a realm of “haves” and “have nots.” Some students have steady access to the right equipment, adequate connectivity, activities suited to needs, and teachers who can make good use of it all. Sadly, this is not universal. To reduce the technology gap, President Barack Obama challenged industry to help schools. Last month he announced that Esri had pledged $1-billion of mapping software available free to US K12 schools.

Since 1969, Esri, headquartered in Redlands, California, has built geographic information system (GIS) software. Today, Esri software is used across the globe, in nearly every industry, to make maps and analyze data. From farming to defense to modeling climate to routing school buses, users on workstations and laptops collaborate with others on tablets and smartphones, building data, designing maps, and making decisions. And what used to require robust computers and skilled specialists can now be explored, modified, and enhanced by a broad spectrum of knowledge workers on a laptop, or field agents on a smartphone, or students on a tablet.

ArcGIS Online is cloud-based GIS. Since its birth a few years ago, savvy educators have demonstrated its power as a learning tool. The recent addition of “Organization” subscriptions lets government agencies, companies, and other groups have a portal for producing maps, storing data, sharing content, and collaborating on projects. And now, “Organizations” and guidance for its use are available at no cost to any U.S. K-12 school.

High schools, middle schools, and even elementary schools have already used Organizations effectively. Schools can control the degree of searching and sharing, permitting access to vast galaxies of external data or just a few specific items, and control privileges for individuals or groups. Students can gather or generate data, make and share maps that show their work, publish content for use by the community, and construct dynamic reports on projects they investigate deeply. The online world means “anytime, anywhere connected.”

The content options are huge, and project-based or problem-based learning is an ideal approach. Young students can study the types and health of trees in the neighborhood, or track critters around the world. Middle school students can research and build projects about local history or examine the interplay of disasters, governments, and health across the globe. High school students can analyze neighborhood demographics for political trends or model storm, flood, fire, or earthquake susceptibility under varying conditions.

The increasing reams of data and evolving tools and capacities means a never-ending stream of new opportunity for savvy educators. But what about those not as comfy with GIS? Enter the many thousands of GIS professionals! Because Esri technology is used in so many industries, and so many users are quite passionate about both GIS and their local community, willing GeoMentors abound. A GeoMentor is someone who can help introduce geographic analysis, address technical questions, locate data, help set up an ArcGIS Online Organization, or other useful tasks. Local GIS users can be found with a quick Internet search combining two terms: “GIS” and the name of your city, county, state, or region.

Whether a single computer in a classroom, or 1:1, or BYOD, students and educators can have access to explore or do work whenever connected. A world of opportunity awaits schools using ArcGIS Online! And it’s free.

Charlie Fitzpatrick is Esri Schools Program Manager, cfitzpatrick@esri.com

The opinions expressed in On California are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.