Company Offers All Schools Free Mapping Software to Enhance Learning

By Benjamin Herold — May 27, 2014 2 min read
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Cross-posted from Digital Education.

The dominant player in the world of geographic information systems is making free accounts to its advanced mapping software available to all U.S. elementary and secondary schools. The donation, part of President Obama’s ConnectED technology initiative, comes from Redlands, Calif.-based Esri. The company has valued the contribution at $1 billion.

“Geographic Information System technology gives students powerful tools for understanding our planet, and teaches them to become problem-solvers,” said Jack Dangermond, Esri’s president, in a statement. “It is a perfect complement to STEM courses and many other classroom activities, while preparing students for further education and expanding career opportunities in fields that can help better manage our world, build better lives for more people, and design a better future.”

The goal is to grant every school in the country access to ArcGIS Online, geovisual software that allows users to reference, store, manage and visualize information based on location—essentially merging maps and databases in order to see and analyze information in new ways. More than two dozen states and more than 30 U.S. districts already have enterprise licenses to use the software, according to this map released by the company. Earlier this month, Education Week wrote about the increasingly sophisticated ways districts are using GIS to improve transportation planning, facilities management, emergency preparations, and more.

GIS is also a potentially valuable instructional tool: Back in 2010, Ed Week described some of the classroom uses of the technology, and Esri is pointing interested educators to a web page describing projects in which students use ArcGIS Online to crowdsource data about birds and environmental conditions, map public assets in their city, and study local lakes.

In its release, Esri says the value of an account for the software is $10,000, leading to the $1 billion valuation for the entire donation ($10,000 X 100,000 U.S. K-12 schools.)

The new school-based accounts will be supported by Amazon Web Services, which is providing cloud-based technology infrastructure to support the effort for three years.

The federal ConnectED initiative, launched in 2013, aims to increase schools’ access to high-speed broadband, improve schools’ access to innovative technology hardware and digital software, and improve technology training for teachers. In February, President Obama announced donations of goods and services from corporations including Apple, AT&T, Microsoft, and Verizon totaling an estimated $750 million.

As my colleague Michele Molnar reported at the time, many in schools welcome the technology infusion, but there are also plenty of concerns about corporate involvement in education and the sustainability of such volunteer initiatives.

Speaking at the annual conference of the Education Writers Association in Nashville, Tenn. last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said corporate donations aligned with ConnectED have surpassed $1 billion—and that there was “significantly more interest out there.”

President Obama is expected to note the donation during Tuesday’s White House Science Fair, which will focus on exciting work in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields being done by woman and girls.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.