The Argument for Greater Cloud-based GIS in the Classroom

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This essay from Olivia Harne discusses how more cloud-based GIS activities in the college-level classroom are needed.  

In my last semester at Kutztown University of PA, I’ve received the opportunity to work with students that have received the CARE Grant – a scholarship meant to promote diversity in STEM fields – and lead an activity on cloud-based GIS. The activity spans from creating a basemap with data of the student’s choice, following that up with using application templates and ending with the creation of a story map, to potentially submit to Esri’s Living Atlas of the World. Ideally, this will provide the opportunity for those interested in ArcGIS Online to put their foot in the door and have a completed project that they can include into their resumes.

The creation of story maps, and the development of public-oriented data is a beneficial topic for students to focus on. While it may seem easier when compared to learning ArcMap or ArcGIS Pro, using the ArcGIS Online site is rarely covered in a classroom setting, which tends to focus far more on programming, data analysis, and more internally-oriented GIS tasks that one would do post-graduation. It also gives students the opportunity to work with visuals. Adobe Creative Suite and its various software are a great supporting skill to have when working with public maps, and ArcGIS Online offers many avenues to incorporate one’s custom images, video or audio.

Planning this activity for a four-week timespan wasn’t overly difficult, but it would be interesting to see a greater focus on cloud-based GIS data in the classroom. Giving students the opportunity to really work with the variety of options they have at their disposal could easily fill a semester course, yet very few universities in the state of Pennsylvania seem to offer this. In a way, it’s potentially doing those students a disservice, by disallowing them the ability to extend their skillset past what’s expected of the average graduate.

It’s understandable in the context of the activity I’m working with, but I think this issue is in direct relation to the hyper-focus on STEM, often to the detriment of the arts. Universities still tend to place the worth of their students on whether they are focusing on the sciences or humanities. Looking for students to focus on one field is antithetical to the concept of higher education, which often requires years of “general education” studies. Potentially, colleges could put more effort into promoting the arts as a great additional ability for students, and to dissuade the mentality that STEM is inherently more valuable.

More from Olivia Harne

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