BETT 2016 Guest Blog – Esri UK: How to teach current events with GIS



This BETT 2016 partner blog comes from Esri UK. Not only will they be exhibiting as part of the Microsoft Partner Village, but they are a finalist in this year’s BETT Awards 2016! Read on to find out more about the UK’s leading distributor of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) which is built on Microsoft Azure.



How to teach about current events with a new breed of apps, maps and analysis

Everyone in the UK has seen or heard of the record rain fall and terrible floods in Cumbria this winter, but how did you talk to your students about it? What about the 8.3 magnitude earthquake in Chile this year or the mass shootings in America? The COP21 climate change talk in Paris or the launch of Major Tim Peake to the International Space Station? How deep did you go with your class? I could fill this blog post with local, national and international events like these that all share a common technology theme.


Any guesses on what the unifying theme could be? All of the agencies that respond to, manage or study these events use a particular technology to help develop greater understanding. From NASA to the Environment Agency to the United Nations they all depend on a technology called Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to understand the world and its interactions. With GIS we can understand what has happened, what is happening and what will happen, and importantly where it happens, at local to global scales. And now this same technology is available for schools to both transform and reinforce existing pedagogy across geography, STEM and computing.

Developed in the 1960’s, GIS has traditionally been a hard to use technology in schools, requiring a complex installation of software and management of vast amounts of data. All too often a barrier too high to climb for even the most enthusiastic teacher and IT department. However, that has all changed with the advent of the cloud and GIS evolving to become a platform. In particular, the new breed of Web GIS is spearheaded by ArcGIS Online which utilises the Microsoft Azure Cloud.

To start using the largest (and growing) repository of authoritative maps and geographic data the world has ever seen all you need is access to the internet and a web browser.

So, how can this new Web GIS help you in the classroom? Its use is broad, but let’s consider the Chile earthquake mentioned earlier as a classroom example. The day after the event, it was on every news story with reports of damage and destruction from the quake and subsequent tsunami. The first question should be where is Chile in relation to your class? Some supplementary learning on what continent it is on, what is the capital etc. And how about some maths with estimation and units…how far away from the school is Santiago in kilometres and metres? You have fifteen seconds to give me an answer! A mass of answers should follow ranging from a million to 25km. ArcGIS Online has detailed global maps so you can locate your class and its relation to Chile plus simple tools like a measure tool to find the answer to the quiz. That would take about 3 minutes with no login, just open a browser to get going (Edge works particularly well).

Let’s dig a little deeper. Where exactly was the earthquake and why did it occur? We can tell this story with ArcGIS Online by using authoritative secondary data from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and information already in ArcGIS Online. The USGS provide near real time raw earthquake data in a spread sheet that you can download and look at. This is great for getting students to handle and understand large quantities of real data. This can be easily mapped in ArcGIS Online (it takes seconds) and plate boundaries added to reveal that Chile runs along a large subduction zone; the reason why large earthquakes occur there.


So far, all very geography based with a little maths thrown in. How about some computing and creating a Web App that creates a cross section through the subduction zone to better understand the process? Well, that is easy too. ArcGIS Online is also a Web App authoring platform and in a few minutes you can create a configured Web App to see a cross section of anywhere in the world.

This process of asking simple questions and peeling back the layers to go deeper with the learning could be repeated with ArcGIS Online for any of the events outlined above; and many more in between.

Whilst this is all possible today, GIS is a very well-kept secret in schools and many teachers are not aware that it exists or don’t yet have the skills or confidence to start using it. The example given here is just one aspect of using the technology but it ranges from app development, data collection, complex geographical analysis and much more. So deciding how and where to start can be a problem. However, ArcGIS Online and the Microsoft Azure Cloud makes this technology more readily available to schools than ever before so everyone can benefit from using this globally significant technology.

If you would like to discover more about ArcGIS Online and how your school could benefit:

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