Geography is so much a part of our everyday lives we take our experiences for granted. Being a geographer is not enough; we are still susceptible to bias and not immune to being oblivious. However, I would submit the holistic nature of Geography allows trained geographers to see, interpret, and question patterns many others would miss.
How can we develop better spatial skills ourselves? How can we help others develop better spatial skills? Everyone needs better spatial thinking skills as much as we all could use more critical thinking skills. In fact, I would argue each goes in hand with the other.
If you are in the position of helping others see patterns, analyze and interpret information, you might find ESRI’s ArcGIS Explorer Online a nice tool for enhancing your web site or your presentations. Explorer Online is a wonderful app allowing anyone to create, develop, and share maps, using prepared data.
Initially, you will want to perform two tasks. First, install Silverlight for your web browser. Second, in order to share any map you create you will need to save the map. Saving a map requires an ESRI Global Account. Creating an account is free and allows you to save, store, and share your maps. On your first visit to ArcGIS Explorer Online [link] go ahead and setup an account.
The app is so easy to use a child could create a meaningful map in about 5 minutes and share her map with friends or classmates around the world. WordPress.com blogs do not allow “iFrames” so I am providing a link to a public map [link] so you can see a working map which I created in less than 5 minutes. An argument to host my own web site I suppose 🙂
I’m not going to do anything about explaining data, as my intention here is merely to detail two cool functions of ArcGIS Explorer Online a person can use immediately, and we have to have a working map before those option are available to us.
Once you login, an interface will load showing three button at the upper-left, “Home,” “Details,” an “Share,” plus four icons, Save, Print, Basemap, and Add Content. Mouse-over the buttons and a popup box will identify each button.
Click “Add Content” and a scrolling menu will appear. A good habit in working through any exercise, one I practice, is to examine any dialog box which should appear. Software changes so rapidly written directions are often out of date within weeks or months of apps being launched.
After you have examined the Add Content scrolling list, replace the “Search or URL” with ‘median household income,’ then search. You don’t have to follow my example verbatim; I am going to “add” the first result in the list, “USA Median Household Income.” Click outside the dialog box, the box will disappear, and click on the “Zoom To Rectangle” tool found under the “Presentation” tab. Draw a rectangle around the coterminous United States (the lower 48.) The view will zoom, capturing the area you defined with your box. Save your map; you’ll have to name the map – I called mine, Mike’s Map.
Awesome Map Option #1
At the top left, see the “Share” button? Click the button. Right there on the dialog box are a number of really great choices. You can share your map to Facebook, or Twitter immediately. If you have created an ESRI Group, you can share with group members, or you can simply allow everyone in the world to see your map. At the bottom, you can generate HTML code to embed you map in your own web site. How cool is that? Except, like I said earlier, the HTML uses iFrames which might be an issue for some web sites.
Awesome Map Option #2
At the top-center of our window are two tabs, one says Mapping, the other Presentation. Choose Presentation and watch how the app changes.
We are prompted to “Click to add first slide.” I am not going to walk you through all of the finer details though by mouseover, you should be able to discern the functions of all buttons. However, anyone with elementary Powerpoint skills should be able to figure out how to add, delete, insert, and run a slide presentation.
An awesome trait of the Presentation mode is the maps upon which the slides are built is “living” data. In other words, you are not creating screenshots of your maps, your slides are your maps. You can update, alter, modify your maps as you develop your presentation. You can even introduce more data during your Presentation. Change them on-the-fly. And, as we saw on the Share button, you can share your Presentation with whoever you want, or embed within a web site.
Thanks to Joseph Kerski, ESRI’s Education Manager for helping pass along the niceties of ArcGIS Explorer Online. Faculty and staff were very excited by the sharing and ease-of-use potential of Explorer.
I suggest getting your kids involved. A child 8+ might find making maps interesting. The exposure to the technology might inspire them in new and different ways to bring geography into their classroom. I can see Explorer being a great tool for homeschooling, as well. Free technology, using real data, and easy to use and share.