GIS is an acronym that is relatively unknown to the public at large, but it’s gaining traction and wider use every year. As geographic information systems (GIS) become more prevalent in all areas of commercial, government and non-profit work, the more colleges and universities need to step up their games and offer comprehensive GIS programs for their students.
GIS has two major components. The main goal is to create maps that display rich statistical information that is easy to consume and present in a geographical framework. Behind that is all the hard work and data processing that goes into creating these maps. It requires training, data and expensive software. For colleges looking to pique students’ interest in GIS and get them into a more extensive program, they don’t want to start at the very beginning. Instead, they want students to get a taste of how GIS works and the power of GIS to solve problems and convey information.
The barrier to entry in Esri’s ArcGIS makes it difficult to start using a GIS without extensive training – and deep pockets. To help facilitate search and discovery in introductory geography classes, we set up a system that allows schools to purchase two months of Map Mavin at a reduced price. Students are given a shared Map Mavin account and a simple task: make a map of the city using open source data. By utilizing free GIS data provided by local cities, students can gain insight into the breadth of information that is readily available.
The simplicity of Map Mavin allows students to quickly upload their datasets and test visualization tools. For this case study we used the city of Denver and their extensive open data catalog. A low income housing layer can be turned into a choropleth map showing areas with higher percentages of people earning lower incomes. They can then overlay that with a layer showing where low-income housing is offered with conditional styling. Now students can see why lower income households are on the outskirts of Denver, where housing is cheaper. They can also better understand the city’s plan to provide low-income housing in the downtown area, where many people work but can’t afford to live.
Students can then overlay parks, hospitals and schools to see which areas could use more amenities based on population and access to basic services. Using Map Mavin turns a multi-week project into a simple lab that takes a day or two. What started as an intimidating lesson into the complexities of GIS is simplified. Teachers don’t have to cover file formats, projections or base layers to give students a feel for how GIS works from a usability perspective. Even if a city doesn’t have GIS data available to the public, students can use our open data portal to download data directly into their account.
Map Mavin is an all in one solution for schools and colleges to get students in the door and signed up for GIS classes or certifications.