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How COGS instructors are introducing new technology to the curriculum

One of the biggest challenges in teaching GIS is keeping up with ever-changing technology. Read about the ways instructors at the Centre of Geographic Sciences (COGS), Nova Scotia Community College, are incorporating ArcGIS Pro and ArcGIS Online in their courses and using virtual machine technology to improve students’ access to software. 

A big part of any college or university GIS course is lab work and assignments, and this usually involves students going to a specific computer lab on campus where the software is installed. However, students increasingly want to be able to access software and resources from wherever they are. Industry also expects students to learn to use the latest technology. This creates infrastructure challenges for the post-secondary institution, as well as challenges for the faculty who must continually adapt their teaching materials to stay relevant.

At the Centre of Geographic Sciences (COGS) in Nova Scotia, they have been using virtual machines (VMs) for over a decade to provide an environment where students can learn how to administer ArcGIS Server, collaborate on client projects and access the software and materials they need. They are currently exploring ways to use VMs for the Geospatial Data Analytics program that will be offered starting next fall. 

According to faculty member Kathleen Stewart, “COGS started using VMs to elevate student access rights, so they could learn to administer an ArcIMS installation. Since then, VM use has grown to be a quick and easy way to set up any operating system to work with any number of high-tech applications.  The VM environment promotes extensive use of heuristic methods for teaching and learning, as system recovery is usually the quick deployment of another VM. This builds the students' confidence and develops problem-solving and decision-making skills.”

COGS faculty are among the early adopters at post-secondary institutions in Canada of ArcGIS Pro for teaching. They are aiming for a 70/30 mix of ArcGIS Pro and ArcMap for the 2018-19 academic year but, says Monica Lloyd, faculty member at COGS, “the quest for where Pro best fits in our projects continues. There are still lots of unanswered questions about the best way to integrate it. As we move forward and incorporate more ArcGIS Online into the program, then we will use more of this application.”

“It is also important to for us to work closely with industry partners to ensure we are preparing graduates for current industry trends. As more and more employers switch over to ArcGIS Pro, we will re-evaluate the balance of applications we are teaching. Keeping the curriculum current and staying connected with industry is our main focus at COGS.”

A particular strength of ArcGIS Pro is the ability to integrate 2D and 3D data. Students were given the opportunity to explore this ability through a project for Orienteering Nova Scotia. They examined basemap imagery overlaid on a terrain model to gain a better understanding of the study area. Students have also been learning how to create building models in SketchUp, import them into ArcGIS Pro and produce fly-through videos of the 3D scene.

Fly-through videos, such as this one of 3D buildings models at the Annapolis Valley Exhibition Grounds created by Andrew Brophy, Cartography 2017, can be easily generated in ArcGIS Pro without having to launch another application.

Another strength of ArcGIS Pro is its tight connection with ArcGIS Online. Online content can be easily added to a map or scene in ArcGIS Pro, and maps or features can be easily shared from ArcGIS Pro to ArcGIS Online. Students learn to create story maps and web apps to present the results of their research with faculty leading by example: Kathleen Stewart, Monica Lloyd and Dave MacLean all used story maps for their presentations at the Esri Canada User Conference in Halifax and the GIS in Education and Research Conference in Toronto.

Kathleen is a fan of the Story Map Cascade template. “Having the sample Story Map Cascade Gallery (particularly Celebrating Women’s Rights) was a great inspiration for writing my first cascade. Also, I work with story map experts (Dave MacLean and Monica Lloyd) to guide me. I found the interface straightforward and user-friendly. Once I figured out how to add an image as a background, I was off to the races. I also like that it is a living document capable of being edited even after it was published.  I apologize for my design skills (or lack thereof), but I had a lot of fun building the cascade.”

As Monica explains, “creating a story map teaches learners the importance of storyboarding and organizing your presentation on only what the audience needs to know. Learners are encouraged to make detailed outlines of not only the web maps and text needed in their story map presentation, but also the multi-media pieces (images, graphics, logos, maps, charts, videos, sound files, etc.) that would make the story more engaging. Taking the time upfront to get organized makes it easier to put the presentations together. We are seeing more demand from industry to have our students and graduates create story maps for presentations. It is really the new presentation format for spatial data.”

One example of a story map created by a Geographic Sciences Cartography student is Hill 145, which depicts the story of Captain Percival William and the map he used to lead Companies "C" and "D" of the 85th Battalion to capture Hill 145 on Vimy Ridge. Noah MacLaughlin worked closely with a client to compile research and build a story map that highlights the original paper map and allows viewers to explore in both 2D and 3D the original map features overlaid on recent imagery of Vimy Ridge. This story map was recognized by the Canadian Cartographic Association with the 2017 Web Map Award at their annual conference held at Carleton University in Ottawa June 2017.

Noah MacLaughlin, Cartography 2016, created Hill 145, a Story Map Cascade about the map used by Captain P. W. Anderson during the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Do you know of other instructors who using ArcGIS Pro or ArcGIS Online in their teaching? Share your stories with us in the section below.

About the Author

Krista Amolins is a Higher Education Developer and Analyst in the Esri Canada Education and Research group. Her responsibilities include developing resources for use by students and faculty at colleges and universities, focusing particularly on LiDAR, JavaScript and Android app development; collaborating on projects with researchers at select universities; and coordinating the Esri Canada scholarship programs. She has a PhD in Geomatics Engineering from the University of New Brunswick and also holds the Esri ArcGIS Desktop Associate Certification.

Profile Photo of Krista Amolins