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On the Map with Nicola Colhoun

This month’s On the Map features BC teacher Nicola Colhoun. She shares with us her most recent student projects and lets us in on what she's doing next with ArcGIS.

March’s On the Map highlights the work of Nicola Colhoun, a teacher from West Vancouver, British Columbia. We connected last month, and I was excited to hear she wanted to share her work with us! Here’s what her students have been up to with ArcGIS Online, ArcGIS Survey123 and ArcGIS Story Maps!

What grades/courses do you teach?

I teach International Baccalaureate (IB) Geography 11 and 12, Social Studies 10, and IB Theory of Knowledge 11 and 12.

How long have you been teaching with ArcGIS?

My first experience with GIS in general was in the early 1990s.  I was one of a group of undergrads at McGill who worked to digitize the census map of Montreal.  It was incredibly tedious.  It took me two decades to give GIS another chance.  I just started using ArcGIS four years ago and have found it really valuable and much easier than I thought.

A bitmoji of Nicola. A woman with long wavy brown hair and dark eyes.

Nicola has given GIS another chance and has never looked back.

Why do you think using ArcGIS in your teaching/student learning is important?

GIS is a growing professional field and has applications in so many areas, from tracking a pandemic to monitoring the health of an ecosystem.  If my students can gain at least an initial familiarity with it, I believe it will serve them well in university and in their future pursuits. 

I love how students can produce accurate, beautiful, professional-looking maps with ArcGIS.

Tell us about the last couple of projects/activities you assigned using ArcGIS

Projects using Story Maps

The IB Geography syllabus includes the impact of geographic isolation on global interactions.  I assigned each of my grade 11 students an isolated settlement and asked them to create a Story Map about it.  They had to link their text and images to locations on the map and use different zoom levels to show how their place is isolated but also connected.  I’ve also used StoryMaps for case studies on urban areas in low-income countries. 

When using ArcGIS, I like how the students get a sense of the location and layout of a place, as well as the ability to explore different neighbourhoods and road networks and they don’t have to visit the place in person.

An imagery map showing the location of Kathmandu.

A student story map focused on Kathmandu. This is part of the case studies on urban areas in low-income countries.

A map showing the location of Batam in Indonesia with a slide displaying demographic information about Batam.

A student story map on remote settlements. This one show Batam village in Indonesia.

Survey123 and Fieldwork Projects

IB Geography also requires students to complete fieldwork projects.  I have used Survey123 for the past few years.  It enables students to use their phones to collect data in the field that is geolocated.  From there, they can share their data and easily map it using ArcGIS Online.  They can also graph the data or download CSV files to use in other programs.  It all sounds a bit complicated but it’s actually quite simple and produces professional, accurate results. 

Last year, the students mapped urban microclimates.  This year, they mapped hostile design elements – things like dividers on benches that make it difficult for people to lie down. 

A map showing Vancouver and points collected from Survey123.

Survey123 map showing hostile design elements in Vancouver.

What advice would you give to teachers who want to start using ArcGIS in their teaching and for student learning?

Don’t give up! It can seem a little daunting at first, but once you start playing around with the different applications it’s amazing what you and your students can do. 

What’s next?

For the next project, I am planning to have my Social Studies 10 students create story maps of World War I battles.  They will need to locate the events on their basemap, and then add images and text to show things like specific sites, casualties, technology, supply lines, key individuals, and memorials.  They will move through their story map chronologically, from before the war to present day.

Thank you, Nicola for sharing your work with us. We look forward to hearing more about your future projects.

New to ArcGIS Online?

If you are new to ArcGIS Online, educators can request an account for themselves and their students at

Check out the following beginner resources to get started with ArcGIS Online:

For Educators - Let’s get started with ArcGIS Online
For Students – Enroute with ArcGIS Online

Using ArcGIS Online and want to learn more?

Discover Story Maps
Creating ArcGIS Dashboards 

This post was translated to French and can be viewed here.

About the Author

Angela Alexander is a K-12 Education Specialist in the Esri Canada Education and Research group. She has over 15 years of experience working with educators across Canada. Angela focuses on producing geographic information system (GIS) and curriculum-specific resources, and conducting and creating custom workshops for educators. She manages the GIS Ambassador Program and is the Technical Chair for the annual Skills Ontario GIS competition. Angela also writes monthly posts for the Esri Canada Education and Research blog, highlighting K-12 educators and partners, new ArcGIS resources and GIS-related events.

Profile Photo of Angela Alexander