Click for a transcript of Alan MacEachren's Intro Video.
Scene 1: Hi, I’m Alan MacEachren, Professor of Geography and Information Sciences & Technology at Penn State. I’ve been at Penn State for quite a number of years … doing research and teaching in Geographic Information Science. In terms of research, I tend to focus on research in cartography, geovisualization, and more recently the integration of computational methods with visual methods to help people figure out how to extract information from very large complex datasets, particularly those related t place.
Transition slide: Some of my resent research has leveraged social media data, tweets in particular, to explore the geography of attitudes and spatial behavior; and I’ll show you an example of a couple projects we just finished up recently.
Overview of two recent projects:
Project 1 – The geography of sentiment towards the Women’s March of 2017: This recent paper that I did with a group of colleagues that you see hear focused on using social media data that is geolocated to understand peoples’ attitudes toward a political event, the Women’s March of 2017. Twitter was our data source in this particular case, focusing only on the geolocated tweets. And, one of the interesting findings that we had, if we scroll down to our map here (map of the U.S. showing positive, neutral, or negative tendency of tweets by major city), was that for most of the cities in the U.S., there were quite a few more positive tweets than negative tweets about this particular event. But, you can see the small number of cities in the U.S. where the opposite was the case.
Project 2 – Characterizing traveling fans: a workflow for event-driven travel pattern analysis using Twitter data. The second study, finished up recently, was done with my Ph.D. student Yanan Xin (who finished her Ph.D. this summer). It also uses geolocated tweets, but in this case we focused on sports tourism …. and we were looking in particular at whether we could identify the differences between everyday behavior and behavior of sports tourists to the sporting events they were interested in. Not to surprisingly we focused in on Penn State football and travel to Penn State football games during 2016, which was a good year for Penn State. And, looking at the map (map of the U.S. showing origins of trips to State College with graduated flow lines) you can see that people came from all over the country to attend Penn State football games; a large number of people from the bigger cities near State College, but people from everywhere in the country were willing to travel. And, we identified quite a number of people who traveled a lot farther for sporting events than they travel for other kinds of things in their everyday life.
A bit on Teaching: I hope you found those interesting. In addition to the research, of course, I teach across a broad range of topics in Geographic Information Science. At the undergrad level for freshman I teach an introduction to Geographic Information Science that’s general. In upper levels of undergrad, I’ve taught cartography, geovisualization, and sometimes human centered systems for geographic information. At the graduate level, I’ve taught in those areas as well as in visual analytics … and most recently I’ve been teaching our research design class for incoming resident graduate students. In the MGIS program, I’ve been teaching Geog 583, which is a course focused on Geospatial System Analysis and Design.
Outdoor office: As you can see, I’m sitting here in my outdoor office. I’ve been spending a lot of time using this porch as an office since the coronavirus events happened and we started doing work at home, research and teaching from home. I expect to spend a lot of time on the porch here as long as the weather is warm enough this fall because both of my classes are going to be online classes that I can teach from here. Ultimately, of course, I’ll have to move inside and not be able to enjoy the outdoors.
Life outside of work: It’s been great for me to have an outdoor office because my hobby happens to be birdwatching, so I can sit here on my porch with my binoculars and see what birds are in the year … and keep up on my hobby while getting some work done. To facilitate my birding hobby, I’ve been using a really interesting set of geospatial technologies out of the Cornel Ornithology Lab, called eBird. It’s a really big citizen science project. They encourage birders to put their sightings into an app and upload them to their database. They have over a billion bird sighting records in that database right now. And, I’ll show you a little bit about how eBird works just to give you an idea and then talk a little bit about how I’m thinking of linking my research in Geographic Information Science with my hobby of birdwatching.
eBird example: One of the great things about eBird, for a birder who keeps a list like I do, is that you can set it up so that it will email you daily or even hourly on birds that you haven’t yet seen; and this can be anywhere in the world or down to county level. So, I have it set up to email me birds I haven’t seen in Centre County. This was back in May; I got this email saying the Yellow-breasted Chat, along with these other species had been seen in the county somewhere that day. And, if I scroll down to the Yellow-breasted Chat, I can go to a map that shows me where that Yello-breasted Chat had been seen. That prompted me to go out and look for the bird. This is the list for that location when I went out that day. You can see here the route that I took (pointing to an image map of the area with the GPS track plotted on it), and if we scroll down, you can see that I got my bird, the Yellow-breasted Chat (clicks on the photo posted, which enlarges) at the location that someone else had seen it earlier in the day.
Linking birding as a hobby to GIScience Research: So, I hope you found that interesting and I think you can see how the spatio-temporal characteristics of bird sightings, and birder behavior, lends itself to connecting to GIScience research. I gave a talk in Germany a couple of years ago about how these eBird data can actually be a really interesting dataset for GIScientists to work on. And, a couple of computer scientists that were there in the audience got really interested – a postdoc from Germany in particular. She encouraged a couple of grad students in Germany to do their thesis and dissertation research using eBird (and other similar data sets from locations in Europe) to look at the question of uncertainty in citizen science data, using visual analytics methods to try to understand the various kinds of uncertainty that you get in these data. I’ve been coaching these grad students over time on their research; and hopefully in a year or so you’ll see a publication that comes out talking about some of the ways in which visual analytics has been used to understand the uncertainties in these data.
End: So, I hope you learned a little bit about my research and teaching … and maybe I’ve got you interested in birding and using eBird as well. Feel free to contact me through my Penn State email account, for any questions about my teaching or research, or about the links between birding activity and GIScience research. Or, if you happen to be taking a class from me this term, you can contact me through Canvas.
Final image: I’ll leave you with the image of one of my favorite birds, that I saw over at Bald Eagle State Park at the end of July this year – the Green Heron. Enjoy!