Maps and the Geospatial Revolution

Mapping Assignment


Storytelling with Maps

For your final mapping assignment, I want you to take initiative and design a map that tells a story about a topic of your choice. You have some decisions to make:

  1. Which mapping platform will you use? You can use anything you like, so long as you’re able to link to an interactive web map or a static image of your map in your peer assessment submission. I’ve listed your options here in order of their relative difficulty.

    • Easy: For many of you, sticking with ArcGIS Online will be the easiest option. You know by now how to get to ArcGIS Online, search for data, make a map, and share it with a link.
    • Moderate: If you’d like to try something a bit more sophisticated, you can also use ArcGIS Online’s Story Maps capability. You can also review a video series showing how to make a Story Map, and read "Web Maps, Web Apps, Story Maps" to explore what makes them different from other web maps. You should also consider CartoDB. CartoDB offers very nice animated map tools and features to style your web maps and share them with the rest of the world. They have excellent documentation, so this is a great option if you want to branch out a bit and try a popular open source web mapping platform.
    • Hard: Make use of free, open source desktop GIS software like QGIS or GRASS (see the excellent OsGeo Live site for tons of open source options and tutorials), or commercial software like ArcGIS Desktop. To use the latter, you’d need to have a license already (I can’t help you with that, sorry).
  2. What story do you want to tell? I really want you to come up with ideas on your own (be creative!). But here are a few examples if you have no idea how to get started:

    • Convince me (and your classmates) that your hometown is vulnerable to one or more types of disasters.
    • Show how your home country/state/neighborhood has changed over time in relation to its neighbors.
    • Tell a story about your most recent travels, augmenting the map with photos and other media to highlight your experiences.
    • Use spatial analysis to identify good locations for your favorite type of restaurant.
  3. Where will your data come from?

    • You've got tons of options available searching inside ArcGIS Online, and you know how to bring in an outside dataset in CSV format from your earlier lab work.
    • You should also consider making your own geospatial data. See below for some simple tips on making your own data using a smartphone or GPS.

Collect Your Own Geospatial Data

One thing I'd like to encourage is for you to go out and collect your own data about your community, a problem you'd like to solve, or something else that you think would make good fodder for telling a story. You don't have to do this - I know some of you may not have the time, energy, or devices to pull this off. But it's a cool option for those of you who want to go the extra mile. These are basic guidelines that will cover a lot of the bases, but there is no way for me to provide technical support for thousands of people who might all use different devices.

  1. Before going out into the field, think carefully about what you would like to collect, the story you would like to tell about it, and your final audience. Think about what attributes you will collect, and how many points you need. Then consider how you will collect the data: Your route, what equipment you will need, and any relevant safety precautions. If you are planning on collecting GPS locations while in free-fall from a basejump off of a radio tower then I want nothing to do with it.
  2. You will need to gather two pieces of information: (1) a latitude-longitude coordinate (ideally in decimal degree format), and (2) Attributes about each point you are collecting. This could be tree height and species, type of litter or graffiti, length of mullet haircuts, noise from loud car stereos, soil types, jaywalking pedestrians in a 5 minute timespan, or anything you are interested in. Be creative!
  3. Collect latitude-longitude coordinates for the desired data you want to examine. A few ways to do this include:
    • Use a handheld GPS to collect waypoints and tracks. Make sure the GPS is set to WGS 84 datum, and that the coordinate system is set to decimal degree, if possible.
    • Use a Smartphone to manually collect waypoints (iPhone: Utilities, Compass) (Android: you'll need GPS Status or another latitude-longitude app). Make note of latitude/longitude using phone notes or on an old fashioned piece of paper.
    • Use a Smartphone to collect automatically collect waypoints with MyTracks (Android) or Motion X GPS (iPhone). Make sure the datum is set to WGS 84.
    • Use ArcGIS app on iPhone or Android to obtain latitude-longitude coordinates for your current position.
    • If you have no field collection device, go to the ArcGIS website and create a new map. Navigate to the locations where you wish to gather information. Change the base map to imagery or another base map that best meets your needs. Click on the measure tool and then the point symbol to obtain the latitude-longitude for each of the points you wish to gather information about. Write down the latitude-longitude coordinates in a digital file or on paper.
  4. Collect attributes for each of your points that you collect. Use your phone’s note function, or an actual paper notebook to record the attribute data. Make sure that your attributes correspond to each waypoint that you collected.
  5. Map and analyze your field data.

    • Create a text file or an Excel table with the following column structure as an example: Point ID (1,2,3,4 etc...), Latitude, Longitude, Attribute 1, Attribute 2, and so on.
    • Convert your latitude-longitude values into Decimal Degrees if they're not in that format already.
    • For example if I was doing a neighborhood tree census: Point ID, Latitude, Longitude, Tree Species, Tree Height (m) might have a first row showing: [A, 34.01234, -117.23946, palm tree, 30]
    • Save your file as a CSV file. In ArcGIS Online, Use Add data to Add data from file to import your CSV file. Your points will appear on the map. Symbolize and classify your data how you see fit, and save and share your map through a link for your peer assessment assignment.

For more information on adding field data to ArcGIS Online, see videos explaining the process at the ESRI page "Add Features from a File" and the geographyuberalles YouTube channel.

Suggested Grading Rubric for Storytelling Assignment

This assignment can be rated on these four criteria with scores ranging from 1 to 5 (strongly disagree to strongly agree). The four main criteria that you will rate your agreement with are:

  1. This map tells a complete story.
  2. This map tells a compelling story.
  3. This map is designed in a way that reflects the use of best practices in cartographic design and geospatial analysis.
  4. This map has a look and feel that reinforces the objectives of the story it tells.

You'll also provide a brief written statement to explain your ratings.

Credit Where It's Due

This lab was developed by Anthony Robinson and Joseph Kerski.