Tools for teaching Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are in section 2.3 Environment of the ITGS syllabus. There are several quite expensive high-end GIS programs available, but schools cannot always afford them. This post will cover some free GIS programs and data sources to help ITGS students understand this topic. The ITGS textbook support site also contains several examples of GIS lessons for ITGS that use Google Earth as a base (though they could be easily adapted to use other programs).

Google Earth

Google Earth is probably the most obvious choice for teaching Geographic Information Systems, as it is free and is available on Windows, Mac OS, and Linux.

Data layers can be created by importing KML or KMZ files, which are becoming increasingly common on the Internet. It is not possible to import CSV files directly, but there are several free online services to convert CSV to KML files.

Google Map Engine Lite

Another free option from Google is Google Map Engine Lite. This looks like a regular Google Map but offers the ability to create multiple data layers and add points of interests, notes, and shapes.The advantage of Google Map Engine is that it is browser-based, meaning no installation is necessary.

The map to the right was created in Google Map Engine by the MAPA Project, and shows the location of shark spotters on the coast of South Africa.

CSV data can be imported straight into Google Map Engine, though the file must first be uploaded to Google Docs – there is no direct upload option. KML files cannot be imported directly, but a workaround is to import the KML into regular Google Maps and then import the map into Google Map Engine. Given how closely related the technologies are, I would not be surprised if KML import became available soon.

Data sources

Many sites offer downloadable data that can be imported in GIS programs. The following sites all offer data in common formats such as CSV or KML:

Additionally, the United States National Library of Medicine and GIS in Ecology have dozens of links to sites containing GIS data.

Linking to other topics and subjects

GIS can be linked to other areas of ITGS and other IBDP courses. The amount of data available online can be used as a starting point to discuss open government initiatives, and how releasing data can benefit society.

Data logging (also 2.3 Environment) also ties closely to this topic, which in turns relates to Hardware in Strand 3 of the ITGS triangle. Students could, for example, consider the types of mobile devices and other hardware the police would need in order to collect the data described above.

For the more adventurous teachers, there are also various Arduino kits available that can be connected to various sensors and used to log data. This could be collated into a spreadsheet and imported into a GIS. Perhaps this could be linked with a Biology or Environmental Systems and Societies project?

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