Fall 2013

Scoilnet Maps Reborn

Esri technology delivers geography resources to more students

By Joanne McLaughlin, Marketing Manager, Esri Ireland


This article as a PDF.

Geography is part of the national educational curriculum in Ireland.

Geography is part of the national educational curriculum in Ireland.

To help students meet national curriculum requirements, Ireland's Department of Education and Skills (DES) is using online maps and mapping tools to help students develop geospatial thinking skills; explore their local communities; and learn more about world population growth, global climate change, and other topics.

DES added a mapping section to Scoilnet (Schoolnet), the department's teacher resource portal. The portal makes more than 13,000 digital resources and online services available. In Ireland, educators recognize the many practical applications of geography and mapping in today's society. Because geography is part of the national educational curriculum, students learn how to interpret satellite and aerial photographs, perform spatial data analysis, and understand geographic change over time.

Scoilnet Maps uses Esri technology to serve maps through the Scoilnet portal. Teachers and students can call up aerial, topographic, and street maps to better understand the world and their local communities.

Originally, DES used another service for Scoilnet Maps. That service was suspended because it was too expensive. Recognizing the importance of mapping to the geography requirement in the Irish National Curriculum, Karin Whooley, Scoilnet's national coordinator, began to research how to include a cost-effective mapping module in the Scoilnet portal. Then she heard about Esri and its technology.

The Scoilnet resource portal makes more than 13,000 digital resources and online services available to Irish teachers.

The Scoilnet resource portal makes more than 13,000 digital resources and online services available to Irish teachers.

"We had to find a new way to deliver all the mapping services and functionality teachers wanted at a cost that was economically viable," Whooley said. "I happened to be talking with a colleague in the Department of Environment and found out about Esri's ArcGIS Viewer for Flex. I immediately realized that this viewer, coupled with ready access to a wealth of free spatial data, was exactly what we needed to reinstate Scoilnet Maps."

Scoilnet Maps, using Esri technology, was relaunched in 2012. Esri Ireland had a pre-existing contract with DES to provide GIS consulting services, so it worked with the Scoilnet team to build a viewer with the content and functionality the teachers needed. Several other government departments and public-sector groups in Ireland already use ArcGIS Viewer for Flex, so the Scoilnet team turned to these organizations for ideas, functions, and data. Esri ArcGIS Viewer for Flex is a free, open-source software application.

The new Scoilnet Maps service streams maps and images directly from Ordnance Survey Ireland and draws on dozens of free data layers made available by the Department of Environment and other agencies. Faster and more responsive than its predecessor, the current version of Scoilnet Maps delivers to teachers and pupils a better experience, and more of them are embracing it than ever before.

The mapping portal offers a range of features that support teaching and learning, including spotlight and swipe tools that help teachers highlight locations and compare aerial photos with maps. Teachers can also flip between historical maps to give pupils a visual perspective of changes to the landscape that occur over time. An elevation tool lets the students study map contours, landscapes, and terrain variations.

Using resources from Scoilnet, teachers can use geography to incorporate different subjects into one lesson. Students use math skills by measuring distances betwen locations and learn history by viewing different map layers over time.

Using resources from Scoilnet, teachers can use geography to incorporate different subjects into one lesson. Students use math skills by measuring distances betwen locations and learn history by viewing different map layers over time.

This tremendous resource helps teachers deliver engaging, imaginative lessons that accelerate learning. Mark Boggins is a primary school teacher at Holy Family National School in Rathcoole, a suburban village, southwest of Tallaght, Ireland, in South Dublin. He uses Scoilnet Maps and other tools to explore social, environmental, and scientific education issues in the community. Scoilnet Maps is one of the five different station activities used: some paper based, others information and communications technology (ICT) based. All support the development of mapping concepts and geographic investigation skills.

Because it uses Esri ArcGIS software, the mapping application gives pupils the opportunity to experience real-world technology and develop skills that will equip them for adult life. "Our new Scoilnet Maps service enables students to work with technology at the same level as that used in workplaces around the world and gain valuable skills," Whooley said.

This Scoilnet Maps service streams maps and images directly from Ordnance Survey Ireland and draws on dozens of free data layers made available by the Department of Environment and other agencies.

This Scoilnet Maps service streams maps and images directly from Ordnance Survey Ireland and draws on dozens of free data layers made available by the Department of Environment and other agencies.

The previous map service was only available to the country's 723 second-level schools. The new Scoilnet mapping solution is accessible to all 4,023 of Ireland's first-level (primary and special) and second-level schools. Now up to 875,500 young people in Ireland have the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of GIS technology and geography.

Whooley anticipates that Scoilnet Maps will be highly beneficial in primary schools, where teaching is topic based and can cross different subject areas. For example, a geography lesson in which students look at maps of the local area could incorporate math by measuring distances between locations and history by viewing different map layers over time. "For primary schools, the new Scoilnet Maps service is a gift," she said. "Teachers can engage pupils in cross-curricular ways that just aren't possible with printed maps."

The new solution is also very economical. DES has calculated that it will save more than 200,000 euro per year compared to the previous service. Developed by leveraging the experience of other government departments, the solution represents tremendous value for the money.

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