Villanova University Professor Adds ArcGIS Insights to Online Class
When his outdoor Environmental Geology class moved online in March 2020 due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID 19) pandemic, Steven Goldsmith, associate professor at Villanova University's Department of Geography and the Environment, needed an updated curriculum. Online courses are not a new concept, but rapidly transitioning to virtual classes can be challenging for even the most dynamic instructors. However, unique circumstances require equally creative solutions. Goldsmith embraced ArcGIS Insights from Esri, analysis software that fuses location analytics with open data science and business intelligence workflows. Using this technology, he was able to seamlessly continue his semester online despite the abrupt shift to his traditional teaching pedagogy.
Similar to the experience of many other teachers and professors in spring 2020, Goldsmith realized his curriculum required significant modifications. To quickly migrate online, he had only a matter of days to develop a plan. Outdoor labs needed to come indoors and be made virtual. Having already heard of ArcGIS Online, a cloud-based mapping and analysis solution, Goldsmith saw this as a potential path forward. But there was one problem: he was not a GIS expert. He attended his last official GIS course in 2008, and an immersive ArcGIS refresher seemed out of reach, as it would be too much for him to relearn when the clock was ticking. Class exercises needed to be rewritten and finalized right away. With almost no time to prepare, Goldsmith had to make decisions on how to update his curriculum.
User Story Snapshot
Steven T. Goldsmith, PhD, is an associate professor of Environmental Science at Villanova University's Department of Geography and the Environment in Villanova, Pennsylvania.
When courses moved online, Goldsmith was left with only a few days to plan and incorporate GIS technology into a non-GIS course when his own GIS knowledge was limited.
For Goldsmith's class, ArcGIS Insights made scientific analysis easy, even for those unfamiliar with GIS, and was readily accessible online.
ArcGIS Insights allowed Goldsmith to introduce a new geospatial technology to his class. ArcGIS Insights will now be used by students in future laboratory courses as a powerful analytics application.
Goldsmith took advantage of significant advances in capabilities and functionality to the ArcGIS platform since he last used GIS many years ago. Guided by an Esri solutions engineer, Goldsmith quickly learned about many of the geospatial applications immediately available to him and his students. Specifically, he learned about ArcGIS Insights, an online, location analytics tool used for data science and exploration. With spatial analysis and visualization at its core, ArcGIS Insights enabled Goldsmith and his students to create more than a dozen different types of interactive graphs, maps, charts, and tables on the fly. This would help them better understand their data through spatial and nonspatial relationships. Using a simple drag-and-drop interface, the students could continue their environmental analyses online.
"It was definitely way easier to create graphs and charts," said Jayne Hickey, a senior who is earning a double major in Environmental Science and Communications. "We could play around and try different approaches to see which was the best representation of our information much more easier than if we were just using Excel."
Being miles away from campus did not stop Goldsmith's class from learning, and ArcGIS Insights allowed students to better understand their data through a geographic lens.
"I was not only impressed with the data visualization capabilities of ArcGIS Insights but also its ease of use," Goldsmith said. "I was able to understand its functionality and capabilities after interacting with an Esri solutions engineer for less than an hour, which in turn allowed for an easy introduction of the app to my students."
Change is never easy, especially when the allotted time to adapt is limited. But ArcGIS Insights brought a new geospatial tool into Goldsmith's redeveloped course almost overnight. Initially, ArcGIS Insights was only going to be used in one laboratory exercise, but due to its ease of use and powerful analytics, it appeared in additional class activities. After discovering that this application could enrich existing spatial data with a wealth of demographic and socioeconomic data, Goldsmith and his students used the tool to uncover environmental justice trends along with their earlier environmental science findings. The students even used analytics from ArcGIS Insights for their final projects as a means to share the patterns they discovered in their analyses.
"Overall, I liked using ArcGIS Insights and would use it again!" said Hickey.
Though the 2020 spring semester was Goldsmith's first time using ArcGIS Insights, it certainly will not be his last. The application made analysis and visualization easy, even for those who are new to or long-removed from working with ArcGIS. Goldsmith looks forward to keeping ArcGIS Insights in the Environmental Geology class where it was first introduced as well as bringing it into the introductory-level Environmental Science and advanced Watershed Biogeochemistry courses he teaches.
What started as a challenge to overhaul his class with only a few days warning turned into an opportunity to leverage modern GIS technology in a non-GIS class. Goldsmith's ArcGIS Insights laboratory exercises are here to stay.
Are you an educator looking to start leveraging the power of ArcGIS Insights? Academic institutions with an Esri Institutional (formerly called Site License) or Academic Departmental License already have access to this application through ArcGIS Online. Contact your organization's administrator for permission, and start discovering trends in your data today.
ArcGIS Insights allowed my students to visualize their data at the click of the button. The platform enhanced their ability to independently explore data relationships and take ownership of the process.
Contact us to get started
Need help implementing GIS at your institution? Contact us below.