West Chester University Updates GIS Curriculum with ArcGIS Urban
West Chester University of Pennsylvania (WCU), the largest institution in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, is the home of the award-winning West Chester University Geography and Planning department. The department's cutting-edge GIS program is known for its community mapping and engagement geographic information system (GIS) projects and successful alumni job placement in GIS companies countrywide.
WCU has recently created two new planning degrees: a bachelor of science degree in urban and environmental planning and a master's degree in urban and regional planning. These degrees are designed to introduce future GIS professionals to the spatial analysis concepts and techniques they will need to mold the future of land-use planning, resource conservation, community growth, and more.
Keeping Pace with the Future of GIS
The WCU Geography and Planning GIS program draws extensively from software across the entire Esri platform, from standard ArcGIS and ArcGIS Online curriculum to ArcGIS CityEngine and beyond. Five years ago, WCU started using ArcGIS CityEngine in its urban and regional planning master's degree program. That led to the use of a virtual reality (VR) model and, eventually, the building of a 3D model of the campus. WCU expanded the VR platform and began using 3D modeling as an urban planning and design tool.
User Story Snapshot
West Chester University of Pennsylvania (WCU), created two new planning degrees designed to introduce future GIS professionals to the spatial analysis concepts and techniques they will need to mold the future of land-use planning, resource conservation, and community growth.
• WCU's Geodesign for Smart Cities course bridges the gap between traditional 2D GIS courses and the need for 3D GIS learning.
• WCU worked in partnership with the ArcGIS Urban solutions engineers to launch this course focused on teaching GIS rather than teaching with GIS.
• ArcGIS Urban provided a platform that allowed learning to continue remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Students of the program first learn basic and advanced GIS skills, then go on to apply them in on-site studio topical or research-related courses. As GIS technology has expanded and deepened in response to user needs, the program increasingly introduced newer, more advanced tools to keep pace with advancements in the field, particularly in the areas of 3D mapping and modeling, mixed reality technologies, and digital publishing of mapping results. Students of the program already received a solid foundation in the use of 2D ArcGIS Pro, but WCU needed to craft a path to advance them to the development and publication of 3D-based products for planning projects.
Designing an enhanced curriculum to address this need included several challenges. WCU needed to adapt new software and tools within the existing program, then provide students with guidance, resources, and opportunities to learn and apply the new software.
After thoroughly examining its ability and opportunities to teach GIS versus teaching with GIS, the WCU Geography and Planning GIS program addressed these challenges by incorporating 3D modeling in ArcGIS Pro as well as integrating SketchUp, AutoCAD drawings, ArcGIS CityEngine, and Unity. To help students with the publication of the results to share with community partners, the program also included web-based platforms such as ArcGIS Hub initiatives and West Chester Urban Forestry.
The WCU Geography and Planning GIS program also introduced a new course, Geodesign for Smart Cities, to bridge the gap between traditional 2D GIS courses and the critical need for 3D GIS learning. WCU worked in partnership with the ArcGIS Urban solutions engineers and Esri education outreach team to launch the course, which focused on teaching GIS rather than teaching with GIS. It covered a wide range of software, including ArcGIS Pro, SketchUp, ArcGIS CityEngine, 3D web scenes, ArcGIS StoryMaps, ArcGIS Urban, and Hub initiatives. Geodesign for Smart Cities blended the need to incorporate cutting-edge GIS modeling technologies and techniques with applied, studio-based, community-oriented projects. This would serve as a foundation for further planning and design studio courses.
Adapting Curriculum in a Time of Pandemic
An additional obstacle was presented with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, which prompted WCU to move all classes to an online format. Although WCU provides support for student users of Esri software and licenses, uses a virtual desktop environment, and offers ArcGIS Online accounts for students, there remained hurdles to maintaining an effective program during the transition to a virtual curriculum. Not all students were able to access ArcGIS Pro or ArcGIS CityEngine remotely or install software on their home computers, and many students owned noncompatible devices. Finally, the in-person studio courses that are an integral part of the WCU Geography and Planning GIS program are required for BS degree accreditation.
The underpinnings of the new Geodesign for Smart Cities course held the answer. Besides helping students to bridge the gap between 2D and 3D GIS courses, the incorporation of ArcGIS Urban and ArcGIS Hub initiatives in the curriculum provides a platform that allows learning to continue remotely with significantly less disruption for at-home students, who formerly encountered difficulty accessing other GIS tools.
During the summer session, ArcGIS Urban will be used in the Economic Development Planning course. Students will develop ArcGIS Urban plans based on the West Chester borough urban model. Students will analyze indicators and plan space use and capacity, and members of the ArcGIS Urban team at Esri will participate to discuss the use and operations of an urban model. This model is also being used by WCU students who have volunteered to create web maps, story maps, and 3D web scenes to assist local COVID-19 response, support small businesses, and model business continuity and recovery.
"West Chester University was able to combine what they were doing in the business course with ArcGIS Community Analyst and ArcGIS Business Analyst with 3D modeling and tools," said Keera Morrish, solution engineer for smart city solutions at Esri. "The platform brought the different parts of the program together, and it's amazing what they are doing with it now. Our hope is that other universities might be able to take this as a model of what they can do with their own planning and design programs, especially during a time of distance learning."
Later, in the fall session, the planning and design studio will use an urban model for the east end of West Chester borough to develop plan scenarios and projects to explore social, economic, and infrastructure development opportunities in the area. The east end of West Chester borough is a traditionally African American community now experiencing a shift from light industrial warehouses to new residential developments and business redevelopment projects.
Geodesign and Planning Studio courses are a mix of advanced GIS modeling skills, planning knowledge, and community engagement. ArcGIS Urban brought these classroom needs together and during our quarantine, we were able to continue the course, students were able to collaborate on projects, compare scenarios, and create web-based final projects.
Get Started with ArcGIS Urban
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