In the age of big data, a lot of information comes with geotags, and finding ways to organize and work with that data is vital. Geographic Information System (GIS) software helps researchers gather, organize, display and analyze geographic data.
GIS tools are invaluable to student researchers who are gathering and manipulating geographic data. But because GIS software is an emerging field and the software is highly specialized, many of the tools on the market are very expensive. A school may not be willing to spend a large amount of money on the complete version of a GIS program, especially if it’s only for one project. And students conducting research alone often don’t have the money to pay for the whole version of a software tool.
Thankfully, many companies are building information modeling software with student versions, which are either free or greatly reduced in cost. These typically lack the complete functionality of the full version of the software, but the functions they have are more than enough for most students.
The following GIS tools have a version aimed at students.
GIS company Esri offers ArcGIS Online to students and classrooms as an extension of its services. ArcGIS Online is mapping software that runs in a student’s browser, so it can be used on any device. It’s free to schools and educators, with approval from Esri.
The characteristic that makes ArcGIS Online most useful to educators is its pre-made educational modules, called GeoInquiries. Each of these modules typically takes about 15 minutes to complete and demonstrates a concept, such as time zones, the impact of megacities or the effects of globalization, through maps.
Another GIS tool designed specifically for schools is Esri’s Story Maps. Story Maps doesn’t have the data analysis functions of other GIS tools, but it excels at presentations. Story Maps makes it easy for students to create an interactive presentation to display existing GIS data.
A number of pre-made story maps educate the curious and get students’ creative juices flowing. These include maps of disputed borders worldwide, information about wars and key battles, building design around the world, and photographic tours of threatened ecological sites.
Formerly known as Xpeditions, MapMaker Interactive is a free online service available through National Geographic. While it lacks the versatility of many other student GIS tools, MapMaker Interactive’s layout is simple and easy to use.
The program offers several options for base maps, including topographic, street, terrain, ocean and satellite maps. From there, teachers and students can add layers to the map, including data as they go along. MapMaker Interactive is available online, so it’s not exclusive to any platform. Plus, it’s easy for students to save progress as they make a map, letting them create a very complicated map over several sessions, save progress and present it later.
Because it’s highly technical and specialized, GIS software is often too expensive for student researchers or schools. However, many companies make software available to schools for free or at a greatly reduced price. This software may not have all the functionality of a full GIS program designed for researchers, but it often has more than enough to allow teachers to demonstrate basic concepts to their classrooms, or for students to create a presentation.