Project Description

"This blog is updated by the JISC funded G3 Project (#jisc3g) team. We are building an framework for teaching and communicating relevant geographic concepts and data to learners from outside the world of geography and GIS. We think this blog will be of particular interest to those working or teaching in HE and FE and those interested in teaching and learning and e-learning."

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Thursday, 25 August 2011

An IIGLU is born, or a project development and brand update

This is the first one of the overdue development activity updates from the JISCG3 project. I have been busy over this summer with the development of the web interface, which we now christened IIGLU. The idea of IIGLU comes from “Interactive Integrated Geospatial Learning and Understanding” (to be honest, the second I only comes so we could grab the most popular domains!). This name is a take on the word Igloo, which is made of large building blocks representing the different steps of geographical understanding in our tutorial. Conveniently, an igloo is also sort of shaped like a globe/earth, returning the focus to gegography!

With the name set then, we are now ready to release a first demo of the tool, which I quickly put together this afternoon and recorded in this screencast:

As you can see from the video, we now have a functionally complete web-environment, where registered users can create new interactive tutorials, and classify them in different overarching scenarios. Each tutorial consists of a series of 'states', using different mediums such as rich text, videos, and most importantly an interactive web-mapping environment. The idea with the states is that we can provide in each tutorial a set of anchor points to which a learner can return if they get lost, all the while preserving a rich interactive user experience, especially when it comes to the web-mapping. Further development of functionality will focus on the inclusion of more spatial functionalities, as well as thematic formatting, to make this a much more rich environment encompassing a wide range of geographic concepts.

There are still plenty of rough edges to trim, and we need to put a nice face on the functional interface. We have just completed the design of a website logo, and will attack the styling of the User Interface this week. So hopefully, in a couple weeks time, I will be able to give a much more polished presentation of the system!

Technical Development details (warning, geoweb-geekiness ahead!!):
The technical design of the tool consists of two major components:
  • Server-side framework (we used GeoDjango, a spatially aware web development framework as the basis). The server manages the user and tutorial creation, editing and management, and serves all the tutorial data and connected spatial datasets for use by the client in a standards compliant manner (GeoJSON), with all the data residing on a PostgreSQL + PostGIS database.
  • Client framework (developed in JavaScript/JQuery) enables a rich user interaction experience, with a dynamic and fast guidance of the user through the tutorials, and efficient tracking of the user state and progress through the tutorial.
You might notice that we use OpenLayers as our mapping library, which slightly contravenes the previous conclusions we arrived at in this project regarding appropriate web-map API's. These conclusions reached previously about ease of development and deduplication of effort, achieved by reusing legacy codebase from different projects, were rendered irrelevant after switching to a structured web development framework, ie (Geo)-Django, and enabled us to use OpenLayers instead to take advantage of greater capabilities and openess of this library.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

What is today’s equivalent to Jon Snow’s Map?

The question that was raised by James Reid from JISC during the workshop I was leading at the open geo health event. I would be interested to hear what the readers of this blog think? The workshop was discussing “why GIS is under-utilised in the NHS?” The term GIS in this sense is probably better replaced by location or spatially enabled technology as it encompasses the extent and breadth of contemporary desktop/web/mobile technology.

The question, “What is today’s equivalent to Jon Snow’s Map?” has resonated with me and got me thinking. To consider the answer to this question – we must first understand why the map of cholera deaths is so important: Here are my initial thoughts:

  1. Example of an early GIS – on paper with different layers (pumps, deaths, location of water companies and places of interest such as brewery/ poor house/ plague burial plot).

  2. Represented a paradigm shift in thinking related to cholera transmission – by providing an evidence base for the theory that Cholera is transmitted by water and is not air-borne.

Is there a modern health mapping equivalent? In the world of Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) and humanitarian aid for which health is a component, I would propose that the crowd-sourced mapping of Hati has had considerable impact with a group of volunteers creating geographic data by tracing up-to-date satellite imagery and using the resulting data to develop applications for use by crisis responders.

In the field of Health, there are two other applications that come of the fore: Health Maps and EpiCollect. Health Maps began in 2006 and aggregates content from resources such as the World Health Organisation to provide real-time information on emerging infectious disease outbreaks. The recently developed EpiCollect is a mobile application tool that facilitates the collection of user content via questionnaires or surveys. Both of these initiatives are useful but whether they are the modern day equivalent of John Snow – I am not sure.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Open, Geo, Health Workshop: GIS in the NHS

I am leading a workshop at the Open, Geo Health Workshop in Edinburgh - #gecohealth. This is a JISC organised event.

I am hoping to encourage a discussion related to the future role of GIS in the health (NHS). As a researcher not only in usability I have a special interest in Health and Health inequalities.

It has long been my belief that GIS is under-utilised in the NHS. So whilst there are lots of new opportunities for Geo and Health - we need to identify what really needs to change to embed practice within the NHS. Whilst now more than ever before GIS is more affordable and more accessible with lots of useful data that can be applied to the health care setting - many barriers (social, political, technical, economical) still exist. The technical merits and low cost of Open Source Software are not enough to drive a georevolution within the NHS.

I see a number of the geospatial projects JISC have recently funded as having a future potential to aid decision-making in health. One of which is our project. Once the G3 project software is launched in October, I will develop a scenario around Geographic Concepts and health inequalities and hope that it will prove useful to health care professionals.