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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Sunday, 27 February 2011

Project Plan Post 5 of 7 - Project Team, Relationships and End-User Engagement

If you've been reading this blog so far, you've hopefully now got some ideas about the JISC G3 project (if not, please let us know!). So, the next post in this series is the 'who we are' post. However, a far more important issue before we get to that is 'who we hope you might be' - in other words, who makes up the community for the project?

There are two main communities for the project - firstly, a community of end users. You will typically be students, researchers or academics in departments such as archaeology, anthropology, computer science, health research or medicine, biology, environmental science and so forth. You will probably have used a web map (e.g. a Google Map) at some point, and may have heard of a Geographical Information System but think that the software is very complicated and that you can't use your data on a map. We hope that the tools developed by this project will give you some ideas about GIS and how you could use it, and make it less scary. We'd love to hear from you with any ideas as to how to do this and how you think you could use maps in your work.

The second community we hope to form is a group of GIS developers who can take our tools and add scenarios and expert information beyond the life of the project. These people will know what a GIS is, and also have web development and database skills. The will, perhaps, make use of the tools we develop for their own teaching, and will also add additional use cases and scenarios to the project.

And finally, who are we? We are a team of four people based at UCL and the University of Portsmouth. Our skills cover GIS, Human-Computer Interaction and Web Development and we are all involved in GIS teaching. In alphabetical order:

Claire Ellul used to be a GIS consultant and is now a Lecturer in GIS at UCL, specialising in spatial databases and web and mobile GIS. She was responsible for the technical development of the Community Maps project, and will oversee technical issues on JISCG3. Claire is Principal Investigator on the project.

Kate Jones is a Lecturer in Geography at the University of Portsmouth. She specialises in Usability in GIS and GIS and Health. Kate is responsbile for the development of the use-cases/scenarios, making sure we understand our users on the JISCG3 project. Kate is Co-investogator on the project.

Muki Haklay is a Senior Lecturer in GIS at UCL, specialising in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and Usability in GIS as well as having extensive research expertise in Citizen Science and Community engagement. He will provide HCI expertise to the project.

Patrick Weber is a Research Fellow in GIS at UCL. He specialises in spatial and location-based analysis but also has extensive technical expertise with open source GIS, and will be responsible for the technical development of the JISCG3 project.

Project Plan Post 3 of 7 - Risk Analysis and Success of Plan

On one hand, this project is relatively low risk - we are dealing with technology (OpenLayers, a PostgreSQL/PostGIS database, Javascript, PHP, HTML) that we have already used extensively as a team, and working from a starting point of a previous project (Community Maps).

However, experience shows that the technology aspects of this project should set a few small alarm bells ringing - they are all open source, and this is risky in terms of available support and problem solving. Equally, we run the risk (as does any technology related development or teaching) of potential changes in versions requiring upgrades to our code (the upgrade of our Community Maps project due to a changing Google Maps API highlighted how extensive some of these version changes could be).

How to mitigate this risk - well, the relatively short time-span for this project (Feb - October 2011) allows us to select a version of each platform and stick to it. Beyond that, as we will be making extensive use of the tools in our own teaching, we will upgrade as and when required - documenting our code as we go along will help to facilitate this, as will opening the code up as a resource to the GIS community.

And other risks? We could discover, having talked to our user community, that GIS really isn't for them (or they're just not happy to engage in the project). We hope that this is unlikely - our users are members of interdisciplinary project teams which plan to make use of GIS - but we have identified fall-back scenarios in health epidemiology and coastal environment monitoring, just in case.

Project Plan Post 2 of 7 - Benefits to the Sector and Achievements for Host Institutions

The JISCG3 project provides us with a very useful the opportunity to gain an increased understanding of the mental models used by non-experts when engaging with GIS, which in turn will benefit our teaching and research activities. In fact, as part of the project, we are working with anthropologists, historians, geographers and environmental scientists - and they will provide a really important input when developing our scenarios and concetps.

We intend to make use of the JISCG3 tools during our teaching, and hope that colleagues will also do so - all the code will be published for reuse. As part of the project, we also hope to identify opportunities for further interdisciplinary research or teaching collaboration, as a result of the greater understanding of GIS gained by our expert users and equally of our greater understanding of their research domains.

Project Plan Post 1 of 7 - Aims, Objectives and Final Outputs

Most students and researchers are familiar with using maps on the internet or on a mobile phone – in particular, Google Maps - for tasks such as finding their way between A and B or finding the nearest cash machine or Italian restaurant. They can easily navigate around the map, and know that clicking on a point will pop-up some information.

What they maybe don’t realize, however, is that every time they do this, they are using a Geographical Information System (GIS). What’s more, a GIS could be a very useful tool for their studies and research as it provides a different way of looking at data –by putting data on a map, you can identify links, trends and patterns that aren’t obvious when you are looking at spreadsheets or databases.

The JISC G3 Project – Bridging the Gap between the GeoWeb and GIS – has been set up to overcome the disconnect between using GIS for day-to-day activities and as part of research or studies. We will develop a number of web-based tools to allow students to start with the familiar (panning and browsing a web map) and move towards more advanced GIS concepts. This will allow them to then make use of the more sophisticated GIS packages that are available to them (ArcGIS, MapInfo Professional, Geomedia Professional). Rather than teach abstract concepts, the tools will focus on scenarios related to discipline-specific use-cases, highlighting areas where GIS could be useful to individual groups.

The final output of the project will be a series of open-source tools and scenarios, which can then be added to by others as and when required.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Representations of Scale

I myself, have struggled with the issues of scale in health data whereby social and geographical scales interact but are very complex to model. The choice and use of scale naturally impacts the results of the analysis, and its limitations and complexities have been widely acknowledged in the human geography literature (Goodchild and Proctor, 1997, Longley and Batty, 1996, Sheppard and McMaster, 2003 and Atkinson and Tate, 2000). Indeed, even the terminology has different meanings, describing the same spatial data, a geographer may refer to it as small scale whereas an ecologist could refer to it as large scale. Therefore, representations of scale are something we should consider in our problem scenarios and discussed in the user interviews.
To use an example from health care: commonly web-mapping applications in health simply present data at one scale – so having a zoom function can be redundant functionality as the map never changes. What you often see is a thematic map showing the level of deprivation for a particular administrative boundary layered on top of a reference map but the detail in the thematic map never varies regardless of the level of zoom. If we were developing a health scenario around diabetes, what would be great to see is the layers change from household risk when the user is zoomed into the building detail on the map and then as you progressively zoom out the data changes. So with different zoom levels the data changes scale from individual to street to output area to lower super output area etc in line with the scaling of administrative boundaries/ policy decision making in the UK. This type of zooming would illustrate to new users of GIS, the issues of scale that experienced users of GIS take for granted.
Taking this one-step further, what would be nice is to have a zoom function that corresponds more to functional scale (similar to what Claire suggested in the post relating to the use of scale in biology). With functional scales of analysis, data are summarised and generalised according to the spheres of influence associated to the phenomena being mapped. So in the diabetes example risk data would be organised by the individual, neighbourhood community, GP catchments, (GP Constoria), hospital catchments etc.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Beyond the G3 Project

It is probably quite unusual to be thinking about things beyond this project when we've only just started work, but I've had a number of conversations over the last two years that highlight the potential of web mapping tools such as Google Maps in teaching in other disciplines that don't work at 'geographical' scale.

For example, biologists and nanotechnologists work at sub-mm scales - but more importantly they also have representations of cells from gene level to cell and tissue level - in other words, they work with what the GIS world calls 'Levels of Detail' and 'generalisation'. Apparently it is not yet possible in biology to automatically generalise from the detailed data upwards, but a web map that replaces the 'map' with cell-related images at the different scales would be a useful teaching tool (and is very easy to create with existing technology and web mapping tools).

Having such a 'map' would allow students to zoom in and out between the various scales and to click on various objects and identify them (linking to additional material). In other words, this could be a useful teaching tool. Animated data (what the GIS world calls time-series data) - showing the interaction between objects at a single levels - could also be included.

Perhaps something to think about as we are developing our tool kit?

I'd welcome some feedback from anyone out there who could provide more concrete, relevant details and terminology for what could be shown at the varying scales.

(With thanks to the people at the Crucible dinner at UCL last night for a very interesting conversation about scale)

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Project Outline

The G3 Project wants to create an interactive online mapping tutorial system for students in urban design, anthropology and environmental management. By choosing a discipline specific scenario, key geographic concepts and functions will be presented to novices in a useful and useable manner. Users will be introduced to freely available geographic data relevant to their particular discipline and know where to look for more. G3 Project will create a framework to support learners and grow their confidence without the notoriously difficult complexity of desktop mapping systems.

Background Narrative for G3 – Bridging the Gap between the GeoWeb and GIS

Matthew is a student studying for an MSc in Anthropology at a University in London. His dissertation project will explore the relationship between betting shops and their impact on the surrounding local neighbourhood.

Since the information is geographical, and he is interested in understanding the spatial patterns, he wants to organise, analyse and visualise the data that he will collect during site visits in a map form. The information will include the locations of different types of shops in combination with the qualitative perceptions gathered from interviewing local residents and the researcher’s personal observations.

He is not confident with new computer systems and has no background knowledge of geography or mapping systems but has heard from his supervisor that a GIS could be very useful.

His university uses ArcGIS as its desktop mapping system but he does not know how to begin using it, what sorts of data formats are required or even how to open different datasets within the system. He discovers it is very difficult to teach yourself how to create a map – even though he uses Google maps to find the location of various social events. He has tried reading the help file but it is not so useful to a novice, as there is a lot of unfamiliar terminology. He feels overwhelmed as it is so complicated and confusing to use. He is not really sure where to start.