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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Saturday, 28 May 2011

Is GIS a Discipline or an Inter-Discipline?

As a new lecturer, I am attending a Post Graduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education course. Although I'm only in my first year of the course, we were invited recently to attend a seminar held by the second year students, who are looking at curriculum development. As well as the interesting range of topics investigated, what struck me was the fact that all the topics could be directly relevant to research into Geographical Information Science education, in one way or another.

In particular, a discussion about the disciplinarity of Machine Learning struck a chord with me.  To address the disciplinarity issue, my colleague started by showing a diagram of other disciplines he thought related to his field. My version, for GIS, would start with this:

but of course there are many more areas that could be included. A discipline can be defined as "a branch of knowledge, typically one studied in higher education" (, so certainly GIS is a discipline in that sense, but it would be interesting to find out which other disciplines people feel contribute to GIS?

(Thanks to my fellow students for the concepts)

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

... A quick question on geographic concepts?

Important Geographic and Cartographic Concepts for Beginners to GIS?

I have identified a list of broad geographic and cartographic concepts that are being considered for inclusion into our tool that has begun development. On analysing the interviews with the expert users, in combination with my experience of introducing GIS topics to new users the following concepts are being prioritised.
  • Beginning mapping – the importance of location and scale
  • Geographic data modelling – how representations of reality are created with different GIS data models
  • Cartographic theory – fundamental principles of cartography that aid useful and usable maps to be produced
  • Data generalisation - introduction of types of data generalisation and why it is necessary
  • Data classification
  • Mapping conventions – elements that enhance user understanding of the map
  • Simple spatial analysis – introducing some simple of analysis that can be computed using GIS eg buffers and distance

If you have an opinion you can send us your thoughts via this quick questionnaire

Monday, 23 May 2011

Open Street Map: Moving the Search

Last week Patrick blogged about usability experiments we were conducting with online editing tools for volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) - Open Street Map was the subject of the experiments.

His post : Usability and the GeoWeb - Don't make me think!

The post discussed is how usability of web GIS acts as a barrier to adoption. Eye tracking experiments we conducted showed how even the location of common functionality, such as "Search" impacts the user interaction and user experience.

Three days after the Patrick's original blog post, we have noticed that the search function for the OSM website (the object of our experiments) has moved location....this is an impact for our project.

We are really pleased that OSM were able to respond so quickly and we are delighted that our work is already having an impact for users of OSM.

The new location of Open Street Map search function is located at the top of the page were the users expect the search to be located. This is more in line with the F-pattern in which we view web pages. Whilst this is not the perfect location, it is much improved.

(watch this space there is more to follow.....)

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Usability and the GeoWeb - Don't make me think!

Hi, this is Patrick, the technical lead developer on the project, and I have put off blogging here for far too long. I hope that I can catch up with my other team members and write about some of the interesting issues I have encountered through this project.

One of the primary concerns in this project for me are barriers to adoption, ie. how we can make an easy to use, fun online environment for users to learn spatial concepts. This concern also motivated me to develop another research project looking at usability in OpenStreetMap, that I am currently working on, which has profound implications for the design of this project.

Altough OSM is thriving, 70% of visitors who open an account do not go on to make a single edit to OpenStreetMap. To investigate why this is the case, we analysed through eye tracking and screen capture ten OSM novices through their first experience registering, adding and editing information to OSM. You can catch a brief peak into the first results in another blog post I did on my personal research blog, at

OSM is an interesting case study of geo web usability because of the fact that users do not simply consume geo data, but are actively engaged in creating and editing new geographic data, resulting in much more advanced spatial learning challenges, including different spatial data types (point, line, polygons), how to define attributes and ontologies, dealing with different data layers and even advanced GI concepts such as topology.

A basic example you can see in this video below, which highlights the importance of putting common web interaction elements where users expect them. In this case, the Search functionality's position is the last place the user is looking, when it is one of the most common used functions.

The finished research will highlight not only specific usability problems that the OSM project currently has in engaging and supporting their user community, but also give a fresh view of the way non expert GIS users approach and interact with spatial data consumption and creation. This research then should give this project a profound insight into how non-experts approach and understand geo data and concepts, and how this can be translated into usable and engaging interactions and interfaces.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Other JISC Projects

If you are curious about the other projects in this funding stream, a good starting place is here: GECO Summary Description of jiscGeo Projects

G3 a Few Months In

We’re now a few months in to the G3 project, and here’s the story so far:
- We’ve conducted and documented a number of in-depth interviews with members in our target groups of urban design, urban anthropology, history and environmental management.
- The interviews have been analysed, common themes and tasks identified, scenarios developed and then ‘translated’ into the language of GIS so that they can be implemented as teaching tools. We’re now looking at identifying data for each scenario.
- We’ve designed the end-to-end architecture of our scenario creation tool – this wasn’t as easy as a simple web site design, given that we want to build something extensible – i.e. that can grow as more scenarios are identified.
- We’ve set up our webserver, migrated a massive amount of existing reference code across, and started looking at the design of our scenarios from the end user perspective. We plan to use a step-by-step approach to allow our students to move through the learning process at their own page. The tool will validate that they understand the concepts as they go through.
- We’ve talked to a number of people involved in GIS teaching to identify how they approach introducing people from other disciplines to GIS.

So, we’d like to take the opportunity to say thanks to all the people who have participated in the project so far! We’ve promised most of you anonymity, but watch this space to see how your input has shaped the work.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

If GIS were a Language......?

As part of the annual GISRUK conference this year (which was held at Portsmouth, I organised an unprogramme session in the spirit of Where Camp. This is something new to the attendees of GISRUK but nevertheless it gave the project team the chance to introduce the project and debate some of the issues we have been engaging with as a team. One of the discussions centred on the idea that if GIS were a language – what would be the equivalent of saying, “hello, my name is Kate”.This is interesting because in one of my project interviews a participant discussed the langauage of GIS too.

The analysis of the interviews a
have enabled me to build a list of geographic concepts that our scenarios will support but we are interested to know what your thoughts maybe...... Which geographic concept do you think is the starting point to learning a new language of GIS? In the not too distant future we will be posting a questionnaire to collate your opinions.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Importance of knowing location

The user interviews are revealing many insights that as a GIS expert I take for granted. One of the interviewees revealed that just being able to maps of things they are interested in is a big thing for their field. We should not take for granted the simplicity and importance that just knowing about location means we can create a map.

So one of the first geographic concepts that we need to consider is that almost everything happens somewhere, and by knowing this where, we can build a map.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Child of Ten Standard of User Interface Design

A useful benchmark in user interface design is the Child of Ten standard. This means that a child of ten should be able to learn to do something useful with the system within 10 minutes. This indicates that a system is “easy to use”. In 1998 Al Gore discussed this in the context of GIS and digital globes as cited by Goodchild his paper “the Use Case of Digital Earth” in 2008.

I do not know if this has actually been validated for digital globes such as NASA World Wind or GoogleEarth but from personal experience I am absolutely certain they are easier to use, easier to learn and easier to remember the functionality than proprietary desktop GIS.

In this project we aim to develop a useful and usable GeoWeb application for non experts and so this benchmark could be incorporated into the testing and development phase – can non-experts learn to do something in our application within 10 minutes? Something to consider.....