Sunday, May 6, 2012

BSU Geography Department at the State House

Read full report: Geography lost amid emphasis on other subjects:
Reporter Christine Lee, State House Correspondent for Channel 22 in Springfield, describes EarthView's most recent State House. Her excellent report features geography teachers and students from western Massachusetts who participate in the event each year.

Members of the Geography Department have been involved for more than a decade in state-wide efforts to expand and improve the teaching of geography in primary and secondary schools in Massachusetts. The EarthView program -- in addition to reaching 35,000 students directly in the past four years -- has helped to focus public and legislative attention on the problem.

Last Thursday, the EarthView team was in the State House for the fourth time, talking to legislators and the general public about the importance of teaching geography across the entire K-12 range and providing for the preparation of geography teachers. We encountered overwhelming support for SB 182, a bill that would create a commission to report to investigate the status of geography education in the Commonwealth. If the bill passes, such a report will be based on a series of public hearings and will be due at the end of the calendar year 2012.

Geography Department members taking part on Thursday included faculty, majors, minors, and alumni. Pictured (l-r) James Hayes-Bohanan, Lara Joyce, Brigitta Palmer-Hart, Kimberly Frisoli, Vernon Domingo, Natalie Regan-Lampert, and Diana Ramos. Not pictured: Nikki Sauber (photographer), Ed Donnelly, and Tim Pease.
EarthView really does look good in Nurses Hall, which incidentally is home of the first monument to the women who served in the Civil War. Thanks to Ashley Costa for this photo taken during the EarthView visit in 2011. See the EarthView blog for more news and photos from the day.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

There's a Mapp for That!

This semester Dr. Boellstorff invited faculty colleagues to share ideas for possible class projects with students in her GIS II class. This provided an opportunity to begin the process of re-modernizing the County Map Project I had begun in paper form more than 20 years ago, and had gradually moved online in the late 1990s.

This is a geographer's "life list" of places visited, in which I indicate every county I have been in. I eventually learned that the Extra Milers Club is a network of people doing the same thing, with each participant free to make up her or his own rules about what "counts" as a visit. My rules have been simple. If I am certain I have been in a county, I mark it in yellow; if I have lived there for a month or more, I mark it in blue, and I have applied the same rules at the state level in other countries.

For a while, I was able to help a few other hobbyists with some base maps and instructions I posted on my "about" page, but eventually the software involved became problematic, so I started to move the whole project to an official GIS platform. A series of hardware and software fiascoes ensued, and the project lie dormant for years, until GIS student Matt Scholtes decided to take up the baton.

The image above is a snapshot of Matt's project, in which he began coding my travels and also did some experimentation with queries that would compare the county counts along different proposed travel routes. We will be adding some of the files he created to my existing web site, and hope eventually to create a web-based service that will give users the ability to maintain their own maps online.

As I wrote last week, the Boston area is a major center for the development of mobile computing applications, so the possibilities for a county map app could be quite real. ESRI continues to provide new ways to bring data online, and citizen-based GIS platforms such as PeopleForms are pushing this field even faster.